Defusing the population 'bomb': The Pew Trusts' misguided approach to world security

By Foundation Watch
web posted December 27, 1999

With the passing of the Cold War, United States foreign policy and national security have entered a sort of "twilight zone" wherein traditional interests of strategy and geopolitics have given way to the ideologies of domestic social movements and the advocacy groups that are behind them.

Without the threat of war and lacking any immediate challenge to national security, the United States has enjoyed the unique luxury of replacing traditional foreign policy with global pursuits derived from the agendas and priorities of domestic interest groups. These pursuits comprise the thrust of Clinton Administration policies and are pursued as universal aspirations, allowing the President to equate his policies with the good of mankind. This translates into high approval ratings and makes the Administration appear intent on saving the world from itself.

But interests derived from domestic and ideological roots provide a dangerous escape for those who hope that the past can be forgotten and that national security concerns would disappear. To a large extent, foreign policy has dissolved into a branch of global sociology. Thus the "assertive multilateralism" of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright describes the administration's direction in foreign policy, but it also is an expression borrowed from domestic feminism.

The vast conferences sponsored this decade by the United Nations reflect this mindset. These groupings, dominated by "activists" from practically every "progressive" and "environmental" front on earth, have been held periodically in such locales as Rio, Beijing and Kyoto. They invariably adopt agendas on the environment, energy consumption, feminism and developmental aid which reflect the U.N.'s "third world" majority and its allies within the United States. Judging from their priorities and policies, however, they also appear intent on forcing the desires of the American left on the rest of the world.

The Left's heavy influence is most apparent in efforts to redefine national security and international affairs in terms favorable to environmentalists, radical feminists and population control advocates. To a large extent, these efforts have already succeeded with the U.N.'s influential backing.

And as is often the case with American leftist advocacy groups, the funding for these efforts comes from grantmakers. Most notably, the Pew Charitable Trusts — the seventh-largest foundation in the country with $4.7 billion in assets as of December 31, 1998 — has led the charge to redefine world security as a matter of reducing the world's human population. Pew turned its attention to other issues in 1996, apparently satisfied that it had sufficiently influenced the U.N. and world leaders, but only now are we able to assess the full impact of the Initiative. The result is a frightening glimpse of the influence on public policy a foundation can have in just a few years.

Global Stewardship Initiative

The Pew Charitable Trusts are a collection of seven charitable trusts established by the wife, sons and daughters of Sun Oil Company founder Joseph N. Pew. The eldest son, J. Howard Pew, spearheaded the creation of the trusts beginning in 1948. He ensured that all grants reflected his faith in the free market and Christianity until his death in 1971.

Beginning in the late 1980s, Pew's managers forced major changes in the trusts' grantmaking. Today, Pew is one of the leading funders for such advocacy issues as the environment and campaign finance reform. It also has played a leading role in foundation activism — it participates in the planning of nonprofit activities, sets strict guidelines for funding and closely monitors grants to ensure outcomes desired by Pew and not necessarily by its grantees.

Another Pew trait is its fondness for coordinating the efforts of grantees to effect major changes in U.S. public policy. It is this trait, coupled with Pew's support for environmental advocacy, that led the grantmaker in 1990 to begin an internal review of its environment programs. Over the next two years, Pew developed a strategy to focus its environmental programs on population and consumption issues. Other grantmakers and nonprofits, including Pew's current grantees, were targeted as potential allies.

The resulting 1993 White Paper outlined a general strategy to encourage controls on the world's increasing population through grants to advocacy groups, a series of international meetings and strategy sessions, and opinion polls. The goal was to redefine international affairs and direct it toward population control, improving the status of women in the Third World and reducing consumption in the Western world.

"Clearly," the White Paper argued, "the industrialized world must grap-ple with its voracious consumption of natural resources." If Pew could convince Western nations to reduce consumption, the mere force of example might induce poor nations to reduce population growth: "Programs to reduce the environmental 'footprint' of industrialized nations… would enhance the credibility of their efforts to establish regimes for environmental protection and global population stabilization."

How would Pew influence national leaders? By convincing them that national security is less a matter of military strength than an issue of protecting resources. The White Paper argued that the "galvanic changes of the 1980s have rendered traditional notions of 'national security' less relevant, if not obsolete." The new "threats" to global stability, in Pew's Weltanschauung, are those "posed by rapid demographic change."

The White Paper echoed a 1992 report prepared at the request of Pew's board. That report recommended the strategy of translating the board's ambitions for social and political change into the language of international affairs: "The central goal of that report was to develop a new, broader concept of global security reflecting more accurately today's circumstances," explains Pew's 1993 annual report. "This concept of security incorporates economic, environmental, ethnic and demographic issues, as well as traditional military concerns."

The task of implementing the White Paper strategy was assigned to the Global Stewardship Initiative. Pew sought to bring together grantees from its environment, public policy and religion programs to radically alter the American public's understanding of national security. Instead of defining security in Cold War terms of military strength and diplomatic maneuvers, the Global Stewardship Initiative would convince lawmakers and American citizens that population growth and "the unsustainable consumption of the world's resources" produce serious "environmental, human and international security consequences."

Pew's ambitions were matched by money and organization. The Initiative awarded 82 grants totaling more than $19.4 million between 1993 and 1996. It had a tremendous impact on international affairs until 1997, when it was phased out and Pew turned its attention to its Center on Global Climate Change, which focuses primarily on U.S. domestic policy and not world politics.

The Aspen Institute was charged with coordinating the Initiative and was paid handsomely for its work: $1 million in 1995, $1.5 million in 1996 and $200,000 in 1997 (used partly to transition the religion-related elements of the Initiative to Pew's other programs). In addition to managing the Initiative, Aspen assisted with research on the role of religion and religious leaders in fostering support for population control policies.

Several nonprofits received grants to make the link between population control and national security. The Center for National Policy received $100,000, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies received $130,000, to examine the linkages between population control and foreign policy. Yale University was awarded a $250,000 grant to encourage "debate" on proposals to direct foreign assistance to "pivotal states where the interaction of population growth, environmental decline and political instability threaten U.S. interests." And Pew granted $140,000 to Britain's King's College at Cambridge to study the relationship of consumption, stewardship and security.

But most of the grants simply funded the usual activities of environmental and population control advocates, albeit on an international scale. Among the environmentalists, grants supported efforts of the Environmental Defense Fund, the Humane Society of the U.S., the Izaak Walton League of America, the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation and the Wilderness Society — all charged with protecting the environment by encouraging population control. Family planning advocates were given the same task, including the International Women's Health Coalition, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Population Action International, the Population Council, the Population Reference Bureau and Zero Population Growth.

Several other Pew grantees joined the effort, including traditionally left-leaning groups like the League of Women Voters, the Tides Foundation and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

In addition to Pew's ability to bring together a broad array of groups toward a common cause, the Global Stewardship Initiative stands out for its inclusion of several religious groups in a public policy effort. Evangelicals for Social Action received a $350,000 grant to mobilize Christians against population growth and "environmental deterioration." Pew funded a cover story in Christianity Today, providing an "evangelical perspective" on stewardship of the world's resources. Others participating in the Initiative included the Boston Theological Institute, the Christian College Coalition, the First Church of Christ Scientist in Boston, the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, and World Vision Inc.

To support the Initiative, Pew funded an aggressive public relations campaign. The Communications Consortium Media Center was award-ed a $940,000 grant "to serve as core media and communications advisor" for Pew Global Stewardship Initiative. Public opinion polls sponsored by the Global Stewardship Initiative were periodically released to show support for population control. In what the New York Times called a "rare move for any grantmaking foundation," Pew put its name on a series of newspaper advertisements in 1994, linking levels of consumption in the industrial world with population levels in the Third World.

Success in Cairo

In September 1994, the U.N. sponsored an International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, Egypt. It was the primary target of Pew's Global Stewardship Initiative, and the grantees' activities in 1994 and beyond focused largely on first influencing the Conference and then seeking the implementation of its radical Programme of Action.

ICPD was sponsored by the U.N., and the U.S. government sent its official delegation to participate. But the political direction of the conference, the financing of its public relations and the brainpower for its strategy sessions came largely from private sources. The Clinton Administration's appointment of Timothy Wirth as Under-Secretary of State and point-man for the conference and Bella Abzug as "private sector" advisor reflect the good relationship both had to Pew, Planned Parenthood, Turner Broadcasting and other private advocates of population control.

Population expert Betsy Hartmann admits that a few select "special interests" were the driving force behind ICPD, in the 1995 book, Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Environmental Issues:

Many organizations are emphasizing women's rights in preparations for the Cairo conference.… Its inclusion — and co-optation — of feminist concerns is part of a larger strategy to create a broad population control "consensus" among the American public. Behind this effort is a small group of powerful actors: the Pew Charitable Trusts Global Stewardship Initiative; the U.S. State Department through the office of Timothy Wirth… and Ted Turner of the powerful Turner Broadcasting System, producer of CNN.

President Clinton also acknowledged the influence of private interests during his remarks to the National Academy of Sciences in June 1994, a little more than two months before ICPD:

Now, the next time someone asks me… why in the world did you ever appoint Tim Wirth at the State Department, I'll say, well, I had to get Ted Turner off the floor. [laughter].… [C]ouldn't stand to see a man with all that energy prone for the rest of his life. [laughter] Thank you, Ted, and thank you, Jane. When I was down in Atlanta the other day to do the global press conference… I got a handwritten note from Jane Fonda that said, well, you did a pretty good job on that, but don't forget about population. [laughter and applause] …So for both of them, I thank them for being here… I want to thank, also, Dr. Bruce Alberts at the National of Sciences… and the Pew Global Stewardship Initiative for this event.

Pew funded numerous activities prior to ICPD to turn the focus to population control efforts on behalf of the environment and international peace. Examples include:

In April 1994, Pew co-sponsored a "PrepCom" conference of U.N. and nonprofit leaders in New York. The purpose of the conference was to prepare the agenda for ICPD. One speaker, Dartmouth professor Donella Meadows, received widespread media attention with her conclusion that population growth is the leading threat to the environment.

"We must not just stop but reduce population growth," Meadows argued.

At the PrepCom, Pew released the results of a Pew-funded survey on Americans' views about population control. But as the Los Angeles Times noted, the survey was clearly designed to provide "moral and political support for the Clinton Admin-istration's aggressive involvement in the population and development debate." While Pew highlighted its finding that 57 percent of Americans agree that population growth in developing countries may cause international problems, other findings contradicted the aims of the Initiative. For example, 52 percent of Americans said they are optimistic about the future of the environment, 83 percent were confident that technological solutions to global energy and resource needs can be found, and 75 percent agreed that the world's population problems "have more to do with how people are concentrated in certain places, than with numbers of people."

At the PrepCom, the G-77 group of developing nations opposed discussion of the environment at ICPD and fought U.S. efforts to link population and environment issues in the plan of action. But the U.S. delegation and Pew's grantees, including the Audubon Society and the Cousteau Society, overcame the G-77's objections.

"It's very important in Cairo that as many groups as possible move in tandem so that the consensus that exists among so many people on population and environment issues translates into political support for better programs in each country," said the then-director of Pew's Global Stewardship Initiative, Susan Sechler, who was included in the U.S. delegation.

When the Vatican and Muslim leaders announced their opposition to U.S. plans to emphasize population control at the Cairo Conference, Pew used its public relations machine to counter their concerns. In June 1994, Sechler told the Washington Post that she didn't fear the Vatican's influence at the conference, but Catholics "could make it yet another troubled international event, turn South against North, instead of focusing on problems we agree about."

In July 1994, a group of 30 scholars and religious leaders issued a report criticizing the Catholic and Muslim views on population control. The report was the result of an interfaith conference two months earlier in Belgium, that was co-sponsored by Pew and the Ford Foundation.

Again in August 1994, Pew and the MacArthur Foundation convened religious scholars for a press conference in Chicago that criticized the Vatican's position. The conference included Catholic dissident theologian Daniel Maguire and Protestant and Jewish scholars.

Flawed Assumptions

Pew's Global Stewardship Initiative rested on the assumption that the world's population of about 5.5 billion will double by 2050 unless effective policies to slow this growth, particularly in the Third World, began immediately. The Initiative listed "population growth and unsustainable patterns of consumption" as its immediate targets and linked the two as integral for the peace and prosperity of the entire world.

According to this view, the inordinate consumption of the world's resources by the industrial West, especially the United States, made it nearly impossible to reduce population in the developing world. In the long run, therefore, the West must reduce consumption and release more of its resources to the Third World.

As Pew's 1992 White Paper expressed it, consumption and population were intrinsically linked to environmental decay and increased poverty in a vicious cycle of cause and effect: "Population growth and consumption patterns influence environmental degradation.… Poverty is widely recognized as a cause of environmental destruction. The inverse is also true: environmental destruction is also a cause of poverty."

The net result of these assertions is a Malthusian ideology which diagnoses the cause of the world's ills and remedies wholesale change, particularly through state intervention. These ideas lack an empirical base of evidence, but their validity is presumed: "No general theory explains how population growth, unsustainable consumption, poverty and environmental degradation interact," said Pew's White Paper. "Such a theory is not required, however, to recognize the urgent need for programs and policies that will stabilize global population, reduce wasteful consumption and achieve economic development in ways that protect the earth."

Thus, the Global Stewardship Initiative, by its own definition, sought a wholesale reordering of human priorities. Like other ideologies which have affected the 20th century, this "globalist" ideology is long-term in its commitment and targets the very nature of mankind and the community as the essential vehicles of change. The White Paper confirms this:

Sustained changes in attitudes and behavior are slow to occur and difficult to document.… The concept of stewardship and its emphasis on the broadest public good is central to the design and implementation of the Initiative, an ethical compass by which to navigate the issues of population and consumption.… In all its work, the Initiative will look for ways to expand the common ground and the expression of community values. It will seek to orient public policy towards the moral, religious and cultural values that unite humanity in its common effort to improve its own condition while protecting the planet. This is a daunting task, both urgent and intractable. It requires immediate action and long-term commitment. True Stewardship demands no less.

Thus, the Global Stewardship Initiative was always meant to go far beyond ICPD and far beyond population control as a single issue. It was based on a comprehensive and dynamic political ideology embracing components of state socialism, feminism, environmentalism and utopian internationalism. In its true dimension, the Pew Initiative was more a movement than an event and, as such, had much in common with the American progressive movement of the early 20th century.

As Professor Robert Dallek has profiled them in the 1983 book, The American Style of Foreign Policy, the progressives also defined foreign policy as social reform:

Little interested in international questions, most progressives responded to them in domestic terms or as extensions of the battles engaging them at home. Effective assertions of American power and influence abroad impressed them as triumphs not of the country's self-interest but of progressive ideals over reactionary opponents of change.

Like the progressives, Pew has little use for the traditional pursuit of national interests and sees no need for strategies of self-defense. Such expressions are not even in the vocabulary. Like Pogo, Pew "has seen the enemy and it is us."

Ideologies, of course, by definition are not constrained by national borders or self-interest; their reach must be total and universal. Thus, Pew's ambitions extended well beyond the Cairo conference and the population issue. Pew grantees were active, for example, at the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, where 50,000 feminists marginalized the role of parents, ignored the family and denigrated cultural and religious values. For that meeting, Pew organized a telephone news conference with religious leaders in favor of the Beijing agenda.

A Pew official explained at the time that the purpose of the exercise was to prevent "the conference agenda coming under fire at Beijing as certain groups try to distort the platform. This could dangerously threaten the potential of progress for women and families around the world."

But movements such as feminism and environmentalism do not confine themselves to single-issue events nor do they dissipate easily. We should expect them to intensify in the near future and we should also expect the resources of private sector foundations, such as the Pew Charitable Trusts, to remain in the forefront of similar political and ideological campaigns of the next century.

The drive to "remake" the world or to "save humanity" is a deeply-held belief of American liberalism and goes back as least as far as the progressive movement. It has a touch of the social gospel to it, of the mis-sionary's zeal, Quaker pacifism and Wilsonian internationalism. More comfortable with the Democratic Party, this feature of the American political landscape, however, is independent and will not disappear so long as there is a cause left to espouse.

The United States has been down this road before, between excesses of isolationism and altruism against the realities of war and power politics. The next century should see more rounds in the continuing political conflict between those who substitute social reform for national strategy and those attuned to the underlying realities of power and interest in what promises to be a hostile and dangerous globe. One can only hope that we do not have to experience another Pearl Harbor or another missile crisis to settle the issue.

Reprinted with the kind permission of the Capitol Research Centre.

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