Bangladesh Defense and Foreign Policy

Foreign policy and defense

Bangladesh is a nation in Southern Asia. Its capital city is Dhaka. The most important foreign policy relationship for Bangladesh is the one with India. However, contacts with China have increased substantially, especially in the last decade. Bangladesh has an active role in international organizations such as the United Nations and the Commonwealth (United Kingdom and former British colonies).

bangladesh military spending and defense budget

Bangladesh is largely surrounded by and shares a great deal of history with India. During and after the war for independence from Pakistan in 1971 (see Older History), Bangladesh received support from India, but the relationship has often been strained. One reason is concern for the large neighboring country to dominate financially. The countries are disputing the availability of vital water flows, the sale and transport of natural gas, and the flow of people across borders. India also fears that Islamist groups will grow too strong in Bangladesh, which has traditionally been a moderate force among Muslim countries. The relationship tends to be particularly chilly when the Islamist-oriented BNP party sits in power, and better when the more India-friendly Awami League rules.

A low-intensity conflict over the population flow across the border has been going on for a long time. In the late 1990s, India began to build a barbed wire fence along the 400-mile-long common border to exclude illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Bangladesh has not opposed the fence, but the border demarcation was in some places a matter of dispute. However, those conflicts were largely settled through an agreement in 2011. In June 2015, Bangladesh and India agreed that the tens of thousands of stateless villagers living in a large number of enclaves along the border should be able to choose which nationality they wanted. In August of the same year, both countries formally changed control of 162 enclaves: 111 in Bangladesh and 51 in India. Most residents chose to stay where they live, and instead changed their nationality.

China on the move

Contacts with China have increased sharply since the turn of the millennium, primarily in infrastructure, communications, energy and trade. In 2005, China passed India as Bangladesh’s largest importing country. Bangladesh is the second largest importer of Chinese weapons in the world, after Pakistan. In May 2014, the armed forces of both countries signed an agreement that provides the Chinese military with training and support for the Bangladesh military.

During a visit to Bangladesh in 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged just over $ 24 billion in bilateral infrastructure assistance. In combination with extensive investments, China is the country in the world that promised the largest development aid to Bangladesh. For the money, among other things, a coal power plant, a railway line between Dhaka and Jessore and a tunnel under the Karnaphuli river will be built.

Deteriorated relationship with Pakistan

Relations with Pakistan improved gradually after the civil war and in 1974 the countries recognized each other. Gradually, normal connections were established. However, a tough dispute has been the question of the status of the bihar (see Population and language). The relationship has also become more strained during the Awami-led government that took office in 2009 (see Current Policy). Dhaka has made a formal apology for the war, without success. The situation deteriorated significantly when a large part of the leadership of the Islamist opposition party Jamaat-e-Islami was imprisoned or sentenced to death from 2013 by the national war crimes tribunal ICT (see Political system). They were convicted of war crimes, crimes against humanity and / or genocide during the 1971 war when they stood on Pakistan’s side.

Refugee streams from Myanmar

Refugee problems have also affected relations with the neighbor in the southeast, Myanmar (formerly Burma). At the center of the conflict is the Muslim ethnic minority Rohingy, which is not recognized by either of the two countries. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have since the 1970s moved in waves from Myanmar to Bangladesh away from persecution in their homeland. Some have returned home, while hundreds of thousands have remained in refugee camps near the city of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.

In a few months from the fall of 2017, when a military offensive targeted militant Rohingy in western Myanmar, another 750,000 Rohingy flew across the border. There the refugees live in large camps, usually without clean water and functioning sanitation and with a lack of food.

The wave of refugees means that Bangladesh faces the threat of a humanitarian crisis. In a speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2017, Prime Minister Hasina proposed the establishment of “UN-supervised security zones” for Rohingya in Myanmar. She accused Myanmar’s military of putting out mines along the border to prevent refugees from coming back.

In November 2017, Bangladesh entered into an agreement with Myanmar to cooperate to return the refugees to their homeland, but this work has yet to commence as the security situation in western Myanmar is still so poor that no refugees want to return.

Screensavers sometimes occur along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. Disagreement over the border crossing in the Gulf of Bengal was resolved in 2012 by the UN Maritime Tribunal, which gave Bangladesh the right to large areas where there are believed to be oil and gas resources.

Regional cooperation

At the regional level, Bangladesh is active in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), which was formed in the 1980s on the initiative of Bangladeshi President Ziaur Rahman. The organization includes eight countries. It is partly the same countries that are part of another regional cooperation body that Bangladesh has also joined from the start: Bimstec (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation).

Bangladesh also attaches great importance to cooperation with other Muslim countries and is part of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). In 1997, eight of the world’s most important Muslim states, including Bangladesh, formed a new group called the Developing Eight (D8) to counterbalance the G8 of the rich states (now G7 when Russia is no longer included). In February 2018, Bangladesh announced that the country is sending 1,800 troops to Saudi Arabia to clear mines at the border with Yemen.

USA and Israel

In March 2000, Bill Clinton as the first US President made a state visit to Bangladesh. Following the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, Bangladesh gave the United States the opportunity to use its airspace and land in a military attack on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. However, the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 caused strong US hostile protests in Dhaka and in June 2004 the Bangladeshi Foreign Minister said that the country would not send troops to Iraq without a UN mandate.

In May 2012, both countries entered into a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement, but a little over a year later, relations were adversely affected when the United States abolished Bangladesh’s trade benefits after a racial accident in a textile factory outside Dhaka, with more than 1,100 dead as a result, was due careless with building and safety rules. In January 2014, the United States criticized the Bangladeshi election held earlier that month without any real opposition to the ruling Awami League. Washington demanded a free and fair election. In June 2016, the two countries agreed to step up their cooperation to defeat the threat posed by violent Islamist groups in South Asia.

Bangladesh has no diplomatic relations with Israel and it is forbidden for Bangladeshi citizens to visit Israel.


The military has long played a role as an instrument of domestic political power and no government has been able to govern without the support of the military. Through extensive involvement in UN peacekeeping operations, the military has also become an important source of income. In 2017, around 7,200 Bangladeshis participated in various UN peacekeeping operations, the second largest troop contribution among the world’s countries.


Army: 126 150 men (2017)

The air Force: 14,000 men (2017)

The fleet: 16 900 men (2017)

Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 1.4 percent (2017)

Military spending’s share of the state budget: 9.6 percent (2017)