In a letter addressed to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, President Joe Biden emphasized the robustness of their defense collaboration, underscoring that it has reached unprecedented levels
The US and Bangladesh are set to conduct a defense dialogue in Dhaka on August 23-24. Both countries seek to bolster security partnerships in response to the changing geopolitical dynamics.
Brig Gen Thomas J James, heading the strategic planning and policy division at the US Indo-Pacific Command, will guide the American delegation. On the other hand, Brig Gen Husain Muhammad Masihur Rahman, the director general of the Bangladesh Armed Forces Division, will lead the Bangladesh team.
According to diplomatic sources, the meeting will address topics such as the security situation in the Indo-Pacific region, military cooperation, training initiatives, counterterrorism measures, and strategies for humanitarian assistance and disaster management.
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At the conference, Washington’s amplified commitment to fostering closer ties with Bangladesh in the spheres of democracy, human rights, trade, investment, and regional security takes center stage.
Purpose of the Defense Dialogue
These dialogues are typically conducted between the defense and military officials of the two nations. The conversations address the ongoing bilateral exercises, during which both countries take mutual decisions to amplify the intricacy of the drills.
Defense dialogues provide an opportunity to discuss and coordinate efforts on a range of security-related issues, such as cybersecurity, maritime security, disaster response, and violence. Sharing knowledge and resources can lead to more effective joint responses to common challenges.
In the face of global terrorism and insurgency threats, defense dialogues facilitate coordination in intelligence sharing, strategy development, and dual operations to counter these threats effectively.
Military-to-military cooperation, training programs, mutual exercises, and information sharing are some of the vital topics of discussion. Also, dialogues are used as a platform for meetings related to arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These talks contribute to international efforts to reduce the risk of conflict and ensure global security.
Furthermore, defense dialogues provide a framework for discussing and coordinating responses to natural disasters and other humanitarian crises.
The 8th Bilateral Defense Dialogue between US and Bangladesh
Overcoming a one-year pause due to the Corona pandemic, Bangladesh hosted the 8th US-Bangladesh Partnership Dialogue on March 20, 2022. The presence of Victoria Nuland, the US Undersecretary of Political Affairs, on March 19, held particular importance as she is ranked third in the hierarchy of the State Department. Engaging in dialogue, the Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh, Masud Bin Momen headed the Bangladeshi team, with the primary goal of fostering a strong and enduring relationship.
The dialogues occurred in two phases. Bangladesh voiced its concerns about the unjustified nature of US sanctions against the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). Meanwhile, the US appealed to Bangladesh for its backing in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The central focus of the discussion initiated during the latter part of the dialogue, aimed to mend the rifts in bilateral relations.
President Joe Biden of the United States expressed his confidence in the longevity of the Dhaka-Washington relationship, foreseeing its continuation for the next half-century and more. In a letter addressed to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, he emphasized the robustness of their defense collaboration, underscoring that it has reached unprecedented levels.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Victoria Nuland stated, “In a world undergoing change due to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, endangering international norms and human rights, Bangladesh and the US stand united to ensure the protection of democracy and human rights”.
The recently designated US Ambassador to Dhaka, Peter Haas, spoke highly of Bangladesh’s role in stimulating peace and prosperity within the Indo-Pacific region. He expressed the US’s interest in partnering with Bangladesh to realize mutual aspirations.
Why the US is Focused on Closer relations with Bangladesh?
Diplomatic connections between the two countries commenced on April 4, 1972, as the United States officially acknowledged the newly established Bangladesh. Throughout the past half century, both countries have maintained friendly relations. In the past ten years, collaboration in trade, investment, and security with a special focus on counterterrorism, has become more vigorous.
In 2019, the two-way trade had surged to $9 billion, witnessing a 12% increase from the previous year, with US shipments to Bangladesh accounting for $2.3 billion. Concurrently, Bangladesh’s exports to the US also surged by 9.5%, reaching $6.7 billion.
Among South Asian nations, Bangladesh stands as the third largest beneficiary of US assistance, underscoring the significance of their bilateral ties. The US has commended Dhaka for its commendable role in sheltering Rohingya refugees, showcasing its humanitarian commitment.
The increased attention paid by the United States to democracy and human rights in Bangladesh invites scrutiny into the underlying motivations for this current approach. One potential viewpoint is that the US envisions a strategic position for the nation within its Indo-Pacific strategy.
Bangladesh maintains its faith in the significance of the Non-Aligned Movement. It’s essential for the US to acknowledge Dhaka’s alignment with Washington.
The perspective from Bangladesh is that the US sanctions are rooted in geopolitical motives, whereas the US argues that the actions of the Rapid Action Battalion negatively impact the rule of law, human rights, basic freedoms, and economic progress for the people of Bangladesh. Dhaka interprets the US sanctions as components of a broader South Asian geopolitical agenda.
Whilst sanctions and investment remain paramount concerns for Bangladesh, the United States is focused on securing its interests within the region. Safeguarding its position in the Indo-Pacific amidst ongoing great power competition is imperative for the US. To achieve this goal, the US is strategizing the signing of two defense pacts with Bangladesh: GSOMIA and ACSA.
However, last week, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen stated that Dhaka’s stance is against signing any defense pacts before the elections, as the government’s immediate priorities revolve around development needs.
Signs of progress have been evident in both countries for some time. Bangladesh has initiated human rights cells and dispatched human rights reports, all while the US has confirmed its commitment to partnering with Bangladesh to ameliorate the human rights situation.
Last but not least, Bangladesh aspires to catalyze South Asian economic transformation, forging partnerships with the US and the European Union, and working collaboratively to bolster the Indo-Pacific strategy’s principles. If properly comprehended, this could lead to the “revitalization of Bangladesh-US relations” in the forthcoming era within this complex global landscape.