The Ukraine government, headed by Volodymyr Zelensky, has been using American taxpayers’ funds to pay dearly for the vitally needed diesel fuel that is keeping the Ukrainian army on the move inMore
India has done more for Sri Lanka than the IMF — S. Jaishankar, Union Minister for External Affairs–Indian Express.
China will stand for Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, economic development — Visiting Chinese Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Sun Weidong, when he called on Sri Lankan Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena last week.
These two statements by representatives of the two Asian giants taken at face value–prima facie as lawyers say — should make our people joyful and relaxed but in terms of realpolitik, should it be so?
The statement of Jaishankar was followed by the Indian High Commission the next day that following a request by Sri Lanka, the State Bank of India had extended the tenure of USD 1 billion credit facility till next year.
Lankans should indeed thank India for their continuing support but a significant difference between the statements of the two powers we noticed was the Chinese government giving priority in their statement for support of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty,
Jaishankar’s statement as reported said: The Modi government is working on developing an extended neighbourhood that involves the islands in the Indian Ocean, Gulf countries, and nations in South-East Asia.
“What we are trying to do is for a bigger, influential and ambitious India. We are trying to expand what should be our neighbourhood. We look at what this extended neighbourhood should be. It could be islands in the Indian Ocean, nations in South East Asia and Central Asia or Gulf countries. The relationship with the UAE and Saudi Arabia has undergone an enormous transformation.”
From traditionally a much more constricted view of our neighbourhood, we have undertaken something much more ambitious, he had said in his speech at Anant’s National University in Delhi.
“If you are the biggest in the neighbourhood, then it is in our interest that our other neighbours have a share in our prosperity, happiness and are linked to us, he had declared in a burst of Indian altruism, not ever witnessed before Lanka’s financial debacle and “gone forward in a way, we ourselves have never done for Sri Lanka” and added that it “is bigger than what the IMF has done for Sri Lanka”.
Jaishankar is indeed correct. Although friendship with its neighbours was supposed to be the cornerstone of Indian foreign policy, commencing with Congress governments, despite Lanka faithfully following the tilted Non-Aligned policy of the Gandhis towards the Soviet Union, massive assistance on the scale given by the Modi government — or any significant assistance — did not come Lanka’s way.
Rajiv Gandhi’s intervention in Lanka and the Indo-Lanka Agreement which the then president J.R. Jayewardene had no option but to accept (Remember his plea: ‘What could I do with no foreign power lifting a finger to help me’) and with the Modi government still calling for its full implementation, any reference by New Delhi to Sri Lankan sovereignty will sound hollow.
Narendra Modi has visions of making India a world power and becoming a world leader and in these endeavours he is bound to suffer setbacks such as in the diplomatic rapprochement brought about recently between Saudi Arabia and Iran by Chinese diplomacy, which is what Jaishankar is talking about when he refers to the relationship with the “UAE having undergone an enormous transformation”.
But we in Lanka are not concerned with all that but only about the Modi government working on “developing an extended neighbourhood” that involves islands in the Indian Ocean, Gulf countries and nations in South-East Asia. How would this “extended neighbourhood” apply to South Asian countries like Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and the Maldives which have had long-standing contentious relationships with their giant neighbour resulting in the paralysis of SAARC?
Sri Lankans while appreciating the munificence of the Modi government have noticed that some massive Indian investment projects involve Lanka’s national security concerns. They include the construction of seaports, the Trinco Oil Tank Farm, the use of the Trinco port itself, and energy projects in projects in the Palk Strait. Many agreements have been signed with India by the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government when Basil Rajapaksa was the Finance Minister and also after the Ranil-Rajapaksa regime took office. These agreements have not been presented to parliament for ratification making some doubt, especially the trade unions, whether national security has been bartered away for loans which have to be repaid.
Narendra Modi is in an ebullient mood having won two consecutive general elections and going for a third term driving his juggernaut of Hindutva through the Indian electorate, singling out minorities particularly India’s Muslims, the second largest Muslim population in the world. Most Indian opposition parties despite their myriad differences in religion, race, and caste are attempting to form a united opposition to defeat him at the next parliamentary elections. He is defying democratic practices, traditions and even constitutional provisions at the cost to his fellow Indians and for fair and democratic judgments to be expected in his proposed “Extended neighbourhood” would be the height of optimism.
At a ceremony in New Delhi, on Sunday, Modi inaugurated a new parliament complex built at an estimated cost of $ 120 million and called it the ‘cradle of empowerment’ but the ceremony was boycotted by most opposition parties. He sidelined President Droupaadi Murmu who is the head of state and the highest constitutional authority and inaugurated the building himself.
It is an attempt to revamp the British colonial architecture including the former parliament building although some were of the view that the old parliament is more Indian than Modi’s creation.
Rahul Gandhi, the Indian Congress party leader was in the United States last week meeting Indian expatriates and American legislators accusing Modi’s BJP and RSS of attacking the constitution and attempting to divide the country on caste and religious lines ahead of Prime Minister Modi’s visit at the invitation of President Joe Biden.
What is so attractive about Narendra Modi to Western leaders like Joe Biden? Modi’s human rights record as the Chief Minister of Gujarat was condemned by the Western world. Is this real politics at play — Modi and the BJP being the biggest and the only countervailing force against the superpower, China?
The Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta carried a report on the eve of the China-Central Asia summit at Xi’an titled “China is changing the format of cooperation with Central Asia.” It anticipated that the six heads of state gathering in Xi’an on May 18-19 would be discussing the “creation of a new mechanism for cooperation in various fields and sign important political documents.”
The report recalled that the Xi’an summit ought to be viewed in the context of a meeting between President Vladimir Putin and the five heads of Central Asian States in Moscow on May 9 (Russia’s Victory Day.) The daily flagged the expert opinion that “a new ‘5+2’ axis is being formed (Central Asia plus China and Russia).” Evidently, although Putin was not present at the event in Xi’an, Russia’s interests have been taken into account.
The new “5 Plus 2 axis” being formed will have its own mechanisms and projections, which differ from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) or the Belt and Road Initiative and the Eurasian Economic Union community. The Xi’an summit considered the possibility of institutionalising the Central Asia-China format through a Secretariat “in order to comprehensively promote cooperation… and the functioning of the relevant mechanisms.” Of course, given the top-down decision making characteristic of the Central Asian states, the mechanism of the Consultative Meetings of the Heads of State of the China-Central Asia format (to be held in alternate years) will be a key factor in ensuring security, stability and sustainable development of the region.
It is entirely conceivable that at a time when the SCO has tended to become more and more “abstract” after the induction of India into the grouping, and began meandering aimlessly, it stands to reason that China and the Central Asian states and Russia felt the need to create more effective mechanisms and plans in their common space so as to impart a new quality of cooperation, and supplement the SCO if need arises.
An element of rivalry has crept into the SCO’s functioning. India, in particular, needs to do some soul-searching here. Certainly, this was not what China and Russia had in mind in 2005 when they put together the Shanghai Five in 2005 (which later morphed into the SCO.) Consensus in decision-making was adopted as a core principle in the SCO’s functioning but lately, a competitive spirit to settle scores stemming out of bilateral differences and disputes crept in. The SCO foreign ministers meeting in Delhi recently witnessed an acrimonious India-Pakistan standoff that vitiated the “Shanghai Spirit,” even as the Central Asian states and Russia and China mutely watched.
There is the tragic example of SAARC which suffered a similar trauma during the recent decade that eventually rendered it a comatose ready for burial. But Russia and China cannot afford such a tragic fate visiting the SCO. The US’ double containment strategy toward Russia and China and the NATO’s imminent expansion to Asia make it critically important that a cohesive, motivated and well-coordinated regional cooperation process is available in their common space in Inner Asia.
So far, Russia was engaged in strengthening political integration, while China systematically and powerfully interacted with the governments of Central Asian countries for the development of energy and infrastructure projects within the framework of a full-fledged economic expansion. That division of labour worked rather well, but then, the regional security environment changed dramatically of late.
For example, it has become vital for Moscow in the context of the rupture of Russia’s energy ties with Europe to divert its oil and gas exports to the Chinese market, and that requires Central Asian infrastructure in transit mode — a novel idea altogether. Suffice to say, a high level of harmonisation and synchronisation of the national plans of the Central Asian countries is needed. Currently, there are no agreed common strategies in the Central Asian region, which has a population of 75 million. The Belt and Road project does not adequately take into account the interests of Russia and the interface with the Eurasian Economic Union projects cannot provide a sufficient level of interaction either, due to systemic weaknesses.
To be sure, in the run-up to the Xi’an summit, the heads of Central Asian countries carefully prepared for the event and have presented a significant package of proposals. Thus, the construction work on the highly strategic China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway, which will connect Xinjiang and Central Asia with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran is now poised to begin after a delay of some 20 years due to a squabble over the measurement of the width of rail tracks!
Unsurprisingly, aside regional security, the issue of connectivity was the one topic that received the greatest attention at the Xi’an summit, which involves improving the transport infrastructure along the China–Central Asia and China–Europe routes through Central Asia, as well as increasing the capacity of border checkpoints, all of which aim to create conditions for increasing cargo and passenger traffic.
A positive factor is that Kazakhstan’s engagement with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is deepening. China and Kazakhstan are effectively implementing a list of 52 BRI investment projects with a total amount of more than $21 billion, covering transportation and logistics, industry and agriculture, energy, tourism and other fields. Two of the six BRI corridors pass through Kazakhstan connecting China respectively to Europe and to Iran and West Asia. These BRI corridors are important for most of the Central Asian economies for whom China offers the closest sea port. That in turn makes Kazakhstan a potential hub for accessing Central Asia.
The summit at Xi’an also noted the importance of launching the Kazakh-Chinese railway Ayaguz – Tacheng and called for the accelerated construction of the fourth line of the Turkmenistan–China gas pipeline. There are many kinds of mineral resources and large reserves in Tacheng area — coal, granite, gold, copper, iron ore and other mineral resources in the area where the railway under construction crosses.
On the sideline of the Xi’an summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping held meetings with each of the five leaders of the Central Asian region. On the eve of the summit in Xi’an, Chinese media called Central Asia the “gateway” for the Belt and Road project, which Xi had originally unveiled from Kazakhstan in 2013. There has been a great deal of scare mongering over Belt and Road by the US and India in the information sphere but that doesn’t seem to have affected the Central Asian states. It is symbolic that Beijing took the initiative to hold the first China-Central Asia Summit on the 10th anniversary of Belt and Road Initiative.
Equally, China hopes to link Pakistan and Afghanistan with the BRI infrastructure projects in Central Asia. As a first step, China and Pakistan recently agreed to extend the China- Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan. This has been the main achievement of the Pakistan-Afghanistan-China ministerial held in Islamabad on May 5, a fortnight before the China-Central Asia Summit in Xi’an. Quite obviously, the momentum of the China-Central Asia format will not be optimal unless China also doubles down on its engagement with the Taliban government in Kabul.
STATUS UNEASE FELT BY CHINA AND THUCYDIDES TRAP
Rohan Mukherji of the London School of Economics and Political Science believes that he writes in an article in Foreign Affairs magazine (China’s status anxiety May 19 2023) of the possibility of China being singled out by the US as its preeminent enemy should not be wished away. He writes and I quote “When the balance of power in geopolitics begins to shift, rising and established powers often find themselves on a collision course known colloquially as the “Thucydides trap.” By this logic, great powers rig the international order for their own benefit; rising powers seek a growing share of those benefits, which great powers are unwilling to provide. This sets the stage for large-scale conflict over the international order itself”. Mukherji adds “The rise of Athens may have provoked fear in Sparta, but Athens’s refusal to back down was driven by status anxiety and the sense of being treated unfairly. It is true that great powers rig the international order in their favour. But their focus is as much on maintaining their privileged position as rule-makers in world politics as it is on securing material benefits. The purpose of the exclusive clubs that great powers have formed throughout history—such as the Concert of Europe, the League of Nations Executive Council, and the UN Security Council—has been to entrench their privileges while regulating the conduct of other states.”
UNTRUE THAT CHINA DOES NOT WANT A RULE-BASED WORLD
It would be untrue that China does not want a rule-based world. China as mentioned earlier wants to sit at the table that makes the rules for the rest of the world as any rising power would want. More so with the disappearance of Western hegemony and the appearance of multipolarity China and the non-aligned nations would like to have their say on how the world should be guided. Harvard Luminary Stephen Walt in his article ( China Wants a ‘Rules-Based International Order,’ Too– March 31 2021) pointed out the difference between the US and Chinese conception of a ‘rules-based” world.
STEPHEN WALT ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AMERICAN AND CHINESE PERCEPTION ON WORLD ORDER
According to Stephen Walt, “The differences between the American and Chinese conceptions are relatively straightforward. The United States (generally) prefers a multilateral system (albeit one with special privileges for some states, especially itself) that is at least somewhat mindful of individual rights and certain core liberal values (democratic rule, individual freedom, rule of law, market-based economies, and so on). ..By contrast, China favours a more Westphalian conception of order, one where state sovereignty and noninterference are paramount and liberal notions of individual rights are downplayed if not entirely dismissed. This vision is no less “rules-based” than the United States. China is also a vocal defender of multilateralism, even if its actual behaviour sometimes violates existing multilateral norms. Nonetheless, a world in which China’s preferences prevailed would be different from one in which the U.S. vision proved to be more influential.”
US ATTEMPT TO SIDELINE RUSSIAN SECURITY CONCERNS
In our calculus, we seemed to have missed out on the most immediate global incendiary issue of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However much the US may wish to ignore Vladimir Putin’s repeated requests that Ukraine should not join either the Western bloc or the Russian side, an arrangement that would not affect Russian security interests, it would be unwise to forget that Russia remains a nuclear power and the world and that Russia too, does not want the extermination of humanity.
HENRY KISSINGER WARNED THAT THE WORLD IS ON THE PATH TO GREAT POWER CONFRONTATION
In a long conversation with the British magazine The Economist in April 2023 Henry Kissinger felt that the world is on the path to great power confrontation. And what makes it more worrisome is that both sides have convinced themselves that the other represents a strategic danger. And it is a strategic danger in a world in which the decisions of each can determine the likelihood of conflict. And in such a situation it is natural to attempt to be preeminent, technologically and materially. So a situation can arise in which an issue escalates into a confrontation about the overall relationship. That is the biggest problem, at the moment. And, when there isan issue like Taiwan, in which concessions become very difficult because it involves fundamental principles, the situation becomes even more dangerous. It is believed that US government officials have a dim view of the Chinese desire for a fruitful relationship with Washington. The people loyal to XI-JINPING who crowd the different arms of the Chinese Communist Party are there not for their expertise but for their unquestionable loyalty to the leader. They do not resemble as reminisced by Henry Kissinger in one of his meetings with Mao Tse Tung. According to Kissinger’s remembrance Mao Tse Tung on one occasion called back from the cold several high-ranking military officials whose families he had destroyed and asked for their advice on a particular issue and took their advice to get out of that particular jam. This was possible Kissinger thought because of the Chinese social norms which put loyalty to the country above vengeance. Those military officials had nothing more to lose had they chosen the path of disloyalty. These days Sino-Russian entente has ‘no limits” and Vladimir Putin and Xi-Jinping are determined to prove to the developing countries that their system is better suited to deliver goods to the needy more quickly than the developed countries who accuse China “unfairly” of debt trap though the case of Sri Lanka and refusal of Mahathir Mohammed of Chinese loan remain as examples for the world to see. As Stephen Walt perceives the issue is not the United States’ preference for a “rules-based” order and China’s alleged lack of interest in it; rather, the issue is who will determine which rules pertain where. Or as the Rand Corp.’s Michael Mazarr recently put it, “At its core, the United States and China are competing to shape the foundational global system—the essential ideas, habits, and expectations that govern international politics. It is ultimately a competition of norms, narratives, and legitimacy.”
RUSIA-CHINA SIGNING ECONOMIC DEALS
DEUTSCHE WELLE reports (25-05-2023) on Russia, and China signing economic deals despite Western criticism. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin visited China where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping as well as Premier Li Qiang. Xi-Jinping told the Russian Prime Minister that China and Russia would continue to offer each other “firm support on issues concerning each other’s core interests and strengthen collaboration in multilateral arenas.”He added that the two countries should “push cooperation in various fields to a higher level” and “raise the level of economic, trade, and investment cooperation.”Mikhail Mishustin said that “relations between Russia and China are at an unprecedented high level.””They are characterized by mutual respect of each other’s interests, the desire to jointly respond to challenges, which is associated with increased turbulence in the international arena and the pattern of sensational pressure from the collective West.”
RUSIA-CHINA DETERMINED TO BLOCK WESTERN SUZERAINTY ETCHED AT YALTA CONFERENCE
It is clear that China and Russia is not going to let the Western world get away with the system the bloc had put in place since the Yalta Conference which had gathered there to decide on the fate of post-war Germany. President Franklin Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin attended the conference. By March 1945, it had become clear that Stalin had no intention of keeping his promises regarding political freedom in Poland. Instead, Soviet troops helped squash any opposition to the provisional government based in Lublin, Poland. When elections were finally held in 1947, they predictably solidified Poland as one of the first Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe. President Harry Truman, Roosevelt’s successor, was far more suspicious of Stalin when the leaders of the Allied powers met again at the Potsdam Conference in Germany to hash out the final terms for ending World War II in Europe. But with his troops occupying much of Germany and Eastern Europe, Joseph Stalin was able to effectively ratify the concessions he won at Yalta, pressing his advantage over Truman and Churchill who was replaced mid-conference by Prime Minister Clement Atlee.In March 1946, barely a year after the Yalta Conference, Churchill delivered his famous speech declaring that an “iron curtain” had fallen across Eastern Europe, signaling a definitive end to cooperation between the Soviet Union and its Western allies, and the beginning of the Cold War.
CHINA’S CIVIL WAR FROM 1945-1949 AND THE SECOND JAPANESE WAR 1937-45
When all these things were happening China was engaged in a civil war that raged from 1945 to 1949. Then there was the Second Japanese War(1937–45), China was effectively divided into three regions—Nationalist China under the control of the government, Communist China, and the areas occupied by Japan. Each was essentially pitted against the other two, although Chinese military forces were ostensibly allied under the banner of the United Front. By the time Japan accepted the surrender terms of the Potsdam Declaration on August 14, 1945, China had endured decades of Japanese occupation and eight years of brutal warfare. Millions had perished in combat, and many millions more had died as a result of starvation or disease. The end of World War did not mark the end of the conflict in China, however.
US BELIEF OF CHINA AS ITS PREEMINENT ENEMY
This brief tour of history was necessary to highlight the rise of China and the ties that bind today the Sino-Russian friendship under Vladimir Putin and Xi-Jinping and their demonstration of the superiority of an illiberal regime versus democracy preached by the wealthy nations and its attraction to the third world countries. Whether in this conflict with the US believed to be sideling Russia and making China the preeminent enemy will continue to pursue its policy contributing to China’s unease remains to be seen. It would be foolhardy to believe that just because some countries possess nuclear weapons, they have the right to exterminate humanity as it exists today
On 27 May this year, Dr. Henry Kissinger, Diplomat Extraordinaire and former Secretary of State, known to be the most knowledgeable living expert on foreign relations, turns 100. He is known for his strategic wisdom and penetrating perspicacity, and his sage advice to leaders across the world over the past several decades has been chronicled in journalistic tomes around the world. Additionally, Dr. Kissinger’s book Diplomacy has acted as a beacon to the world of contentious international relations. At his age he is preparing his next two books – on artificial intelligence (ai) and the nature of alliances. Although his voice has slowed down, he remains as bright as a tick.
The latest issue of The Economist carries an excellent article on Dr. Kissinger on the subject of how to avoid a third world war. The Economist reports: “ Mr Kissinger is alarmed by China’s and America’s intensifying competition for technological and economic pre-eminence. Even as Russia tumbles into China’s orbit and war overshadows Europe’s eastern flank, he fears that AI is about to supercharge the Sino-American rivalry. Around the world, the balance of power and the technological basis of warfare are shifting so fast and in so many ways that countries lack any settled principle on which they can establish order. If they cannot find one, they may resort to force. “We’re in the classic pre-world war one situation,” he says, “where neither side has much margin of political concession and in which any disturbance of the equilibrium can lead to catastrophic consequences.”
Dr. Kissinger attempts to clarify perceived inadequacies of analyses of some academics and pundits who posit that China is intent on world domination and says: “They say China wants world domination…The answer is that they [in China] want to be powerful,” he says. “They’re not heading for world domination in a Hitlerian sense,” he says. “That is not how they think or have ever thought of world order.” To end the quotations from The Economist I must add “Mr Kissinger sees the Chinese system as more Confucian than Marxist. That teaches Chinese leaders to attain the maximum strength of which their country is capable and to seek to be respected for their accomplishments. Chinese leaders want to be recognised as the international system’s final judges of their own interests. “If they achieved superiority that can genuinely be used, would they drive it to the point of imposing Chinese culture?” he asks. “I don’t know. My instinct is No…[But] I believe it is in our capacity to prevent that situation from arising by a combination of diplomacy and force.”
Geopolitics in the context of the world powers is polarized and convoluted at best. China believes that the United States wants to put it down and The United States goes on the basis that China wishes to dominate the world and obviate the global influence of The United States. At the other end of the spectrum lies Russia and its invasion of Ukraine where Russia claims that NATO expansion to the East threatens Russia’s interests and that nothing is off the table, implying the possibility of tactical nuclear attacks which will in all probability escalate into a full-scale war. To this melting pot are vast technological strides including information technology which act as catalysts to a US-China confrontation and represent, in Dr. Kissinger’s words a “pre-world war situation”. The world is rife with politics without policy where in the Far East the issue of Taiwan looms, and in the West, the issue of how to reach a solution to the war in Ukraine is getting cloudier by the day.
The first step could be to start with Cicero’s ancient aphorism Inter arma enim silent leges – a maxim, which translates as “In times of war, the laws are silent”. In the 21st century, this maxim, which was purported to address the growing mob violence and thuggery of Cicero’s time, has taken on a different and more complex dimension, extending from the idealistic synergy between a rules-based international order and its adherence to established law in instances of confrontation to the overall power, called “prerogative” or “discretion” of sovereign States to violate established principles enunciated in the United Nations Charter.
The enduring conflict between misguided strategy, impulsive diplomacy and the rule of law is at the heart of this maxim. In modern usage it has become a watchword for the erosion of civil liberties during internal and external strife. The implication of Cicero’s aphorism is that civil liberties and freedoms are subservient to a nation’s integrity and sovereign right.
What seems to be required now is what Dr. Kissinger calls “hard diplomacy” coupled with coercive hard power that would likely obviate mutual destruction. In this context a hard look at history is essential, garnished with a strong dollop of collective leadership between a somewhat hapless but well meaning United Nations, a determined NATO and the countries concerned. The history of mankind has proved that it is part of human nature to learn from past experience. That having been said, we have also acted with foresight in situations where we could not build on past experience. When we look at the history of international relations, we see that we have acted with foresight, as a result of which we have brought about major changes to the international legal system by reacting to past disasters.
The United Nations was built on the failure of the League of Nations which was set up as a reaction to World War 1. The failure of the League of Nations was that its Covenant, although intended to prevent the recurrence of atrocities of 1914, failed to outlaw war but merely provided procedures for the peaceful settlement of disputes. Creators of the United Nations learnt from this mistake and wrote into the Charter of the UN the principle of collective security. The UN Security Council, on behalf of the entirety of UN member States, was empowered by the Charter to take decisive action against delinquents. However, this has never worked in practice when it was most needed. For example, the Security Council was literally impotent during the height of the Cold War. The Security Council has not taken or enforced military action against delinquent States nor has it received military assistance from member States to implement the powers ascribed to the Security Council by the UN Charter. The reactions of the Security Council have allegedly been sporadic and reactive, authorizing member States to take action on its behalf, which has prompted one commentator to say that the Council has not acted or functioned as a constitutional framework for a peaceful world but rather as a fire department reacting to emergencies as they rise.
Common ground must be discussed with an aim at compromise. At the heart of the goal must not be the triumph of hard power but the preservation of the principles of the United Nations Charter. Perhaps a new world order is needed, and we need giants such as Dr. Kissinger to live on and help us achieve it.
Many years ago I made a trip to New York to pitch publishers on a book about a murder case in South Vietnam involving the Green Berets and the CIA in Cambodia.
At one of my stops, a young assistant editor gushed, “I love your proposal! But there’s one thing in the story I don’t understand: How could we bomb Cambodia ‘in secret?’”
Well, I thought, that’s a stupid question: The Pentagon Papers, leaked decades earlier, had detailed all sorts of secret raids on North Vietnam. But the young person’s question, intentionally or not, dug at something more complex: How was it that both Cambodian ruler Prince Sihanouk and Hanoi, whose troops in Cambodia were the target of American B-52s, also saw reason to stay quiet about the devastating carpet bombing? I ended up devoting considerable space to the issue in my book, even though it provided only an introductory context to the case I was recounting, about the Green Berets’ murder of one of their own spies in Cambodia.
The 1969 covert bombing of Cambodia was the brainchild of Henry Kissinger and his padrón, Richard Nixon, both devotées of the dark arts. They knew that North Vietnam would not protest because it would require it to admit it had troops in Cambodia. Likewise, Sihanouk would stay mum because he’d allowed them to gather there.
Sounds clever until the butcher’s bill is added up. The bombing of Cambodia would not shorten the Vietnam War, but expand it, killing an estimated 150,000 civilians over four years, fueling the rise of the genocidal Khmer Rouge, toppling the Sihanouk regime and eventually prompting a North Vietnamese invasion that solidified communist control of Indochina.
Had Kissinger been more properly labeled a case officer than diplomat, his risk-versus-take record in this and other arenas would score him a walking disaster, no matter his heralded diplomatic skills in regard to China and Russia. At heart, he was a ruthless, amoral operator, no different in effect than his predecessors in the White House and CIA who engineered coup d’etats and assassination plots from Guatemala to Cuba, to the Congo and beyond.
Take Chile: In the autumn of 1970, “Kissinger supervised covert operations—codenamed FUBELT—to foment a military coup that led directly to the assassination of Chile’s commander-in-chief of the Army, General René Schneider,” according to CIA documents unearthed by the privately run National Security Archive. It flopped. After the socialist Salvador Allende was inaugurated, “Kissinger personally convinced Nixon … to authorize a clandestine intervention” to create the conditions for Allende’s overthrow. It succeeded on September 11, 1973, when a coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet ousted and killed Allende, but the widely suspected U.S. hand in the events further damaged U.S. standing in the world, handed Moscow and Beijing propaganda windfalls and hardened the determination of liberation movements from South Africa to El Salvador.
At home, revelations of Kissinger’s demand that the FBI illegally wiretap his own aides in a search for leakers—operating as his own counterintelligence agent—further despoiled him and the Nixon administration.
Abroad, his “realist” approach to backing despots over reformers led to setbacks and bloodbaths, from Cambodia to East Timor, East Pakistan to Iran, Egypt to Argentina, to the whole of Central America and onto the streets of Washington, D.C. itself, where Chile’s secret police brazenly assassinated a prominent opponent in exile, Orlando Letelier.
Some record that is. JFK fired Allen Dulles for far less. Yet Kissinger, the operator, is still with us, a “towering” figure in a crumbling Washington establishment that abides by his cynicism and relishes his bon mots. On Tuesday he turned 100, but his legacy remains very alive in the secret raids and drone strikes carried out by the U.S. from Syria to Somalia, Kabul and far beyond, unconstrained by a timorous Congress.
“You can trace a line from the bombing of Cambodia to the present,” Greg Grandin, author of Kissinger’s Shadow, recently told journalist Nick Turse, who’s carried out numerous investigations of Indochina atrocities. “The covert justifications for illegally bombing Cambodia became the framework for the justifications of drone strikes and forever war…”
All this gave me reason today to revisit my 1992 book, A Murder in Wartime. Its underlying theme was the thuggery that had infiltrated the minds of the men conducting the long war and turned U.S. troops into natural born killers. You can do that to a man with enough time, brutality and weapons. But it starts at the top.
God forbid that Henry Kissinger find a final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery. He deserves no rest at all.
Today, we bid farewell to a remarkable individual whose contributions to the global community have left an indelible mark. Jayantha Dhanapala, a distinguished diplomat, scholar, and advocate for peace, passed away, leaving behind a legacy that transcends borders and continues to inspire us all.
Dhanapala was a true embodiment of diplomacy, known for his unwavering commitment to dialogue, negotiation, and conflict resolution. Throughout his extensive career, he skillfully navigated complex international landscapes, fostering understanding and cooperation among nations. His exceptional talents as a mediator and peacemaker earned him the admiration and respect of colleagues and adversaries alike.
One of Dhanapala’s most notable achievements was his pivotal role as the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs. In this capacity, he tirelessly promoted arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament initiatives, advocating for a world free from the shadow of nuclear weapons. His resolute dedication to these critical issues has left a lasting impact on global security efforts.
Beyond his diplomatic endeavours, Dhanapala made significant contributions to academia and intellectual discourse. As an esteemed scholar, he delved deep into the complexities of international relations, enriching our understanding of the intricate dynamics that shape our world. His thought-provoking writings and lectures have stimulated countless minds, encouraging dialogue and fostering a more enlightened approach to global challenges.
However, it is perhaps Dhanapala’s compassionate nature and unwavering belief in humanity’s potential for good that truly set him apart. He possessed an innate ability to bridge divides and foster understanding, displaying empathy and respect for all parties involved. His tireless pursuit of peace and justice served as an inspiration, reminding us of the power of compassion and diplomacy in shaping a better world.
As we mourn the loss of this distinguished figure, we must also celebrate his life and the values he championed. Dhanapala’s unwavering commitment to peace, his profound intellect, and his unwavering belief in the inherent goodness of humanity will continue to guide us as we navigate the complexities of our interconnected world.
In honouring Jayantha Dhanapala’s memory, let us redouble our efforts to promote peace, understanding, and cooperation among nations. Let us draw inspiration from his example and work together to build a world where dialogue prevails over conflict and where compassion triumphs over hostility.
Today, we come together to honour the memory of an extraordinary individual who embodied the ideals of diplomacy, scholarship, and peace advocacy. As we bid farewell to Jayantha Dhanapala, let us reflect on the profound impact he made during his time with us. Although he may no longer be with us in body, his spirit persists within the hearts and minds of the countless individuals whose lives he touched. Through his remarkable achievements, Jayantha Dhanapala has forged a lasting legacy that will continue to inspire and guide us in our collective pursuit of a harmonious world.
During the May 2023 Group of Seven (G7) summit, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, near where the meeting was held. Not doing so would have been an act of immense discourtesy. Despite many calls for an apology from the US for dropping an atomic bomb on a civilian population in 1945, US President Joe Biden has demurred. Instead, he wrote in the Peace Memorial guest book: ‘May the stories of this museum remind us all of our obligations to build a future of peace’.
Apologies, amplified by the tensions of our time, take on interesting sociological and political roles. An apology would suggest that the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were wrong and that the US did not end their war against Japan by taking the moral high ground. An apology would also contradict the US’s decision, backed fully by other Western powers over 70 years later, to maintain a military presence along the Asian coastline of the Pacific Ocean (a presence built on the back of the 1945 atomic bombings) and to use that military force to threaten China with weapons of mass destruction amassed in bases and ships close to China’s territorial waters. It is impossible to imagine a ‘future of peace’ if the US continues to maintain its aggressive military structure that runs from Japan to Australia, with the express intent of disciplining China.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was given the errand to warn China about its ‘economic coercion’ as he unveiled the G7 Coordination Platform on Economic Coercion to track Chinese commercial activities. ‘The platform will address the growing and pernicious use of coercive economic measures to interfere in the sovereign affairs of other states’, Sunak said. This bizarre language displayed neither self-awareness of the West’s long history of brutal colonialism nor an acknowledgement of neocolonial structures – including the permanent state of indebtedness enforced by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – that are coercive by definition. Nonetheless, Sunak, Biden, and the others preened with self-righteous certainty that their moral standing remains intact and that they hold the right to attack China for its trade agreements. These leaders suggest that it is perfectly acceptable for the IMF – on behalf of the G7 states – to demand ‘conditionalities’ from debt-ridden countries while forbidding China from negotiating when it lends money.
Interestingly, the final statement from the G7 did not mention China by name, but merely echoed the concern about ‘economic coercion’. The phrase ‘all countries’ and not China, specifically, signals a lack of unity within the group. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, for instance, used her speech at the G7 to put the US on notice for its use of industrial subsidies: ‘We need to provide a clear, predictable business environment to our clean tech industries. The starting point is transparency among the G7 on how we support manufacturing’.
One complaint from Western governments and think tanks alike has been that Chinese development loans contain ‘no Paris Club’ clauses. The Paris Club is a body of official bilateral creditors that was set up in 1956 to provide financing to poor countries who have been vetted by IMF processes, stipulating that they must pledge to conduct a range of political and economic reforms in order to secure any funds. In recent years, the amount of loans given through the Paris Club has declined, although the body’s influence and the esteem its strict rules garner remain. Many Chinese loans – particularly through the Belt and Road Initiative – refuse to adopt Paris Club clauses, since, as Professor Huang Meibo and Niu Dongfang argue, it would sneak IMF-Paris Club conditionalities into loan agreements. ‘All countries’, they write, ‘should respect the right of other countries to make their own choices, instead of taking the rules of the Paris Club as universal norms that must be observed by all’. The allegation of ‘economic coercion’ does not hold if the evidence points to Chinese lenders refusing to impose Paris Club clauses.
G7 leaders stand before the cameras pretending to be world representatives whose views are the views of all of humanity. Remarkably, G7 countries only contain 10 per cent of the world’s population while their combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is merely 27 per cent of global GDP. These are demographically and increasingly economically marginalised states that want to use their authority, partly derived from their military power, to control the world order. Such a small section of the human population should not be allowed to speak for all of us, since their experiences and interests are neither universal nor can they be trusted to set aside their own parochial goals in favour of humanity’s needs.
Indeed, the agenda of the G7 was plainly laid out at its origin, first as the Library Group in March 1973 and then at the first G7 summit in France in November 1975. The Library Group was created by US Treasury Secretary George Schultz, who brought together finance ministers from France (Valéry Giscard d’Estaing), West Germany (Helmut Schmidt), and the UK (Anthony Barber) to hold private consultations among the Atlantic allies. At the Château de Rambouillet in 1975, the G7 met in the context of the ‘oil weapon’ wielded by the Organisation for Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1973 and the passage of the New International Economic Order (NIEO) in the United Nations in 1974. Schmidt, who was appointed German chancellor a year after the Library Group’s formation, reflected on these developments: ‘It is desirable to explicitly state, for public opinion, that the present world recession is not a particularly favourable occasion to work out a new economic order along the lines of certain UN documents’. Schmidt wanted to end ‘international dirigisme’ and states’ ability to exercise their economic sovereignty.
The NIEO had to be stopped in its tracks, Schmidt said, because to leave decisions about the world economy ‘to officials somewhere in Africa or some Asian capital is not a good idea’. Rather than allow African and Asian leaders a say in important global matters, UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson suggested that it would be better for serious decisions to be made by ‘the sort of people sitting around this table’.
The private attitudes displayed by Schmidt and Wilson continue to this day, despite dramatic changes in the world order. In the first decade of the 2000s, the US – which had begun to see itself as an unrivalled world power – overreached militarily in its War on Terror and economically with its unregulated banking system. The war on Iraq (2003) and the credit crunch (2007) threatened the vitality of the US-managed world order. During the darkest days of the credit crisis, G8 states, which then included Russia, asked surplus-holding countries of the Global South (particularly, China, India, and Indonesia) to come to their aid. In January 2008, at a meeting in New Delhi (India), French President Nicolas Sarkozy told business leaders, ‘At the G8 summit, eight countries meet for two and a half days and on the third day invite five developing nations – Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa – for discussions over lunch. This is [an] injustice to [the] 2.5 billion inhabitants of these nations. Why this third-grade treatment to them? I want that the next G8 summit be converted into a G13 summit’.
There was talk during this period of weakness in the West that the G7 would be shut down and that the G20, which held its first summit in 2008 in Washington, D.C., would become its successor. Sarkozy’s statements in Delhi made headlines, but not policy. In a more private – and truthful – assessment in October 2010, former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard told US Ambassador to France Craig R. Stapleton, ‘We need a vehicle where we can find solutions for these challenges [the growth of China and India] together – so when these monsters arrive in 10 years, we will be able to deal with them’.
The ‘monsters’ are now at the gate, and the US has assembled its available economic, diplomatic, and military arsenals, including the G7, to suffocate them. The G7 is an undemocratic body that uses its historical power to impose its narrow interests on a world that is in the grip of a range of more pressing dilemmas. It is time to shut down the G7, or at least prevent it from enforcing its will on the international order.
In his radio address on 9 August 1945, US President Harry Truman said: ‘The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians’. In reality, Hiroshima was not a ‘military base’: it was what US Secretary of War Henry Stimson called a ‘virgin target’, a place that had escaped the US firebombing of Japan so that it could be a worthwhile testing ground for the atomic bomb. In his diary, Stimson recorded a conversation with Truman in June about the reasoning behind targeting this city. When he told Truman that he was ‘a little fearful that before we could get ready the Air Force might have Japan so thoroughly bombed out that the new weapon [the atomic bomb] would not have a fair background to show its strength’, the president ‘laughed and said he understood’.
Two-year-old Sadako Sasaki was one of 350,000 people living in Hiroshima at the time of the bombings. She died ten years later from cancers associated with radiation exposure from the bomb. The Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet was moved by her story and wrote a poem against war and confrontation. Hikmet’s words should be a warning even now to Biden for laughing at the possibility of renewed military conflict against China:
I come and stand at every door
But none can hear my silent tread
I knock and yet remain unseen
For I am dead for I am dead.
I’m only seven though I died
In Hiroshima long ago
I’m seven now as I was then
When children die they do not grow.
My hair was scorched by swirling flame
My eyes grew dim my eyes grew blind
Death came and turned my bones to dust
And that was scattered by the wind.
I need no fruit I need no rice
I need no sweets nor even bread
I ask for nothing for myself
For I am dead for I am dead.
All that I need is that for peace
You fight today you fight today
So that the children of this world
Can live and grow and laugh and play.
by Our Diplomatic Affairs Editor
In a statement on Thursday, President Ranil Wickremesinghe emphasized that there can be “no exceptions” to the ongoing discussions regarding the reduction of the country’s debt burden. Wickremesinghe urged China, Sri Lanka’s largest creditor, to be part of the multilateral framework established for these talks. China had initially declined to join the negotiations initiated in early May by creditors such as Japan, France, and India, causing concerns about the outcome of the discussions.
Speaking to local media in Japan on the sidelines of Nikkei’s annual Future of Asia forum, President Wickremesinghe revealed that Sri Lanka had sought to include China on the common platform for debt negotiations. However, China expressed a preference to remain separate from the multilateral process. The Sri Lankan President dismissed speculation that China might be seeking a separate and more advantageous deal for itself, emphasizing that there would be no separate agreements. Wickremesinghe stressed that all negotiations would be conducted based on the same principles, without favouring any particular party.
Sri Lanka, a small island country in South Asia, currently carries a public debt of $80.7 billion, with bilateral debt accounting for approximately $11.1 billion. China holds the largest share of the bilateral debt, amounting to 40%. Despite being present as an observer during the May talks, China did not actively participate. The default of Sri Lanka in May the previous year, the first of a middle-income nation, occurred when the country failed to repay infrastructure funds provided by China and other countries. Sri Lanka’s debt burden has been exacerbated by interest rate hikes in the United States and other wealthier nations.
President Wickremesinghe expressed confidence that the ongoing talks would be concluded by September, covering both domestic and external debt, as previously promised by the nation. He mentioned the intention to reduce some debts and extend the repayment periods for others. Acknowledging another major challenge, Wickremesinghe highlighted the issue of inflation in Sri Lanka. The national consumer price index surged by 49.2% in March. However, the President revealed that the central bank of Sri Lanka had assured him that inflation would decrease to single-digit figures by the end of the year, and he expressed confidence in meeting that target.
Shifting focus to internal matters, President Wickremesinghe touched upon a controversial anti-terrorism draft bill that has recently sparked criticism due to concerns that it could be utilized to suppress protests. Wickremesinghe stated that the majority of the population supports this law. He emphasized that the bill would have prevented some reported cases of torture, as it grants magistrates access to suspects in detention. The President also mentioned the release of numerous prisoners previously held under the current terrorism law, noting that only a handful remained in custody.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s firm stance on inclusive debt negotiations and his call for China’s participation highlight Sri Lanka’s determination to address its financial challenges through a multilateral approach. The nation’s efforts to reduce debt and combat inflation, along with the proposed anti-terrorism draft bill, continue to shape the economic and political landscape of Sri Lanka.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visits abroad are carefully choreographed events, given their optics domestically. Perhaps, this is even more so today as general elections loom ahead and in Hiroshima, Modi was taking the stage after the crushing defeat in the Karnataka election, which was as much political for the ruling BJP as personal for Modi himself.
But the optics were great. President Biden who is a past master in the art of flattery stooped to conquer Modi, even seeking an autograph and remarking that he envied the latter’s “popularity”.
It must be one of the paradoxes of our disjointed times that Hiroshima, a sleepy, southwestern coastal city, was handpicked as the setting for the G7 summit for its symbolism to “send out a strong message” against nuclear weapons. But it is a reminder too the United States is still the only country that ever used the atomic bomb as a weapon, when it dropped “Little Boy” on Hiroshima in 1945 — quite unnecessarily as historians since concluded — killing an estimated 140,000 people and turning the theory of nuclear warfare into a terrifying reality.
Hiroshima was turned on its head to censure Russia and China. Innuendos were galore at the G7 summit packed with world leaders who preach one thing and practice something entirely different. The UK PM Rishi Sunak flew into Hiroshima after supplying depleted uranium munitions to Kiev, which soon exploded in the central Ukrainian city of Khmelnytsky, leading to a significant increase in gamma radiation levels that could contaminate the earth in surrounding areas for decades.
The G7 was dripping with doublespeak. The erstwhile colonial powers waxed eloquently about “economic coercion” but craftily excluded South Africa as special invitee and instead chose Comoros. Why Comoros? Because, Comoros’ most significant international relationship is with the erstwhile colonial power France, which will guarantee its good behaviour at Hiroshima.
To be sure, the cynical spectacle at Hiroshima couldn’t have escaped Modi’s attention. His “undiplomatic” remarks at the Working session 9 of the G7 Summit — on the ludicrous reality of the UN being a mere “talking shop”; the imperative need for respect for the UN Charter, International Law and sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries; the unilateral attempts to change the status quo and so on would have made western leaders present in his audience squirm with embarrassment.
Even if that was not Modi’s intention, what he stated — commas, semi-colons and full stops included — actually epitomised the US’ continued illegal occupation of one-third of the territory of Syria, which was, by the way, one of the original members of the UN since 24th October 1945. The G7 presents a pathetic spectacle, indeed.
However, it was Modi’s meeting with Ukraine’s president Zelensky that brought out his outstanding techniques of communication. Even the insipid MEA readout written in staccato English brings out the flavour of their brief conversation.
Modi made three key points: one, for him, Ukraine war is not a political or economic issue but “an issue of humanity, of human values.” Two, India supports dialogue and diplomacy “to find a way forward” and is willing to lend a hand in conflict resolution. Three, India will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Ukraine.
We don’t know how Zelensky handled this tricky conversation. Perhaps, he actually limited himself to brief Modi “on the current situation in Ukraine.” Modi’s remarks message that he stuck to India’s neutrality and neatly side-stepped the tendentious issues concerning the genesis of the Ukraine crisis or the complexities of Russia’s confrontation with the West, leave alone the core issue of NATO’s expansion into Ukraine (which Zelensky inherited) and the country’s loss of sovereignty.
Instead, Modi took to high ground and harped on the human suffering due to the war and stressed the primacy of “dialogue and diplomacy”. We may never know whether this would have caused uneasiness in Zelensky’s mind, although finger pointing wouldn’t have been Modi’s intention.
Ironically, but for a series of blunders on the part of Zelensky, the war wouldn’t have erupted or escalated to the current level of violence — his rejection of the Minsk agreements that provided for provincial autonomy to the Donbass within a federal union; his obduracy to pursue a military solution to Donbass’ alienation; his retraction from the Istanbul deal in late March last year within weeks of Russian intervention due to the back seat driving by the US and UK who had their own agenda to force regime change in Moscow.
Modi, perhaps, got carried away to stake his personal prestige in a conflict resolution in Ukraine. Clearly, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Neither will Biden accept the spectre of military defeat and Ukrainian state’s meltdown nor will Russia compromise on what it considers sees to be an existential war.
The government shouldn’t be delusional about an enchanting prospect of India leading the West and Russia the door that never really opened in the post-cold war era into a rose garden. It simply isn’t there. Neither has India the credentials nor the clout to be a peacemaker.
What is really disheartening is that a great opportunity was lost for Modi to hold the hands of Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and pool their intellectual resources — two giants who champion the Global South. But then, Washington may have queered the pitch by derailing Zelensky’s appointment with Lula. (Zelensky failed to show up.)
Modi travelled to Hiroshima with an eye on his upcoming state visit to the US (June 21-24.) Besides, there have been signals from the Biden Administration lately that a kinder look at India’s pleas for technology transfer may be possible.
Western pressures will continue on Modi government to give up its neutrality on Ukraine. The European Union has lately waded into the topic formally. (See my article EU calls out India on Russia sanctions.) But trust India to push back. The surest sign of it is Modi’s reversion to “hug diplomacy,” the appeal of EAM Jaishankar’s abrasive style to BJP’s “core constituency” in the social media notwithstanding
The heart of the matter is that the strategic ties that bind India and Russia signify a mutually beneficial partnership that is fully in conformity with international law and imbued with a “win-win” spirit and mutual trust and confidence in a volatile international climate of which Ukraine is only a symptom.
The objective reality is that the India-Russia energy cooperation, which is an eyesore for the West, may even deepen, given the mutual interest. Bloomberg reported in the weekend that oil trade apart, in April, China and India also accounted for more than two-thirds of Russia’s coal exports to Asia and that set to further increase in the coming weeks due to the emergence of El Nino, a recurring warm climate pattern that could cause droughts in the region.
According to a study in the prestigious journal Science, this year’s El Nino is expected to develop between May and July and is likely to be especially strong. Bloomberg quoted an expert opinion:
“The worst place to be right now amid these searing temperatures is South Asia… When you can’t even take care of your people’s basic needs, it’s very hard to care too much about international affairs… [South Asians] are asking themselves: would I rather risk falling afoul of the US or forgo steep discounts on energy?”
Recently, Bangladesh Government decided to withdraw “additional police escort” services provided to the foreign envoys in Dhaka from four countries- the UK, the US, India, and Saudi Arabia. Under this “extra escort” facility, policemen equipped with riot gear used to escort in their vans the envoys from those countries during their movement in the city.
Since the very announcement of the withdrawal, it received an expansive but shallow media coverage, with social media flooded with speculations over whether the withdrawal has resulted from the government’s apparently frayed relations with specific Western countries or its frustration over the recent activities of a foreign envoy that the government reasonably deems interference into the country’s internal affairs. Moreover, the way the decision has been trumpeted in national and some international media seems as if, from the very moment of the decision enacted, those envoys’ movements would be entirely unescorted and their chancery complexes or residences be unprotected.
The decision, however, is to pull out “additional escort” facilities once added to the existing “usual arrangements” out of internal security expediency and rendered so far to the envoys from selected countries. Responding to the unnecessary fanfare and panic, the foreign ministry has already clarified that the police gunmen will continue to accompany the envoys while their movements and the security personnel from the designated policy unit will remain assigned as usual to guard the chancery buildings and residences of the senior diplomats.
For all the curious and appetizing speculations, to a large extent misperception, about the government’s sudden decision to withdraw “additional security” escort, the current internal and external political dynamics with respect to the country’s upcoming national election have incentivized the way the decision has received that much level of avid speculation. Western countries’ increasingly express attention on, and, in some cases, assertive articulation about how the election will have to be held, has recently been seen causing heated debate in domestic political and diplomatic ambit.
However, the government’s decision- devised upon well-explained and logical foundations- is in no way out of its resentment toward certain countries’ plainly unsolicited activities around the country’s internal political developments, notably its imminent national election. To discern the merits behind the decision, one needs to look back to what sort of security circumstance had previously prompted the government to introduce such additional escort facilities to specific countries.
Bangladesh government introduced this facility in 2016 out of heightened security exigency in the wake of the Holey Artisan terror attack. In the aftermath of the terror attack, the overall security atmosphere concerning the Islamist terror threat both within and beyond the country has substantially improved. For instance, Bangladesh ranks 43rd among 163 countries in the 2023 Global Terrorism Index (GTI) with a score of 3,827 out of 10, whereas it stood at 22nd in 2016. With a span of 7 years. It has been elevated by 23 notches, thanks to the country’s comprehensive, whole-society anti-terror measures.
Apart from this security standpoint, two more potent factors offer merits to the withdrawal decision. Firstly, the ongoing economic hardship emanating from the global economic downturn due to the years-long pandemic and the current war in Ukraine has been forcing Bangladesh, like many in the Global South, to adopt fiscal austerity across a number of economic aspects. The cost of providing additional escort facilities to several countries is, given the country’s current economic extremity and the government’s struggle to maintain rigorous fiscal hedging, by no means meager as it may seem to affluent others.
Secondly, providing specially designed security facilities to specific countries stands in contrast to the egalitarian principle of treating all foreign envoys equally. Such a facility, in the naked eye, may seem discriminatory, leaving other envoys out of this special facility’s purview being treated lightly and undermining their enthusiasm for diplomatic engagements. Moreover, from this sort of egalitarian outlook, as the foreign minister said earlier that more countries were demanding such additional facilities, if Bangladesh would have gone for providing every country with similar escort services, it had put further strain on the already ailing economy, and scarce security resources as well.
So, the withdrawal decision is nothing but a realignment of security resources in response to the improved security environment in the country and the nation’s prevailing economic priorities without compromising due diligence to ensure optimum security for the foreign envoys hosted in the country. Bangladesh’s long diplomatic history has had no evidence of taking any implicit or explicit diplomatic retaliatory measures out of resentment.