The major objectives of foreign policy of Bangladesh may be summed up as follows:
self-preservation is the most vital interest of Bangladesh. A state self-preservation refers to the maintain of its sovereignty political independence and territorial integrity. Its is inexorably linked with the protection of national security.
the next objective of the foreign policy of Bangladesh is economic advancement. Bangladesh is a poor country but it has the potential of becoming of becoming rich if it can exploit and utilize its vast reserve of resources. It will require ceaseless effort on the part of the national policy makers to undertake the task of promoting economic development. The cause of our economic advancement would be better served through the procurement of critical raw materials and other goods as well as obtaining favorable foreign makers for our export items.
Safeguarding as well as augmenting national power:
another major objective of the foreign policy of Bangladesh is the safeguarding as well as augmenting our national power. National power here refers to the total strength of the country, which play an important role in pursuing its foreign policy. It consider of number of elements including natural resources food and energy generation, etc. it is vital for Bangladesh to exercise full control over its total resource as well as to deny any foreign country any clime to any resource in the territorial waters. It is the constant endeavourer of our national policy makes to safeguard its national power and if possible to augment it whenever opportunities arises.
Ideology: Every modern state follows some ideology or at lest has commitment to any major ideology prevalent in the contemporary world. Bangladesh for its parts follows neither capitalist nor socialist ideology, rather she identified it self with the majority if Afro-Asian countries in the following non-aligned course of its foreign policy. It is the persistence endeavour of Bangladesh to see that unity among the non-aligned countries is maintained and movement get stronger day to day.
National prestige: no country for all that can remain happy with its self-preservation and economic advancement only. Bangladesh must uphold its own prestige and a favorable image in the world which is possible only through achieving economic development and thus standing on its own feet as a self respecting nation.
A peaceful world prosperous and friendly neighbor in the region and self-reliant homes for its entire people are Bangladesh long-range visions. In short these are the values and interest what Bangladesh cherries most and its ruling elite of whatever ideological commitment would strive to advance and defend.
The nature of foreign policy
The foreign policy of a state may be identified as a complex and dynamic political course that it pursues in relation to other state with a view mainly to protecting its own interest and achieving its own objectives. It is a sequence of interactions that span national boundaries.
Principle of foreign policy of Bangladesh:
BANGLADESH IS A NUMBER OF UNITED NATIONS ORGANIZATIONS. It is also an active member of the non-aligned group. It naturally follows the principles enshrined in the charter of the UN and also the principles of non-alignment.
The following the main principles of the foreign policy of Bangladesh:
1) Friendship to all malice to none. As Bangladesh needs foreign aid for her development it cannot afford to antagonize any big power by joining the other bloc.
2) Respect for sovereignty territorial integrity and political independence
Of other state. This is in complete agreement with article 2(4) of the charter of UN.
3) Non-interference in the internal affairs of the state. The principle is also in harmony with articles 2(7) of the UN charter. In fact the principle enshrined in 2 and 3 are based on the well-established and long-standing norms that govern the behavior of nations.
4) A policy of peace. This policy of peace has a number of significance. First Bangladesh believes on peaceful coexistence with its neighbors as well as other countries of the world. Secondly Bangladesh is committed to the pacific settlement of disp0ute between nations. And thirdly Bangladesh encourages peaceful change in international affairs.
5) Desist from posing threats to international peace and security.
6) Equity and national benefit.
The contents of Bangladesh foreign policy
Bangladesh emerging quite late in the international scene has remained busy defining its role and determining its objectives from different perspectives.
1) Self-preservation maintenance of its physical integrity.
2) The unity of its people from the basis content of foreign policy of Bangladesh.
3) The entire congeries of rights and privileges the big powers exercise beyond its border.
4) Strength of national economy.
5) Economic development and the achievement of higher level of living.
6) Demand an uninterrupted external existence inflow.
7) Interactions with other states.
8) To satisfy domestic needs and aspirations.
9) Trade aid access to communication flows sources of supply and foreign market.
Fundamentals Foreign Policy of Bangladesh.
1. The State shall base its international relations on the principles of respect for national sovereignty and equality, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, peaceful settlements of international disputes, and respect respect for international law and the principles enunciated in the United Nations Charter, and on the basis of those principles shall-
a) Strive for the renunciation of the use of force in international relations and for general and complete disarmament;
b) Uphold the right of every people freely to determine and build up its own social, economic and political system by ways and means of its own free choice; and
c) Support oppressed peoples throughout the world waging a just struggle against imperialism colonialism or racialism.
Formulation of Bangladesh Foreign policy
2) The State shall endeavor to consolidate, preserve and strengthen fraternal relations among Muslim countries based on Islamic solidarity.
The aim of this part is to provide a general introduction to foreign policy and how it is formulated. Accordingly, the foreign policy is divided into following parts:
(a) Process of foreign policy-making
(b) Relevant elements in foreign policy
(c) Influence on policy- makers
(d) External environment
(e) Main actors of foreign policy
(f) Restructuring of Ministry of Foreign Affairs
It is argued in some quarters that an inherent tension exists in the conduct of Bangladesh foreign policy. On the one hand there appears to be a set of policies which are designed to turn the country into “a cocoon” from external environment. On the other hand, there is another set of policies that tend to operate in an interdependent and trans-national environment.
What is called for, they argue, is the removal of this ambiguity or inconsistency because policies are being implemented which pull in different directions. It confuses other countries about the direction of foreign policy.
The realities of the 21st century (such as globalization and interdependence) will inevitably have impact on choices and role for Bangladesh. It seems that the range of choice available to Bangladesh will depend on Bangladesh’s ability to improve the performance and resilience of economy and on the policy makers’ capacity to take advantage of interdependence rather than constrained by it.
Bangladesh, a country of about 150 million people, squeezed into a territory of 147,570 square kilometers, and sandwiched between two Asia’s rising giants-China and India- can play a far more meaningful role through imaginative and effective conduct of foreign policy.
Diplomats these days understand, rather better than they are often perceived to, how innovative foreign policy can contribute to greater global and regional security, advance significantly economic and trade interests. A country is capable of exercising its role above its weight through effective foreign policy.
Success of foreign policy needs a patient, persistent, and constant efforts. It is like nurturing a plant before it grows fruit or flowers. Ideally foreign policy is to be pursued on a long term goal, once national interests are identified.
Governments must constantly question the adequacy of continuing a foreign policy that does not face challenges that are unprecedented in their complexity and intensity in the current external environment. Foreign policy experts need now more than ever to anticipate change ahead or else be swamped by it.
Process of foreign policy-making
It is both easy and difficult to describe the process of foreign-policy making in Bangladesh. It is easy if one chooses to interpret foreign policy in a fairly traditional way as diplomatic relations and political manoeuvres towards other states or as Bangladesh’s attitudes towards regional or international issues.
On the other hand, the process is difficult to describe 00if foreign policy covers the sum total of Bangladesh’s foreign relations. Foreign policy is an umbrella term and covers the entire gamut of foreign relations in such areas as, security concerns, trade, manpower export, foreign direct investment, foreign aid, monetary management, cultural matters, curbing terrorism, humanitarian, and environmental issues. It also includes the politics of negotiations in which Bangladesh is involved.
Foreign policy-making is a combination of unchanging realities and evolutionary developments in response to certain demands and pressures. It should be seen in organic terms as something which varies in shape and consistency and which has a remarkable tendency to adapt to its surroundings and remain alive.
Foreign policy should not be perceived as ‘foreign’ to people because what people can sell or buy or what price people pay for their food at a given time is affected by global trade policy. Global trade policy is an important component of foreign policy.
Given our size and resources, one may say inventive foreign policy is a ‘bread and butter’ question for people of Bangladesh.
Foreign policy promotes the image of the country abroad. What may well count here is not the absolute condition of a given society but the perception that something stable and orderly democratic society exists and the image is that the country is a responsible international citizen and has the capacity to decisively act where it is needed.
Relevant elements of foreign policy
Foreign policy is not formulated in a vacuum. It is based on certain ingredients that cannot be changed, such as, geographical location, history, religion, culture and natural resources. Taken together these feature, one can objectively assess the opportunities and threats or strengths and weaknesses of the country.
Foreign policy is a social process. The members of decision-making elite receive their values, assumptions and expectations of the nation from a wider society. They also owe some responsibility to that society. Party position on various issues derives in some way or other from the society.
Accurate assessment of national interest is a key to successful conduct of foreign policy. There are three broad nature of national interest: geo-political or strategic interests, economic and trade interests and management of crises.
Lord Palmerston’s dictum is correct when he has said that there are no eternal friends or permanent enemies. What is eternal is national interest and those are to be pursued vigorously.
National interest is not static but is variable. It may change with the change of settings, themes and arenas.
Bangladesh has to have balance questions of international morality against pragmatism. It has to operate a multi-track policy. The conduct of foreign policy is about responding realistically to the world Bangladesh finds it in. Bangladesh has to have trade relations with many countries of which it may disapprove their human rights record. Bangladesh has to have working relations with many forms of government we think less than ideal.
Italian political philosopher and a pragmatist Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) once said ”How we live is so far removed from how we ought to live, that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done will rather learn to bring about his own ruin than his preservation.”
Although national interests are variable, certain minimal notion of national interest exists. Besides preservation of sovereignty and territorial integrity, economic security, energy security, environmental preservation and internal peace and cohesion are the important elements of national interest.
Bangladesh has a vital stake that neighbouring countries remain peaceful, stable and friendly or at least not unfriendly. It is in Bangladesh’s interest that inter-state disputes ought to be settled peacefully.
Bangladesh must have friendly relations with great powers and Islamic countries to advance its interests which include the promotion of domestic growth and the policies that support and influence the liberal international economic order, such as, free access of Bangladeshi goods in their markets.
One security concern to almost every nation has emanated from elusive non-state actors who have regrettably distorted religion to strike a terror into hearts of ordinary peace-loving citizens by killing innocent people.
The rise of extremism and intolerance, accumulation of large arsenals of sophisticated conventional weapons by extremists, the acquisition of capacity to build weapons of mass destruction and the increasingly strident voices of grievances and aspirations of people constitute some of the threats to security of state.
The rise of extremism has been made more complex and lethal by modern technology, communications and money transfers from overseas. It is also complicated in particular by the proliferation of cheap, highly destructive small arms. Populations are vulnerable to manipulation, exploitation and abuse by unscrupulous extremist elements.
Often the media and civil society express their views on certain issues. Although the informed public in Bangladesh is relatively small elite based in cities, one must not ignore the fact there are pressure groups that work at different levels to advance their interests with the government and their influence on foreign policy may not be negligible.
Influences on policy makers
In formulating foreign policy one has to take into account of domestic and external constraints.
First let us examine the domestic constraints. The domestic constraints include nationalism, the level of economic development, and cultural orientation. Another pressure is often seen is the political ideology of the ruling party which governs the country.
Article 25 of the Constitution speaks not only of promotion of international peace, security and solidarity, respect for international law and the principles of the UN Charter but also consolidating, preservation and strengthening fraternal relations among Muslim Countries based on Islamic solidarity (This article was inserted in 1977).
The role of media is important. A good many issues are generated by the media itself. The media is a vehicle reflecting foreign policy outcome and source of influence to that process. World events occur round the clock and the media covers them. Media expects Foreign Minister to respond to questions at all times and on a wide range of subjects.
Media coverage of foreign affairs and other related issues has improved considerably. The amount of column inches devoted to foreign news in leading dailies has increased and the quality of comments on foreign issues compares well with that in other countries. The scrutiny of media influences to a certain extent the policy as the media forms the public opinion.
The parliament, being the forum of the elected representatives of the people, can express its own policy and can lead a government to go in a particular direction in its conduct of foreign policy. By debating the issues, the parliament may press the government to review its own thinking and change or make “fine tuning” of direction of foreign policy.
The debate in the parliament on foreign policy issues is likely to attract the attention of the media and by extension to the people at large.
Private think-tanks also provide inputs to some burning issues of foreign policy. They often call for major transformations in foreign policy-making to accommodate the growth of interdependence and multilateralism.
One cannot ignore the fact that friendly foreign countries may often influence the shape of foreign policy. Foreign investors may also imperceptibly sway the direction of economic policy.
International or regional organizations present Bangladesh with a web of commitments, greater than any time and they influence in many ways process of foreign policy.
Bangladesh has ratified many international treaties and it has to consider its obligations in taking steps on policy issues. Foreign policy process is influenced by policies of intergovernmental political and financial institutions.
Furthermore since foreign policy operates in an external environment both political and economic- they would act as pressures on foreign policy-making. Let me provide a broad picture of the environment in which foreign policy has to operate.
External political environment
The current political and security environment is very fluid. While the US is clearly too strong to stay on the sidelines of world affairs, it is too weak to implement its own agenda without wide international support. That is why the US had to negotiate with North Korea and seems to be powerless to stop Iran’s nuclearprogramme.
Some say that the world order is in transition because there is no power at the moment including the US that can force an issue to its wishes and satisfaction.
An awkward truth is that the world is neither dominated by a unipolar power nor multipolar powers. Currently we live in a non-polar world and the balance of power is going through an evolution period.
The UN Security Council has become ineffective because of disagreement among veto-wielding permanent members of the Council. Moreover the UN Charter does not reflect the distribution of political, economic and military in the real world and this has further diminished the authority of the UN.
A key question is how Bangladesh should project diplomacy in a world where shifting power balances are already creating tensions.
It is obvious that power in the world is realigning and that Asia is going to become more important. These things are clear and do not need to be debated at length.
The question Bangladesh needs to consider is precisely how Bangladesh that stands between China and India should position itself for this: what foreign policy does Bangladesh need to consider in order to cope with such a world. In other words, how to find ways to tap, mobilise and harness Bangladesh’s assets in how the country deals with the world.
National governments no longer have much control over their economies. It seems the era is ending the “Westphalian System” by diminishing sovereignty of a nation state. The world is moving into a post-Westphalian era with the globalization process creeping up on nation-states.
The new era is ‘global’, rather than ‘international’. The new global era recognizes that there are other actors on the world stage (such as intergovernmental organizations and trans-national corporations) and within the states (such as NGOs). Accordingly, nation -states and their national governments no longer have a monopoly of power in controlling economy or social development.
For commercial purposes, the boundaries that separate one state from another are no more real than the equator. They do not define business requirements or consumer trends. Global business has changed the pattern of economic relationship.
Another irreversible fact is the process of economic globalization with market forces, generating its own new issues on the international agenda. Economic globalization has brought McDonald’s, Microsoft, Mickey Mouse and Nintendo to every land.
Trans-national companies move industries to countries with cheapest skilled labour with good infrastructure. Economic development, among others, means that the country is increasingly locked into the global economy. It is increasingly difficult to tell the nationality of a product under globalization.
This means in producing a commodity, various nations take part in making the total product. For example, Reebok sneaker has an African name, is made by an American company, in South Korea and displays Union Jack a label.
Market forces make a humble coffee bean to go through four stages of experience. In the first stage, the producer sells it as a commodity, then a company (Nestle) produces a jar of coffee (a manufactured product), then a person may buy a cup of coffee (a service), and last stage is buying a coffee in a fancy location. In each stage the coffee bean is increasingly expensive because of the value-added component.
The challenge for foreign policy makers is to develop and implement strategies to receive the benefits of globalization and market forces and handle its possible adverse impact on the country through negotiation within a global or regional framework say WTO or SAFTA or BIMSTEC.
Main actors of foreign policy
The government of the day decides foreign policy. In the parliamentary form of the government, the Prime Minister determines in broad terms the direction and thrust of foreign policy in close consultation with key cabinet members or with party stalwarts.
It is generally the Foreign Minister who makes a statement on foreign policy inside or outside, parliament. Often a ministerial answer to a parliamentary question, or a ministerial response to a question from the media, voting instruction on issues in the UN forum and a lower-key statement from a ministry spokesperson reveals foreign policy at a given time.
A good deal of foreign policy is necessarily made by the Foreign Minister in consultation with the Prime Minister and only a handful matters will lend themselves to full-scale Cabinet. Consultations with other Ministers on particular issues may occur and are limited to those Ministers immediately concerned.
The most crucial of all coordination tasks for any government is the relationship between the foreign minister and the prime minister. Changes in world environment may lead the foreign minister to take cue from the Prime Minister on foreign policy direction. The main focus of the day-to-day effort has been to ensure that neither the Prime Minister nor the Foreign Minister springs surprises on each other.
In this connection, intelligence agencies provide important inputs to the Prime Minister on issues of foreign policy. The operations of secret services are coordinated through Prime Minister’s office. The Prime Minister may consult and share with other Ministers on a “need to know” basis the information provided by intelligence services.
Ordinarily, the policy advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is crucial, based as it is on a combination of the accumulated diplomatic experience and expertise of its officers, and extensive reporting of facts and opinion from diplomatic missions. It is not known how far and to what extent the opinion of our foreign office does influence the policy-makers.
There seems to be no coordinating body that debates and discusses foreign policy within the government. Foreign policy in the country appears to be pursued on ad-hoc basis and is reactive to events. That means Bangladesh reacts after the events.
It is not incorrect to say that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has regrettably no centralized or decisive role in matters of policy that affects other states and international organizations.
Under the existing rules of business of the government, other ministries are responsible for economic, trade, manpower and environmental policies without little input from the foreign office because they think it is not relevant.
There is a widespread view that foreign policy has faced major problems in the formulation and achievement of economic security objectives. Bangladesh policy makers appear not to have addressed adequately the problems raised by an analysis of economic security for short-term and long-term period.
To play a pivotal role in matters relating to foreign relations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs needs to be re-structured afresh. The current structure does not suit the needs of the 21st century.
Since economic diplomacy is one of the principal components of foreign policy, in my view, foreign trade and economic relations with foreign countries may be placed within the foreign ministry. I know that this is a big ask but these two subjects cannot be separated from foreign policy. Without these two branches of government, foreign ministry appears to be a “toothless tiger”.
Since 1988, foreign trade has been transferred to foreign ministry in Australia. In other countries, foreign ministry exercises a central role in determining content of foreign trade and economic relations with other states.
Furthermore, two new divisions-namely research and legal- with adequate manpower are to be created as soon as possible with the foreign ministry. The foreign office without these two divisions is a boat without a rudder.
The research division will conduct an in-depth research and analysis of regional and global events and its possible impact on Bangladesh. It will provide the government short-term and long-term strategic environment within which Bangladesh may likely to operate.
The objective is that Bangladesh must be prepared to respond to possible anticipated events and is not surprised by the turn of events. Some strategies and initiatives can be developed in a measured and systematic way for proactive planning and response.
All foreign issues have a legal dimension from perspective of international law. Again there is no fully-equipped legal division within the foreign office and the law ministry does not appear to have expertise on international law. It seems Bangladesh foreign policy moves within a vacuum of international law.
For the research and legal divisions, qualified individuals may be recruited and sent overseas for higher specialized education and training. On return they would be able to provide advice on issues that are vital for Bangladesh foreign policy. They should have a career path that attracts them. They are not transferable from the Ministry, although they may be sent to diplomatic missions for a short period for practical experience.
Transfers and postings of officers of Foreign Office are currently conducted haphazardly. There is a view that there is a tendency to put a “square” peg into a “round hole”. For example, there are many instances where talented officers are not being placed in an appropriate area of their expertise.
I do not know whether annual report of activities of Ministry of Foreign Affairs is published timely or not. The report is important as it catalogues events in which the Foreign Office is involved. It is a valuable resource for researchers and academics.