Let’s Talk About Security of Bangladesh

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There is a view among some scholars that traditional security is everything for Bangladesh. While the protection of sovereignty and territorial integrity is the highest priority, the idea of security needs to be broadened to capture evolving challenges in the world. In today’s world, states are not the only sources of threats. Bangladesh, through pursuing its policy thrust on friendship and peaceful relationships, had developed an enlightened and broad-based notion of national security.

Notably, since the independence of Bangladesh, there has been no evidence of major disputes with its neighboring countries, whether with India or with Myanmar. Bangladesh maintains peaceful relations with its neighbors. Thus, this write-up focuses on the security discourse in Bangladesh.

During the Cold War period, security was understood as national security and the referent object of security was the state or military security based on the logic of political realism. According to political realism, state is the primary referent objet of security and ‘war as the main threat to it’ (Peoples and Vaughan-Williams 2010, p.4).

Some scholars argue for increasing military capabilities. In fact, such neo-realist paradigm of security overlooks the security of the individuals. But in the context of Bangladesh, major security threats are from non-military aspects: from environmental to food to health insecurity. Thus, this write-up argues that human well-being should be at the center of security mapping of Bangladesh rather than focusing on military security.

Externally, security has been politicized based on the logic of anarchy and fears among the nation-states to serve the interests of the West.  Because of the politicization of national security, major arms producers and exporters are the major beneficiaries. In addition, private military industries today are a multi-billion-dollar business which also matters to the ‘politicization of security’.

The existing literature suggests that the notion of ‘national security’ was developed in the West, and consequently it was exported and generalized to the whole world based on fear and the logic of anarchy, followed by each and every state. And the basic tenet of national security based on military capability rarely addresses the problems of the global South and to a larger extent explicitly or implicitly serves the interests of the West. In this context, Pinar Bilgin (2012, p.166) writes, ‘Non-western insecurities cannot be reduced to Hobbesian fear alone’.

Some scholars also argue for strengthening Bangladesh’s military and war-fighting capacity with regard to dealing with Myanmar, as they believe that a strong military might compel Myanmar to ‘repatriate’ the Rohingya refugees. Such articulation becomes problematic because it might create security dilemma which will result in arms race. The history reveals that such arms race had never been good for the people. For instance, one can look at the arms race between the USA and the former USSR during the Cold War period and its impacts on the Soviet people. Thus, this write-up prescribes some policy suggestions.

Policy suggestions

Identifying Individuals as ‘Ultimate’ Referents of Security

Instead of state, the referent object of security must be individuals while mapping security for Bangladesh. The issue areas also must be broadened with importance on identifying the security needs of the individuals. In terms of studying security, instead of following the positivist approach, which takes the world as it is, one should follow post-positivist approaches.

Emphasizing Diplomacy and Foreign Policy

Realist camp emphasizes on the traditional military/national security, and therefore prescribes for increasing military capabilities. Instead of military capabilities, focusing on the diplomacy and foreign policy would be a rational way to ensure security for Bangladesh even in the case of dealing with Myanmar. It has been found that relation of Bangladesh with neighboring countries is cordial enough. In fact, in this age of globalization, interdependence and increased influence of the international organizations, instead of emphasizing offensive military postures as many states, maintaining a friendly, cooperative relation based on mutual trust, respect, understanding and reciprocity with neighboring countries will bring betterment for the people of Bangladesh.

This write-up reiterates that non-traditional security issues need to be prioritized, along with appropriate traditional military security issues. Bangladesh maintains its motto of friendship to all, malice towards none under any circumstances.

– Dr. Md. Shariful Islam is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Rajshahi. He is also an adjunct research fellow at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA, Dhaka).

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