The US-Bangladesh Security Dialogue: How Successful It Was?

The 8th US-Bangladesh Security Dialogue took place on April 4, 2022. The meeting took place in Washington DC this year. Bangladeshi delegation included Foreign Minister, Foreign Secretary, and various representatives from the concerned state apparatus. Apart from the Ministerial meeting, several secretary-level meetings also took place as part of the dialogue. The dialogue highlighted many important aspects of current bilateral relations, including the Defense Cooperation agreements, Rohingya issues, the Human Rights situation in Bangladesh, Labor laws, the ‘much hyped’ RAB sanctions, and free press issues. Both sides exchanged constructive dialogues on these topics. This meeting would clear up the temporary clouds between the countries while it would also facilitate availing future opportunities for both countries. Interestingly, April 4th also marked the 50th anniversary of bilateral relations- an auspicious moment for both countries.

The 8th US-Bangladesh Security Dialogue is a part of the Partnership dialogue that started on March 20. This year’s dialogue is the first ever since the pandemic and the RAB sanctions. Partnership dialogue is an annual event where both countries sit together and discuss the current issues and how to avail future bilateral opportunities. This year, the US concentrated on ensuring its security in the Indo-Pacific by signing two defense agreements with Bangladesh, the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) and the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA). Apart from these two agreements, Human Rights and Labor laws in Bangladesh were top priorities for the USA. RAB sanctions and diversifying US investment in Bangladesh were top priorities for Bangladesh.

During the Security dialogue, Bangladesh appreciated the latest Rohingya Genocide Acknowledgement from the USA. USAID administrator Samantha Power also appreciated Bangladesh for its compassion and humanitarian assistance for the Rohingya. The administrator also praised Bangladesh for improving its economic relations with the USA. USAID also expressed to increase its support for Bangladesh’s development.

In the aspect of Human Rights, the USA expressed its commitment to promote Human Rights for Bangladesh. Bangladesh Delegation also presented its position on this matter. It’s been a while since Bangladesh expressed that the US has ‘problematic’ data about Bangladesh’s Human Rights condition. The data are collected through various NGOs, news reports, and research paper published by think tanks. These organizations have their own interests and quite often report accordingly to ensure funding and expand operations. For instance, Odhikar- one of the sources, has record of publishing fabricated reports on Shapla Chottor incident in 2013. Many published news are also distorted and ambiguous in nature. Through the meeting, the Bangladesh got the opportunity to clear their stance on it. The delegation also invited US officials to visit Bangladesh to find the facts themselves rather than relying on secondary data sources.

The Dialogues also covered recent RAB sanctions. Bangladesh focused on the developments of the last three months. There is no event of extrajudicial killing since the sanctions.  It’s a positive development. Previously, both countries also discussed this development at partnership dialogue held in Dhaka on March 20th. US Under Secretary Victoria Nuland attended the dialogue and focused on accountability mechanism for improving the situation.

 The Bangladeshi delegation also focused on RAB’s significance in counter-terrorism, and drug problem. The delegation also explained the necessity of the force in these aspects in the future, especially in a context where Counter-terrorism is no longer a top priority for the US foreign policy. It is worth mentioning that in the last 18 years, the USA has provided training and supplied equipment to the force. RAB is also modeled after the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Another important topic of the dialogue was the labor laws in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is currently in the process of graduation from LDC to DC. The graduation is likely to complete in 2026. So, compatible Labor laws are important now to increase economic relations.

As a part of Human Rights issues, delegations discussed Bangladesh’s media freedom. Both sides expressed to continue the discussion. For a while, Bangladesh is stating that the current regime has provided the most number of media licenses in the country’s history, with 36 licenses from 2009 to 2018. Media outlets are flourishing in both offline and online. The major media outlets continuously report corruption and criticize government policies to help the government. They are not under any sort of illegal surveillance program also.

However, scholars and activists are criticizing the misuse of Digital Security Act (DSA) as a hindrance to media freedom. Current regime has also explained its necessity and assured the USA that necessary steps would be taken to prevent its misuse.

And last but not least, fruitful exchanges have taken place about defense agreements as Bangladesh accepted the draft of GSOMIA. The agreements align perfectly with Bangladesh’s Forces Goal 2030, through which the country aims to modernize its military. Since 2015, the USA has provided military assistance worth $74 million to Bangladesh. The US hardware is one of the best in quality, and Bangladesh may acquire them in the future. But the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh has also stated that signing such an agreement would take time, and there is no hurry. Bangladesh is also not aiming to acquire US hardware too soon. So patience would be the key in this negotiation.

In conclusion, the 8th Security dialogue is successful for both countries as it provided track-1 Diplomacy to acknowledge the current issues, and provided opportunity to enhance bilateral relations. Through this dialogue, Bangladesh found the opportunity to express its position on Human Rights, Sanctions, and Labor laws to its counterpart, while the US advanced its security interests in the Indo-Pacific region. This dialogue would further bolster the existing relations.

However, Diplomacy is a continuous process. The next security dialogue will take place in Dhaka next year. Hopefully, it will be the continuation of this one that would be decisive in uplifting both countries’ mutual interests.

*Doreen Chowdhury is an aspiring author and analyst. She is currently pursuing her Doctoral studies at University of Groningen. Her areas of interest are Comparative Politics, Globalization, South Asian Studies and Migration Studies. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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