By Anup Sinha
Beginning on Wednesday, senior officers and civilians from the US and Bangladeshi defense establishments will gather in Dhaka for two days to assess current bilateral defense relations and discuss future goals.
The Indo-Pacific area should be free, open, tranquil, and secure, according to the shared vision of the United States and Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Armed Forces Division and Indo-Pacific Command will meet in Dhaka on August 23 and 24 to conduct the Bilateral Defense Dialogue in order to further these shared goals.
Senior military officials and citizens from the US and Bangladeshi militaries will participate in this discussion. They will talk about military education, defense news, and forthcoming military drills, like the Disaster Response Exercise & Exchange for the following year.
The conversation is a component of a more extensive connection between their defense organizations, which includes collaboration on a wide range of defense-related issues.
At the first BD-US Security Dialogue in 2012, a joint declaration between the two nations launched their defense dialogue. The tenth episode will be this one.
Brig Gen Husain Muhammad Masihur Rahman, director general of the Bangladesh Armed Forces Division, will lead the Bangladeshi side while Brig Gen Thomas J. James, director of strategic planning and policy at the US Indo-Pacific Command, will lead the US side.
The United States and Bangladesh have collaborated on a variety of security-related topics for the past 50 years, including border and maritime security, counterterrorism, peacekeeping, defense trade, and the development of defense institutions.
The US interacts with Bangladesh through a number of bilateral and multilateral fora, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, the US-Bangladesh Security Dialogue, and the US-Bangladesh Partnership Dialogue.
According to the US embassy website, the US has given Bangladesh support with $7.29 million for international military education and training (IMET) and $66.9 million in foreign military financing (FMF) since 2015. The FMF assistance consists of $56.9 million in Bay of Bengal Initiative Regional FMF and $10 million in bilateral programming.
Through the assistance of FMF, the Bay of Bengal Initiative of the Department of State aims to strengthen the ability of civilian and military actors to identify illicit activity both within and beyond their borders, to establish networks and customs of cooperation to allow nations to share information, to increase their capacity to quickly respond to illicit activity, and to assist our partners in enabling a rules-based order in the Indian Ocean Region.
These funds have been used to buy patrol boats for the Bangladesh Army, more patrol boats for the Navy and Coast Guard, MRAP vehicles for border security and international peacekeeping missions, electronic and mechanical upgrades for the fast patrol boats and ex-U.S. Coast Guard cutters now used by the Bangladesh Navy, technical and professional training for Bangladesh military and Coast Guard personnel, and joint military exercises.
Under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) system, the US government has $130.59 million in active government-to-government sales cases with Bangladesh. In 2013 and 2015, Bangladesh also acquired two ex-US Coast Guard Hamilton Class cutters through EDA, which are now the two biggest ships in the Bangladesh Navy.
To reinforce its forces in Mali, Bangladesh also acquired 50 EDA MRAP trucks in 2019. Through the Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) procedure, the US additionally sanctioned the permanent export of defense goods worth over $6 million to Bangladesh in FY2019.
Aircraft and related items, supplies, and other items, as well as fire control, laser, imaging, and guiding systems, are the three main categories of DCS to Bangladesh.
The United States has provided close to $44 million since 2005 to fund training, equipment upgrades, and facility upgrades to strengthen Bangladesh’s capacity for peacekeeping.
However, the US has been working toward signing an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) and a General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Bangladesh. Recently, Foreign Minister Dr. AK Abdul Momen ruled on the possibility of concluding such agreements prior to the general elections.
He has previously stated, “I don’t think we have the luxury of signing such types of agreements before the election.” Bangladesh has expressed interest in purchasing cutting-edge equipment from the US as part of its plan to upgrade its military by 2030, thus Washington wants to sign the two defense accords.
The GSOMIA ensures that countries recognize the need of protecting classified military information and make a commitment to doing so. ACSA enables the US military and the armed forces of its allies to buy and pay for common goods and services. Everything from food, water, clothing, transportation, instruction, oil, ammo, maintenance, and medical services could be included.
Relations between the United States and Bangladesh, however, have gotten more challenging recently. Washington imposed penalties on Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and a number of its current and former officers on December 10, 2021. The US has announced a new visa policy for Bangladesh. There are several problematic ties between Bangladesh and the USA.
Among these, the defense conversation is particularly crucial. However, Washington might continue to see Dhaka as a partner in regional security. The US is currently looking to partner with Bangladesh in a strategic alliance. Defense cooperation between states may increase bilateral ties and enhance defense connections between the two countries.
Bangladesh and the USA are both vital to the region. This conveyed that while having some differences, both countries are very keen in further strengthening their bilateral ties. This could help to resolve any bilateral concerns. Bangladesh and the USA must work as dependable partners to resolve some shared concerns.
The relationship between the United States and Bangladesh is crucial for a number of reasons. In terms of security, humanitarian assistance, and the economy, Bangladesh is first and foremost a crucial regional ally for the United States. Second, in counterterrorism efforts, Bangladesh has been an important strategic partner. Last but not least, the US wants to have a robust, all-encompassing partnership with Bangladesh based on shared values of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights (US Department of State, 2021).
Why is the US concentrating on developing closer ties with Bangladesh?
As soon as the United States formally recognized the newly constituted Bangladesh on April 4, 1972, diplomatic relations between the two nations were established. Both nations have maintained cordial ties for the last 50 years. In the last ten years, cooperation in trade, investment, and security has stepped up, with a particular emphasis on counterterrorism.
The two-way commerce increased by 12% from the previous year to $9 billion in 2019, with $2.3 billion of that amount coming from US exports to Bangladesh. At the same time, Bangladesh’s exports to the US increased by 9.5% to $6.7 billion.
Bangladesh is the third-largest recipient of US aid among countries in South Asia, highlighting the importance of their bilateral relations. The US has praised Dhaka for its admirable role in providing refuge to Rohingya refugees, demonstrating its dedication to humanitarianism.
The United States’ heightened focus on Bangladesh’s democracy and human rights calls for investigation into the underlying causes of this current strategy. One hypothesis is that the US sees the country occupying a strategic position within its Indo-Pacific strategy.
Bangladesh is still convinced of the value of the Non-Aligned Movement. It is imperative that the US recognise Dhaka’s support for Washington.
While the US contends that the acts of the Rapid Action Battalion have a negative influence on the rule of law, human rights, fundamental freedoms, and economic advancement for the people of Bangladesh, Bangladesh claims that the US sanctions have geopolitical roots. Dhaka sees the US sanctions as a part of a larger geopolitical plan for South Asia.
While investment and sanctions continue to be Bangladesh’s top priorities, the United States is concentrated on protecting its interests in the region. The US must defend its position in the Indo-Pacific in the face of continued great power rivalry. The US is planning to sign the GSOMIA and ACSA defense agreements with Bangladesh in order to accomplish this goal.
However, Dhaka’s position is against signing any defense pacts before the elections, since the government’s top concerns right now are development demands, as Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen remarked last week.
Both nations have been exhibiting signs of development for some time. While the US reaffirmed its commitment to working with Bangladesh to improve the human rights situation, Bangladesh established human rights cells and sent out human rights reports.
Last but not least, Bangladesh hopes to spur South Asian economic change by forming alliances with the US and the EU and cooperating to support the tenets of the Indo-Pacific strategy. If understood properly, this may result in the “revitalization of Bangladesh-US relations” in the ensuing era within this complicated international environment.