The journey of Bangladesh-France bilateral relations started from 14th February 1972 when France recognized Bangladesh as a sovereign state. On 17 March 1972, Bangladesh opened its resident Diplomatic Mission in Paris. France extended its valuable support of the government and people of the Republic of France during the War of Liberation in 1971. The people of France spontaneously came forward, under the leadership of the renowned French thinker and philosopher André Malraux, to mobilize international public opinion in support of the Liberation War in 1971. Since then, the relations have been going through a solid base of mutual cooperation involving high-level political visits and mutual understanding. Responding to the invitation of the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina has completed an official visit to France on 9-14 November 2021. The visit came when the bilateral relationship is ready to proceed to the next level given the issues and development of the engagement with progress in areas of the economy, trade as well as prospects of defence cooperation.
Notably, bilateral trade between Bangladesh and France is growing steadily. The two-way trade stands close to US$2 billion, France is now Bangladesh’s 5th largest export destination. Readymade garments alone account for around 90% of Bangladeshi export earnings from France, and French exports to Bangladesh include spare parts for aircraft and vessels, naval ships. In South Asia, Bangladesh is the largest support receiver of AFD (Agency France Development). Moreover, the visit has been remarkable when the European countries namely Britain, Spain, Germany, Italy, Netherlands are flocking to strike defence cooperation and France is showing enthusiasm after the formation of AUKUS on the one hand, and Bangladesh is stepping forward to define its defence and security cooperation through technology transfer, development of indigenous capability of defence equipment. It has also been marked as a shift in the foreign policy approach of Bangladesh.
The Defence arragements
France and Bangladesh are now highlighting their shared will to develop and deepen all aspects of their partnership from economic to strategic security. The visit of PM Sheikh Hasina demonstrates how both the countries emphasise transforming the traditional relations into defence cooperation. Having accorded a warm reception at Elysee Palace on the first day of her five-day visit to France, PM Sheikh Hasina sat for a discussion with her counterpart French President Macron to further the current pace of relations. On the 9th November 2021, both the leaders signed a letter of intent (LoI) to mark the defence cooperation reaching in next level. The LoI includes a) capacity building, b) technology transfer, c) training facilities and d) providing defence equipment based on the needs expressed and each party’s ability to respond to them. To that end, both countries agreed to strengthen dialogue and continue their cooperation which was launched during the visit.
Besides, Bangladesh Civil Aviation Authority has signed an agreement with France Civil Aviation Authority to strengthen the cooperation in knowledge sharing and training of employees. It thus will help organize different events including aviation safety which is mentionable progress in the field of civil aviation of Bangladesh. As Bangladesh is setting about developing aviation and aeronautical capacity building to advance indigenous defence and military equipment, the defence deal marking technology transfer, knowledge sharing as well as capacity building will be of great importance for Bangladesh. Moreover, it is also a remarkable achievement of Bangladesh foreign policy in striking such an ambitious and bold arrangement with France.
Significance of the defence cooperation
The recent defence and security arrangement between Bangladesh and France signifies profound importance in respect of political directions, geopolitical dynamism, geostrategic calculations and overall foreign policy moves. First, the defence deal denotes the rising political importance of Bangladesh in the global arena as the global power like France attaches priority to Bangladesh in South Asia and the Bay of Bengal region. Notably, the warm welcome to PM Sheikh Hasina in the Elysee Palace is a timely recognition of Bangladesh. Second, from the strategic point of view, the deal stipulates the growing geopolitical significance of Bangladesh amid shifting global power centre from Europe and North America to the Asia-Pacific region where Bangladesh is at the strategic juncture in the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The momentum has been created for at least two reasons: a) the confluence of strategic interest of both the countries in maritime security and blue economy put forward by a regional and global shift in strategic dimensions i.e. IPS, FOIP, BRI, QUAD, b) rising economies and flourishing markets in the region is turning the global market and supply chain into lucrative one to be flocked in here.
Third, it is notable that the major powers of the world including Europe, in recent years, have been placing increasing importance on defence cooperation with Bangladesh. Germany, France, Italy and Spain have become increasingly interested in supplying high-tech weapons when Bangladesh has taken the initiative of modernizing its armed forces through the “Forces Goal-2030” programme. During PM visit to France, Eric Trapier, CEO of Dassault discussed selling Dassault Rafale, a French twin-engine multi-role fighter aircraft. Fourth, as a common objective of both countries is to maintain regional peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, the defence cooperation thus will further the shared principles. Both countries, therefore, jointly expressed their support for counter-terrorism efforts and agreed to enhance their cooperation. It has been more salient while the South-Asian security architecture is going through a constant change after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. The deal is addressed to counter the growing re-rise of the threats of terrorism as Bangladesh has a policy priority to halt the spread of terrorism. Finally, the defence cooperation along with the LoI will have positive impacts on further development in non-traditional security like climate change, trafficking and socio-economic and trade engagement.
Facing a new era of geopolitics
First, going beyond the traditional approach of economic diplomacy, this visit has heralded a new era in foreign policy initiating the foundation of defence diplomacy. It has proved that Bangladesh is rising as a middle power with its growing importance in the global order. Second, as economic development extends the policy orientation to defence engagement, therefore, the visit has demonstrated that Bangladesh is being regarded as the rising economic power that is paving the way for consolidating its position in the world. Third, global recognition of Bangladesh as a crucial partner in the regional and international arena has also been proved by it. Now, the world is recognizing Bangladesh as an important player in world politics and diplomacy that once was being ridiculed by some Western powers. Fourth, it has facilitated the bilateral engagement with powerful states and obviously, it will extend interests when the joint statement stipulates the very nature and development of bilateral relations in areas of the economy, business, and investment.
Fifth, significantly, Bangladesh can exploit the opportunity created by the visit to further its policy in repatriating the Rohingya while France has extended its warm hands to Bangladesh. In thejoint statement both the states have underscored the need to ensure funding for the UN’s Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya in Bangladesh and to enable their voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return to Myanmar as soon as possible. Notably, in response to Bangladesh’s request to take the Rohingya issue to the UN Security Council, France has assured that they would remain beside Bangladesh until the permanent solution of the Rohingya crisis. This is an outstanding achievement of Bangladesh’s diplomatic manoeuvre.
Sixth, Bangladesh as a geopolitically and geo-strategically important country in the Indo-Pacific region, has once again been proved, when the world powers are trying to court Bangladesh in engaging in the Indo-pacific alliance and France is not an exception to it. Seventh, the defence deal proves that Bangladesh has changed its policy directives by diversifying its exporters of defence equipment that signifies the policy autonomy of Bangladesh. Arguably, when there are larger options, there are bigger opportunities, signifying the policy efficiency and sustainability in strategic manoeuvres. Finally, amid the great power competition in the region and especially in the Bay of Bengal, the defence cooperation will provide profound significance to Bangladesh as it signals something to other powers in the region. In brief, the visit will facilitate cooperation in other areas like economy, trade, climate change, combating terrorism when Bangladesh foreign policy priorities are giving emphasis on economic diplomacy, climate cooperation, sustainable development, maritime security, attracting FDI as well as boosting trade.
In conclusion, it can be argued that this visit will turn a new chapter in further strengthening the bilateral partnership between France and Bangladesh. As more European powers – France, Germany, Italy and Spain want the benefits of economic diplomacy using the channels of defence as well as economic sectors, Bangladesh can grab the opportunity. This visit will open up new paths for increasing cooperation and taking Bangladesh-France relations to a new height. That will be beneficial for both countries, considering the changing geopolitical realities and economic objectives. PM Sheikh Hasina’s visit has reflected the changing dynamics of Bangladesh foreign policy priority by putting a timely emphasis on defence cooperation considering strategic, geopolitical as well as economic points of views.
CSTO anniversary summit: New challenges and threats
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) has marked its 30th year, at anniversary summit hosted by Moscow, with renewed multilateral documents strictly tasking its members forge a united security bloc to fight for territorial sovereignty and integrity, and against the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). At least, one of the landmarked achievements is, if anything at all, its establishment and existence in the political history of member states.
After the collapse of the Soviet era that consequently witnessed all the 16 Soviet republics attaining their political independence, only six of them by agreement became what is referred to as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). It is a dreamed replica of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
During the meeting held on May 16, at the suggestion of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the CIS will receive observer status at the CSTO, according to various official reports. It implies that CSTO will undergo steadily, of not urgent expansion in numerical strength. Despite the sharp political differences, vast levels of economic development and all kinds of social difficulties, the CSTO currently is made of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan.
Reports say the Collective Security Treaty Organization stands for solving international problems by political and diplomatic means, a statement by the CSTO Collective Security Council on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Collective Security Treaty and the 20th anniversary of the organization said.
“With the appropriate capacity to ensure the security and stability of member states, the organization firmly believes that there is no alternative to the solution of existing international problems by political and diplomatic means and gives priority to the development of coordinated approaches to the problems of improving the international situation, countering threats and challenges faced by Member States of the CSTO,” the statement published on the Kremlin’s website reads.
The statement notes that the peacekeeping operation in Kazakhstan in January “has confirmed the readiness of the collective forces (of the CSTO) to effectively solve the problems of ensuring the security of its member states,” and demonstrated to the international community the ability to quickly deploy and conduct missions, “thereby demonstrating the high status of the CSTO in the system of international and regional organizations.”
At the same time, according to the statement, during the period since the signing of the Collective Security Treaty, international relations in conditions of fragmentation of the world community “are increasingly characterized by the aggravation of tension.”
According to the materials prepared by the Kremlin, the member states aim at deeper military cooperation and more efficient interaction on an entire range of current and new challenges and threats, including those emanating from Afghanistan. The focus is also on the problem of biosecurity, as well as on enhancing their collective security system, peacekeeping potential, and mechanisms of rapid response to crises, heeding the experience the organization gained during its peacekeeping operation in Kazakhstan.
Besides the group summit, Putin held separate bilateral interaction in a working breakfast format which was reportedly focused on forging ways toward deeping and strengthening military cooperation, and further on the situation in Ukraine. The Collective Security Council is the supreme body of the CSTO. It includes the heads of the states that are members of the organization.
It follows therefore that Vladimir Putin held these separate bilateral meetings with Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov and President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon.
Putin at the bilateral meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, noted that Moscow and Yerevan saw a good growth in bilateral trade in 2021, and both agreemed to maintain regular contact “on all issues on the bilateral agenda and on regional problems.” Russia and Armenia plan to continue their joint efforts to settle the Karabakh problem in the trilateral format, together with the partners from Azerbaijan.
Putin at the bilateral meeting with President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov praised relations between the two countries, noting there are issues requiring further detailed discussion. “Now there is an opportunity to talk about our bilateral relations,” Putin said. “There are many questions, but I would like to note right away that, on the whole, our relations are developing positively.”
The president highlighted a “rather serious” increase in trade between the two countries last year, which climbed by more than 30%. “Russia confidently occupies the first position in trade by Kyrgyzstan. There are, of course, issues that require a separate discussion,” he said. “I am very glad that on the sidelines of our international event today we can talk about these issues.”
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko strongly suggested, at the opening of the summit, the CSTO members step up political cooperation to resist foreign pressures and further warned that “opponents and foes” were systematically shaking loose the basis and relations of alliance. “In this respect we play into the hands of the West in a sense. I am certain that if we presented a common front, there would have never been what they call ‘sanctions from hell’,” he stressed.
“Stronger political cooperation and coordination by the CSTO member-states. The effectiveness of the mechanism of foreign policy and security consultations must be increased. We should speak out on behalf of the CSTO on international platforms more often to make the organization’s voice and stance well-heard and seen. There must be a common voice and a common stance, the way they are in the West,” he said.
Lukashenko noted that the West has been waging a full-fledged hybrid war against Belarus and Russia. “The unipolar world order is becoming a thing of the past, yet the collective West is waging an aggressive war to defend its positions. It is using all means, including in our organization’s zone of responsibility – from threatening the use of NATO weapons along our western borders to waging a full-fledged hybrid war, primarily against Russia and Belarus.”
He described NATO as “aggressively building up its muscles” with the aim of seeking to include neutral countries and acting under the you-are-either-with-us-or-against-us principle and “is hypocritically continuing to declare its defensive nature. The Collective Security Treaty Organization’s really defensive and peaceful position stands in contrast against this backdrop. It is evident that not a single country is a threat to the North Atlantic bloc.”
On the Russia-Belarus Union, he noted that Belarus’ participation ion the Union with Russia and in the CSTO has sobered up its potential opponents in the West. “Otherwise, I am afraid a hot war might have been unleashed in Belarus. By the way, they tried to do it back in 2020,” he added.
According to a joint statement by the leaders that was adopted, it noted to ensure the security of its borders amid an alarming situation in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region. “The situation in Afghanistan and on other external frontiers of the CSTO member-states is alarming,” the statement said. “In connection with this, we express readiness to maintain security at the borders within the CSTO’s zone of responsibility.”
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, local Russian newspaper, reported that the attendees noted the significant role of the CSTO and peacekeeping forces in quashing the January insurrection in Kazakhstan, and also assessed the global situation and the topic of NATO’s expansion. President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus noted that the members of the organization do not have unity. Some of them support the West’s actions against Moscow. He stated that “Russia should not fight alone against the expansion of NATO.”
Director of the East-West Strategy analytical center Dmitry Orlov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the CSTO is still not active enough. “In general, the CSTO still justified itself, but with some nuance. Not all members of the organization quickly and unconditionally decided to participate in peacekeeping missions. In particular, Kyrgyzstan argued for a long time whether to send their military to quell the protests that erupted over economic problems. The CSTO showed that the only guarantor of the security of the Central Asian region is Russia, because it had the largest contingent,” the expert said, adding that the post-Soviet security bloc did not become a serious alternative to NATO.
However, the organization may have a future, Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin predicted the expansion of the association. According to him, the number of participants will increase to dozens of countries.
Chairman of the CSTO Parliamentary Assembly, Speaker of the State Duma (lower house of legislators) Vyacheslav Volodin congratulated the speakers of the parliaments of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan on the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Collective Security Treaty.
“The CSTO has proven its effectiveness as a guarantor of regional stability, protection of the independence and sovereignty of the member states. Today, the organization serves as a dependable deterrent to the challenges and threats posed by international terrorism and extremism. The CSTO contributes significantly to the battle against drug trafficking and weapons, organized transnational crime, illegal migration,” Volodin was quoted on the website of the State Duma.
Volodin stated that the CSTO peacekeepers’ efficiency in supporting Kazakhstan in stabilizing the situation in January of this year indicates the organization’s maturity.
The CSTO is an international security organization, which currently includes six member-states: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. On May 15, 1992, in Tashkent, the leaders of Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (which is no longer a member of the CSTO since 2012) signed the treaty establishing the organization. In 1993, Azerbaijan, Georgia (both countries left the CSTO in 1999) and Belarus joined the organization.
Lithuanian MOD admits Armed Forces capability deficit
According to the last public opinion poll, the trust of Lithuanian residents of the National Armed Forces is continuously growing, and NATO membership is viewed in a highly positive light. The more so, it states that 88% of respondents support allied presence on the territory of Lithuania.
It should be said, that the last report published on kam.lt, the official site of Lithuanian Defence Ministry, was conducted on 16–29 December 2021 when the increasing military expenditures did not influence the national economy as much as they impact it today.
Despite positive reports, even last year the Defence Ministry admitted that the military’s requirement for modern armaments, vehicles, equipment and supplies remains high, given the former lack of funding, increased Lithuanian Armed Forces structure, obsolescence of armaments, equipment and vehicles, and modern technology introduction costs.
The rapid increase in the number of the Lithuanian Armed Forces personnel, the increased volumes of military training and the provision of support by the host country have highlighted the shortcomings of new armaments, equipment and machinery in the units and the existing infrastructure of the Lithuanian Armed Forces. The challenges currently facing armament and infrastructure development are due not only to the need for significant financial investment, but also to the legal and technical constraints that need to be addressed.
The Ministry of National Defence admits in its report that there are critical goals that should be achieved to meet national and Allied needs in a timely and high-quality manner:
the critical task is the smooth development of three new military towns (in Šilalė, Šiauliai and Vilnius),
the military training infrastructure must be further expanded by continuing the development of the main landfills of the Lithuanian Armed Forces and making decisions on the establishment of a new landfill;
therefore the focus must be on the development of viable infrastructure, gradually moving to complex development of military towns and abandoning non-viable infrastructure. Systemic solutions are needed for the rapid, high-quality and market-based development of National Defence infrastructure, such as better regulation, in order to accelerate the implementation of projects necessary for national security.
Another big problem for the National Armed Forces is lack of their attractiveness for the youth and the motivation of the soldiers.
Lithuanian military leadership admits either that the National Armed Forces lack sufficient capabilities as a host nation. Thus, Defence Minister Arvydas Anušauskas said capability deficit is a major obstacle for NATO battalion-brigade shift. He stated that the lack of capabilities may become an obstacle to turning battalions deployed in NATO’s eastern countries into brigades.
Lithuania, as well as the contributing countries that send troops to NATO’s forward battalions does not have sufficient capabilities itself. He made a conclusion that Lithuania needs to build them up and assured the allies in the willing to contribute to that as well.
“As if we have a brigade, we can also contribute our share of capabilities to that brigade, which is what the Estonians, for example, are doing”, the minister said.
Lithuania and NATO’s other eastern members are pushing for a decision at the Alliance’s upcoming Madrid summit in June to increase the size of the NATO multinational battalions deployed in the Baltic states and Poland to brigade-sized units. The battalions were deployed here in 2017, and increasing troops in this region is on the table amid regional security concerns.
Thus, the unsatisfactory provision of the Armed Forces and capabilities deficit prevent Lithuanian leadership from achieving its political goals and leaves nothing but ask for additional NATO help. The time is near when the Alliance gets tired of constant demands and will stop funding annoying countries. NATO’s authorities have repeatedly stressed that each country should make the most of its own resources and not rely only on collective defense capabilities.
NATO’s Cheek by Russia’s Jowl
Much has been said and written about the likely consequences of Finland and Sweden joining NATO. A legion of analysts have already assessed the changing balance of power in the Baltic Sea, the new situation on the long Finnish-Russian land border as well as the possible implications of such NATO’s expansion for the Arctic. Experts are actively discussing the modalities of Helsinki’s and Stockholm’s practical inclusion in the bloc’s current initiatives and upcoming plans, envisioning an anticipated set of political and military responses that Moscow could undertake in the current circumstances.
Without questioning the significance of all these issues, I would like to draw attention to another aspect of what is happening. The ninth enlargement of NATO is perhaps the most vivid illustration of the ongoing consolidation of the Collective West. A change in the political and military-strategic status of the two formerly neutral countries in Europe not only completely flips the geopolitical situation in Europe’s north upside down, but also brings NATO and the European Union even closer together, pushing the prospect of the EU’s “strategic autonomy” to an uncertain future.
The current wave of Western consolidation began far beyond yesterday, not only triggered by the latent conflict in Ukraine entering an acute phase. The change from centrifugal to centripetal vector in the Western world occurred at least a year and a half ago with the presidential victory of Joe Biden, a consistent advocate of transatlantic—and, broader, global—unity of liberal democracies. Moreover, long before the Russian military special operation began, political elites in the West had been pushed toward a rapprochement by their awareness of the growing existential challenge posed by China. The current expansion of the North Atlantic Alliance should be seen against the backdrop of such symbols of the new era as the last year’s establishment of the trilateral AUKUS, the U.S. insistence on institutionalizing the quadrilateral QUAD or the global Summit of Democracies, which was held a few months ago.
Nevertheless, the events of February 24 gave this consolidation a new—and powerful—impetus. The West was preparing for a similar scenario for a long time: Therefore, the reaction of its leaders, business and influence makers to Moscow’s actions in 2022 was more rapid, coordinated and effective than it was in a similar situation in 2014.
The most important decisions on restrictions against Russia were taken literally within a few days. Moreover, the list of countries that joined the U.S. sanctions was much broader than it was eight years ago. The amount of Western military aid to Ukraine is unprecedented in modern history, as is the level of Moscow’s political rejection and even domestic Russophobia, whose cases have been recorded in almost all Western nations. The unexpected for many and clearly hasty decisions taken by Helsinki and Stockholm to abandon their traditional neutrality in favor of joining NATO are on a par with other manifestations of the unfolding consolidation of the West.
Obviously, it is the United States that benefits most from this consolidation. In fact, we are witnessing not quite successful attempts to restore the unipolar world of the early 21st century. Naturally, the shrewd Joe Biden is not a straightforward and simple-minded George W. Bush, which means that the establishment of a new edition of the unipolar world is going on, if I may say so, with medical precision, complying with all the formalities of multilateralism and collective decision-making on central issues of concern. This does not change the point, though: it is about restoring U.S. leadership, albeit in a less explicit form and in a less provocative way.
Nevertheless, the long-term success of this vigorous effort to restore such a world order is far from assured. The United States—much as the West in general—is no longer as economically, politically, or militarily strong as was the case two decades ago. The balance of power in today’s world has appreciably shifted in favor of non-Western countries and regions, and this lasting trend continues to accelerate. The international community has long lost the unbridled piety for liberal economic and socio-political patterns pervasive at the dawn of this century, while no special operation launched by Russia can completely erase the inglorious fiasco of the United States and its allies in Afghanistan from the minds of our contemporaries.
Apparently, another change of the centripetal vector to centrifugal trends in the West will begin with China rather than with Russia. A harbinger of a possible split could be seen in the last year’s Lithuania-China diplomatic conflict, when most European countries chose to stay out of the row between Vilnius and Beijing, limiting themselves to declarative support of their Lithuanian partners. The determination of most European states to lend unconditional support to Washington in event of an escalation in the Taiwan Strait is highly questionable as well.
Sooner or later, divergences, including within the North Atlantic Alliance, will also emerge when it comes to the Russian dossier. Even today, France’s approaches to resolving the Ukrainian crisis markedly differ from those of the United Kingdom or the United States. Once the acute phase of the conflict is over, these discrepancies are likely to deepen, as European members of NATO are objectively more interested in restoring unity of the now divided continent than their overseas ally.
Any landmark event could be an agent of change. For instance, the victory of the new Trump in the U.S. elections in November 2024 or the coming to power in France of a politician like Marine Le Pen. Or, perhaps, a military clash between the U.S. and China in the South China Sea, which European countries will likely try to distance themselves from. Or a new conflict between the East and West Atlantic coasts over trade and economic issues of importance to both sides.
Still, Moscow should not expect a new transatlantic rift to come in the near future. The reality is that Russia will have to prepare for a protracted confrontation with a newly consolidated Collective West, and attempts to play on situational contradictions between the U.S. and Europe are likely to fail. Fortunately, the modern world is much larger than the Collective West, even if it is newly aware of its common historical destiny.
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