Friday June 14, 2024 11:12 am

BANGLADESH AN IMPORTANT REGIONAL PARTNER

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🕐 2023-08-06 01:42:19

BANGLADESH AN IMPORTANT REGIONAL PARTNER





Rabb Majumder


Peter D. Haas is an elegant and seasoned diplomat serving as the United States Ambassador to Bangladesh. Haas pursued a distinguished career in public service, marked by his deep commitment to fostering international relations and advancing global cooperation.
As Ambassador, Haas has prioritized fostering collaboration across various sectors, including trade, defense, and development. He has been working tirelessly to enhance economic ties, facilitate investments, and promote trade opportunities between the two nations. Additionally, Haas has focused on supporting Bangladesh's efforts in combating terrorism, addressing climate change, and promoting human rights.

BNS Shadhinota and USS Oakland steam together during Bangladesh’s International Fleet Review 2022. Photo Credit: Bangladesh ISPR


With a deep appreciation for the rich cultural heritage of Bangladesh, Haas has also been working towards promoting cultural exchanges and people-to-people connections. He has actively engaged with local communities, civil society organizations, and academic institutions, fostering mutual understanding and cultural appreciation.
Throughout his career, Haas has been recognized for his exceptional leadership and diplomatic acumen. His dedication, integrity, and commitment to strengthening bilateral ties between the United States and Bangladesh have earned him respect both at home and abroad.
Ambassador Peter D. Haas continues to serve as a bridge between the United States and Bangladesh, fostering collaboration, and working towards a shared vision of peace, prosperity, and mutual progress.
In an interview with The Security World’s Editor and Publisher Rabb Majumder the US Ambassador has discussed many issues including defence cooperation, bilateral relations and Indo-Pacific Strategy.
The excerpts of the interview as follows: 

1: How would you characterize the relationship between Bangladesh and the United States as it stands right now?
Bangladesh is an important regional partner on climate, development, economic, humanitarian, and security priorities.  Our two governments regularly discuss steps to promote security; protect human rights, the rule of law, and freedom of expression; and ways to continue to work closely together to advance a shared vision of a free and open, prosperous, inclusive, peaceful, and resilient Indo-Pacific region.

The crew of Bangladesh Navy’s Somudra Avijan Delivers Food and Medical Supplies to Maldives in 2020. Photo Credit: The Honorable Abdulla Shahid, President of Maldives via Twitter



2. What do you consider to be the main driving forces behind the development of Bangladesh-U.S. relations in recent years?
The United States seeks a strong, multi-faceted relationship built on mutual respect for the rule of law, democracy, and human rights; inclusive economic growth and development; people-to-people ties; enhanced capacity to tackle the climate and pandemic crises; and a greater contribution to regional security.
The United States has five key areas of collaboration for its relationship with Bangladesh:
Number One: A more peaceful and stable Bangladesh, better able to provide for its own security, counter threats to U.S. interests, and serve as a growing security contributor in the Indo-Pacific and globally.
Number Two: Bangladesh is committed to democracy, transparency, pluralism, tolerance, good governance, and respect for human rights.
Number Three: Bangladesh is a socially and environmentally resilient country.
Number Four: Sustainable and broadly shared prosperity, and improved labor standards expand and diversify Bangladesh’s economy and open it to greater regional and global trade and connectivity.
Number Five: Bangladesh meets international standards for humanitarian protection of the Rohingya refugees and continues to host them until a safe, voluntary, and dignified return to Burma is possible.
3. How significant is Bangladesh to the United States as a partner in the Indo-Pacific region?
Bangladesh is an important partner to the United States.  It is the eighth most populous country in the world, with one of the world’s fastest growing economies.  It is part of the Indo-Pacific region and a partner of the United States as we pursue our mutual goals of security, sustainable prosperity freedom, and democracy for our peoples.

4.What are some of the main defense and security-related areas where Bangladesh and the United States can collaborate?
For over 50 years, the United States and Bangladesh have enjoyed diplomatic relations and partnered on a wide range of defense and security issues, including: border security, maritime security, counterterrorism, peacekeeping, disaster relief, defense trade, and defense institution building.
One of the main areas of collaboration is protecting Bangladesh and the United States from terrorist threats.  Bangladeshi and U.S. law enforcement and other agencies work closely together, sharing information and coordinating the protection of our citizens and those of any other countries that face a terrorist threat.  For example, our Legal Attaché Office works closely with the Bangladesh law enforcement agencies coordinating investigative efforts and building capacity. The Legal Attaché Office recently facilitated a course on Terrorism Financing issues for Bangladeshi government officials.

5. What role does Bangladesh play in the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy?
We are committed to working together to ensure that the Indo-Pacific region remains free, open, peaceful, and secure, and the U.S. military regularly works with the Bangladeshi military to strengthen Bangladesh defense readiness and reinforce the partnership between our military forces.  Bangladesh recently released its own Indo-Pacific Outlook, and we were encouraged that Bangladesh’s vision largely overlaps with our own.  We’re eager to hear and see more from Bangladesh as it develops concrete policies and actions related to the outlook.
I’d like to give a concrete example of the important role Bangladesh plays in Indo-Pacific affairs.  Recently, in June of this year, the Bangladesh Navy sailed the BNS Somudra Joy to Yangon to provide humanitarian aid to victims of Cyclone Mocha.  Bangladesh provided similar assistance to the Maldives during some of the most difficult periods of the COVID-19 pandemic.  This is truly emblematic of what Lieutenant General Waker, the Principal Staff Officer of the Armed Forces Division, called the Spirit of the Indo-Pacific and exemplifies the kind of engagement prioritized in the Government of Bangladesh’s new Indo-Pacific Outlook.

Oregon Army National Guardsmen of 3-116 Cavalry unit, Charlie Company along with a Bangladesh Army counterparts carry a local role player on a litter during cordon and search operations training
as part of Exercise Tiger Lightning 2023 at the Bangladesh Institute of Peace Support Operation Training (BIPSOT).

Photo Credit:  U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Hannah Hawkins


6. How do you envision Bangladesh and the United States’ defense cooperation developing over the coming years?

Before going into the coming years, I would like to cover a bit of the history of defense cooperation.  Bangladesh and the United States have worked together in several defense areas up to the present day.  I think the early 1990s marked the first major step forward.  You may recall that Bangladesh contributed forces to the UN coalition in Kuwait that defended that country’s right to sovereignty during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm.  As U.S. Forces departed the Persian Gulf in April 1991, a terrible cyclone hit Bangladesh.  In response, the United States, in partnership with the Bangladesh Armed Forces and multinational partners, launched Operation Sea Angel.  Led by a Joint Task Force under United States Marine Corps Lieutenant General Stackpole, the Operation focused on providing humanitarian assistance across Bangladesh, including to its most remote areas. 
I mention these examples as they were periods where our forces worked closely together in real-world situations.  This people-to-people connection opened the doors for more cooperation in the future. 
In 1994, Bangladesh and the United States signed a “505” agreement which allowed the U.S. to begin providing security assistance on a grant basis to Bangladesh’s Armed Forces.  This opened the door for funding under the Global Peacekeeping Operations Initiative and under Foreign Military Financing, and for Bangladesh to receive U.S. equipment that our military services were retiring.  In the time since 1994, Bangladesh has received over 100 million dollars’ worth of grant aid.  The Armed Forces of Bangladesh have capitalized on these programs to develop some of its most important capabilities and transform the Bangladesh military into a global leader in peacekeeping, and a regional leader in disaster response. 
The relationship continued to expand.  We saw more and more Bangladeshi officers attending military schools in the United States, and they performed extremely well. The 505 agreement also allowed the U.S. to supply platforms to Bangladesh like C-130 aircraft, patrol boats for the Bangladesh Navy and Coast Guard, and the two frigates, the Somudra Joy and Somudra Avijan.
We highly respect our Armed Forces colleagues in Bangladesh and have been delighted to attend your military’s keystone events.  Last year we were pleased to attend International Fleet Review.  The U.S. had the Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Paparo, and a Littoral Combat ship, the USS Oakland and its crew participate in that important event.  We expect to continue to be active participants in these types of events.  The U.S. participated in large peacekeeping exercises such as Shanti Doot in 2018, Shanti Ogroshena in 2021, and we will participate in the next iteration of Shanti Doot, the multinational exercise in 2025.
For the coming years, we already have plans in place to provide additional capabilities in the form of unmanned aerial systems and patrol boats that will help Bangladesh’s Armed Forces to monitor the maritime domain, secure Bangladesh’s borders, and conduct peacekeeping missions.  
In the future, I see the defense relationship developing in line with Bangladesh’s modernization and readiness plans. We are aware of the objectives of Forces Goal 2030 and want to be good partners to Bangladesh as it develops its Armed Forces’ capacity to defend the country and its sovereignty. 

7. How can the United States help Bangladesh in its efforts to upgrade its defense capabilities and modernize its military?
The United States can help Bangladesh in its efforts to upgrade its defense capabilities by providing a holistic approach to modernization.  My colleagues do not consider defense cooperation in terms of just weapons and equipment.  Rather, they view it in terms building capabilities.  They always consider the training, sustainment, organization, doctrine, and leadership that is required to complement defense articles.  It has been very positive to see that the Bangladesh Armed Forces are now taking a similar approach to make sure the capabilities they build are the best they can be.
I think a few things that have truly set the U.S. military apart are leadership, joint operations, cutting-edge technology, and the meaningful participation of women in the armed forces; and these are areas where our countries can collaborate.
We plan to continue to support opportunities for Bangladesh’s best officers to develop their leadership.  Earlier this summer, I was proud to hand over certificates of acceptance for three young military leaders who are now attending the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland and the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York.  At the higher level, we have Senior Bangladeshi Officers attending important schools such as Army War College and Naval War college.  Admiral Md Nazmul Hassan, a graduate of the U.S. Naval War College, was just selected to become Bangladesh’s next Chief of Naval Staff. 
Joint Operations have evolved in the U.S. military in the time since World War II.  We have learned many hard lessons and adapted our forces to operate best as a team.  This is an area where we can share what we have learned with the Bangladesh armed forces.  It’s great to see that Bangladesh is conducting professional education in a joint environment; I got to see this firsthand last year when I spoke at the Defense Services Command and Staff College.  We can help advance joint operations even further with your forces through education and advising and stand ready as partner to do so. 
Harnessing cutting-edge technology is another area that has allowed our forces to excel in challenging environments.  Our defense systems are world class, this is mainly due to the technology that is inherent in everything from helmets to fighter planes.  The U.S. is willing to make some of our best systems available to Bangladesh to enable you to meet your modernization goals.  That said, we owe it to our country and service members to ensure those technologies are protected from potential adversaries.  I will talk about this more later, but this is why the GSOMIA (General Security of Military Information Agreement) is important for the U.S. to help Bangladesh upgrade its defense capabilities. 
I also think it is important to discuss the role of the participation of women in the armed forces.  Bangladesh has been a regional leader in advancing this concept.  It was great to see Bangladesh hold the Chairmanship of the Chiefs of Defense Women, Peace, & Security Network.  As partners we can continue to share the message that the meaningful participation of women makes your forces better, both more prepared and more capable to solve the major challenges we face.  Bangladesh should continue to recruit, train, and promote women with the intent of placing them in positions of leadership.

8. What are some of the main issues affecting the defense cooperation between the United States and Bangladesh, and how can they be resolved?
I appreciate that you asked about resolving issues as I believe that is the right approach and characterizes the relationship. This has been discussed many times before, but the GSOMIA is one of the issues standing in the way of deeper cooperation on the modernization.  I mentioned it previously when I discussed technology. 
We believe the establishment of a GSOMIA would greatly benefit both our countries.  These agreements seem complex, but they are quite simple.  The GSOMIA would set ground rules for exchanging and protecting each other’s sensitive military information.  It is important to understand that GSOMIA would not compel Bangladesh or the United States to share any sensitive military information.  Rather, if both countries find it beneficial to share military information, they will have a pre-established agreement on how to protect that information.  Military information can include certain defense technologies that enable the operation of state-of-the-art defense articles.  The current lack of a GSOMIA between our countries prevents Bangladesh from procuring the United States’ more advanced defense systems including some aircraft and associated weapons.

Addressing the 2022 Defence Services Command and Staff College. Photo Credit: US Embassy in Bangladesh


9. What role may defense cooperation play in the overall development of Bangladesh’s relationship with the United States over the next few years?
We view the defense relationship as an integral part of our relationship.  We know that Defense Diplomacy is one of the pillars of Bangladesh’s defense policy and we will take every opportunity to support this.  Additionally, when we talk about people-to-people relationships, I believe the military-to-military ties can be amongst the strongest. 
As an example, the State Partnership Program between the Bangladesh Armed Forces and the State of Oregon National Guard have resulted in numerous long term personal relationships.  These relationships have been allowed to mature as those involved advance in rank.  During the 2022 South Asia Regional Disaster Response Exercise and Exchange (DREE) hosted by Bangladesh Armed Forces Division, Brigadier General Mark Crosby from the U.S. Air Force, as a member of the State Partnership Program traveled to Bangladesh for his 15th official trip.  Beginning in 2008, when he was a Lieutenant Colonel, he has traveled to Bangladesh nearly every year.  Meeting with friends and counterparts who have also progressed in rank, and grown in responsibility just as he has, provided for a holistic view of how we can work to solve our problems together.  Upon news of General Crosby’s retirement, members of the Bangladesh Armed Forces delivered gifts to the U.S. Embassy for shipment to him, as a thank you for his continued relationship with the people of Bangladesh.

10. What message would you like to deliver to the Bangladeshi people regarding the significance of the relationship between Bangladesh and the United States, particularly in regard to defense issues? 
Bangladesh is an important partner of the United States.  We have a dynamic, multidimensional bilateral relationship of which the defense relationship is foundational in keeping the Indo-Pacific region free, open, and secure.
We celebrated 50 years of bilateral relations in 2022 and look forward to deep engagement with Bangladesh over the next 50 years and beyond.
Our cooperation on the economy, development, security, climate change shows the range of our strong and multi-faceted partnership and future potential.  We are eager to move our relationship with Bangladesh forward as fast as Bangladesh would like.
I would also tell people to be proud of their peacekeepers, armed forces and first responders, while at the same time, hold them accountable.  They play an important role in global security and the defense of Bangladesh, and your futures are intertwined.