THE KISSINGER REPORT: December 10, 1974

Implications of Worldwide Population Growth For U.S. Security and Overseas Interests (THE KISSINGER REPORT)

December 10, 1974


This document can only be declassified by the White House.

Declassified/Released on 7/3/89
under provisions of E.O. 12356
by F. Graboske, National Security Council


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1. World population growth since World War 11 is quantitatively and qualitatively different from any previous epoch in human history. The rapid reduction in death rates, unmatched by corresponding birth rate reductions, has brought total growth rates close to 2 percent a year, compared with about 1 percent before World War II, under 0.5 percent in 1750-1900, and far lower rates before 1750. The effect is to double the world’s population in 35 years instead of 100 years. Almost 80 million are now being added each year, compared with 10 million in 1900.

2. The second new feature of population trends is the sharp differentiation between rich and poor countries. Since 1950, population in the former group has been growing at O to 1.5 percent per year, and in the latter at 2.0 to 3.5 percent (doubling in 20 to 35 years). Some of the highest rates of increase are in areas already densely populated and with a weak resource base.

3. Because of the momentum of population dynamics, reductions in birth rates affect total numbers only slowly. High birth rates in the recent past have resulted in a high proportion m the youngest age groups, so that there will continue to be substantial population increases over many years even if a two-child family should become the norm in the future. Policies to reduce fertility will have their main effects on total numbers only after several decades. However, if future numbers are to be kept within reasonable bounds, it is urgent that measures to reduce fertility be started and made effective in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Moreover, programs started now to reduce birth rates will have short run advantages for developing countries in lowered demands on food, health and educational and other services and in enlarged capacity to contribute to productive investments, thus accelerating development.

4. U.N. estimates use the 3.6 billion population of 1970 as a base (there are nearly 4 billion now) and project from about 6 billion to 8 billion people for the year 2000 with the U.S. medium estimate at 6.4 billion. The U.S. medium projections show a world population of 12 billion by 2075 which implies a five-fold increase in south and southeast Asia and in Latin American and a seven-fold increase in Africa, compared with a doubling in east Asia and a 40% increase in the presently developed countries (see Table I). Most demographers, including the U.N. and the U.S. Population Council, regard the range of 10 to 13 billion as the most likely level for world population stability, even with intensive efforts at fertility control. (These figures assume, that sufficient food could be produced and distributed to avoid limitation through famines.)





Adequacy of World Food Supplies

5. Growing populations will have a serious impact on the need for food especially in the poorest, fastest growing LDCs. While under normal weather conditions and assuming food production growth in line with recent trends, total world agricultural production could expand faster than population, there will nevertheless be serious problems in food distribution and financing, making shortages, even at today’s poor nutrition levels, probable in many of the larger more populous LDC regions. Even today 10 to 20 million people die each year due, directly or indirectly, to malnutrition. Even more serious is the consequence of major crop failures which are likely to occur from time to time.

6. The most serious consequence for the short and middle term is the possibility of massive famines in certain parts of the world, especially the poorest regions. World needs for food rise by 2-1/2 percent or more per year (making a modest allowance for improved diets and nutrition) at a time when readily available fertilizer and well-watered land is already largely being utilized. Therefore, additions to food production must come mainly from higher yields. Countries with large population growth cannot afford constantly growing imports, but for them to raise food output steadily by 2 to 4 percent over the next generation or two is a formidable challenge. Capital and foreign exchange requirements for intensive agriculture are heavy, and are aggravated by energy cost increases and fertilizer scarcities and price rises. The institutional, technical, and economic problems of transforming traditional agriculture are also very difficult to overcome.

7. In addition, in some overpopulated regions, rapid population growth presses on a fragile environment in ways that threaten longer-term food production: through cultivation of marginal lands, overgrazing, desertification, deforestation, and soil erosion, with consequent destruction of land and pollution of water, rapid siltation of reservoirs, and impairment of inland and coastal fisheries.

Mineral and Fuel

8. Rapid population growth is not in itself a major factor in pressure on depletable resources (fossil fuels and other minerals), since demand for them depends more on levels of industrial output than on numbers of people. On the other hand, the world is increasingly dependent on mineral supplies from developing countries, and if rapid population frustrates their prospects for economic development and social progress, the resulting instability may undermine the conditions for expanded output and sustained flows of such resources.

9. There will be serious problems for some of the poorest LDCs with rapid population growth. They will increasingly find it difficult to pay for needed raw materials and energy. Fertilizer, vital for their own agricultural production, will be difficult to obtain for the next few years. Imports for fuel and other materials will cause grave problems which could impinge on the U.S., both through the need to supply greater financial support and in LDC efforts to obtain


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better terms of trade through higher prices for exports. Economic Development and Population Growth

10. Rapid population growth creates a severe drag on rates of economic development otherwise attainable, sometimes to the point of preventing any increase in per capita incomes. In addition to the overall impact on per capita incomes, rapid population growth seriously affects a vast range of other aspects of the quality of life important to social and economic progress in the LDCs.

11. Adverse economic factors which generally result from rapid population growth include: — reduced family savings and domestic investment;
— increased need for large amounts of foreign exchange for food imports;
— intensification of severe unemployment and underemployment;

— the need for large expenditures for services such as dependency support, education, and health which would be used for more productive investment; — the concentration of developmental resources on increasing food production

to ensure survival for a larger population, rather than on improving living conditions for smaller total numbers.

12. While GNP increased per annum at an average rate of 5 percent in LDCs over the last decade, the population increase of 2.5 percent reduced the average annual per capita growth rate to only 2.5 percent. In many heavily populated areas this rate was 2 percent or less. In the LDCs hardest hit by the oil crisis, with an aggregate population of 800 million, GNP increases may be reduced to less than 1 percent per capita per year for the remainder of the 1970’s. For the poorest half of the populations of these countries, with average incomes of less than $100, the prospect is for no growth or retrogression for this period.

13. If significant progress can be made in slowing population growth, the positive impact on growth of GNP and per capita income will be significant. Moreover, economic and social progress will probably contribute further to the decline in fertility rates.

14. High birth rates appear to stem primarily from:

  1. inadequate information about and availability of means of fertility control;
  2. inadequate motivation for reduced numbers of children combined with motivation for many children resulting from still high infant and child mortality and need for

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support in old age; and





c. the slowness of change in family preferences in response to changes in environment.

15. The universal objective of increasing the world’s standard of living dictates that economic growth outpace population growth. In many high population growth areas of the world, the largest proportion of GNP is consumed, with only a small amount saved. Thus, a small proportion of GNP is available for investment – the “engine” of economic growth. Most experts agree that, with fairly constant costs per acceptor, expenditures on effective family planning services are generally one of the most cost effective investments for an LDC country seeking to improve overall welfare and per capita economic growth. We cannot wait for overall modernization and development to produce lower fertility rates naturally since this will undoubtedly take many decades in most developing countries, during which time rapid population growth will tend to slow development and widen even more the gap between rich and poor.

16. The interrelationships between development and population growth are complex and not wholly understood. Certain aspects of economic development and modernization appear to be more directly related to lower birth rates than others. Thus certain development programs may bring a faster demographic transition to lower fertility rates than other aspects of development. The World Population Plan of Action adopted at the World Population Conference recommends that countries working to affect fertility levels should give priority to development programs and health and education strategies which have a decisive effect on fertility. International cooperation should give priority to assisting such national efforts. These programs include: (a) improved health care and nutrition to reduce child mortality, (b) education and improved social status for women; (c) increased female employment; (d) improved old-age security; and (e) assistance for the rural poor, who generally have the highest fertility, with actions to redistribute income and resources including providing privately owned farms. However, one cannot proceed simply from identification of relationships to specific large-scale operational programs. For example, we do not yet know of cost-effective ways to encourage increased female employment, particularly if we are concerned about not adding to male unemployment. We do not yet know what specific packages of programs will be most cost effective in many situations.

17. There is need for more information on cost effectiveness of different approaches on both the “supply” and the “demand” side of the picture. On the supply side, intense efforts are required to assure full availability by 1980 of birth control information and means to all (fertile individuals, especially in rural areas. Improvement is also needed in methods of birth control most) acceptable and useable by the rural poor. On the demand side, further experimentation and implementation action projects and programs are needed. In particular, more research is needed on the motivation of the poorest who often have the highest fertility rates. Assistance programs must be more precisely targeted to this group than in the past.

18. It may well be that desired family size will not decline to near replacement levels until the lot of the LDC rural poor improves to the extent that the benefits of reducing family size



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