War and the Population Explosion: Some Ethical Implications. John M. Swomley gives evidence of the planetary population problem, the dynamics of the world’s population wars, the responsibility of the world’s “superpowers”, the new ethical dimension of war provided by the Roman Catholic Church’s world wide influence, and that the solutions to overpopulation and disease lies with the United States and the American people that require changes in our approach to social ethics and to our national politics. from: CHRISTIAN ETHICS TODAY, JUNE 1998
War and the Population Explosion:
Some Ethical Implications
By John M. Swomley
[Dr. John M. Swomley lives in Kansas City, Missouri. He is a graduate of Dickinson College and Boston University and hold the Ph.D. degree from the University of Colorado. A Phi Beta Kappa member, he was Professor of Christian Social Ethics at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City from 1960 to 1984. He is a frequent contributor to Christian Ethics Today.]
The nature of war has been changing from wars between nations to wars within nations. According to the United Nations, only three of the eighty-two armed conflicts between 1989 and 1992 were between nations. Those within nations were primarily the result of religion or culture or race or ethnic differences, poverty, shortage of arable land, and inequalities caused by overpopulation.
There have been 148 wars in the world since World War II, according to Ruth Sivard, a military analyst. Among these were wars in the Sudan, Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Ethiopia. Most of these were population wars.
These new wars, characterized as “population wars,” can be contrasted with imperialist wars during the period 1500 through the early 20th century; when major powers sought conquest of territory for the exploitation of resources. Spain, France, Britain, Portugal, Holland, Germany and the Untied States were all involved in such wars. The chief factor in all such conquests was armaments or military and naval superiority over the more poorly armed natives in India, Africa, and the Americas. By the 20th century nations or combinations of nations fought wars so disastrous as to lead them to carve out spheres of influence or alliances to deter war, and conferences to limit armaments and establish rules of warfare. Still World Wars I and II occurred.
Today the United States as the world’s “superpower” has established spheres of influence in the Americas; in Europe, through NATO; and in Asia through treaties with Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and others. The U.S. is now in the process of extending its power throughout the Middle East. Within these spheres of influence the USA recognizes that hunger, poverty, refugees, migration, shortages of water, and overpopulation, are major threats to peace and stability. Or, as in the case of Africa, it tends to ignore grave turmoil and social upheavals where there are fewer political and economic interests at stake.
The Pentagon is aware of this new phase of warfare. In its 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review it justifies its large military establishment in part with these words: “Some governments will lose their ability to maintain public order and provide for the needs of their people, creating the conditions for civil unrest, famine, massive flows of migrants across international borders. . ..Uncontrolled flows of migrants will sporadically destabilize regions of the world and threaten American interests and citizens.”
The Pentagon’s description, together with support evidence to be discussed later, requires a new ethical approach to war in addition to traditional methods of limitation of armaments and other efforts to prevent wars between nations. The new ethical dimension requires serious efforts to reduce population, end degradation of the land and water resources, and reduce poverty worldwide. None of these can be accomplished without fundamental changes in the way women are treated, including their right to reproductive freedom, and the way governments respond to the burgeoning population problem.
The evidence of a planetary population problem includes the cataclysmic increase in the number of economic refugees as well as those from population wars. According to the Untied Nations High Commissioner of Refugees, the world had 27.4 million refugees in 1995. This was 4.4 million higher than the year before and 17 million more than the pre ceding ten years. Another 20 million were refugees within their own countries.
Out of a global workforce of about two billion eight-hundred thousand people, at least 120 million are unemployed and another 700 million are under employed or without enough income to meet basic human needs. A major reason for this is that in many countries there is not enough arable land or water to provide food for the people who live there. Nor is there enough available employment for landless people. This has been both a reason for economic migration and the tension leading to population wars.
An article by Hal Kane in a 1995 World Watch magazine said, “Apart from the long-established migratory pressures of war, persecution, and the pull of economic opportunity, migrants are now responding to scarcities of land, water, and food that are more widespread than ever before. They are leaving because of over crowding in decrepit squatter settlements that now house huge numbers of people, because of post-Cold War changes in political climate, and because of widening disparities of income. This is why most of the world’s migration has yet to happen.”
An illustration of some of these problems appeared in the March 1, 1998 Kansas City Stark description of Burkino Faso, a “landlocked West African country slightly larger than Colorado, where women often walk miles every day to fetch water and fire wood, and the average family earns less than $300 in a good year... .Last month Burkino Faso applied for emergency foreign aid to feed about 800,000 famished people left without food after a serious drought affected the main crops of sorghum, millet and corn.”
Even in the Americas there are hundreds of thousands of economic refugees. More than one-and-a-half million refugees from Mexico, Salvador, Guatemala, and other countries below Mexico live within 25 miles of the United States, hoping to cross the border. Hundreds of thousands live in huts, makeshift tents, lean-tos, and caves without adequate sanitation, or health and law enforcement assistance. Estimates are that more than a million residents of Tijuana just south of San Diego live under these conditions. They and other millions are malnourished and many have communicable diseases, including AIDS. Their future seems dim.
Some of them are also refugees from earlier wars in Central America and Mexico, fought over control of land.
The most devastating population war in recent history is the war in Rwanda which began in 1994. It began in the most densely populated country in Africa, where virtually all arable land was in use by the mid-1980s.
Michael Renner of the World Watch Institute noted that in Rwanda “half of all farming took place on hillsides by the mid-80s, when over cultivation and soil erosion led to falling yields and a steep decline in total grain production.”
The British medical journal The Lancet, said Rwanda had the world’s highest fertility rate and “the fact that any country could now be in intensely Catholic Rwanda’s predicament is an indication of the world’s and especially the Holy See’s reluctance to face the issues of population control”
In Rwanda there were 1,800,000 refugees living outside its borders in 1995, and close to one million Rwandans had been slaughtered.
The British medical journal, The Lancet, said Rwanda had the world’s highest fertility rate and “the fact that any country could now be in intensely Catholic Rwanda’s predicament is an indication of the world’s and especially the Holy See’s reluctance to face the issues of population control.”
Renner noted that “The Hutu leaders that planned and carried out the genocide in 1994 relied strongly on heavily armed militias who were recruited primarily from the unemployed. “These were the people who had insufficient land to establish and support a family of their own and little prospect of finding jobs outside agriculture. Their lack of hope for the future and low self esteem were channeled by the extremists into an orgy of violence against those who supposedly were to blame for these misfortunes.”
Population wars are caused not only by shortages of land but by scarcity of water. Sandia Postel in her 1992 book, Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity, indicates that early in the 90s, twenty-six countries with combined population of about 230 million people had water scarcity.
The shortage of water in the Mideast is illustrative. “No matter what progress irrigated agriculture makes, Jordan’s natural water at this pace will be exhausted in 2010,” predicted Elias Salameh, founder and former director of the University of Jordan’s Water Research and Study Center, according to the May 14, 1992 Washington Post. “Jordan then will be totally dependent on rain water and will revert to desert. Its ruin will destabilize the entire region.”
Salameh continued, “None of the regional countries-Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia or the Gulf Emirates-can be self-sufficient in food in the foreseeable future, if ever. All Middle East economies must be restructured away from agriculture because of a lack of water.”
The economic and military problems discussed all too briefly above require changes in our approach to social ethics and to our national politics. The facts of overpopulation and depletion of natural resources must be faced.
It is no secret that the Vatican has been one of the most adamant opponents of contraceptive birth control and worldwide family planning for decades. An article in the April 4, 1998 Pittsburgh Tribune Review said, “In the early 1980s, Pope John Paul II came to Nairobi and counseled Kenyans, whose population at that time was the fastest-growing in Africa, probably in the world, to ‘be fruitful and multiply.’“
The New York Times reported on May 298, 1992, “In preparation for next month’s Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Vatican diplomats have begun a campaign to try to insure that the gathering’s conclusions on the issue of runaway population growth are not in conflict with Roman Catholic teaching on birth control.”
Time magazine of February 24, 1992 in a story entitled, “The U.S. and the Vatican on Birth Control” began with this sentence: “In response to concerns of the Vatican, the Reagan Administration agreed to alter its foreign aid program to comply with the church’s teaching on birth control.” And in July 1992, the Sierra Club attacked President Bush for vetoing “two foreign aid budgets in order to block all U.S. funding for the United Nations Fund for Population program” and linked Bush’s policy to “the urging of the Vatican.” The 1998 Republican-controlled Congress followed the same position by linking payment of the U.S. debt to the United Nations with a provision against funding family planning overseas of any government or private agency that was involved in funding or lobbying for abortion.
By contrast, the British medical journal, The Lancer, has said, “No country has achieved smaller families or low maternal mortality without access to safe abortion-and none will in the foreseeable future.”
The "pro-life” movement primarily sponsored by the Vatican is really a pro-death movement, not only because of population wars but because of its denial of reproductive freedom to women world wide and its denial of condoms to prevent the spread of contagious disease.
There are also additional remedies such as recognizing that women worldwide are not the property of their husbands or fathers, but moral decision-makers with respect to their health, their lives and their future. Neither are they public property for governmental decisions that require them to become pregnant or remain pregnant against their will. Unless we recognize women’s rights the dire consequences for life on the planet are enormous.
Jennifer Mitchell in the January/February, 1998 World Watch wrote:
In the developing world, at least 120 million married women and a large undefined number of unmarried women want more control over their pregnancies, but cannot get family planning services. This unmet demand will cause about one third of the projected population growth in developing countries over the next fifty years, or an increase of about 1.2 billion people.
The World Health Organization estimates that 585,000 women die each year during pregnancy and childbirth. “The death toll,” according to the 1997 World Watch Vital Signs, “underestimates the magnitude oi the problem. For every maternal death as many as-thirty women sustain oftentimes crippling and lifelong health problems related to pregnancy.” Moreover, many of these deaths and lifelong health problems could have been prevented by access to family planning services, and safe, legal abortion.
There is more to this culture of death evident in the fact that more than 4.7 million people, most of them in southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, contracted HIV in 1995, and 1.7 million died from AIDS in 1995. By 1998, these figures are significantly high er. The Vatican has also strongly opposed any funding of condoms to prevent disease. ‘What this means is that the “pro-life” movement primarily sponsored by the Vatican is really a pro-death movement, not only because of population wars but because of its denial of reproductive freedom to women worldwide and its denial of condoms to prevent the spread of contagious disease.
The other major key to the solution of overpopulation and disease lies with the United States and the American people. We put our resources into weapons and provide tax breaks for huge multinational corporations and arms industries, with very little regard for their degradations of the environment, at home or abroad.
The Untied States provides many of the weapons used in population wars. The U.S. annually spends more than $450 million, and the Pentagon employs an arms sales staff oi 6,395, to promote and service foreign arms sales. Major weapons-exporting firms contributed $14.8 million to Congressional candidates from 1990 to 1994, and over $500,000 to the Republican and Democratic parties for the 1996 Presidential election.
In the words of Omar Khayam, they, and we, “want to take the cash and let the credit go, nor heed the rumble of the distant drum.”
With respect to Christian leadership, the fundamentalist and evangelical churches accept the Vatican’s position on family planning services, or, like the mainline churches, are not politically active either to support family planning or reduction of arms and of poverty worldwide.
What does this acquiescence or silence mean in the face of the great future planetary catastrophe we all face?.
from: CHRISTIAN ETHICS TODAY