The UK expressed its interest in selling advanced weapons to Bangladesh as the British High Comissioner elaborated the importance of defence forces to protect the country’s sovereignty mentioning the Ukraine crisis. He said British Euro-fighter aircraft and Trovas ship can be good investments for Bangladesh to protect the latter’s air and maritime territory, reports SM Tanjil-Ul-Haque
Opportunities remain vast and expanding on issues like bilateral defence and military cooperation between Bangladesh and the United Kingdom (UK). The growing concerns of global and regional safety and security have been surfaced and prioritised at the defence dialogue, which has been held recently between Bangladesh and the UK that created a corridor of broader discussion on diverse bilateral issues, necessities and outcomes. The two-day strategic talks took place in early March at the Armed Forces Division in Dhaka Cantonment with participation of high-powered representatives from both sides.
A 24-member local delegation led by Brigadier General Hussain Muhammad Masihur Rahman, Director General of the Directorate of Operations and Planning of the Armed Forces, joined the defence dialogue, said an Inter Services Public Relations Directorate (ISPR) statement. Brigadier General Mohammad Mahabubur Rashid, Defence Attaché of the Bangladesh High Commission to the UK, also attended the defence dialogue as a guest.
On the other hand, a five-member delegation led by Trish Wilson, head of International Security at the United Kingdom Department of Defence, participated in the defence dialogue. The UK High Commissioner to Dhaka Robert Chatterton Dickson was also present at the March 2-3 dialogue that created a corridor of broader discussion on bilateral issues, necessities and outcomes.
“Defence and security cooperation between Bangladesh and the United Kingdom is warm and intensive, Bangladesh and the UK recalled their historic relations and reiterated satisfaction at the strong and growing bilateral relations between the two friendly countries,” said ISPR in its official statement. There is, however, a positive vibe that the UK will continue to support the Bangladesh Armed Forces in defence development and training.
Every year, a good number of the Bangladesh Armed Forces members get trained at various UK institutions. The two countries’ Armed Forces have been working together in the UN peacekeeping mission and the war against terror. The regular exchange of military visits of senior officials of the two countries is a unique example of military cooperation. But this is a landmark event as it is the first ever military dialogue between the two countries. It will expedite cooperation between two countries in the areas of defence and military cooperation on global and regional security, technology, defence equipment, disaster response, defence cooperation in training of peacekeeping operations, training, inspections, joint exercises and deployments, workshops, etc.
The British High Commissioner to Dhaka expressed his heartfelt happiness over the UK-Bangladesh defence dialogue. He remarked, “The key issues in the defence dialogue were regional and international security, capacity building of defence forces and arms procurement.”
According to him, “Through this dialogue, many areas of further discussion and cooperation between our two countries have been identified for peace and security. This event will make a significant contribution to world peace and security. At the same time, the UK and Bangladesh look forward to a free, open, peaceful, secure, and inclusive Indo-Pacific.” He said in a statement on 3rd March, “After Bangladesh’s independence 50 years ago, we established a strong bilateral defence relationship, the dialogue is an important opportunity for us to prepare for how this relationship can evolve over the next 50 years.”
February this year marks the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh-UK diplomatic relations. On 4th February 1972, the United Kingdom recognized Bangladesh as an independent country. Since then, bilateral relations between the two countries have gradually grown. Cooperation between the two countries in political, trade, investment, education, defence, etc. has also increased over time.
UK’s political relations with Bangladesh are historic. On 7th January 1972, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman met the British Prime Minister then Sir Edward Heath in London on his return from Pakistan. From that meeting, the relations between the two countries got off to a good start. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has visited London several times. Recently, PM held a bilateral meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2021. At the same time, PM also held a meeting with Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson also extended special greetings on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh’s independence. Relations between the two countries have reached new heights with the exchange of high-level visits almost every year. Besides, United Kingdom has been on the side of Bangladesh on the Rohingya issue from the very beginning. The country continues to press Myanmar to take back Rohingyas. As one of the main donors to the Rohingya refugee crisis, United Kingdom has also provided more than 320 million in aid since 2017.
Trade cooperation between Bangladesh and the United Kingdom is also increasing steadily. The United Kingdom has said that even if the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, trade cooperation with Bangladesh will not decrease. The UK has also announced duty-free access for Bangladesh until 2029 to boost trade between the two countries. After Germany, United Kingdom is the biggest buyer of Bangladesh’s garment industry in Europe. Bangladesh has been exporting garments to UK market for a long time.
Bangladesh has been acquiescing defence assistance from the United Kingdom for quite a long time. Bangladesh has purchased aircrafts and warships from the United Kingdom at various times. Both sides have organised defence dialogue to further enhance defence cooperation between the two countries. For the first time in history, in the radical Bangladesh-UK defence dialogue, the United Kingdom has expressed interest in selling advanced weapons to Bangladesh. Robert Dickson, the United Kingdom High Commissioner to Dhaka, said that the issue of arms procurement was of utmost importance in the high-level talks between the two countries.
Robert Dickson said that “Bangladesh has to decide what it needs. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine last week, it became clear again how important the defence forces are in protecting the country’s sovereignty. Fighter aircraft Euro-fighter is a good investment to protect the air dominion of the country. Again, modern technology ships like Offshore Trovas can be effective vessels in protecting and extracting the marine resources of Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal. The United Kingdom is keen to supply these weapons of modern technology if Bangladesh wants.
The UK High Commissioner further said, “After the settlement of the maritime dispute of Bangladesh, protection of marine resources in the Bay of Bengal and development of blue-economy is very important. Therefore, ships like Offshore Trovas can play a very effective role in the protection and extraction of marine resources of Bangladesh.
According to the media reports, earlier, the Bangladesh Air Force purchased five C-130G Super Hercules military transport aircraft from the UK’s Royal Air Force, three of which have already been handed over. At Cambridge, Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group is building two more aircraft which will be handed over by April 2022.
On 5th November, 2021, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen at a virtual press conference on the UK, said that “Bangladesh would buy five warships from the UK.” FM said, “UK wanted to send some naval ships to Bangladesh. The final decision in this regard will be made later. But we agreed in principle to take five ships. Of these, three will be made in the UK and the other two will be made in Bangladesh.”
Bangladesh ranks 22nd in world arms imports. China is still a major source of weapons and military equipment in the armed forces. Recently, Bangladesh is also importing some equipment from Turkey. Dhaka also brings equipment from Italy, Russia, the UK, the US, France, and Germany.
The defence ties between the Bangladesh-UK are growing. As a key member of NATO, the UK has experience in building weapons. Bangladesh has the defence capability and the UK is interested in Bangladesh’s Forces Goal 2030. The UK was the latest country to propose defence supplies to Bangladesh in the fourth strategic dialogue between the two countries in London on 9th September 2021.
The defence dialogue was organized in order to create opportunities for broader discussions on bilateral defence and military issues, including deployments, defence supplies, and procurement. The UK wants ‘a structured discussion’ on defence issues.
It is also important for Bangladesh to drastically increase the capacity of its armed forces for securing its borders, both land and maritime, and the airspace in line with the Forces Goal 2030. Holding defence dialogues with the militaries of powerful countries is important for Bangladesh as security issues are becoming multidimensional with the inclusion of containing terrorism as well as violent extremism.
PM wants ties strengthened
Calling for further consolidation of Bangladesh-UK bilateral relations, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said prior to the defence dialogue, “It is time to rebuild Bangladesh-UK bilateral relations. We need to change our traditional approach to partnership.” PM made the remarks while addressing a function titled ‘Bangladesh at 50: The Resilient Delta’ on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence at the British Parliament during her UK visits from 3rd November to 9th November.
“Relations between the two countries should be truly strategic and co-operate in the areas of peacekeeping, counter-terrorism, maritime and air security,” she said. The Prime Minister welcomed the UK’s interest in partnerships in education, culture, research, and innovation.
Sheikh Hasina remarked that the role of the UK in resolving the Rohingya crisis is still important. She said, “Since August 2017, Bangladesh has stabilized the region by embracing the crisis on its own. But the security challenges in Cox’s Bazar are getting worse and worse. These challenges could soon spread beyond the borders of the region.” Recalling the responsibility of the international community, Sheikh Hasina said, “The international community has a responsibility to ensure the safe and dignified return of the Rohingya people to their motherland.”
The defence dialogue could be considered as a major step forward in establishing multi-dimensional and strategic relations between the countries. UK wants to see its presence in the Indo-Pacific on a larger scale and wants Bangladesh as a partner in the region. Bangladesh is currently the chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association which has further increased its importance.
The UK has its own Indo-Pacific strategy. Through this dialogue, both sides got an opportunity to know each other’s views on the issue.
To conclude, About 6 lakh Bangladeshis are engaged in various professions in the UK. They are contributing to the UK-Bangladesh economy. Besides, a large number of Bangladeshi students are studying in the UK. The United Kingdom has always supported Bangladesh in addressing the risks of climate change, women’s empowerment, education, human rights, good governance, etc. Bangladesh’s High Commissioner to London Saida Muna Tasneem, British High Commissioner to Dhaka Robert Dickson, and AK Abdul Momen, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister, are expected to take the time-tested alliance of the two countries further.