Geostrategic importance of Bangladesh for the USA



by M A Hossain  3 March 2023

The geostrategic significance of Bangladesh derives from its strategic location at the crossroads of South and Southeast Asia, endowing it with a pivotal role in the region. The country’s possession of abundant natural resources and a demographic dividend has made it a magnet for major global powers such as the United States, who are keen on expanding their sphere of influence in the area. Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan in 1971 and its extraordinary strides in socio-economic development have further amplified its importance.

The purpose of this analytical topic is to offer a comprehensive comprehension of Bangladesh’s strategic value for the USA, delving into the factors, history, and prospects for cooperation. The analysis will highlight the multifaceted aspects of bilateral relations, encompassing political, economic, and military cooperation. It will also address the challenges and opportunities facing the USA in ensuring Bangladesh’s stability and development.

Bangladesh occupies a vital position in South Asia, sharing borders with India to the north, east, and west, and Myanmar to the southeast. Its strategic location at the nexus of South and Southeast Asia grants it access to two major regions. The country’s extensive coastline along the Bay of Bengal constitutes a vital maritime gateway to the Indian Ocean, with its maritime boundaries defined by international treaties, including those with India and Myanmar. This has increased the significance of Bangladesh, which is currently receiving considerable attention from world powers, because of China’s and India’s emergence as superpowers, as well as Japan’s economic progress.

Over time, China has emerged not just as a dominant force in Asia, but as a competitor of the United States across several fronts. China’s economic progress has led to its various initiatives being perceived as a threat by the West, including the “One Belt One Road” initiative. As a result, there is now mutual competition and rivalry between China, India, and Japan, which extends to their diplomatic relations. Given its foreign policy stance, Bangladesh occupies a strategic position in this context.

The geopolitical and geographical positioning of Bangladesh is a pivotal aspect that confers upon it a strategic edge in both regional politics and trade. Acting as a vital connector between South and Southeast Asia, Bangladesh plays a vital role in regional forums such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). The country’s location also bears significant security implications, with mounting apprehensions over border security, cross-border terrorism, and maritime security.

Bangladesh’s diplomatic ties with the United States have been illustrated by cordiality and cooperation ever since its independence in 1971. The United States, being one of the earliest nations to recognise Bangladesh as a sovereign state, has emerged as a crucial partner in its developmental pursuits, providing aid and technical assistance to foster socio-economic growth. Over the years, the relationship has evolved to encompass a broader spectrum of engagement, spanning political, economic, and military domains.

Considering their shared interests in regional stability and security, the United States has proactively assisted Bangladesh in its counter-terrorism and counter-extremism efforts. Moreover, the United States constitutes a pivotal trading partner for Bangladesh, with bilateral trade figures almost reaching $10.64 billion in 2021. In addition, the two nations have witnessed a surge in military cooperation, as manifested by their collaborative military exercises and training programs.

The significance of the bilateral ties between Bangladesh and the United States emanates from their shared commitment to promoting democracy, safeguarding human rights, and driving socio-economic development. Acknowledging Bangladesh’s potential as a regional leader, the United States has actively supported its endeavours to secure sustainable development and political stability. Furthermore, the relationship bears implications for regional politics, with the United States striving to augment its influence in the region by forging partnerships with key stakeholders such as Bangladesh.

One of the foremost factors is Bangladesh’s geographical location, which provides the United States with access to critical sea lanes and trade routes in the region. In addition, Bangladesh’s burgeoning economy and vast market potential render it an alluring destination for foreign investment, including from the United States.

Bangladesh has strengthened its position due to economic growth, local markets, the contribution of expatriates, strong agriculture etc. Bangladesh’s role as a pivotal player in regional security and counterterrorism efforts also renders it an indispensable partner for the United States. Furthermore, the country’s escalating political and economic stability, under the aegis of the present government, has bolstered its appeal as a partner for the United States.

Bangladesh’s strategic importance for the USA lies in its potential to promote regional stability, security, and economic growth, as well as its significant natural resources and role in regional counterterrorism efforts. The USA’s interest in Bangladesh is driven by a desire to expand its influence in South and Southeast Asia and build strong partnerships with key players in the region.

The USA has formulated policies and strategies to strengthen political and economic ties, promote sustainable development and political stability, and increase military cooperation. These efforts demonstrate the USA’s commitment to building a strong and enduring partnership with Bangladesh, a crucial player in regional politics and trade.

Prospective initiatives for cooperation between the United States of America and Bangladesh comprise of enhancing trade and investment, intensifying joint counterterrorism endeavours, and advancing governance and human rights. Nonetheless, the partnership confronts significant impediments, such as political turbulence, corruption, and religious extremism. These challenges must be tackled to ensure the endurance and advancement of the alliance.

To surmount these challenges, the USA must adopt a multi-faceted strategy that emphasises building long-term partnerships and fostering regional stability. This approach may involve increasing investment in Bangladesh, providing technical assistance, and supporting education and training programs.

The objective and approach of the collaboration between the United States of America and Bangladesh are aimed at fostering economic and political stability, strengthening security, and augmenting trade and investment. Assistant Secretary Bureau Of South And Central Asian Affairs, Donald Lu’s visit has played a positive role in moving the Bangladesh-US relationship forward from whatever unpleasant incidents have taken place.  Tackling the challenges and grabbing the opportunities presented by this partnership will necessitate a concerted and comprehensive effort that involves joint action between the United States and Bangladesh.

M A Hossain, political and defence analyst based in Bangladesh.