The Cairo Conference on Population has passed into history and as it does, it is important for us to put it into some historical perspective. I call it a conference on population because that is just what it was. Though officially called a conference on Development and Population, the draft agreement addressed only a few paragraphs to the issue of development. Specifically, it was a conference about Western and developed countries’ plans on how to limit the Third World’s population.
The Draft Document at Cairo reflected the concerns of the already developed countries. Some twenty years ago, the United States identified population growth in Third World countries as a threat to the security of the United States. The so-called Kissinger Memo was written I 1974 and bears the long-winded but revealing official title of “National Security Study Memorandum 200: Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for U.S. Security and Overseas Interests.” The proposals in that memo, also known as NSSM 200 became an integral part of U.S. foreign policy.
The Kissinger memo portrays population growth in Third World countries as a concern because a fast increasing population of poor people creates political instability. That means that U.S.-friendly regimes now in place in countries around the world could be overthrown, threatening the investment of American corporations.
An increasing population in poor countries is seen as threatening American interests because such increases raise the local demand for natural resources located in the Third World. At present, most of these resources are extracted by Western companies to produce their cars, stereos and other toys.
For this reason the United States, and all other Western countries without exception, were united behind the call to aggressively push population control in Third World countries.
Remember, these are the same developed countries which for years have resisted the call to increase their foreign aid to a mere 7% of their GNP. These are the same countries which for decades have resisted the demand by Third World nations for a reform of trade and monetary laws and practices. Yet these countries had the unmitigated gall to dress up their call for population control as concern for the peoples of the Third World.
In that sense nothing new took place at Cairo. It was a case of the developed world trying to impose upon weaker nations a plan and a structure intended to benefit the developed world. It was contraceptive imperialism, but it grew out of generations of economic and cultural imperialism.
The colonization of virtually the entire world by European and American powers was carried out by military might. This led to the present colonization by Western transnational corporations, using the power of television and economics. Each of these waves of colonization saw the massive restructuring of self-sustaining and functioning societies. It saw the destruction of the societies and the enslavement people and their resources for the use of people in the West. Aggressively pushing population control in poor countries is the natural and inevitable continuation of this history.
The sobering and humbling part of all this for pro-life people living in Western countries is to realize why our governments have been acting as they have. They have been acting to preserve our way of life. True, many of the immediate beneficiaries are large investors and corporations. However, Western countries are democracies. Their governments can stay in power only by pleasing, or at least appeasing, the general population. And so our consumerist way of life- which almost without exception we pro-life Canadians share – is built on the exploitation of others.
It would be too facile to say that we have done our job as pro-life people by condemning the anti-population forces which met at the conference. We must do that and we must do it with all our strength. But we must also be prepared to look at ourselves and see people who are benefiting materially from the very policies which we condemn. It is time for us to reflect honestly and dispassionately upon what it means to condemn the actions of certain groups and politicians while we benefit from those very actions.
I do not know where such reflection will take us but I do expect the process to be a very humbling and even painful one