“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.
Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
- Sun Tzu, Chinese military general and strategist. 5th century BC
On September 11, 2020 the US Secretary of Defence, Dr. Mark T. Esper spoke with Bangladesh Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, Sheikh Hasina over the phone. It is reported that during the call, Secretary Esper commended Sheikh Hasina on the manner in which she has handled the Covid-19 crisis. They also discussed, according to the US Embassy in Bangladesh, “their shared commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific that ensures the sovereignty of all nations”. This commitment includes maritime and regional security, modernizing the Bangladesh military and global peacekeeping. It is also said that “both leaders expressed their commitment to continue building closer bilateral defence relations in support of shared values and interests.”
The timing of the decision of the US Department of Defence to call Sheikh Hasina is interesting and crucial. The backdrop of the story lies in the US foreign policy, or absence of, towards Bangladesh in recent years.
The US has spent the last couple of decades entirely basing its foreign policy and strategies on wars in the Middle East, fortifying Israel. In the process, it has implemented policies in South Asia which have been, it is safe to say, failed ones. President Obama’s “pivot to Asia”, or Asia-Pacific Rebalancing did not work. It neither fortified ties with China, nor did it help the Middle East. It was, for the most part, more political rhetoric and little to no substance.
Then came President Trump’s Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, more commonly known as the Quad. This is an alliance of four nations, the United States, Australia, Japan and India. The essential philosophy behind the Quad is establishing a tangible counterbalance to China’s remarkable growth and dynamism. The Trump administration, for obvious reasons, did not like the idea of an Asia, dominated entirely by an ambitious China, pushing forward with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and with its constructed South Asia islands. The US felt that trade with China is fine but there was always the looming threat that China’s ever growing presence will lead to domination of the region.
Thus, a secure and safe Asia needed to have a counterbalance to China. Therefore, the Quad coordinated a security strategy, particularly in the maritime sphere.
This led to the US thinking that India, as the world’s fifth largest industrial power, must be befriended and supported heavily. The Trump administration’s logic was that to prop up India as a counterbalancing act to China will lead to the Indian domination over the smaller South Asian nations.
The significance of Bangladesh
This is where Bangladesh comes into play. It is undeniable that India and Bangladesh have cultural ties. Furthermore, India helped Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) in its secession with Pakistan in 1971, a development for which, in realistic terms, Bangladesh has paid its due many times over.