Bangladesh-Turkey 3rd Military Dialogue: Will It Boost Defense Cooperation?

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The 3rd Military Dialogue between Bangladesh and Türkiye was convened by Armed Forces Division, Dhaka Cantonment at the Multipurpose Hall, On April 12–14, 2023. Since their inception of bilateral relations, ties between Türkiye and Bangladesh have been cooperative and friendly; the most recent example is the recent security dialogue. This security dialogue will bolster defense and military cooperation in areas such as technology, defense equipment, disaster management, peacekeeping operations, training, visits, joint exercises, deployments, workshops, and others.

On February 22, 1974, during the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting, Türkiye became the first country to recognize Bangladesh as an independent nation-state. The relationship has since had numerous upheavals, but it has now reached a new height as the two nations have increased their efforts for defense sharing and security cooperation.

Despite its inclination towards the West, Türkiye has the necessary drive to promote connections with Asian nations thanks to its unique geostrategic position that spans the East and the West and its Islamic identity, which has been strengthened more under the current political system. Türkiye appears to be forging stronger ties with Bangladesh while expanding its footprint in South Asia

Against such a backdrop, Dhaka and Ankara should take advantage of their growing collaboration in the security and military sector if they wish to give their bilateral relationship a comprehensive and strategic form. The first dialogue between Bangladesh and Türkiye took place in Dhaka from July 5 to July 6, 2015, while the second dialogue took place in Türkiye from March 21 to March 23, 2022.

Dhaka and Ankara Bracing Security Ties

Türkiye-Bangladesh relations are deep-rooted and unshakable in any situation regarding political differences or state policies and Ankara wants to be a “solution partner” of Bangladesh in military cooperation. The Turkish President has stated his desire to increase weapons sales to $25 billion by 2023 in order to strengthen Türkiye’s defense industrial base. In 2013, Türkiye previously provided the Bangladesh Army with Otokar Cobra light armored vehicles, and in 2017, it won $1 billion in contracts for 680 of these vehicles.

Bangladesh and the Turkish company ROKETSAN struck a contract in March 2019 to purchase medium-range guided multiple rocket launchers. There are also plans for military training programs and drills involving the two nations’ armed services. Two years later, a $1 billion deal for 680 light armored vehicles was given to the Turkish company Delta Defence. Besides, more than 3,000 military officers from Bangladesh have trained in Türkiye. The Bangladeshi navy and its Turkish equivalent have grown particularly close. The SWADS, Bangladesh’s most advanced naval outfit, receives military training from Türkiye, South Korea, and the United States.

Another aspect of military cooperation is the exchange of high official military visits between the two nations. Many Bangladesh Armed Forces personnel undergo training in various Turkish universities each year. In both the fight against terror and the UN peacekeeping operation, the military forces of the two nations have cooperated. Bangladesh is the fourth-largest purchaser of weapons from Türkiye. Out of Türkiye’s total $1 billion in defense sales, Bangladesh bought $60 million worth of armaments in the first four months of 2021.

This demonstrates Bangladesh’s significance to Türkiye, and Bangladesh does hold a special place on Ankara’s foreign policy agenda for Asia. Bangladesh is always being watched by the international arms trade to seize this market, and Türkiye has effectively seen this through this security agreement. Türkiye not only provides Bangladesh with weaponry but also training for its security personnel. For instance, in June, Ankara trained 41 personnel of the Bangladesh Armed Forces. All of these are positive indicators of the Bangladesh-Türkiye defense’s healthy growth.

How can it Create a Win-Win Situation?

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was the first head of state to write to Erdogan expressing support for Ankara following the failed military coup attempt in Türkiye in 2016. On the other hand, during the Rohingya exodus in Bangladesh in August 2017, Türkiye was the first nation to show solidarity with Bangladesh by sending the nation’s first lady, Emine Erdogan, to the Rohingya refugee camps in the southern district of Cox’s Bazar. Regarding the Rohingya crisis, Türkiye has sided with Bangladesh in important multilateral venues including the UN, the G20, and the OIC.

The new agreement will proceed in the same manner, open up more training possibilities, and eventually improve communication, coordination, and collaboration between these two nations. Bangladesh appears to play a significant role in Türkiye’s Asia Anew Initiative due to its robust economy and geopolitical relevance. It has established itself as a significant trading partner, supported by its quickly expanding economy.

Dhaka is currently Ankara’s second-largest trading partner in South Asia, with a $1 billion trade volume in 2019 prior to the epidemic. Bangladesh’s robust domestic market and consistent economic growth have raised both its geopolitical significance and commercial notoriety globally. Besides, among the 145 nations taken into account for the 2023 edition of the Global Firepower Review, Bangladesh came in at number 40. The power index (PwrIndx) score of the country is 0.5871. ‘Perfect’ is 0.0000, which is the lowest possible score that indicates Bangladesh’s growing military capacities.

A memorandum of understanding on security cooperation, counterterrorism, and drug trafficking was signed by Bangladesh and Türkiye on January 8th,2022. Drug trafficking is a big issue for both nations since it threatens businesses, devastates communities, and negatively affects the economy overall. In that recent agreement, Bangladesh and Türkiye committed to combating drug trafficking both within and beyond their national boundaries. Now that the trafficking in illicit narcotics has been stopped, both nations may collaborate to prevent their production, distribution, and sales. This security agreement has significant economic ramifications for Türkiye. In the fiscal year 2021–2022, Bangladesh earmarked $4.45 billion for its military budget. This budget’s size reveals the size of the market and the level of demand for weaponry for Bangladesh’s armed forces. Türkiye frequently provides joint ventures or technology transfer, and Bangladesh is also eligible.

From the geo-political standpoint, Türkiye appears to be forging stronger ties with Bangladesh while expanding its footprint in South Asia. In reality, preparations for its increased participation began far earlier than in 2019. It started to broaden its diplomatic network in Asia in order to promote diplomatic ties with other Asian countries. Without any restrictions, the nation is keen to export more military equipment to the South Asian nation without any political conditions and based on need Launched on August 5, 2019, the Asia Anew Initiative (ANI) of Türkiye seeks to broaden its diplomatic ties with Asian nations by emphasizing collaboration and coordination through institutional channels. Türkiye is working to strengthen ties with Bangladesh, one of its longest allies in Asia, as part of the ANI. The security agreement might be interpreted as Ankara’s attempt to improve relations with all countries, not only Bangladesh. but also, to successfully implement the ANI.

On the flip side, to achieve the Armed Forces Goal 2030, Bangladesh has a plan to diversify its suppliers of military technology. In the meantime, the Turkish foreign minister stated a desire to advance a “Joint Production and Technology Transfer” program and deepen defense cooperation with Bangladesh during a previous trip to Dhaka. Actually, as part of their diversification strategy, Bangladesh’s Security Forces and Armed Forces would be able to purchase new weaponry thanks to the latest security agreement. Türkiye was able to emerge from the crisis by being self-reliant in the military sector, referring to the worldwide trend of political constraints in acquiring military equipment. The nation is mentioned as an example that Turkish drones have earned notoriety after they were deployed in Libya, Syria, and Nagorno-Karabakh as being particularly adaptable in terms of military collaboration with other nations. Türkiye has previously given Bangladesh multi-launcher rockets, and Ankara is prepared to form collaborative ventures in shipbuilding for both military and non-military activities.

In order to establish its own production facility, become self-sufficient, and diversify its military capabilities, Bangladesh may also look to the Turkish Armed Forces, the military Industry, and Arms Production Companies. Hence, this security deal will add a cherry on top to the existing defense cooperation between Dhaka and Ankara.

– Saume Saptaparna Nath is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in Eurasia Review [Link]