Victoria Nuland’s visit: Elevating Dhaka-Washington ties

Published : 19 Mar 2022 09:11 PM

Dr. Delwar Hossain

The United States Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland is visiting to Dhaka on 19 March afternoon to participate in the United States-Bangladesh Partnership Dialogue. This visit is happening at a time when Bangladesh and the United States are going to celebrate fifty years of their diplomatic ties. On the eve of the 50th anniversary of Dhaka-Washington diplomatic relations, the world has changed substantially with rise of non-Western powers such as China and India, on the one hand. On the other, issues such as the Rohingya crisis, the Afghanistan situation, the Ukraine War and growing distance between the West and East have contributed to a new geostrategic environment in the world. Bilaterally, the issue of the US sanctions on Bangladesh security agency, RAB, restoration of GSP facilities for Bangladesh and allowing duty free, quota free access to Bangladesh readymade garments (RMG) products need to be considered with utmost importance for building a strong bilateral tie in the changed context. Thus, this visit can work as a catalyst to elevate Dhaka-Washington ties in the next fifty years or beyond for several reasons. 

First, Bangladesh, which was earlier known as Bengal, was one of the richest places in the world. At that time, Bangladesh was one of the key centers of global economy. Later two hundred years of British exploitation and two decades of West Pakistan’s exploitation and the nine-months long 1971 War had made Bangladesh an ‘international basket case’ as Henry Kissinger put. The World Bank data reveals that Bangladesh was the world’s second lowest per capita income country after its emergence as an independent nation. Bangladesh is now a ‘development miracle’, an emerging middle power that play crucial role in global diplomacy and in international peace and security. The return of Bangladesh as an economic power and its role in global peace and security has drawn attention by the international community, including the United States.

Second, the geo-strategic location of Bangladesh makes it an important country for the regional and extra-regional powers, including the United States. Dr. Walter Andersen (2012, p.72), Director at South Asia Studies Program, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, USA rightly observes that “Bangladesh is now working to resume its historic importance as the geostrategic hub. It is in the US interest that it succeeds in this effort as that would strengthen the US interest in a peaceful area focused on economic growth that leads to the improvement in the lives of the hundreds of millions of people within South Asia and in its neighborhood”.

Third, one can understand the increasing importance of Bangladesh to the American radar by also looking at how the US officials perceive Bangladesh. Earlier, Bangladesh was tagged with a poor LDC country. Currently, the perception has changed. For instance, in the words of the current American Ambassador to Dhaka, Ambassador Haas, “Bangladesh is an important U.S. partner.  Our bilateral relationship is broad and dynamic.  Our cooperation on economic issues, development, security, and climate change demonstrates the range of our strong partnership and future potential”. Similarly, Ambassador Kelly Keiderling, deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asian affairs bureau, reiterates that “Bangladesh keeps watch on the international transnational crimes, along with human and drug trafficking along the Indian Ocean rim. These are also elements of global security”.

Fourth, twenty-first century is the Asian maritime century. The United States express strong interest in the Indo-Pacific region. In this context, Bangladesh holds key geo-strategic importance for the United States. Bangladesh is the current chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). The country also hosts the Secretariat of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). For centuries, Bangladesh plays crucial role in the promotion of rules-based maritime order in the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean Region which matters to the United States.

Fifth, Bangladesh is the single largest denim exporter in the American market. Thus, Bangladesh fills the demand of the American people. Bangladesh-US economic partnership is getting stronger day by day. The increasing volume of trade and investment benefits tens of thousands of people of these two countries and beyond. However, there are scopes to promote bilateral trade and investment. Notably, Bangladesh is creating 200 special economic zones for the foreign investors. And Bangladesh never experienced such political stability and vibrancy in economy. Thus, it is high time to accelerate Dhaka-Washington economic ties.

Sixth, beyond garments products, Bangladesh is doing great in IT sector. In this regard, Ambassador Kelly highlights that Bangladesh is providing software products to the international cyber world. Therefore, it becomes important for the United States to interact with Bangladesh on the topic.

Seventh, the United States needs to elevate ties with Bangladesh because the bilateral relationship has transformed beyond government-to-government level. In this context, Ambassador Haas rightly observes, “Beyond the work of government, the United States and Bangladesh are closely linked through our people-to-people ties”. In addition, Bangladeshi migrants living in the United States are immensely contributing to the American society.

Finally, there might be some elements who work for the deterioration of the partnership for their narrowly defined regime interest. The policy establishments in Washington need to elevate its ties with Dhaka for the above explained reasons. In addition, the United States needs to acknowledge that the 1971 Bangladesh and that of 2022 is not the same. Bangladesh has become a symbol of peace and humanitarian diplomacy under Sheikh Hasina regime (2009-present). From a norm taker, idea taker, Bangladesh also plays the role of norm-maker, idea maker at global forums. The country plays crucial role in the regional prosperity and development.

Therefore, there is no alternative to deepen Bangladesh-USA ties for the benefit of the people of these two countries and beyond. And Nuland’s visit can be an excellent opportunity to create new possibilities and harness the fullest potential of the partnership. There is a great need for a change of the US approach to Bangladesh. The largest economy in the world and the sole superpower should deal Bangladesh independently in South Asia and the Bay of Bengal to make an appropriate contribution to bilateral partnership and regional peace, prosperity and development.  

Delwar Hossain, PhD is Professor of International Relations & Director, East Asia Study Center & Moderator, Dhaka University Model United Nations Association, University of Dhaka