How Bangladesh responded to the US sanctions

A case study for others to learn from

On December 10, the Biden Administration imposed sanctions on Bangladesh’s elite paramilitary force, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and seven of its current and former officials, accusing them of human rights abuses and abductions. Even though the USA and Bangladesh have been enjoying a cozy relationship since the birth of Bangladesh, these sudden human-rights related sanctions have raised concern in the South Asian nation especially as they were imposed “unilaterally” without any “prior information”.

Sanctions, an instrument of foreign policy, can be used to create pressure on a state or non-state actor to influence those decisions and actions that are being perceived as threatening to security or violating international behavioral norms of conduct. The US government normally slaps sanctions, using it as a carrot and stick policy, on those countries that it thinks as enemies, such as rogue states, and threatening to its national interest or to coerce the target to do something. As Bangladesh is neither a rogue state nor a threat to US interests, the recent US sanction on Bangladesh, one of the most trusted US allies in South Asia, surprised political analysts across the world.

April 4 will mark the golden jubilee of US-Bangladesh relations. In order to celebrate the 50 years of the establishment of their diplomatic ties, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken invited Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen to Washington. This also indicates that the Biden Administration has taken Bangladesh’s responses to the US sanctions in a positive light. And, the relations of these two countries are still intact and friendly as before.  

- Advertisement -

Generally, when the USA imposes sanctions, the opponent states react in way that worsen the situation further. As a friendly country, how Bangladesh responded to the US sanction deserves analysis since it will help to understand how a US ally reacts to such sanctions compared to the reaction of US enemies.

Initially, Bangladesh followed the diplomatic way to communicate with the US government to explain its stance against the allegations. Diplomatic efforts, on the part of Bangladesh, was mainly focused on convincing the US government by conveying the message that Bangladesh has been misrepresented by vested groups. This is how Bangladesh differentiated itself from other countries on which the US has imposed sanctions so far. For example: North Korea fires fresh missiles in response to US sanctions. Instead of accepting the criticism, the rogue states just react negatively against any sanctions. But Bangladesh showed a positive attitude and welcomed constructive suggestions from the US government.

In response to human rights violations, the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh has established a human rights cell under the United Nations to look into human rights issues and abuses with required importance and attention. Besides, the cell will present the facts and figures of the human rights situation of Bangladesh before the international community by analyzing the situation properly. As it has been established under the UN, it can be expected that the situation will be monitored properly and the real data will be presented.

According to the Bangladesh government, it has already sent data on the country’ human rights situation and its progress in rescuing people who allegedly fell victim to enforced disappearances. The law enforcing agencies of Bangladesh have also rescued several people which was also mentioned in the report. It was also mentioned that the government is working relentlessly to find the whereabouts of the rest of the people.

Gregory W Meeks, the chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and an influential US Congressman, in one of his speeches, delivered at a fundraising luncheon function in New York, said that there is no plan of the USA to impose further sanctions against the security forces of Bangladesh. Also, Meeks hinted about certain vested groups who are strongly lobbying with the Biden Administration for slapping further sanctions against more Bangladeshi officers and politicians. Though he clearly mentioned that he supports the Biden Administration’s stance on RAB, he also made it clear that wholesale sanctions against Bangladesh by the US government are currently unwarranted .

April 4 will mark the golden jubilee of US-Bangladesh relations. In order to celebrate the 50 years of the establishment of their diplomatic ties, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken invited Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen to Washington. This also indicates that the Biden Administration has taken Bangladesh’s responses to the US sanctions in a positive light. And, the relations of these two countries are still intact and friendly as before.

- Advertisement -

Instead of reacting like rogue states, Bangladesh handled the US sanction on RAB professionally with much emphasis on diplomatic maneuvers. The crisis may be resolved soon, but Bangladesh should decode the hidden motive of Washington behind such sanction. What does the US actually expect from Bangladesh? The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), a strategic security dialogue between the United States, India, Japan and Australia, may be a relevant issue to be considered in this context. May be, the US is trying to create pressure on Bangladesh to join its Indo-Pacific military pact to contain China. Probably, Biden administration may slap more sanctions, in future, if Bangladesh fails to meet the US expectation on Indo-pacific which is to join the QUAD.

Bangladesh’s economy is now at take-off stage with its potential of graduating from LDC by 2026 and has an aspiration to be a developed economy by 2041. Considering Bangladesh’s economic conditions, the global powers should not involve the country into any geopolitical tug-of-war. Neither Bangladesh can ignore the US and India nor China considering the current global geopolitical situation. Also, it does not comply with Bangladesh’s balancing foreign policy which emphasizes on “Friendship Towards All, Malice Towards None”. Now, Bangladesh has to ensure neutrality and strike a fine diplomatic balance among the major global powers for its development discourse. Otherwise, the country is going to face more sanctions which will worsen the US-Bangladesh relations and will ultimately push Bangladesh towards the strategic orbits of China.

Emilia Fernandez
The writer is a PhD researcher at the University of Lucerne, Switzerland, and can be reached at [email protected]

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Must Read

Dua Zehra case

Dua Zehra's case is alive due to her parents’ steadfastness and commitment. Usually, such kinds of cases remain relevant for a short period. Parents...

Strategic leaks