3. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Eastern Waters Proposal

You requested a study of a possible initiative for an international development project for the Lower Ganges and Brahmaputra valleys,2 [Page 6] the so-called “Eastern Waters” of the subcontinent (see map at Tab A–1).3 The Near East and South Asian Interdepartmental Group response is at Tab A; summary and conclusions are on pages 1–2.

The report reaffirms the vast potential of such a project. Dramatic improvements in the lives of some 300 million people could be achieved; a significant improvement in the global food/population ratio could result; and over the long run, potentially serious political conflicts could be defused. The technical problems should be soluble. In the words of the report, “There are few, if any, areas in the world where international assistance might produce more dramatic benefits for large numbers of people.” And there is no area in the world where there are more desperately poor people. At the same time, however, the report underlines the many uncertainties involved in an undertaking of this type; its very high costs; the many alternative approaches to meeting the challenge; and the extreme political sensitivities of the nations who would be affected. We clearly need much more knowledge about all of these factors.

The immediate choices concern whether and to what extent the US should become involved in an effort to initiate the study and then, depending on the answers, how to approach the regional states and Congress. We must also consider how best to explain our interest in the project to the American public. Policy options and agency recommendations are on pages 10–13 of the report. In short, the issues are:

1. Whether to raise this matter with the Indians and other states involved (a) by a Presidential letter to the heads of government, (b) in a discussion with Indian Prime Minister Desai later this year, or (c) through ambassadorial exchanges. I agree with the IG chairman’s proposal on page 11 of the report that Ambassador Goheen inform Desai when he sees him on the subject of visits that you would like to discuss this matter when you meet with Desai,4 and may raise it before then in your UN speech.5 Depending on how the Indians react, we would then decide whether to mention the project in the UN address. A Presidential letter would also be an acceptable course of action, but we would probably not get a reaction from Desai in time to plan for the UN speech.

2. The format for congressional consultations. I agree with the report’s unanimous recommendation that we inform selected members [Page 7] of Congress immediately after our initial exchanges with the regional states.

3. Means for announcing your decision. In my view, the UNGA speech would be the most effective means of calling international attention to this issue and catalyzing action. Also, a proposal of this sort would be a useful addition to a speech that may be short on initiatives in the North-South area.

The OMB dissent at Tab A–2 questions the utility of US investment in this project unless the regional states themselves request a feasibility study and the study shows that the project is viable. They are concerned that a prominent US role in requesting such a study might raise expectations about future financial support which may not be forthcoming. On the other hand, helping to launch a feasibility study stops well short of any long-term commitment to finance the project. And, by taking no action at this time, we may let an important political and developmental opportunity pass, since waiting for the Bank or the regional states to move will guarantee interminable delays.


That the US take the lead in calling for an Eastern Waters feasibility study. You would do so through your UN address, but, Goheen would inform Desai of our intentions beforehand. If he raises no objections, we would then inform the other regional states and discuss the proposal with interested members of Congress.6

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 27, India: 1–8/77. Confidential. Sent for action. In the upper right-hand corner of the first page of the memorandum, Carter wrote: “Good report—Let’s hold. I’ll discuss with Desai as first move. J.”
  2. See Document 1.
  3. The tabs were not found attached.
  4. See Documents 9092.
  5. Carter did not raise the issue when he addressed the UN General Assembly on October 4. See Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book II, pp. 1715–1723, or Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, Document 56.
  6. Carter did not check either the Approve or Disapprove option.