Sheikh Hasina’s Participation in the Munich Security Conference 2024: Bolstering Ties with Europe in the Post-Election Era

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Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has left Dhaka to join the 60th Munich Security Conference to be held on 16-18 February 2024. This marks the beginning of her international diplomacy as the fourth time Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Her visit is enormously significant in the backdrop of the recently held general elections in Bangladesh. Alongside attending the MSC, Sheikh Hasina’s itinerary in Munich includes crucial meetings with several notable figures, such as the Chancellor of Germany and the prime ministers of Denmark and the Netherlands. Additionally, her visit anticipates engagements with other dignitaries, including the Indian External Affairs Minister, reflecting Bangladesh’s proactive stance on global diplomacy and security. The MSC is a global platform of political leaders, policy makers, diplomats, and members of civil society around the world. In the 2024 Conference, 50 head of governments, 100 ministers and delegates from countries have joined together to discuss international security policy. The MSC is focused on debates and discussions about challenges and dangers, emanating from strategic and security domains across the regions.

Background of the Conference

Since its inception in 1963 as the Internationale Wehrkunde-Begegnung, the Munich Security Conference (MSC) has evolved significantly while maintaining its core purpose as an independent forum for policymakers and experts to discuss pressing security issues openly and constructively. Initially focused on Western policies during the Cold War, the conference gradually expanded to include participants from Central and Eastern Europe and the Russian Federation after the Cold War ended, reflecting a broader understanding of security. Now, the MSC continues to attract a diverse range of high-ranking participants, including representatives from rising powers like China, Brazil, and India, as well as leaders from the Middle East. The conference’s audience now encompasses not only military leaders but also CEOs, human rights activists, and environmentalists, reflecting the broader spectrum of security concerns. The enduring relevance of the MSC is a testament to the vision of its founder, Ewald von Kleist, who passed away in 2013. In an era marked by increasing global complexity, the conference plays a vital role in fostering dialogue and cooperation, particularly among transatlantic partners, as they navigate emerging security challenges and seek to build new partnerships.

Bangladesh in the Past Conferences

Bangladesh took interest to join the Conference since 2017. This is the third visit by the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In 2017, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took part in a high-level discussion and delivered a speech, highlighting security issues like climate change, water, food and migration, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Later, during the prime minister’s presence in Germany in 2019 for the Munich Security Conference, she attended a community reception, attended the health security roundtable titled ‘Health in Crisis – WHO Cares?’ jointly hosted by MSC, Centre for Strategies and International Studies, and World Health Organization (WHO). Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, Beatrice Fihn, and Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, Dr Bensouda, called on her separately after the event. Sheikh Hasina attended the opening ceremony of the MSC at the Conference Hall of Hotel Bayerischer Hof also. Later, she met separately with President and CEO of Siemens AG Joe Kaeser and CEO of the Veridos Hans Wolfgang Kunz. The prime minister attended a dinner hosted by President of the World Economic Forum and Jigsaw CEO Borge Brende Jared Cohen. Moreover, she joined a panel discussion on ‘Climate Change as a Security Threat’ at the Conference Hall of the Bayerischer Hof. Ambassador to Germany Imtiaz Ahmed saw her off at the airport.

Bangladesh in the 2024 MSC

On February 16, Sheikh Hasina is expected to receive a courtesy call from Silvana Koch-Mehrin, President of Women Political Leaders (WPL), followed by a meeting with Rt Hon Lord Cameron, Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Affairs of the United Kingdom. She may also participate in the opening session of the conference, where Axel Van Trotsenburge, Senior Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnership at the World Bank, will pay her a visit. Later, a meeting with Mette Frederiksen, the Prime Minister of Denmark, is scheduled, followed by her involvement in a panel discussion on “From Pocket to Planet: Scaling up Climate Finance” at the main hall of Hotel Bayerischer Hof. The day concludes with a potential attendance at a community reception for Bangladeshi expatriates in Germany.

Continuing her engagements on February 17, Prime Minister Hasina is set to meet with Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, and host a call from S Jaishankar, Minister of External Affairs of India. Additionally, Svenja Schulze, Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany, will visit her at the conference venue. A crucial meeting is also planned between Sheikh Hasina and Olaf Scholz, Chancellor of Germany, at the Garden Salon of the Conference Venue. The day culminates with her participation in the Ewald Von Kleist award ceremony and state dinner at Kisersaal Munich Residence.

How Can Bangladesh Benefit from The Participation?

The Prime Minister’s visit marks her first international trip since her induction as the Prime Minister, presenting a remarkable opportunity for her to engage with numerous world leaders simultaneously. Bangladesh’s participation in bilateral meetings during the agenda presents a prime opportunity to strengthen diplomatic ties and showcase its global relevance. For instance, Bangladesh’s increasing trade with Europe, as evidenced by its exports to countries like Germany, France, and the Netherlands, underscores its growing economic significance. By engaging in discussions with world leaders, Bangladesh can highlight its economic potential and attract further investment, thereby enhancing its global image. Second, Bangladesh’s active participation in multilateral discussions is crucial for addressing its domestic, regional and global challenges, such as food security and climate resilience. Bangladesh’s experiences in disaster management and adaptation, coupled with its ongoing efforts to address climate change, can contribute valuable insights to multilateral efforts aimed at enhancing global resilience.

Third, Bangladesh’s expertise in adaptation and disaster risk management positions it as a key player in discussions on climate security. Data on food security underscores the importance of addressing vulnerabilities in agricultural systems. By participating in discussions on climate and food security, Bangladesh can advocate for solutions that prioritize the needs of vulnerable populations and promote sustainable development. Fourth, Bangladesh’s engagement in discussions on migration is crucial for safeguarding its national interests and contributing to global peace and stability. By participating in discussions on migration, Bangladesh can advocate for international support to address the Rohingya crisis and mitigate its impacts on host communities. Fifth, participation in international forums provides Bangladesh with opportunities to showcase its economic potential and attract further investment from European countries. Moreover, engagement with European partners allows Bangladesh to strengthen its connectivity with the region, facilitating trade and fostering mutual prosperity.

The visit creates an occasion for the Bangladesh Prime Minister to seize a unique opportunity to engage with global leaders, strengthen bilateral relations, and showcase Bangladesh’s stance on pressing security issues. This visit offers a platform to elevate Bangladesh’s international profile and diplomatic credibility. Bangladesh’s participation in the Munich Security Conference marks its commitment to maintaining a strong, independent voice on the global stage while upholding its non-aligned position. This presence underscores Bangladesh’s dedication to engaging constructively on international security issues and promoting peace and stability, irrespective of geopolitical alignments.

– Delwar Hossain, PhD is Professor of International Relations, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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