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WHAT IS N.S.S.M. 200...?


In December of 1974, shortly after the first major international population conference was held under UN auspices at Bucharest, Romania, several of the major U.S. government agencies involved in foreign affairs submitted a detailed report on population control in developing countries. Contributions came from the Central Intelligence Agency, The Departments of States, Defense, and Agriculture, and the Agency for International Development. Their contributions were combined into one major report with the title, "Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for U.S. Security and Overseas Interests." The final study, which is more than 200 pages in length, covered many topics from the viewpoint of each of the participating agencies. The following questions and answers cover just the most basic aspects of this crucial historical document.

What does the term "NSSM 200" mean? "NSSM" stands for "National Security Study Memorandum," and the number 200 identifies the order in which it was produced. The original request for a review of overseas population policies is also called NSSM 200, and was written April 27, 1974 by Henry Kissinger. The actual study, which covered 229 pages of text, represents one stage of the NSSM 200 correspondence series, and was submitted on December 10, 1974. It became the official guide to foreign policy November 26, 1975, when a National Security Decision Memorandum (NSDM 314) was signed that endorsed the findings of the study.

Who actually was responsible for the study? NSSM 200 was compiled by the National Security Council, which is the highest level of command in the U.S. government. The NSC is headed by the President of the United States and his designated Security Advisor, and its purpose is to coordinate the overseas operations of all executive branches the U.S. government.

Is NSSM 200 still in force? Technically, the answer is yes. It remains the official strategy paper on population until it is replaced by another of equal importance. However, the implementation of the guidelines may differ from one administration to another. Jimmy Carter, for example, showed considerably less interest in curbing population growth than did his predecessors Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. And the Reagan administration took a somewhat different approach (i.e., the Mexico City Policy that banned direct U.S. financing for abortions). The facts that funds for population control increased rapidly and dramatically during the Reagan and Bush years does not necessarily indicate a newer NSC directive was issued.

Why was NSSM only discovered in 1990? NSSM 200 was originally classified as a secret document, meaning that neither the public in the United States nor the people of the developing world who were the subject of the study were allowed to know of its existence. A schedule for declassification appearing on the cover authorized its release in mid-1989. However, the document was not actually made public until almost a year later, when it was given to the U.S. National Archives in response to a request from a journalist working for the Information Project For Africa.

Why was the study kept confidential so long? It is difficult to promote birth control on a giant scope unless the recipients can be persuaded that it is intended for their benefit. NSSM 200, on the other hand, acknowledged that the purpose of population control was to serve the U.S. strategic, economic, and military interest at the expense of the developing countries. Such a revelation, particularly if it were to leak out prematurely, would seriously jeopardize program goals. In fact, the declassification date on the memorandum would not necessarily be mandatory, and NSC could still have kept it from public view. But by 1990, at least two very important changes had taken place. For one thing, many of the study's recommendations for pushing population reduction policies on aid-receiving countries had been accomplished. Second, the U.S. had elected George Bush, a former Director of Central Intelligence, to the White House in 1988, which may have signalled to classification review personnel that the American public had grown more tolerant of covert activities overseas.

Whose population did the security advisers want controlled? The recommendations for reducing fertility applied only to the developing world -- and to all of it. However, NSSM 200 also states that 13 countries of "special U.S. political and strategic interest" would be primary targets. They are: India, Brazil, Egypt, Nigeria, Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Mexico, Thailand, Turkey, Ethiopia and Colombia (page 15 of the introduction).

What were the study's main concerns about population? NSSM 200 states that population growth in the developing world threatens U.S. security in four basic ways: First, certain large nations stand to gain significant political power and influence as a result of their growing populations. Second, the United States and its western allies have a vital interest in strategic materials which have to be imported from less-developed countries. Third, societies with high birthrates have large numbers of young people, who are more likely than older people to challenge global power structures. And last, population growth in relatively-disadvantaged countries jeopardizes U.S. investments.

Which countries would benefit politically from population growth? The memorandum cites Brazil as one example. Brazil "clearly dominates the continent demographically," the report says, noting that Brazilians could outnumber U.S. residents by the end of the century. Thus it foresees a "growing power status for Brazil in Latin America and on the world scene over the next 25 years" if population programs were not successful at curbing fertility (page 22). Nigeria was also given as an example of a nation that can benefit from population increase. "Already the most populous country on the continent, with an estimated 55 million people in 1970, Nigeria's population by the end of this century is projected to number 135 million," says the formerly-classified report. "This suggests a growing political and strategic role for Nigeria, at least in Africa south of the Sahara" (page 21).

How does population control help the west acquire minerals? The study explains, first of all, "The location of known reserves of higher-grade ores of most minerals favors increasing dependence of all industrialized regions on imports from less developed countries. The real problems of mineral supplies lie, not in basic physical sufficiency, but in the politico-economic issues of access, terms for exploration and exploitation, and division of the benefits among producers, consumers, and host country governments" (page 37). It then advises, "...the U.S. economy will require large and increasing amounts of minerals from abroad, especially from less developed countries. That fact gives the U.S. enhanced interest in the political, economic, and social stability of the supplying countries. Wherever a lessening of population pressures through reduced birth rates can increase the prospects for such stability, population policy becomes relevant to resource supplies and to the economic interests of the United States" (page 43).

What have youthful populations got to do with it? Young people have historically been advocates for change, and are more prone to confront imperialism. NSSM 200 quotes a June 1974 State Department cable from Bangladesh to make this point: "Bangladesh is now a fairly solid supporter of third world positions, advocating better distribution of the world's wealth and extensive trade concessions to poor nations. As its problems grow and its ability to gain assistance fails to keep pace, Bangladesh's positions on international issues likely will become radicalized, inevitably in opposition to U.S. interests on major issues..." (page 80).

How are U.S. commercial investments affected by birthrates overseas? The document points out that growing nations need to provide for their growing needs. Thus, it warns, they are likely to make increased demands of foreign investors. Under such circumstances, western corporate holdings "are likely to be expropriated or subjected to arbitrary inter- vention." The report adds that this could be a consequence of "government action, labor conflicts, sabotage, or civil disturbance," and concludes: "Although population pressure is obviously not the only factor involved, these types of frus- trations are much less likely under conditions of slow or zero population growth" (pages 37-38).

Did the Americans really think they could get away it? NSSM 200 repeatedly acknowledges suspicions about U.S. motives on the part of "LDC" (less-developed country) leaders, and recommends a strategy to deal with these reactions. "It is vital that the effort to develop and strengthen a commitment on the part of the LDC leaders not be seen by them as an industrialized country policy to keep their strength down or to reserve resources for use by the `rich' countries," says the study. "Development of such a perception could create a serious backlash adverse to the cause of population stability..." (page 114). The next page adds: "The US can help to minimize charges of an imperialist motivation behind its support of population activities by repeatedly asserting that such support derives from a concern with: (a) the right of the individual to determine freely and responsibly their number and spacing of children ... and (b) the fundamental social and economic development of poor countries...." (page 115).

How were NSSM 200 s population goals to be pursued? In addition to disguising hostile intent by "repeatedly asserting" that birth control is useful to development, the writers demand that the United Nations and other multi-national institutions be used as fronts to conceal the extent of the U.S. involvement. They argue that the U.S. should "[a]rrange for familiarization programs at U.N. Headquarters in New York for ministers of governments, senior policy level offi- cials and comparably influential leaders from private life" (introduction, pages 20-21). In some countries, the memo reported, "U.S. assistance is limited by the nature of political or diplomatic relations ... or by the lack of strong government interest in population reduction programs (e.g. Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mexico, Brazil)." In these cases, it would be wise to channel population assistance should through "other donors and/or from private and international organizations (many of which receive contributions from AID)" (pages 127-128).

Did NSSM 200 mention compulsory population policies? It clearly does. It recommends, for example, that the World Bank take the lead. "Involvement of the Bank in this area would open up new possibilities for collaboration," the document says (page 148). The study also advises that the U.S. government played "an important role in establishing the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) to spearhead a multilateral effort in population as a complement to the bilateral actions of AID and other donor countries" (page 121). And it says that, "with a greater commitment of Bank resources and improved consultation with AID and UNFPA, a much greater dent could be made on the overall problem" (page 149). Moreover, the report asserts that "mandatory programs may be needed and that we should be considering these possibilities now" (page 118). It also finds that there is already "some established precedent for taking account of family planning performance in appraisal of assistance requirements" and concludes that "allocation of scarce PL 480 resources should take account of what steps a country is taking in population control as well as food production. In these sensitive relationships, however, it is important in style as well as substance to avoid the appearance of coercion" (page 106- 107).

What about propaganda? NSSM 200 concentrates mostly on efforts to get heads of government to adopt population policies against their own people. In this context, it says that U.S. diplomatic and embassy officials should "be alert to opportunities for expanding our assistance efforts and for demonstrating to their leaders the consequences of rapid population growth and the benefits of actions to reduce fertility" (page 128). It also notes: "There was general consternation [at the 1974 population conference in Bucharest when] the Plan was subjected to a slashing, five-pronged attack led by Algeria, with the backing of several African countries; Argentina, supported by Uruguay, Brazil, Peru, and, more limitedly, some other Latin American countries; the Eastern European group (less Romania); the PRC [Peoples Republic of China] and the Holy See" (page 86-87). Thus the study emphasizes the need to convince foreign leaders to drop their objections: "The beliefs, ideologies and misconceptions displayed by many nations at Bucharest indicate more forcefully than ever the need for extensive education of the leaders of many governments, especially in Africa and some in Latin America. Approaches [for] leaders of individual countries must be designed in the light of their current beliefs and to meet their special concerns" (page 96).

How about the mass media? At the time NSSM 200 was written, U.S. policy makers gave only passing thought to wholesale propaganda operations, apparently concluding that this course of action would be too difficult and too controversial. "Beyond seeking to reach and influence national leaders, improved world-wide support for population-related efforts should be sought through increased emphasis on mass media and other popula- tion education and motivation programs by the UN, USIA and USAID," says the formerly-secret memorandum. "We should give higher priorities in our information programs world-wide for this area and consider expansion of collaborative arrangements with multilateral institutions in population education programs" (page 117). But it also makes reference to the risks involved: "First, there is widespread LDC sensitivity to satellite broadcast, expressed most vigorously in the Outer Space Committee of the UN. Many countries don't want broadcasts of neighboring countries over their own territory and fear unwanted propaganda and subversion by hostile broadcasters. NASA experience suggests that the US must treat very softly when discussing assistance in program content" (page 191).

Is NSSM 200 the only important policy document on population trends? Certainly not. The Central Intelligence Agency had a population and manpower subcommittee at least as far back as the 1950s. Over the past 40 years, hundreds of reports have been prepared by the Defense Department, the Department of State, the CIA and others about population control and U.S. national security. Many of them remain partially or entirely classified. To give just one example, a February 1984 CIA report called "Middle East-South Asia: Population Problems and Political Stability" warns that "one-fourth to one-third of the populations of all Middle Eastern and South Asian countries is in the politically-volatile 15 to 24 age group, a consequence of high population growth rates during the 1950s and 1960s." These young people, the intelligence analysts continued, "will be ready recruits for opposition causes [such as] Islamic fundamentalism, which currently offers the principal ideological haven for Muslim youth." Similarly a study done in 1988 for the Pentagon calls upon high-level security planners to ensure that "population planning" is given the status of weapons development (see "Global Demographic Trends to the Year 2010: Implications for U.S. Security" in The Washington Quarterly, Spring 1989). And a 1991 report to the U.S. Army Conference on Long- Range Planning warns that current population trends -- extremely low fertility in developed countries and rapid growth in the southern hemisphere -- raise serious concerns about "the international political order and the balance of world power." The document -- reprinted in Foreign Affairs, Summer 1991 as "Population Change and National Security" -- says that these changes "could create an international environment even more menacing to the security prospects of the Western alliance than was the Cold War for the past generation." Military and intelligence assessments such as these do not change the importance of NSSM 200, however, but merely update its message to address current concerns.


NOTE: The full text of
National Security Study Memorandum 200
can be found here.