Water Resource Competition in the Brahmaputra River Basin

In 2015-2016, CNA studied water resource competition between India, China, and Bangladesh in the Brahmaputra River basin. The Brahmaputra River, which originates in China and runs through India and Bangladesh, raises serious concerns for regional stability. China and India have fought a war over contested territory through which the Brahmaputra flows, while Bangladesh faces human security pressures in this basin that will be magnified by upstream river practices. Despite potential threats to regional stability from dam-building activities and water diversion plans on shared resources, no bilateral or multilateral water management accord exists in the Brahmaputra River basin.

This project, sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, provides greater understanding of the equities and drivers fueling water insecurity in the Brahmaputra River basin. After conducting research in the three countries, CNA offers recommendations for key stakeholders to consider at the subnational, bilateral, and basin-wide levels. CNA’s findings lay the foundation for policymakers in China, India, and Bangladesh to discuss steps that manage and resolve water resource competition in order to help move the discussion toward solutions that address underlying long-term water needs and development of the Brahmaputra basin, thereby strengthening regional security.

We are grateful to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which sponsored this project, and to our think-tank partners in the region—the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) in Beijing, the Center for Policy Research (CPR) in New Delhi, and the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) in Dhaka.

Cover Photography: Brahmaputra River, India: people crossing the Brahmaputra River at six in the morning. Credit: Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest, "Brahmaputra River, India," Maria Stenzel/National Geographic Society/Universal Images Group Rights Managed/For Education Use Only, http://quest.eb.com/search/137_3139899/1/137_3139899/cite.

CNA Event

On May 4, 2016, CNA hosted a release event in Arlington, VA, about Water Resource Competition in the Brahmaputra River Basin.

Event Agenda:

Welcome: Paul Faeth, CNA Energy, Water, & Climate

Project Overview: Nilanthi Samaranayake, CNA Strategic Studies

Special Guest Opening Remarks: Claudia Sadoff, Ph.D., World Bank

CNA Study Team Findings:

  • China – Joel Wuthnow, Ph.D., National Defense University
  • India – Satu Limaye, Ph.D., East-West Center in Washington and CNA
  • Bangladesh – Nilanthi Samaranayake, CNA

Question and Answer Session


Project Team Biographies

Nilanthi Samaranayake is the project director of the CNA study, Water Resource Competition in the Brahmaputra River Basin: China, India, and Bangladesh, to be published on May 4, 2016. She is a strategic studies analyst at CNA; her research focuses on South Asia and Indian Ocean security. Prior to joining CNA, Samaranayake completed a fellowship at the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR), where she investigated Sri Lanka’s deepening economic, military, and diplomatic ties with China. Her findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal, Asian Security. She has authored book chapters on the smaller countries of South Asia and their relations with China; the U.S.-China-India strategic triangle in the Indian Ocean region; and the island states in the Indian Ocean. Samaranayake’s analysis has been featured in World Politics Review, South Asia Journal, The National Interest, The Diplomat, YaleGlobal, and Asia Pacific Bulletin among other publications. She has appeared in media such as Al Jazeera, South China Morning Post, and Foreign Policy. Her public speaking includes presentations in Washington as well as South Asia. Samaranayake analyzed public opinion for a decade at Pew Research Center in Washington. While there, she twice directed the quadrennial survey, “America’s Place in the World.” Samaranayake holds an M.Sc. in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science and a B.A. in International Studies from American University.

Satu Limaye, Ph.D. is a senior advisor at CNA Strategic Studies (CSS). His recent work at CNA includes possible United States-India coordination on maritime security cooperation in South Asia, maritime security in the Bay of Bengal and India-Pakistan maritime rivalry in the Arabian Sea, implications of climate change on Asia-Pacific international relations, and India's relations with China and Bangladesh regarding the Brahmaputra River among other studies. He is also Director, East West Center in Washington where he directs the Asia Matters for America initiative and edits the Asia-Pacific Bulletin among other roles. Limaye regularly briefs USG officials, lectures widely, serves as a manuscript reviewer for leading publishers and journals, is a faculty tenure review committee member, and is a consultant to leading U.S. and international foundations. Previously, he was Director of Research and Publications at the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS), a direct reporting unit to U.S. Pacific Command. He has also been a research staff member in the Strategy, Forces and Resources Division at the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA). He has been an Abe Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy and a Henry Luce Scholar and Research Fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) in Tokyo. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and received his doctorate from Oxford University (Magdalen College) where he was a George C. Marshall Scholar.

Joel Wuthnow, Ph.D. is a research fellow in the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs at the National Defense University, where he studies Chinese military and foreign affairs and strategic developments in East Asia. Previously, he was a China analyst at CNA from 2012-2015, during which time he completed research on China’s policies on water security in the Brahmaputra river basin among other projects. Earlier, he was a post-doctoral fellow in the China & the World Program at Princeton University and a pre-doctoral research fellow at the Brookings Institution. His publications include a book, Chinese Diplomacy and the UN Security Council (Routledge, 2013), and articles in journals such as The China Quarterly, Chinese Journal of International Politics, and Issues & Studies, as well as book chapters and op-eds.  His latest publication is Posing Problems without an Alliance: China-Iran Relations after the Nuclear Deal (NDU Strategic Forum, 2016). He received a Ph.D. in Political Science from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Modern Chinese Studies from Oxford University, and an A.B., summa cum laude, in Public and International Affairs, from Princeton University. He is proficient in Mandarin.