57. Paper Prepared by Chester L. Cooper of the National Security Council Staff for the Presidentʼs Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1


  • A Regional Development Proposal for Southeast Asia

A. The Proposition

We should make immediately available to U Thant the idea of forming a new regional institution, The Southeast Asia Development Association. This will be a coordinating and consultative organization. It will have a permanent staff to conduct regional surveys, program reviews, technical studies, etc. It will also have an executive agent (e.g. the IBRD or the proposed Asia Development Bank) for the management of multi-national capital projects. Although the Association itself will finance some joint projects, much of the funds for development will continue to come from bilateral arrangements.

Note: 1) “Regional Membership” will be open to any country of Southeast Asia ready to meet minimum self-help criteria, to permit free access to staff and executive agent personnel, to engage in joint planning and to comply with any other standards the membership itself might establish.

2) “Non Regional Membership” will include certain ECAFE countries outside Southeast Asia.

3) The Association will coordinate its planning with ECAFE for such ongoing regional programs as the Mekong River projects and the ECAFE highway.

B. The Philosophy and the Purpose

This must be more than a political slogan or gimmick; it must not be conceived of as simply one more device to “stop Communism” or “contain China”; it must not be regarded or treated as a creature or special client of the U.S. This means that to the maximum extent possible, the concept must appear to be an Asian initiative and be Asian in character.

Its purpose is to launch a coordinated regional attack on poverty and insecurity in Southeast Asia and, through joint effort and planning, to maximize the regionʼs potential for economic and social development. [Page 147] It is designed to give substance to “Point 5” of the Presidentʼs cabinet statement and to provide a more explicit U.S. commitment.2

Note: While the Association, hopefully, will provide over the long term an incentive and an opportunity for Hanoi to choose the path of cooperation rather than aggression, it should not be regarded as directly tied to the war in Vietnam. Any program designed to induce Hanoi to forsake its present military course would involve such specific political and, to a lesser extent, economic inducements as to distort the broad regional purpose of the Development Association. Such political and economic inducements require early consideration in a separate (albeit related) program.

C. The Scenario

Immediately upon approval of this concept by highest authority, U Thant should be approached in confidence and at a high level with the object of having him advance the plan as his own idea.
U Thant should be encouraged to appoint a committee of “Asian Wise Men” to block out concrete organizational proposals, some major planning tasks and a few development suggestions over the next ninety days. He should also be encouraged to invite the U.S. and Soviet Governments and the IBRD to send consultants to meet with him.
U Thantʼs initiative should be followed at once by a Presidential statement endorsing U Thantʼs proposal as an appropriate follow-up to “Point 5.” The congressional leadership should be briefed at this juncture in order to assure Hill support.
The President should let it be known that Governor Harriman will be his Special Representative for the planning of the Association.
After consultations with U Thant, Governor Harriman will consult with the Soviet Union, the UK, Japan and appropriate countries of the region to discuss the proposal and generate support for it. (The Governor will have to offer some concrete U.S. commitments at about this point.)
The U.S. should take an occasion to indicate that it is favorably disposed to the Asian Regional Bank.
After the necessary staff work and congressional consultation, the U.S. should announce, at least in general terms, the amount of money and technical personnel it is prepared to commit to this project.
During the period between the early announcements and the report of the Wise Men the form if not the reality of momentum must be maintained. This can be done in a variety of ways—a New York Times [Page 148] Sunday magazine article by, say, Galbraith, a conference of regional specialists at the East-West Center, etc.

D. The Mechanics of Organization

An organizational device must be conceived that will:

Have a clear Asian cast.
Be under the UN umbrella.
Not prejudice the eligibility or attitudes of non-UN members should they wish to join.
Not imply early UN membership to non-UN members.

ECAFE meets enough of these requirements (and in addition includes such key countries as the USSR, Australia, New Zealand and Japan) to serve as the parent body. The UN membership issue can be dealt with by creating an ECAFE Development subsidiary which would permit countries of Southeast Asia, regardless of their UN stature, to be full participants.

E. The Problems

A fall-back position should be prepared in the event U Thant turns down our suggestion. Several possibilities suggest themselves: a country in the region could take the initiative (The Philippines), the formation of an Asian Regional Bank could be expedited and the proposal could be submitted to it, or we could proceed on a bilateral basis.
Southeast Asia has important limitations as a Development Region (political animosities, current military confrontations, language differences, a paucity of skills, a bare minimum of complementary economies.) But it has a relatively favorable land-food-population ratio (except for Java). If “Development” is defined broadly, if our tolerance is high and our expectation low, we canʼt lose much, and we may gain a fair amount.
Efforts and resources committed to Southeast Asia may divert attention and funds from the urgent problems of the Indian sub-continent. This must not happen.
The concept outlined above anticipates eventual U.S. aid to and cooperation with such unpleasant and unpopular folk as Sihanouk, Sukarno and even Ho Chi Minh. This will take some skillful handling within the U.S. and especially on Capitol Hill.

[Here follows a list of ECAFE members, associate members, observers, suggested regional and non-regional new members.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of McGeorge Bundy, SE Asia Regional Development. Confidential.
  2. Reference is to a statement on Vietnam and potential Asian economic development made to the Cabinet on March 25. For the text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, Book I, p. 319.