IMPLICATIONS OF POPULATION
PRESSURES FOR NATIONAL SECURITY
It seems well understood that the impact of population
factors on the subjects already considered development, food
requirements, resources, environment adversely affects the welfare
and progress of countries in which we have a friendly interest and
thus indirectly adversely affects broad U.S. interests as well.
The effects of population factors on the political stability of
these countries and their implications for internal and
international order or disorder, destructive social unrest, violence
and disruptive foreign activities are less well understood and need
more analysis. Nevertheless, some strategists and experts believe
that these effects may ultimately be the most important of those
arising from population factors, most harmful to the countries where
they occur and seriously affecting U.S. interests. Other experts
within the U.S. Government disagree with this conclusion.
A recent study [Choucri, Nazli, Professor of Political Science,
M.I.T. - "Population Dynamics and Local Conflict; A Cross-National
Study of Population and War, A Summary," June 1974] of forty-five
local conflicts involving Third World countries examined the ways in
which population factors affect the initiation and course of a
conflict in different situations. The study reached two major
1. ". . . population factors are indeed critical in, and often
determinants of, violent conflict in developing areas. Segmental
(religious, social, racial) differences, migration, rapid population
growth, differential levels of knowledge and skills, rural/urban
differences, population pressure and the special location of
population in relation to resources in this rough order of
importance all appear to be important contributions to conflict and
2. Clearly, conflicts which are regarded in primarily political
terms often have demographic roots: Recognition of these
relationships appears crucial to any understanding or prevention of
It does not appear that the population factors act alone or,
often, directly to cause the disruptive effects. They act through
intervening elements variables. They also add to other causative
factors turning what might have been only a difficult situation into
one with disruptive results.
This action is seldom simple. Professor Philip Hauser of the
University of Chicago has suggested the concept of "population
complosion" to describe the situation in many developing countries
when (a) more and more people are born into or move into and are
compressed in the same living space under (b) conditions and
irritations of different races, colors, religions, languages, or
cultural backgrounds, often with differential rates of population
growth among these groups, and (c) with the frustrations of failure
to achieve their aspirations for better standards of living for
themselves or their children. To these may be added pressures for
and actual international migration. These population factors appear
to have a multiplying effect on other factors involved in situations
of incipient violence. Population density, the "overpopulation" most
j often thought of in this connection, is much less important.
These population factors contribute to socio-economic variables
including breakdowns in social structures, underemployment and
unemployment, poverty, deprived people in city slums, lowered I
opportunities for education for the masses, few job opportunities
for those who do obtain education, interracial, religious, and
regional rivalries, and sharply increased financial, planning, and
administrative burdens on governmental systems at all levels.
These adverse conditions appear to contribute frequently to
harmful developments of a political nature: Juvenile delinquency,
thievery and other crimes, organized brigandry, kidnapping and
terrorism, food riots, other outbreaks of violence; guerrilla
warfare, communal violence, separatist movements, revolutionary
movements and counter-revolutionary coupe. All of these bear upon
the weakening or collapse of local, state, or national government
Beyond national boundaries, population factors appear to have had
operative roles in some past politically disturbing legal or illegal
mass migrations, border incidents, and wars. If current increased
population pressures continue they may have greater potential for
future disruption in foreign relations.
Perhaps most important, in the last decade population factors
have impacted more severely than before on availabilities of
agricultural land and resources, industrialization, pollution and
the environment. All this is occurring at a time when international
communications have created rising expectations which are being
frustrated by slow development and inequalities of distribution.
Since population factors work with other factors and act through
intervening linkages, research as to their effects of a political
nature is difficult and "proof" even more so. This does not mean,
however, that the causality does not exist. It means only that U.S.
policy decisions must take into account the less precise and
programmatic character of our knowledge of these linkages.
Although general hypotheses are hard to draw, some seem
1. Population growth and inadequate resources. Where population
size is greater than available resources, or is expanding more
rapidly than the available resources, there is a tendency toward
internal disorders and violence and, sometimes, disruptive
international policies or violence. The higher the rate of growth,
the more salient a factor population increase appears to be. A sense
of increasing crowding, real or perceived, seems to generate such
tendencies, especially if it seems to thwart obtaining desired
personal or national goals.
2. Populations with a high proportion of growth. The young
people, who are in much higher proportions in many LDCs, are likely
to be more volatile, unstable, prone to extremes, alienation and
violence than an older population. These young people can more
readily be persuaded to attack the legal institutions of the
government or real property of the "establishment," "imperialists,"
multinational corporations, or other often foreign influences blamed
for their troubles.
3. Population factors with social cleavages. When adverse
population factors of growth, movement, density, excess, or pressure
coincide with racial, religious, color, linguistic, cultural, or
other social cleavages, there will develop the most potentially
explosive situations for internal disorder, perhaps with external
effects. When such factors exist together with the reality or sense
of relative deprivation among different groups within the same
country or in relation to other countries or peoples, the
probability of violence increases significantly.
4. Population movements and international migrations. Population
movements within countries appear to have a large role in disorders.
Migrations into neighboring countries (especially those richer or
more sparsely settled), whether legal or illegal, can provoke
negative political reactions or force.
There may be increased propensities for violence arising simply
from technological developments making it easier e.g., international
proliferation and more ready accessibility to sub-national groups of
nuclear and other lethal weaponry. These possibilities make the
disruptive population factors discussed above even more
Some Effects of Current Population Pressures
In the 1960s and 1970s, there have been a series of episodes in
which population factors have apparently had a role directly or
indirectly affecting countries in which we have an interest.
El Salvador-Honduras War. An example was the
1969 war between El Salvador and Honduras. Dubbed the "Soccer War",
it was sparked by a riot during a soccer match, its underlying cause
was tension resulting from the large scale migration of Salvadorans
from their rapidly growing, densely populated country to relatively
uninhabited areas of Honduras. The Hondurans resented the presence
of migrants and in 1969 began to enforce an already extant land
tenancy law to expel them. El Salvador was angered by the treatment
given its citizens. Flaring tempers on both sides over this issue
created a situation which ultimately led to a military clash.
Nigeria. The Nigerian civil war seriously
retarded the progress of Africa's most populous nations and caused
political repercussions and pressures in the United States. It was
fundamentally a matter of tribal relationships. Irritations among
the tribes caused in part by rapidly increasing numbers of people,
in a situation of inadequate opportunity for most of them, magnified
the tribal issues and may have helped precipitate the war. The
migration of the Ibos from Eastern Nigeria, looking for employment,
led to competition with local peoples of other tribes and
contributed to tribal rioting. This unstable situation was
intensified by the fact that in the 1963 population census returns
were falsified to inflate the Western region's population and hence
its representation in the Federal Government. The Ibos of the
Eastern region, with the oil resources of the country, felt their
resources would be unjustly drawn on and attempted to establish
Pakistan-India-Bangladesh l970-71. This
religious and nationalistic conflict contains several points where a
population factor at a crucial time may have had a causal effect in
turning events away from peaceful solutions to violence. The Central
Government in West Pakistan resorted to military suppression of the
East Wing after the election in which the Awami League had an
overwhelming victory in East Pakistan. This election had followed
two sets of circumstances. The first was a growing discontent in
East Pakistan at the slow rate of economic and social progress being
made and the BengaIi feeling that West Pakistan was dealing
unequally and unfairly with East Pakistan in the distribution of
national revenues. The first population factor was the 75 million
Bengalis whom the 45 million West Pakistanis sought to continue to
dominate. Some observers believe that as a recent population factor
the rapid rate of population growth in East Pakistan seriously
diminished the per capita improvement from the revenues made
available and contributed significantly to the discontent. A special
aspect of the population explosion in East Pakistan (second
population factor) was the fact that the dense occupation of all
good agricultural land forced hundreds of thousands of people to
move into the obviously unsafe lowlands along the southern coast.
They became victims of the hurricane in 1970. An estimated 300,000
died. The Government was unable to deal with a disaster affecting so
many people. The leaders and people of East Pakistan reacted
vigorously to this failure of the Government to bring help.
It seems quite likely that these situations in which population
factors played an important role led to the overwhelming victory of
the Awami League that led the Government to resort to force in East
Pakistan with the massacres and rapes that followed. Other experts
believe the effects of the latter two factors were of marginal
influence in the Awami League's victory.
It further seems possible that much of the violence was
stimulated or magnified by population pressures. Two groups of
Moslems had been competing for jobs and land in East Bengal since
the 1947 partition. "Biharis" are a small minority of non-Bengali
Moslems who chose to resettle in East Pakistan at that time. Their
integration into Bengali society was undoubtedly inhibited by the
deteriorating living conditions of the majority Bengalis. With the
Pakistan army crackdown in March, 1971, the Biharis cooperated with
the authorities, and reportedly were able thereby to improve their
economic conditions at the expense of the persecuted Bengalis. When
the tables were turned after independence, it was the Biharis who
were persecuted and whose property and jobs were seized. It seems
likely that both these outbursts of violence were induced or
enlarged by the population "complosion" factor.
The violence in East Pakistan against the Bengalis and
particularly the Hindu minority who bore the brunt of Army
repression led to the next population factor, the mass migration
during one year of nine or ten million refugees into West Bengal in
India. This placed a tremendous burden on the already weak Indian
economy. As one Indian leader in the India Family Planning Program
said, "The influx of nine million people wiped out the savings of
some nine million births which had been averted over a period of
eight years of the family planning program."
There were other factors in India's invasion of East Bengal, but
it is possible that the necessity of returning these nine or ten
million ~ refugees to east Bengal getting them out of India may have
l played a part in the Indian decision to invade. Certainly, in a
broader sense, the threat posed by this serious, spreading
instability on India's eastern frontier an instability in which
population factors were a major underlying cause a key reason for
the Indian decision.
The political arrangements in the Subcontinent have changed, but
all of the underlying population factors which influenced the
dramatic acts of violence that took place in 1970-71 still exist, in
worsening dimensions, to influence future events.
Additional illustrations. Population factors also appear to have
had indirect causal relations, in varying degrees, on the killings
in Indonesia in 1965-6, the communal slaughter in Rwanda in 1961-2
and 1963-4 and in Burundi in 1972, the coup in Uganda in 1972, and
the insurrection in Sri Lanka in 1971.
Some Potential Effects of Future Population
Between the end of World War II and 1975 the world's
population will have increased about one and a half billion nearly
one billion of that from 1960 to the present. The rate of growth is
increasing and between two and a half and three and a half billion
will be added by the year 2000, depending partly on the
effectiveness of population growth control programs. This increase
of the next 25 years will, of course, pyramid on the great number
added with such rapidity in the last 25. The population factors
which contributed to the political pressures and instabilities of
the last decades will be multiplied.
PRC - The demographic factors of the PRC are referred to on page
79 above. The Government of the PRC has made a major effort to feed
its growing population.
Cultivated farm land, at 107 million hectares, has not increased
significantly over the past 25 years, although farm output has
substantially kept pace with population growth through improved
yields secured by land improvement, irrigation extension,
intensified cropping, and rapid expansion in the supply of
In 1973 the PRC adopted new, forceful population control
measures. In the urban areas Peking claimed its birth control
measures had secured a two-child family and a one percent annual
population growth, and it proposes to extend this development
throughout the rural areas by 1980.
The political implications of China's future population growth
are obviously important but are not dealt with here.
Israel and the Arab States. If a peace settlement can be reached,
the central issue will be how to make it last. Egypt with about 37
million today is growing at 2.8% per year. It will approximate 48
million by 1985, 75 million by 1995, and more than 85 million by
2000. It is doubtful that Egypt's economic progress can greatly
exceed its population growth. With Israel starting at today's
population of 3.3 million, the disparity between its population and
those of the Arab States will rapidly increase. Inside Israel,
unless Jewish immigration continues, the gap between the size of the
Arab and Jewish populations will diminish. Together with the
traditional animosities which will remain the prime determinants of
Arab-Israeli conflict these population factors make the potential
for peace and for U.S. interests in the area ominous.
India-Bangladesh The Subcontinent will be for years the major
focus of world concern over population growth. India's population is
now approximately 580 million, adding a million by each full moon.
Embassy New Delhi (New Delhi 2115, June 17,1974) reports:
"There seems no way of turning off the faucet this side of 1
billion Indians, which means India must continue to court economic
and social disaster. It is not clear how the shaky and slow-growing
Indian economy can bear the enormous expenditures on health,
housing, employment, and education, which must be made if the
society is even to maintain its current low levels."
Death rates have recently increased in parts of India and
episodes like the recent smallpox epidemic have led Embassy New
Delhi to add:
"A future failure of the India food crop could cause widespread
death and suffering which could not be overcome by the GOI or
foreign assistance. The rise in the death rate in several rural
areas suggests that Malthusian pressures are already being
"Increasing political disturbances should be expected in the
future, fed by the pressures of rising population in urban areas,
food shortages, and growing scarcities in household commodities. The
GOI has not been very successful in alleviating unemployment in the
cities. The recent disturbances in Gujarat and Bihar seem to be only
the beginning of chronic and serious political disorders occurring
There will probably be a weakening, possibly a breakdown, of the
control of the central government over some of the states and local
areas. The democratic system will be taxed and may be in danger of
giving way to a form of dictatorship, benevolent or otherwise. The
existence of India as a democratic buttress in Asia will be
Bangladesh, with appalling population density, rapid population
growth, and extensive poverty will suffer even more. Its population
has increased 40% since the census 13 years ago and is growing at
least 3% per year. The present 75 million, or so, unless slowed by
famine, disease, or massive birth control, will double in 23 years
and exceed 170 million by 2000.
Requirements for food and other basic necessities of life are
growing at a faster rate than existing resources and administrative
systems are providing them. In the rural areas, the size of the
average farm is being reduced and there is increasing landlessness.
More and more people are migrating to urban areas. The government
admits a 30% rate of unemployment and underemployment. Already,
Embassy Dacca reports (Dacca 3424, June 19, 1974) there are
important economic-population causes for the landlessness that is
rapidly increasing and contributing to violent crimes of murder and
armed robbery that terrorize the ordinary citizen.
"Some of the vast army of unemployed and landless, and those
strapped by the escalating cost of basic commodities, have doubtless
turned to crime."
Three paragraphs of Embassy Dacca's report sharply outline the
effect on U.S. political interests we may anticipate from population
I factors in Bangladesh and other countries that, if present trends
are not changed, will be in conditions similar to Bangladesh in only
a few years.
"Of concern to the U.S. are several probable outcomes as the
basic political, economic and social situation worsens over the
coming decades. Already afflicted with a crisis mentality by which
they look to wealthy foreign countries to shore up their faltering
economy, the BDG will 1 continue to escalate its demands on the U.S.
both bilaterally and internationally to enlarge its assistance, both
of commodities and financing. 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 as it seeks to align itself with others to
force adequate aid.
"U.S. interests in Bangladesh center on the development of an
economically and politically stable country which will not threaten
the stability of its neighbors in the Subcontinent nor invite the
intrusion of outside powers. Surrounded on three sides by India and
sharing a short border with Burma, Bangladesh, if it descends into
chaos, will threaten the stability of these nations as well. Already
Bengalees are illegally migrating into the frontier provinces of
Assam and Tripura, politically sensitive areas of India, and into
adjacent Burma. Should expanded out-migration and sociopolitical
collapse in Bangladesh threaten its own stability, India may be
forced to consider intervention, although it is difficult to see in
what way the Indians could cope with the situation.
"Bangladesh is a case study of the effects of few resources and
burgeoning population not only on national and regional stability
but also on the future world order. In a sense, if we and other
richer elements of the world community do not meet the test of
formulating a policy to help Bangladesh awaken from its economic and
demographic nightmare, we will not be prepared in future decades to
deal with the consequences of similar problems in other countries
which have far more political and economic consequences to U.S.
Africa Sahel Countries. The current tragedy of
the Sahel countries, to which U.S. aid in past years has been
minimal, has suddenly cost us an immense effort in food supplies at
a time when we are already hard pressed to supply other countries,
and domestic food prices are causing strong political repercussions
in the U.S. The costs to us and other donor countries for aid to
help restore the devastated land will run into hundreds of millions.
Yet little attention is given to the fact that even before the
adverse effect of the continued drought, it was population growth
and added migration of herdsmen to the edge of the desert that led
to cutting the trees and cropping the grass, inviting the desert to
sweep forward. Control of population growth and migration must be a
part of any program for improvement of lasting value.
Panama. The troublesome problem of jurisdiction
over the Canal Zone is primarily due to Panamanian feelings of
national pride and a desire to achieve sovereignty over its entire
territory. One Panamanian agreement in pursuing its treaty goals is
that U.S. control over the Canal Zone prevents the natural expansion
of Panama City, an expansion needed as a result of demographic
pressures. In 1908, at the time of the construction of the Canal,
the population of the Zone was about 40,000. Today it is close to
the same figure, 45,000. On the other hand, Panama City, which had
some 20,000 people in 1908, has received growing migration from
rural areas and now has over 500,000. A new treaty which would give
Panama jurisdiction over land now in the Zone would help alleviate
the problems caused by this growth of Panama City.
Mexico and the U.S. Closest to home, the
combined population growth of Mexico and the U.S. Southwest presages
major difficulties for the future. Mexico's population is growing at
some 3.5% per year and will double in 20 years with concomitant
increases in demands for food, housing, education, and employment.
By 1995, the present 57 million will have increased to some 115
million and, unless their recently established family planning
program has great success, by 2000 will exceed 130 million. More
important, the numbers of young people entering the job market each
year will expand even more quickly. These growing numbers will
increase the pressure of illegal emigration to the U.S., and make
the issue an even more serious source of friction in our political
relations with Mexico.
On our side, the Bureau of the Census estimates that as more and
more Americans move to the Southwestern States the present
40,000,000 population may approximate 61,000,000 by 1995. The
domestic use of Colorado River water may again have increased the
salinity level in Mexico and reopened that political issue.
Amembassy Mexico City (Mexico 4953, June 14, 1974) summarized the
influences of population factors on U.S. interests as follows:
"An indefinite continuation of Mexico's high population growth
rate would increasingly act as a brake on economic (and social)
improvement. The consequences would be noted in various ways. Mexico
could well take more radical positions in the international scene.
Illegal migration to the U.S. would increase. In a country where
unemployment and under-employment is already high, the entry of
increasing numbers into the work force would only intensify the
pressure to seek employment in the U.S. by whatever means. Yet
another consequence would be increased demand for food imports from
the U.S., especially if the fate of growth of agricultural
production continues to lag behind the population growth rate.
Finally, one cannot dismiss the spectre of future domestic
instability as a long term consequence, should the economy, now
UNCTAD, the Special UNGA, and the UN. The developing countries,
after several years of unorganized maneuvering and erratic attacks
have now formed tight groupings in the Special Committee for Latin
American Coordination, the Organization of African States, and the
Seventy-Seven. As illustrated in the Declaration of Santiago and the
recent Special General Assembly, these groupings at times appear to
reflect a common desire to launch economic attacks against the
United States and, to a lesser degree, the
European developed countries. A factor which is common to all of
them, which retards their development, burdens their foreign
exchange, subjects them to world prices for food, fertilizer, and
necessities of life and pushes them into disadvantageous trade
relations is their excessively rapid population growth. Until they
are able to overcome this problem, it is likely that their
manifestations of antagonism toward the United States in
international bodies will increase.
In industrial nations, population growth increases demand for
industrial output. This over time tends to deplete national raw
materials resources and calls increasingly on sources of marginal
profitability and foreign supplies. To obtain raw materials,
industrial nations seek to locate and develop external sources of
supply. The potential for collisions of interest among the
developing countries is obvious and has already begun. It is visible
and vexing in claims for territorial waters and national sovereignty
over mineral resources. It may become intense in rivalries over
exploring and exploiting the resources of the ocean floor.
In developing countries, the burden of population factors, added
to others, will weaken unstable governments, often only marginally
effective in good times, and open the way for extremist regimes.
Countries suffering under such burdens will be more susceptible to
radicalization. Their vulnerability also might invite foreign
intervention by stronger nations bent on acquiring political and
economic advantage. The tensions within the Have-not nations are
likely to intensify, and the conflicts between them and the Haves
Past experience gives little assistance to predicting the course
of these developments because the speed of today's population
growth, migrations, and urbanization far exceeds anything the world
has seen before. Moreover, the consequences of such population
factors can no longer be evaded by moving to new hunting or grazing
lands, by conquering new territory, by discovering or colonizing new
continents, or by emigration in large numbers.
The world has ample warning that we all must make more rapid
efforts at social and economic development to avoid or mitigate
these gloomy prospects. We should be warned also that we all must
move as rapidly as possible toward stabilizing national and world