284. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Hill) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (McFarlane) and the Assistant to the President for Policy Development (Svahn)1


  • International Conference on Population

Further to my memorandum of June 6, 1984,2 attached is the State Department draft scope paper for the International Conference on Population.

Charles Hill3


Draft Paper Prepared in the Department of State4



A demographic watershed occurring in many Third World countries of vital concern to U.S. interests has critical implications for political stability, economic development, and health and humanitarian concerns. For this reason, international population policy is of high priority to U.S. foreign policy.

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The International Conference on Population (ICP) offers the U.S. an opportunity to strengthen the international consensus on the interrelationships between economic development and population which has emerged since the last such conference in Bucharest in 1974. Our primary objective will be to encourage developing countries to adopt sound economic policies and, where appropriate, population policies consistent with respect for human dignity and family values. As President Reagan stated, in his message to the Mexico City Conference:

“We believe population programs can and must be truly voluntary, cognizant of the rights and responsibilities of individuals and families, and respectful of religious and cultural values. When they are, such programs can make an important contribution to economic and social development, to the health of mothers and children, and to the stability of the family and of society.”

1. National Security Concerns

Conservative projections indicate that, in the sixty years from 1950 to 2010, many Third World countries of strategic or economic importance to the U.S. will experience four-, five-, or even sixfold increases in the size of their populations. Even under the assumption of gradual declines in birth rates, the unusually high proportion of youth in the Third World means that the annual additions to the populations of many of these countries will continue to grow larger for the next several decades.

Population growth—of such dimensions and over such a relatively short time-frame—is contributing to unusual economic, social, and resource pressures which threaten to undermine U.S. initiatives for peace, economic progress, and human dignity and freedom in many areas throughout the world. Intelligence analyses identify four destabilizing aspects of population change and demographic pressures that can be exploited by communism and extremist movements which breed on frustrated aspirations.

(a) Fast-growing youth populations. The numbers of youth requiring jobs, education, and housing are growing faster than most developing countries can absorb them. For example, even with an anticipated decline in the birth rate, the number of young men in Egypt in the 15-to-24 age group will rise from 4.6 million in 1980 to 7 million by 2000; most of these men are already born. It is men in this age group, increasingly frustrated and angry, ready recruits for a cause, who have fueled unrest in Kenya, India, Lebanon, the Philippines, Iran, and elsewhere.

(b) International migration. International labor migration, legal or illegal, and refugee movements, are creating growing political and social tensions in Africa, the Near East, Asia, and Central and South America.

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(c) Explosive growth of cities. The combination of rural poverty and high birth rates is bringing unprecedented growth to cities in the Third World. If present trends continue, Mexico City may surpass 25 million by the end of the century; Tehran, Karachi, and Cairo may reach 11–13 million; and places like Lagos and Kinshasa, which contained 200–300,000 people as recently as 1950, are headed toward over 9 million. The combination of overcrowding, unmet expectations, and different ethnic, religious, and social groups makes a politically volatile mix. Violent demonstrations and mass riots over food or sectarian causes in the recent past in cities as varied as Tunis, Bombay, Sao Paulo, Cairo, Rabat, Karachi, and Rio de Janeiro, are manifestations of these growing pressures.

(d) Ethnic tensions. Shifts in ethnic and religious composition are an actual or potential destabilizing influence in many developing countries.

Although rapid population growth is only one factor contributing to rising dangers of social unrest, political instability, and potential international conflicts over land, water, or resources, its influence should not be ignored. Moreover, the next few years will see many more people entering their child-bearing ages than leaving: the number of young adults in the 20-to-39 age category will increase by 20 million in the North between 1980 and 2000—in the Third World, the increase will be 600 million, all of them already born. Thus, unless birth rates decline rapidly, demographic pressures in many countries will cumulate in the coming generations.

2. Population, Development, and Economic Policies.

Sound economic policies and a market economy are of fundamental importance to the process of economic development. Rising standards of living contributed in a major way to the demographic transition from high to low rates of population growth which occurred in the U.S. and other industrialized countries over the last century.

The current situation of many developing countries, however, differs in certain ways from conditions in 19th-century Europe and the U.S. The rates and dimensions of population growth are much higher now, the pressures on land, water, and resources are greater, the safety-valve of migration is more restricted, and, perhaps most important, time is not on their side because of the momentum of demographic change.

The problem is not that population growth in itself is bad. The problem is that rapid population growth compounds already serious problems faced by both public and private sectors in accommodating changing social and economic demands. It diverts resources from needed capital investment to consumption, and increases the costs and difficulties of economic development.

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Population and family assistance policies and programs alone will not achieve economic miracles. They are no substitute for sound economic policies. Nevertheless, the governments of many developing countries now believe that rapid population growth has itself become, in many cases, an obstacle to the economic progress which should in time lead to smaller family size and slower population growth. A broad international consensus has emerged since the 1974 Bucharest World Population Conference that economic development and population policies are mutually reinforcing. This is why even LDC’s with relatively sound, market-oriented economies have found it important to pursue voluntary programs to moderate population growth as part of their overall development strategy.

3. Health and Humanitarian Concerns.

Perhaps the most poignant consequence of rapid population growth is its effect on the health of mothers and children. Especially in poor countries, the health and nutrition status of women and children is linked to family size. Maternal and infant mortality rises with the number of births and with births too closely spaced. In countries as different as Turkey, Peru, and Nepal, a child born less than two years after its sibling is twice as likely to die before it reaches the age of five, than if there were an interval of at least four years between the births. Complications of pregnancy are more frequent among women who are very young or near the end of their reproductive years. In societies with widespread malnutrition and inadequate health conditions, these problems are reinforced; numerous and closely spaced births lead to even greater malnutrition of mothers and infants.

The World Population Plan of Action,5 adopted at the Bucharest Conference in 1974, states:

“All couples and individuals have the basic human right to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have the information, education and means to do so; the responsibility of couples and individuals in the exercise of this right takes into account the needs of their living and future children, and their responsibilities towards the community;”

Yet, throughout the world, hundreds of millions of families lack the information and means to exercise this right to have the number of children they desire. Because of the unprecedented and growing numbers of people moving into and through their child-bearing years, the need for information and assistance is great. Even now, there is unmet demand for such services, and requests from developing coun[Page 797]tries for assistance from the U.S., UN, and other donors exceed current budgets (population assistance is currently less than two percent of worldwide Official Development Assistance). Because of the demographic momentum and the numbers involved, delays in offering voluntary programs may result in desperate governments resorting to measures which infringe upon human rights and dignity.

It is an unfortunate reality that in many countries abortion is used as a means of terminating unwanted pregnancies. This is unnecessary; voluntary family assistance programs can provide a humane alternative to abortion for couples who wish to regulate the size of their family, and evidence from some developing countries indicates a decline in abortion as such services are expanded.

4. U.S. Population Assistance.

It seems clear that ignoring demographic realities or delaying practical responses to these conditions runs the risk of perpetuating poverty and human degradation and undermining the stability of the family and of society. Hence, the U.S. has considered population to be one important component of a balanced development assistance strategy.

The basic objective of all U.S. assistance, including population programs, is the betterment of the human condition, improving the quality of life of mothers and children, of families, and of communities for generations to come. For we recognize that people are the ultimate resource—but this means happy and healthy children, growing up with an education, finding productive work as young adults, and able to develop their full mental and physical potential.

U.S. aid is designed to promote economic progress in developing countries through encouraging sound economic policies and freeing of individual initiative. Thus, the U.S. supports a broad range of activities in various sectors, including agriculture, private enterprise, science and technology, health, population, and education. Population assistance, while important in concept, amounts in monetary terms to only about ten percent of total development assistance.

As population factors had been neglected in early aid programs, the U.S. has in recent years taken an international leadership role in encouraging other donors and international organizations to support voluntary population programs as an important, cost-effective component of development aid. There is now substantial evidence, from countries with widely varying economic, social, and religious backgrounds, that relatively inexpensive family assistance programs can improve maternal and child health, bring down birth rates, and contribute to economic development.

Under this Administration, U.S. support for population programs abroad aims at strengthening family life and enhancing the freedom [Page 798]of couples in the exercise of responsible parenthood by expanding access to a wide range of safe, effective, and acceptable family planning methods. The emphasis is on voluntarism, education and informed choice, and individual responsibility.

U.S. policy in this area is guided by certain basic ethical precepts:

—Aid will be provided in ways which are sensitive to human dignity and local cultural values;

—U.S. funds will not be used for abortion activities, for involuntary sterilization, or for population activities involving coercion;

—U.S. aid in other development sectors will never be conditioned on a country’s acceptance of any particular population policy;

—U.S. population assistance will be provided only in the context of an overall development program.

5. The U.S. at Mexico City.

Because nearly all major LDC’s have themselves adopted positions on population matters advanced by the U.S. and its Western allies over the past twenty years, the U.S. delegation need not be out front in Mexico City. Other countries will, however, look for our support in strengthening the broad consensus on population and development that has emerged over the past several years.

Based on the above discussion, the following principles should be drawn upon to guide the U.S. delegation at the ICP.

1. Population factors merit serious consideration in development strategy, although they are not a substitute for sound economic policies which liberate individual initiative through the market mechanism.

2. Population policies and programs should be fully integrated into, and reinforce, appropriate, market-oriented development policies; their objective should be clearly seen as an improvement in the human condition, and not merely an exercise in limiting numbers.

3. Access to family education and services needs to be significantly expanded, especially in the context of maternal/child health programs, in order to enable couples to exercise responsible parenthood. Consistent with local values and customs, the U.S. favors offering couples the widest practicable variety of medically approved methods, including natural family planning.

4. Respect for human life is basic, and any attempt to use abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive measures in family planning must be rejected.

5. National and international resources addressed to population issues should be commensurate with the growing dimensions of the problem.

6. There should be higher international priority for biomedical research into safer and better methods of fertility regulation, including [Page 799]natural family planning, and for operations research into more effective service delivery and program management.

7. Issues of migration should be handled in ways consistent with both human rights and national sovereignty.

8. The U.S., in cooperation with other concerned countries should resist intrusion of polemical or non-germane issues into Conference deliberations. In particular, a draft recommendation on disarmament and the arms race,6 proposed by the Soviet Union, should be rejected, although we can accept suitable language on the need for peace and disarmament in an appropriate preambular clause.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, P840131–0239. No classification marking. Drafted by Benedick and Malone and cleared by Dam, McPherson, Malone, and Kaplan. A typed message in the top margin reads: “Sent via LDX 6/19 1140. Also via 1400 courier 6/19.” In a June 22 memorandum to Baker, McFarlane wrote that he had created a separate draft of the paper “based upon State and AID drafts.” (Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC: Subject File, [Population—too late to file] (2) (18 June 84))
  2. See footnote 1, Document 278.
  3. McKinley signed for Hill.
  4. No classification marking.
  5. See “World Population Plan of Action,” United Nations, 1974.
  6. In telegram 100230 to multiple recipients, April 5, the Department discussed a session of the Preparatory Committee for the Conference, and mentioned the Soviet recommendation. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D840229–0096)