Yet, in the aftermath of the Algerian attacks and the insurgency in Mali, expect to hear an overwhelming silence about the population issue. There will be much debate about the proper military response by Western powers, their long-term financial commitment, and the importance of establishing effective institutions and eliminating corruption. All these things are of course very important, but on population control, Western leaders will in all likelihood say nothing.
This cultural taboo partly reflects the racial sensibilities that the issue of population growth has sometimes offended in the postwar -- and post-imperial -- age. In the developing world, many critics have viewed family-planning initiatives as an attempt by the white former colonial powers to control a perceived threat from beyond. And in Western capitals, the issue is still sometimes unfairly equated with eugenics, creating an effective no-go area for all but the bravest politicians.
It is just such sensitivities that now need to be challenged. The taboo that continues to surround the issue of population control needs to be cast aside. New, and highly drastic, means of curbing the rate of growth have to be devised and put into practice if this dire threat to regional and international stability is ever to be averted.
In Mali, population growth has -- at the very least -- already seriously aggravated existing tensions. Around 3 million ordinary Malians cannot at present feed themselves, and about 175,000 children face death from severe acute malnutrition, a number that the U.N. and various NGOs feel is set to increase sharply in the near future. The longer the outside world looks away from this crisis, the more tragic the consequences of such a failure will be.