The Upcoming Visit of the US Under Secretary Nuland to Dhaka: Issues and Directions

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Victoria Nuland, the US undersecretary for civilian security, democracy, and human rights, is expected to pay a visit to Bangladesh soon. During her visit to Dhaka, the US delegation headed by Victoria Nuland will engage with representatives from various governmental levels including major political parties Awami League and BNP following the upcoming national election of 2024. Donald Lu, the US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs will also be in the team. On March 19, 2022, the US Undersecretary for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, the third highest-ranking official in the State Department, visited Dhaka as a part of her three-nation South Asian visit, which included India and Sri Lanka attempting to incorporate the nations more firmly into the greater US geopolitical assault against Russia and China. This will be her second visit to Bangladesh which is critical in boosting Dhaka-Washington ties amid the ongoing upheaval.

The second visit by Victoria Nuland follows a series of trips to Bangladesh by high-ranking US officials, including Assistant Secretary of State Julieta Noyes, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Afreen Akhter, senior US National Security Council official Eileen Laubacher, and Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu, as well as the hosting of bilateral dialogues and joint military exercises over the previous year which indicate a positive turn in US-Bangladesh relations. It is expected that a wide array of issues including the coordination and response to the Rohingya Crisis, enhancing cooperation internationally, domestic political issues of Bangladesh, the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific, and developing overall bilateral relations between Bangladesh and the United States will be in top agendas during Nuland’s visit to Bangladesh. The United States is currently attempting to create a strategic engagement and partnership with Bangladesh. While sanctions and investment are important priorities for Bangladesh, the US wants to protect its security in the area.

A new geostrategic environment has emerged in the globe as a result of problems like the Rohingya crisis, the Taiwan crisis, the Ukraine War, and the expanding gap between the West and the East. To forge a strong bilateral relationship in the new environment, consideration must be given to the misunderstanding between the two nations caused by falsified information on Bangladesh’s domestic situation. Being one of the most trusted allies of Bangladesh, the United States should come forward and reduce the gap between Bangladesh and itself as both countries share a similar mindset on promoting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Against such a backdrop, for several reasons, this visit has the potential to strengthen connections between Dhaka and Washington.

Nuland’s Second Visit to Bangladesh: A Major Breakthrough?

Bangladesh and the United States have a strong alliance built on years of collaboration and support, and both countries look forward to developing their partnership in trade, investment, security, and other areas where they have common interests. Since 1972, when the US was one of the first nations to recognize Bangladesh as an independent country, the two countries have enjoyed cordial relations. Since then, bilateral relationships have progressively increased, and in 2022, they celebrated the diplomatic ties’ golden jubilee. The US is now Bangladesh’s third-largest trading partner, its top market for ready-made clothing, its top source of foreign direct investment (FDI), and its top investor in the country’s energy sector. However, their bilateral relations have been facing some tumultuous situations due to misrepresented perceptions regarding Bangladesh. This visit is happening at a time when Bangladesh and the United States are facing some divergence in their bilateral relations.

The US announced a new visa policy for Bangladesh although the government of Bangladesh is persistently saying that the next national election in Bangladesh will be held in a free and fair manner according to the Constitution of Bangladesh. In true sense, the United States has undertaken certain initiatives about its relations with Bangladesh in the context of “misunderstandings” which needs to be reversed. Both countries want to work on uplifting their bilateral ties and Victoria Nuland’s visit reflects on the US interests in Bangladesh. Bangladesh and the USA will be able to dispel their misunderstandings shortly and this visit will work as a catalyst for this.

Future of Interdependence?

Bangladesh-US ties are multifaceted. Both parties’ interests are at the heart of the partnership. Bangladesh is likewise important to the United States. Bangladesh is a key regional partner on economic, climatic, humanitarian, and security concerns, according to the US State Department (2023). In a televised interview, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Donald Lu stated that the basis of Bangladesh-US bilateral ties has expanded significantly over the last 52 years. However, the U.S. government is committed to fostering stronger relations and collaboration between the American and Bangladeshi people in the areas of commerce, security, education, and humanitarian aid to foster a more stable, secure, and prosperous future. Bangladesh is currently a “development miracle,” a developing middle power that is important to world peace and security as well as global diplomacy. The international community, including the United States, has taken notice of Bangladesh’s resurgence as a global economic force and its contribution to world peace and security.

Bangladesh is also seen as the “centerpiece of the United States’ Indo-Pacific Strategy” focusing on the Bay of Bengal, owing to its geostrategic location and its expanding economic capability. The United States is interested in Bangladesh because of its significance in the greater geopolitical dynamics given the geopolitical transition from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific area, particularly South Asia. As a key littoral in the North of the Bay of Bengal through which important sea lines of communication pass, Bangladesh has a crucial role to play in facilitating free maritime passage through the Bay, which forms part of the larger Indo-Pacific. Bangladesh has played and will continue to play a part in altering regional power dynamics between India and China. The growth of Bangladesh’s energy reserves, as well as regional energy and commercial links to China and India, might amplify this significance.

Strategically, the United States seeks to deepen defense ties by improving intelligence sharing and exchanging logistical and technological support in the domain of maritime security, combating violent extremism and transnational crimes. The USA is interested about Bangladesh signing two defense agreements – GSOMIA, and ACSA which has significant strategic ramifications in the region. Boosting economic relations between the countries also gives a considerable ground for strengthening their bilateral partnership. Washington has a wide variety of multiple, multidimensional interactions with Bangladesh and discovered several synergies including social and cultural networks between the two nations.

Victoria Donald understands Bangladesh’s significance to the United States. She must have a clear idea regarding the misunderstandings and demands between Bangladesh and the USA. Bangladesh has been regarded as a bold voice from the global south that advocated peace, prosperity, freedom, and social justice to the various bilateral and multilateral forums. It has also gained enormous appreciation from the international community for its humanitarian foreign policy and for ensuring spectacular economic development. It is time for the US to rethink its measures such as sanctions on security officials and the new visa policy to continue with the foundation of their robust bilateral relationship, and people in Bangladesh may expect this visit will pave the way for eliminating misunderstandings and creating room for further cooperation in the era of interdependence.

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

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