Absent major changes in North-South relations, the wretched should inherit the earth by about 2025
*Originally published in the Atlantic Monthly*
by Matthew Connelly and Paul Kennedy
“Now, stretching over that empty sea, aground some fifty yards out, [lay] the incredible fleet from the other side of the globe, the rusty, creaking fleet that the old professor had been eyeing since morning. . . . He pressed his eye to the glass, and the first things he saw were arms. . . . Then he started to count. Calm and unhurried. But it was like trying to count all the trees in the forest, those arms raised high in the air, waving and shaking together, all outstretched toward the nearby shore. Scraggy branches, brown and black, quickened by a breath of hope. All bare, those fleshless Gandhi-arms. . . . thirty thousand creatures on a single ship!”
–The Camp of the Saints
Welcome to the 300-page narrative of Jean Raspail’s disturbing, chilling, futuristic novel The Camp of the Saints, first published in Paris twenty-one years ago and translated into English a short while later. Set at some vague time–perhaps fifteen or twenty years–in the future, the novel describes the pilgrimage of a million desperate Indians who, forsaking the ghastly conditions of downtown Calcutta and surrounding villages, commandeer an armada of decrepit ships and set off for the French Riviera. The catalyst for this irruption is simple enough. Moved by accounts of widespread famine across an Indian subcontinent collapsing under the sheer weight of its fast-growing population, the Belgian government has decided to admit and adopt a number of young children; but the policy is reversed when tens of thousands of mothers begin to push their babies against the Belgian consul general’s gates in Calcutta. After mobbing the building in disgust at Belgium’s change of mind, the crowd is further inflamed by a messianic speech from one of their number, an untouchable, a gaunt, eye-catching “turd eater,” who calls for the poor and wretched of the world to advance upon the Western paradise: “The nations are rising from the four corners of the earth,” Raspail has the man say, “and their number is like the sand of the sea. They will march up over the broad earth and surround the camp of the saints and the beloved city. . . .” Storming on board every ship within range, the crowds force the crews to take them on a lengthy, horrific voyage, around Africa and through the Strait of Gibraltar to the southern shores of France.
But it is not the huddled mass of Indians, with their “fleshless Gandhi-arms,” that is the focus of Raspail’s attention so much as the varied responses of the French and the other privileged members of “the camp of the saints” as they debate how to deal with the inexorably advancing multitude. Raspail is particularly effective here in capturing the platitudes of official announcements, the voices of ordinary people, the tone of statements by concerned bishops, and so on. The book also seems realistic in its recounting of the crumbling away of resolve by French sailors and soldiers when they are given the order to repel physically–to shoot or torpedo–this armada of helpless yet menacing people. It would be much easier, clearly, to confront a military foe, such as a Warsaw Pact nation. The fifty-one (short) chapters are skillfully arranged so that the reader’s attention is switched back and forth, within a two-month time frame, between the anxious debates in Paris and events attending the slow and grisly voyage of the Calcutta masses. The denouement, with the French population fleeing their southern regions and army units deserting in droves, is especially dramatic.
The Voyage of the Golden Venture
Why revisit this controversial and nowadays hard-to-obtain novel? The recovery of this neglected work helps us to call attention to the key global problem of the final years of the twentieth century: unbalanced wealth and resources, unbalanced demographic trends, and the relationship between the two. Many members of the more prosperous economies are beginning to agree with Raspail’s vision: a world of two “camps,” North and South, separate and unequal, in which the rich will have to fight and the poor will have to die if mass migration is not to overwhelm us all. Migration is the third part of the problem. If we do not act now to counteract tendencies toward global apartheid, they will only hurry the day when we may indeed see Raspail’s vision made real.
One of us (Kennedy) first heard The Camp of the Saints referred to at various times during discussions of illegal migration. One such occasion was in the summer of 1991, following media reports about the thousands of desperate Albanians who commandeered ships to take them to the Italian ports of Bari and Brindisi, where they were locked in soccer stadiums by the local police before being forcibly returned to a homeland so poor that it is one of the few parts of Europe sometimes categorized as “developing” countries. Apparently, one reason for this exodus was that the Albanians had been watching Italian television–including commercials for consumer goods, cat food shown being served on a silver platter, and the like. More than a few colleagues mentioned that the incident struck them as a small-scale version of Raspail’s grim scenario.
If a short trip across the Adriatic seems a far cry from a passage from Calcutta to Provence, the voyage of the Golden Venture was even more fantastic than anything imagined by Raspail. This 150-foot rust-streaked freighter left Bangkok, Thailand, in February of 1993 carrying ninety Chinese refugees, mostly from the impoverished Fujian province. Two hundred more Chinese boarded in Mombasa, Kenya. When they finally came ashore, on June 6, in the darkness and pounding surf off Rockaway, Queens, in New York City (eight drowned trying to swim to land), all had traveled a much greater distance than Raspail’s fictional refugees.
What was remarkable about the Golden Venture was not that Chinese refugees tried to smuggle themselves into the United States–some experts estimate that 10,000 to 30,000 manage to do so each year–but that in traveling west rather than east, they were taking a new route to America. In the past most Chinese illegal immigrants came ashore on the West Coast or crossed into California after landing in Mexico. But the Golden Venture rounded the Cape of Good Hope and thus crossed some of the same waters as Raspail’s imaginary armada.
The Camp of the Saints was also to some extent recalled in a special report of October 18, 1992, by the New York Times correspondent Alan Riding, about the remarkable increase in illegal immigration across the Strait of Gibraltar, the narrowest gap between Africa and Europe. The most startling fact in the report was not that ambitious, unemployed North Africans were heading to Europe to find jobs but that such traffic has now become pan-continental or even global. Of the 1,547 immigrants detained by the Spanish authorities in the first ten months of the year of Riding’s report, 258 were from Ethiopia, 193 from Liberia, seventy-two from South Africa, and sixty-four from Somalia. Seventy-two from South Africa! Did they walk, hitchhike, or take buses across the entire continent? Even a journey that long pales beside Riding’s further point that “word of the new route had spread far beyond Morocco, with not only Algerians and growing numbers of sub-Saharan Africans, but also Filipinos, Chinese and even the occasional Eastern Europeans among those detained.” Take a look at an atlas and pose the question, Just how does a desperate citizen of, say, Bulgaria get to Morocco without going through western Europe?
The Doom of the White Race
Jean Raspail, born in 1925, has been writing works of travel and fiction since the 1950s. Many of his books recount his experiences in Alaska, the Caribbean, the Andes; he is not ignorant of foreign lands and cultures. Raspail won prizes from the Academie Francaise, and last year only narrowly failed to be elected to that august body. The Camp of the Saints is different from his other writings. In the preface, written a decade after the book, he states that one morning in 1972, at home by the shore of the Mediterranean, he had this vision: “A million poor wretches, armed only with their weakness and their numbers, overwhelmed by misery, encumbered with starving brown and black children, ready to disembark on our soil, the vanguard of the multitudes pressing hard against every part of the tired and overfed West. I literally saw them, saw the major problem they presented, a problem absolutely insoluble by our present moral standards. To let them in would destroy us. To reject them would destroy them.”
“During the ten months I spent writing this book, the vision never left me. That is why The Camp of the Saints, with all its imperfections, was a kind of emotional outpouring.”
Is this simply a work of imagination or, as Raspail’s critics charge, a racist tract dressed up as fiction? In some parts of the novel Raspail appears to be resigned, fatalistic, not taking sides: “The Good are at war with the Bad, true enough,” he says at one point. “But one man’s ‘Bad’ is another man’s ‘Good,’ and vice versa. It’s a question of sides.” And he has the President of France, puzzling over the question of inequality among races, attribute to the Grand Mufti of Paris the idea that it is “just a question of rotation,” with “different ones on top at different times”–as if to imply that it is quite natural for Europe, having expanded outward for the past 500 years, to be overwhelmed in turn by non-Western peoples. Indeed, Raspail claims that in depicting the French armed forces fleeing from confrontation rather than bloodily repulsing the armada, he shows he is no racist, for “I denied to the white Occident, at least in my novel, its last chance for salvation.”
Yet for much of the rest of the novel Raspail makes plain where his cultural and political preferences lie. Whereas the Europeans all have characters and identities, from the Belgian consul in Calcutta, trampled to death by the crowd, to the French politicians paralyzed by their impending fate, the peoples of the Third World, whether already laboring in the slums of Paris or advancing upon the high seas, are unrelentingly disparaged. “All the kinky-haired, swarthy-skinned, long-despised phantoms; all the teeming ants toiling for the white man’s comfort; all the swill men and sweepers, the troglodytes, the stinking drudges, the swivel-hipped menials, the womanless wretches, the lung-spewing hackers; all the numberless, nameless, tortured, tormented, indispensable mass. . . . They don’t say much. But they know their strength, and they’ll never forget it. If they have an objection, they simply growl, and it soon becomes clear that their growls run the show. After all, five billion growling human beings, rising over the length and breadth of the earth, can make a lot of noise!”
Meanwhile, along with Josiane and Marcel, seven hundred million whites sit shutting their eyes and plugging their ears.
If anything, Raspail’s contempt for sympathizers and fellow travelers in the West is even more extreme. The collection of churchmen who plead for tolerance of the approaching armada; the intellectuals and media stars who think this is a great event; the hippies, radicals, and counterculture people who swarm south to greet the Indians as the panic-stricken Provencois are rushing north–all these get their comeuppance in Raspail’s bitter, powerful prose. In one of the most dramatic events, close to the book’s end, the leader of the French radicals is portrayed as rushing forward to welcome the “surging mob” of Indians, only to find himself “swept up in turn, carried off by the horde. Struggling to breathe. All around him, the press of sweaty, clammy bodies, elbows nudging madly in a frantic push forward, every man for himself, in a scramble to reach the streams of milk and honey.” The message is clear: race, not class or ideology, determines everything, and the wretched of the earth will see no distinction between unfriendly, fascistic Frenchmen on the one hand and liberal-minded bishops and yuppies on the other. All have enjoyed too large a share of the world’s wealth for too long, and their common fate is now at hand.
It is not just the people of France who suffer that fate. Near the end of Raspail’s novel the mayor of New York is made to share Gracie Mansion with three families from Harlem, the Queen of England must marry her son to a Pakistani, and just one drunken Russian general stands in the way of the Chinese as they swarm into Siberia. “In the Philippines, in all the stifling Third World ports–Jakarta, Karachi, Conakry, and again in Calcutta–other huge armadas were ready to weigh anchor, bound for Australia, New Zealand, Europe. . . . Many a civilization, victim of the selfsame fate, sits tucked in our museums, under glass, neatly labeled.”
To describe The Camp of the Saints as an apocalyptic novel would be a truism. The very title of the book comes, of course, from Saint John’s Apocalypse, the lines of which are uttered almost exactly by the messianic untouchable early on in the book. The work is studded with references to much earlier clashes between “the West” and “the Rest”: to Charles Martel, to the fall of Constantinople, to Don John of Austria, to Kitchener at Omdurman–all to fortify the suggestion that what is unfolding is just part of a millennium-old international Kulturkampf that is always resolved by power and numbers. When Europe dominated the globe, the Caucasian race’s relative share of world population achieved its high point; as the proportion shrinks, Raspail argues, so the race dooms itself. In his 1982 preface he spells it out again: “Our hypersensitive and totally blind West . . . has not yet understood that whites, in a world become too small for its inhabitants, are now a minority and that the proliferation of other races dooms our race, my race, irretrievably to extinction in the century to come, if we hold fast to our present moral principles.”
“Not Since Genghis Khan”
When The Camp of the Saints first appeared, in 1973, it was, to put it mildly, not well received. Sixties radicalism still prevailed in Paris; a century of capitalist imperialism was blamed for the problems of the Third World, though the feeling was that Africans and Asians now at least had control of their own destinies; and French intellectuals and bureaucrats believed that they had a special rapport with non-European cultures, unlike the insensitive Anglo-Saxons. Besides being shocking in its contents, Raspail’s book was also offensive: it insulted almost everything that Sorbonne professors held dear. The Camp was swiftly dismissed as a racist tract. As for Raspail, he went off to write other novels and travel books. But in late 1985 he offended again, by joining forces with the demographer Gerard Dumont to write an article in Le Figaro Magazine claiming that the fast-growing non-European immigrant component of France’s population would endanger the survival of traditional French culture, values, and identity. By this time the immigration issue had become much more contentious in French politics, and only a year earlier Jacques Chirac, then the mayor of Paris, had publicly warned, “When you compare Europe with the other continents, it’s terrifying. In demographic terms, Europe is disappearing. Twenty or so years from now our countries will be empty, and no matter what our technological power, we shall be incapable of putting it to use.” The Raspail-Dumont article was highly embarrassing to the French Socialist government, which, though pledged to crack down on illegal immigrants, was deeply disturbed by the potential political fallout from such a controversial piece. No fewer than three Cabinet Ministers, including Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, attacked it as “racist propaganda” and “reminiscent of the wildest Nazi theories.” It was no consolation to them that Jean-Marie Le Pen, the head of the fast-growing National Front, was making immigration the leading issue as he campaigned among the discontented French electorate.
Despite attempts by centrist politicians to ignore this touchy topic, it refuses to go away. For example, although the early 1990s were supposed to mark the culmination of the decades-long drive toward the European Union’s integration, an increasing number of Europeans were looking over their shoulders, especially after the British Broadcasting Corporation raised the specter of a “march” on Europe in a 1990 made-for-TV movie of that name. In the program a band of Sudanese refugees decide to walk straight across the Sahara rather than slowly starve on the paltry rations of Western relief agencies. With timely assistance from the Libyan government, which calls them the “spirit of suffering Africa,” a throng swollen to 250,000 finally arrives at the Strait of Gibraltar. “We’ve traveled almost as far as Columbus,” says their leader, now called the Mahdi. “We have no power but this: to choose where we die,” he proclaims before embarking for the European shore. “All we ask of you is, watch us die.” On the advice of a media-savvy African-American congressman, the flotilla washes ashore in the glare of flashbulbs and prime-time TV broadcasts–and a large force of EU soldiers. The movie ends there, and what happens next is left to the viewer’s imagination. But its production was enough to provoke Raspail to complain. The producers insisted that when they began the project they had been unaware of the earlier work–an insistence that only confirmed that the themes of The Camp continue to resonate. The March has itself become something of a cult classic. Though rejected by the Public Broadcasting System as “not suitable to their programming” (nobody actually said it was too hot to handle), after four years it continues to be shown to audiences throughout Europe.
All of which brings us to the present day. Raspail may have written the most politically incorrect book in France in the second half of the twentieth century, but the national mood concerning immigration is nowadays much less liberal than it was two decades ago. In fact, France’s tough new Conservative government began this year by announcing a series of crackdowns on illegal immigrants, including mass deportation. “When we have sent home several planeloads, even boatloads and trainloads, the world will get the message,” claimed Charles Pasqua, the hard-line Cabinet Minister in charge of security and immigration affairs. “We will close our frontiers.” Last year he announced that France would become a “zero immigration” country, a stunning reversal of its 200-year-old policy of offering asylum to those in need. That Pasqua believed it was in fact possible to halt immigration was called into doubt when he later remarked, “The problems of immigration are ahead of us and not behind us.” By the year 2000, he asserted, there will be 60 million people in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia under the age of twenty and “without a future.” Where else to go but France, whose television programs they can view every evening, much as Albanians goggle at Italian cat-food commercials?
The Camp of the Saints is not well known in the United States, but it has attracted some attention in predictable circles. The only English-language edition we could find came from the American Immigration Control Foundation, which, as its name suggests, campaigns for stricter policies. That is an aim also expressed by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in its recent publication Crowding Out the Future: World Population Growth, U.S. Immigration, and Pressures on Natural Resources, which presents the following argument very early on: “A traditional moralist may object, asserting, “I am my brother’s keeper.” We must ask him: “And what about your children? And your children’s children? What about the children of your neighbor next door? Must we subdivide and distribute our patrimony among the children of all the world?” Americans are already outnumbered twenty-to-one by the rest of the world. Our grandchildren will be outnumbered even more. Must we condemn them to the poverty of an absolutely equal distribution? How would that benefit them or the descendants of other people?”
“Total poverty can be avoided only if people agree that the ancient admonition “Charity begins at home” is still the best guide to philanthropic action.”
The Washington Times is also strongly in the “let’s regain control of our borders” camp, and its staff writers and op-ed contributors find reference to Raspail particularly useful in attacking the United States’ liberal immigration policy. Illegal immigrants caught coming by boat–Chinese, Haitians –make for especially neat comparisons, and nowadays the language is as blunt as Raspail’s own. “Not since Genghis Khan rode out of the Asian steppes has the West–Europe as well as the United States–encountered such an alien invasion,” the Washington Times columnist Samuel Francis has written. His fellow columnist Paul Craig Roberts predicts “a cataclysmic future.” Roberts has written, “Not since the Roman Empire was overrun by illegal aliens in the fifth century has the world experienced the massive population movements of recent years.” Both writers posit what others have called a growing “Third-World-ization” of America’s cities, with a privileged minority increasingly besieged by a disgruntled, polyglot lumpenproletariat. (Raspail had carefully built such a situation into The Camp of the Saints: the night came when the “black tide,” learning what had happened in Provence, rose up and overwhelmed the elegant apartments around Central Park.)
Readers made uncomfortable by all this nativist and racist opinion will no doubt find it easy to counterattack. Migrants are not usually the poorest of the poor–instead they are the ones best informed about opportunities elsewhere and able to act on them. Paul Craig Roberts’s figure of an “estimated” three million illegal aliens who find their way into the United States each year is much higher than other guesses we’ve seen. And historically, the greatest population migrations of all consisted of the tens of millions of “illegal aliens” who sailed from Europe to the Americas, Africa, and Australasia during the past 250 years; in the face of them the aboriginal inhabitants could do little but submit or be annihilated. In pointing to the reversal of that flow, Raspail was at least willing to concede that “different ones [are] on top at different times.” Moreover, many economists–Julian Simon, at the University of Maryland, is one–argue that immigration gives a net boost to the United States, a position also held by the free-market paper The Wall Street Journal. Those who predict that immigration will become one of the hottest political issues of the 1990s may be correct; what is less certain is that Fortress America attitudes will win the day. Yet if the United States maintains a liberal policy while every other rich nation decides, like France, to do the opposite, will that not simply increase the pressures on this country’s borders?
Let us now get to the heart of the matter. Readers may well find Raspail’s vision uncomfortable and his language vicious and repulsive, but the central message is clear: we are heading into the twenty-first century in a world consisting for the most part of a relatively small number of rich, satiated, demographically stagnant societies and a large number of poverty-stricken, resource-depleted nations whose populations are doubling every twenty-five years or less. The demographic imbalances are exacerbated by grotesque disparities of wealth between rich and poor countries. Despite the easy references that are made to our common humanity, it is difficult to believe that Switzerland, with an annual average per capita income of about $35,000, and Mali, with an average per capita income of less than $300, are on the same planet–but Raspail’s point is that they are, and that a combination of push and pull factors will entice desperate, ambitious Third World peasants to approach the portals of the First World in ever-increasing numbers. The pressures are now much greater than they were when Raspail wrote, not only because we’ve added 1.5 billion people to our planet since the early 1970s, but also, ironically, because of the global communications revolution, which projects images of Western lifestyles, consumer goods, and youth culture across the globe. Ambitious peasants no longer need a messianic untouchable to urge them to leave by boat for Europe; they see the inducements every day on their small black-and-white television sets.
Is all this gloom and doom justified? What about rosier visions of the future? What about the good news? The apocalyptic literature appears to be at odds with an equally large array of writings, chiefly by free-market economists and consultants, that proclaim a brave new world of ever-greater production, trade, wealth, and standards of living for all. In these portrayals of “the coming global boom,” a combination of market forces, diminished government interference, ingenious technologies, and the creation of a truly universal customer base will allow our planet to double or treble its income levels during the next few decades. In the view of those who believe that the global technological and communications revolution is making the world more integrated, rather than more envious, the constant modernization of the world economy is leading to a steady convergence of standards of production and living. As more and more countries open up to a borderless world, the prospects for humankind–or, at least, for those able to adapt–are steadily improving.
Yet a closer look at this cornucopian literature reveals that its focus is overwhelmingly upon the world’s winners–the well-educated lawyers, management consultants, software engineers, and other “symbolic analysts” analyzed by Secretary of Labor Robert Reich–who sell their expertise at handsome prices to clients in other rich societies. To the extent that they consider the situation in the Third World, the cornucopian writers typically point to the model minority of global politics–the East Asians. The techno-liberals pay hardly any attention to the mounting human distress in Calcutta or Nicaragua or Liberia, and no wonder: were they to consider the desperate plight of the poorest two billion beings on our planet, their upbeat messages would sound less plausible.
Our global optimists might consider Robert D. Kaplan’s horrific analysis, in the February, 1994, Atlantic Monthly, of the collapse of entire societies across West Africa. With governments losing control of any areas they cannot intimidate through their armies and police, groups of unemployed young men plundering travelers, AIDS and tuberculosis joining malaria to kill people in their prime, forests cut down and topsoil washed away, the region increasingly looks like strife-torn, plague-ridden medieval Europe. Even The Economist, claiming to detect “a flicker of light” in Africa amid the gloom, admits that if the sub-Saharan countries did grow at the (overoptimistic) rates recently predicted by the World Bank, “Africans would have to wait another 40 years to clamber back to the incomes they had in the mid-1970s. Exclude Nigeria, and the wait would last a century.” What The Economist did not ask was whether the more than a billion and a half Africans likely to be living in 2035 will be content to watch the Northern Hemisphere grow and prosper while they themselves struggle to attain the same standard of living their great-grandparents had.
It is often argued that Africa is a special case (the Third World’s Third World, as the saying goes), although Kaplan’s more general point is that the same combination of rapid population growth, mass unemployment among youth, environmental devastation, and social collapse is to be seen, in a less acute form, everywhere from central China to the Euphrates Valley. Reportedly the State Department has sent copies of Kaplan’s article to many embassies and missions abroad; the Pentagon prefers Martin Van Creveld’s grim portrayal of future chaos and ethnic conflict, The Transformation of War (1991)–to which Kaplan’s article pays tribute–as recommended reading for its service officers. Perhaps the most significant thing about these writings is their assumption that the demographically driven breakdown of order will not be confined to one continent but will be global in its manifestations–precisely what Raspail sought to convey in his stark account of swarms of immigrants moving out of Jakarta, Karachi, and Conakry.
If the problem is global, it is not all of a piece. There is a world of difference between, say, Mexican immigrants searching for a better life and Rwandan refugees fleeing a grisly death. But the most relevant divide is not between migrants and refugees–we will be seeing a lot more of both–but rather between what they lack and what we have to offer. Regardless of whether it is in an increasingly resentful American labor market or an overcrowded relief camp, the West will be hard put to provide answers to this burgeoning problem.
The techno-liberals are right to draw attention to the fact that virtually all the factors of production–capital, assembly, knowledge, management–have become globalized, moving across national boundaries in the form of investments, consulting expertise, new plants, patents, and so on. What they ignore is that one factor of production has not been similarly liberated: labor. Even the most outre proponent of free-market principles shrinks from arguing that any number of people should be free to go anywhere they like on the planet. This irony–or, better, this double standard–is not unnoticed by the spokespeople of poorer countries, who charge that while the North presses for the unshackling of capital flows, assembly, goods, and services, it firmly resists the liberalization of the global labor market, and that behind the ostensible philanthropic concern about world demographic trends lies a deep fear that the white races of the world will be steadily overwhelmed by everyone else.
It is impossible to isolate population growth from the economy, environment, politics, and culture of each country to prove that it causes external migration–though it is suggestive that Haiti and Rwanda have about the highest fertility rates in Latin America and Africa. What cannot be contested is that the sheer size of other countries that are “at risk” will make international migration a problem of ever greater magnitude. Similarly, in broad figures the future pattern of global population increases is not in dispute. At present the earth contains approximately 5.7 billion people and is adding to that total by approximately 93 million a year. It is possible to estimate the rough totals of world population as the next century unfolds: by 2025 the planet will contain approximately 8.5 billion people. The pace of growth is expected to taper off, so the total population may stabilize at around 10 or 11 billion people by perhaps 2050, although some estimates are much larger. By the second quarter of the coming century India may well rival China as the world’s most populous country–with 1.4 billion to China’s 1.5 billion inhabitants–and many other countries in the Third World are also expected to contain vastly expanded numbers of people: Indonesia 286 million, Nigeria 281 million, Pakistan 267 million, Brazil 246 million, Mexico 150 million, and so on.
Of the many implications of this global trend, four stand out–at least with respect to our inquiry. The first and most important is that 95 percent of the twofold increase in the world’s population expected before the middle of the next century will occur in poor countries, especially those least equipped to take the strain. Second, although globally the relative share of human beings in poverty is expected to shrink, in absolute numbers there will be far more poor people on earth in the early twenty-first century than ever before, unless serious intervention occurs. Third, within the Third World a greater and greater percentage of the population is drifting from the countryside into gigantic shanty-cities. Even by the end of this decade Sao Paulo is expected to contain 22.6 million people, Bombay 18.1 million, Shanghai 17.4 million, Mexico City 16.2 million, and Calcutta 12.7 million–all cities that run the risk of becoming centers of mass poverty and social collapse. (Right now there are 143,000 people per square mile in Lagos and 130,000 per square mile in Jakarta, as compared with 23,700 per square mile in the five boroughs of New York.) And fourth, these societies are increasingly adolescent in composition–in Kenya in 1985, to take an extreme case, 52 percent of the population was under fifteen–and the chances that their resource-poor governments will be able to provide education and jobs for hundreds of millions of teenagers are remote. In many North African cities unemployment rates among youth range from 40 to 70 percent, providing highly combustible levels of frustration among young men who turn with interest to the anti-Northern messages of fundamentalist mullahs or, equally significant, to tempting televised portrayals of European lifestyles.
Regardless of the rosy prospects for East Asia, the gaps between rich and poor countries–between Europe and Africa, between North America and Central America–are widening, not closing; and, as Raspail bluntly put it, numbers do count. The southern European states of Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, and Greece, whose combined populations, it is estimated, will increase by a mere 4.5 million between 1990 and 2025, lie close to North African countries–Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt–whose populations are expected to grow by 107 million in the same period. The population of the United States is expected to rise by 29 percent by 2025, while its southern neighbors Mexico and Guatemala may grow by 63 percent and 135 percent respectively. Together Europe and North America, which contained more than 22 percent of the world’s population in 1950, will contain less than 10 percent by 2025.
In any case, even if tremendous economic progress were to be made over the next few decades in some of the poor regions of the globe, the result, ironically, would also challenge the West, as the economic and political balances of power swung toward countries that, on current evidence (the 1993 human-rights conference in Vienna, the Singapore caning), will actively resist cultural homogenization. Kishore Mahbubani, the deputy secretary of Singapore’s Foreign Ministry, recently suggested as much when he pointed to a “siege mentality” in the West, affirming that “power is shifting among civilizations.” “Simple arithmetic demonstrates Western folly,” he wrote. “The West has 800 million people; the rest make up almost 4.7 billion. . . . no Western society would accept a situation where 15 percent of its population legislated for the remaining 85 percent.” Westerners’ “fatal flaw,” according to Mahbubani, is “an inability to conceive that the West may have developed structural weaknesses in its core value systems and institutions.” He added, “The West is bringing about its relative decline by its own hand.” It is probably still premature to predict when China will overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy, but it is undeniable that a shift in material power toward Asia is under way. Raspail’s “seven hundred million whites” may well confront two very different challenges by early next century: Africa’s collapse and Asia’s rise.
Perhaps the global problem of the early twenty-first century is basically this: that across our planet a number of what might be termed demographic-technological fault lines are emerging, between fast-growing, adolescent, resource-poor, undercapitalized, and undereducated populations on one side and technologically inventive, demographically moribund, and increasingly nervous rich societies on the other. The fault line central to The Camp of the Saints lies along the Mediterranean, but it is easy to point to several others, from the Rio Grande to central Asia. One of the most interesting lines of all runs right through China, dividing most of the coastal provinces from the interior. How those on the two sides of these widening regional or intercontinental fissures are to relate to each other early in the next century dwarfs every other issue in global affairs.
If one accepts that this is our biggest long-term challenge, then the inadequacies of simplistic, knee-jerk responses assume great importance. The zero-immigration policies of France and Japan do nothing to affect tilting population balances and probably increase the resentment of these countries’ poorer neighbors, but denying that migration is an international problem, as some American liberals do, invites the possibility that a continuing (and growing) flow of immigrants will place even greater strains on this country’s social and cultural politics.
Yet what are the alternatives? Even if we wished to alter demographic balances, is there any acceptable prospect of doing so? When Raspail said, obliquely, that our “present moral principles” were dooming the West, was he really getting at the idea that rich societies could expect to preserve the status quo only if they were prepared to use any means necessary to cut global population? It is easy to see where that logic leads. To take but one of the more extreme examples, a Finnish philosopher has become a best-selling writer in his country by arguing that the world can continue to be habitable only if a few billion human beings are eliminated; another world war would therefore be “a happy occasion for the planet.”
Some would argue that we must reverse the decline of Western populations, and that any people that falls below the replacement fertility rate (2.1 children per woman) is committing demographic suicide. This is a sensitive topic. Quite apart from environment-oriented objections to a rise in the birth rates of rich societies (the average American or European baby will consume in its lifetime hundreds of times as many resources as the average Chadian or Haitian baby), there are simply too many social and cultural obstacles to reversing a declining national birth rate. Japanese and American politicians who bemoan the failure of “bright, well-educated women” to bear enough children have been noticeably unsuccessful in their campaigns. Perhaps, then, we should just accept that the global demographic imbalances are so huge that nothing can be done to affect them, and, like the old professor in Raspail’s book, simply hunker down and survey the impending invasion through a spyglass.
The only serious alternative, it seems to us, is simultaneously to persuade our political leaders to recognize the colossal, interconnected nature of our global problem and to strain every element of our human ingenuity, resourcefulness, and energy to slow down, or if possible reverse, the buildup of worldwide demographic and environmental pressures. Such an effort cannot rest upon a single policy, such as urging Third World countries to reduce their population growth; it must instead be part of a major North-South package wherein all parties, in accepting changes to their present policies, are persuaded to see that a comprehensive and coordinated response is the only way forward. If political leaders and their advisers cannot come up with some sort of win-win solution, in which every country can see benefits for itself, serious reforms are unlikely and humankind’s prospects by 2025 may indeed be bleak.
A New (North-South) Deal
What elements should be included in such a package? In offering some answers to that question, it is important to stress that nothing that follows is either new or impossible. In theory, there are lots of things that the global community could do to improve its condition, and such ideas have been around for decades, if not longer. The real problem has been the lack of political commitment to change, or, to put it more charitably, the tendency of national leaders and delegates to see only the elements of the package that call for sacrifices on their part–the North to contribute more money, the South to accept environmental monitoring–and to ignore both the individual and the collective gains that could flow from a linked set of agreements between developed and developing countries. If that mind-set can be changed, so can everything else.
* What if, for example, the rich Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries actually fulfilled their quarter-century-old promise to allocate 0.7 percent of gross domestic product annually to development aid, instead of (for the most part) falling far short of that target? The United States, with one of the poorest records of all, now contributes less than 0.2 percent of GDP each year. What if the OECD countries were bold enough to contribute one percent of GDP each year? As a kind of global insurance premium–protecting not only poorer countries but also ourselves from the worst consequences of mismatched demographics and development–this is not very much. In fact, if viewed more positively, as an investment in the future of the people of our planet, it is a modest sum indeed.
* What if this money could actually be spent efficiently and appropriately, instead of falling into the wrong hands and being devoted to the wrong purposes? For the fact is that international-aid agencies have (again for the most part) acquired a reputation for investing in ambitious, technologically inappropriate schemes, channeling funds to highly paid consultants and local leaders and ignoring the ideas of indigenous inhabitants, while poor countries themselves have provided far too many examples of corrupt, oppressive, or simply inefficient regimes that have squandered their treasuries and their resources for years. Extra development aid has no chance of succeeding unless it is accompanied by vastly improved accounting and supervisory techniques. However, the failings of present regimes and of previous aid programs are no reason not to continue to try to assist development; if anything, these provide compelling reasons to redouble–and reform–our efforts.
* What if we were able to use some of this money to employ the tens of thousands of scientists and engineers now released from Cold War-related research to seek solutions to our global environmental problems? Such solutions might include a truly dramatic breakthrough in solar or photovoltaic energy production, achieving such a drop in the cost of sun-powered energy that it could be made available to the peoples of Asia and Africa, and could wean them from their reliance on wood, oil, coal, and other fossil fuels. The enhanced technology might also include the mass production of small solar ovens, sufficient to cook a village’s meals without a daily search for firewood. The results of breakthroughs in biotech agriculture (new disease-resistant and heat-resistant crop strains) might be shared without requiring large patent and user fees from poor nations.
* What if it were possible to respond to the desire of hundreds of millions of women in Third World countries for access to safe and inexpensive contraceptives, to allow them to stabilize family size and concentrate on nurturing their existing children? The costs involved are not enormous–a few billions of dollars rather than hundreds of billions–and when such programs are administered through women’s groups and supported by enlightened governments, they can have a dramatic effect on fertility rates, as has recently been demonstrated in Kenya and Egypt. (Such programs ought to be kept apart from the issue of abortion, which is much more problematic politically and which, in any case, is used disproportionately in many Third World countries to prevent the birth of girls.)
* Since order is the precondition of social betterment, what if, instead of the nations of the world having to respond to or rebuff the United Nations Secretary General’s pleas to send troops for peacekeeping purposes to one crisis spot after another, some of the more useful schemes to improve the UN’s capacities–from creating a military staff to establishing “ready-to-go” units–were agreed upon by the Security Council nations and implemented in the next year or two?
* And what if, as a separate yet parallel measure to reduce violence, a much more serious effort were made to stem the flow of arms (simple guns as well as sophisticated systems) into Third World countries–arms that are manufactured primarily by the five permanent members of the Security Council?
* What if, as a contribution to reducing the forecast clash of civilizations, the United Nations strove to promote agreement not just in the important sphere of human rights but also on the equally important issue of recognizing cultural diversity, both within countries and between technologically dominant cultures and the rest of the globe? This is not a call for a revival of the crude and ideologically inept UNESCO programs of the early 1980s. We would, however, argue that a genuine North-South entente is unlikely unless Third World countries grow less fearful that their cultures will be swallowed up by the technologies and material way of life of richer nations, especially the United States. Cultural arrogance bedevils our planet and gives rise to many conflicts and antagonisms, just as it suffuses The Camp of the Saints. If the relationship between North and South is to be improved significantly, a set of norms (and agreements to disagree) must be established that all or at least most nations can abide by.
Various other matters–from measures to enhance the status of women in Third World countries to improved coordination between UN agencies and the Bretton Woods institutions–might also be incorporated into a North-South package of linked agreements. As it is, any one of the aforementioned elements–more aid more efficiently allocated, appropriate and accessible technological advances, reduced fertility rates, enhanced peacekeeping powers, acceptance of cultural diversity–might by itself make all the difference, though we cannot know which one that might be.
How likely are any of these changes to come about during the next few years? This is the critical period if we hope to change the socio-economic condition of humankind in the early decades of the twenty-first century. A global idealist could point to some promising indicators even in the midst of our present woes. There is a growing awareness in at least a few rich societies (the Scandinavian countries, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada) that a serious effort has to be made to improve the lot of poorer countries and protect their environments. There are the impressive economic successes of most of the nations of East Asia, which are raising the quality of life of hundreds of millions of people and which, provided that further environmental damage can be avoided (a big proviso, admittedly), offer a possible model to Third World countries. The end of the Cold War, while certainly not signaling the start of any new world order, has at least permitted the UN Security Council to function as it was designed to. International agencies, especially those within the UN but also innumerable nongovernmental ones, are actively pursuing policies that not only are more realistic than those of previous decades (for example, no more World Bank loans for giant dam projects) but also reveal a greater awareness of the interconnectedness of agendas for real improvement: economic growth, environmental protection, population control, the status of women, migration, jobs, investment, education, human rights, and democracy are all related considerations in any serious effort to improve the condition of the poorer half of humanity. And at least some commentators are openly arguing that the need for concerted action ought to be presented no longer in humanitarian-response terms (because, for example, after the fifth or sixth Ethiopian famine “aid fatigue” sets in) but in terms of a global ethic that recognizes our common human destiny and the necessity for shared stewardship of our delicate global ecosystem.
But can these sporadic signs of promise really prevail against the lack of effective political leadership, the turning inward of so many rich societies, the problem of global structural unemployment in an age of intensified modernization, the resistance to many programs to encourage the limitation of family size (even when the thorny issue of abortion is excluded), and the widespread lassitude and even downright hostility that exist in many quarters toward the idea of helping the world’s two billion poorest? As Zaire, Rwanda, and Yemen follow Somalia, Sudan, Bosnia, Georgia, and Tajikistan into bloody chaos and ethnic wars, while Boutros Boutros-Ghali finds fewer and fewer nations willing to contribute peacekeeping forces, can one seriously expect significant reforms soon? With the political leadership of the world’s most powerful nation deeply divided over scandals and parochial issues, with its public evincing exhaustion in respect to international problems, and with irresponsible though powerful senators blaming the United Nations for every peacekeeping mishap (such as the deaths of U.S. Rangers in Somalia), is it not naive and unrealistic to hope for a North-South package of reforms along the lines suggested above?
Perhaps it is. Perhaps, as some observers fear, we shall have to observe truly awful and widespread societal destruction–the collapse of continents rather than single states; oceans of dead rather than mere rivers–with repercussions that significantly affect rich countries as well as poor before our public and our political leadership finally appreciate that an intelligent and far-reaching response is unavoidable, and that, tempting though it is to turn away from the world, too large a proportion of humankind is heading into the twenty-first century in too distressed a condition for any nation to imagine that it can avoid the larger consequences. We will have to convince a suspicious public and cynical politicians that a serious package of reform measures is not fuzzy liberal idealism but a truer form of realism. It is simply a matter of perspective–or of timing. Doing little or nothing at present seems the more practical course; yet given the pace and intensity of global change, the richer societies need to recognize that John Donne’s reasoning applies on an international scale. “No man is an island, entire of itself”–with massacres, social collapse, and migrations occurring across our planet on a weekly basis, do not ask “for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
These are, of course, idealistic arguments, and just how many Americans, Europeans, and citizens of other privileged countries will heed the tocsin is unclear. For the remainder of this century, we suspect, the debate will rage over what and how much should be done to improve the condition of humankind in the face of the mounting pressures described here and in other analyses. One thing seems to us fairly certain. However the debate unfolds, it is, alas, likely that a large part of it–on issues of population, migration, rich versus poor, race against race–will have advanced little beyond the considerations and themes that are at the heart of one of the most disturbing novels of the late twentieth century, Jean Raspail’s The Camp of the Saints. It will take more than talk to prove the prophet wrong.
Matthew Connelly is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at Yale University. He is now in Paris doing research for his dissertation, on the diplomatic history of the Algerian war of independence.
Paul Kennedy is the J. Richardson Dilworth Professor of History and the director of international security studies at Yale University. He is internationally known for his writings and commentary on global political, economic, and strategic issues. Kennedy is the author of The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1988), among many other books, the most recent being Preparing for the Twenty-first Century (1993).