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20 February, 2019 00:00 00 AM
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Detterence for peace: Bangladesh perspective

Strategic reality is that sustainable economic growth necessitates the ability to pose credible deterrence so that no external threat can hinder its economic development
Lieutenant Colonel Abul Hasnat Mohammad Mahmud Azam
Detterence for peace: Bangladesh perspective

 “When there is mutual fear, men think twice before they make aggressions upon one another”
    - Hermocrates of Syracuse

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Bangladesh has the potential to become the world's 23rd largest economy by 2050, overtaking countries such as Netherlands, Australia, Spain, Thailand and Malaysia. PwC also predicted that Bangladesh would be the 28th largest economy by 2030, up from 31st in 2016 . Because of its steady growth, World Economic Forum considered Bangladesh as the next ‘Asian Tiger’ . So, if everything goes right Bangladesh is going to be an economically stronger nation in foreseeable future. However, there are security implications of economic development as economic rise does not come alone and it also brings different types of additional security threats to the country along with it. The realist approaches of Kautilya and Thucydides are still valid even in today’s post-Westphalian era that regards world politics as a system of states, in which there is continual conflict of interest and periodic wars. Bangladesh being a potential economic power needs to pose credible deterrence so that any impending threat cannot hinder its economic rise. A nation with strong economy, thus, needs a credible military not only because it would fight, but also because it would deter.
Deterrence with the root of Latin verb terrere (meaning to “terrorize”) is in stark contrast with the word ‘peace’. Yet, peace, if considered as absence of conflict, can only be achieved by deterring the potential adversaries. In strategic studies, deterrence is defined “as a policy that seeks to persuade an adversary, through the threat of military retaliation, that the cost of using military force to resolve political conflict will outweigh the benefits”. At its core, deterrence is about changing an adversary’s behavior while preserving the status quo. Deterrence is achieved when a potential attacker decides to abstain from a planned offensive because of the fear of undesirable punishment or denial of victory. Usually, in traditional deterrence relationship, calculations of national power especially military, economic, and diplomatic power are main factors of determining the degrees of deterrence effectiveness.
Bangladesh’s aspiration to become a big economy is a logical sequence of its exponential economic growth. It must be understood that an economically developed Bangladesh will be more vulnerable to the vagaries of the international environment. Strategic reality is that sustainable economic growth necessitates the ability to pose credible deterrence so that no external threat can hinder its economic development. Singapore is a proper example in this regard. They say, “Whatever you can’t defend doesn’t belong to you”. Although, with the emergence of the concept of human security very definition of national security has been taken beyond the confines of state-centric scope, yet state is and will be the prime agency to deliver security to the people. Words of seventh president of Singapore Dr. Tony Tan Keng Yam must be taken into consideration - “In the economic sphere if things fall apart, you will still have opportunities to rebuild, and to prosper again. We will not get a second chance if we cannot defend ourselves.” The concept of a strong military has been ingrained in Singapore since it gained independence from Malaysia in 1965. With a historically high defense budget (usually hovering around three to four percent of its GDP), this tiny island city-state  has the best air force and navy in the region, and a military that is considered one of the most powerful in the world. According to Brian Harding, the deputy director the Center for Strategic & International Studies, "Singaporeans are the ultimate realists and understand that things can change quickly. They know that they need to be prepared for the future and not just hope for the best." [Source: https://www.businessinsider.com/singapore-military-best-air-force-navy-southeast-asia-2018-4].
In the same token, it can be said that Bangladesh also needs to achieve credible deterrence ability so much so that Bangladesh’s steady economic growth is not hampered by any unexpected events (like Rohingya Crisis) in future. Credible deterrence is needed for having enduring peace and stability. Bangladesh’s rise as a potential large economy might make it vulnerable to both state and non-state actors. However, unlike Singapore, achieving deterrence ability is not that easy for Bangladesh. Conventional deterrence calls for acquiring superior military hardware and equipment leading to an arms race with the adversaries that Bangladesh can hardly afford now. Though Bangladesh being a potential economic power needs to have a credible military so that its rise cannot be hindered by any impending threat, yet it must not fall into Thucydides trap. So in one hand Bangladesh army needs to have credible deterrence and on the other hand resorting to huge military built up with offensive posture is again also not suggested. Thus, considering this reality, a new kind of deterrence strategy is to be figured out so that Bangladesh can deter its adversaries without resorting to arms race. So, big question arises: how to deter potential adversaries without getting involved in an arms race? Can Bangladesh be able to craft its own chart to find out an alternative means so that it can be able to deter its potential adversaries without resorting to arms race in this region?
With the emergence of today’s complex security environment, the very definition and application of deterrence have undergone a considerable change. Recent outcomes of some asymmetric conflicts suggest that supremacy in military capability and economic power are not the prime determinant of deterrence. During the cold war era, deterrence thinking used to mean mainly the nuclear deterrence only. However, after the Cold War, this idea started to experience some kind of changes.  In 21st century, with the rise of non-state actors, aversion to suffering high casualties by western superpowers, introduction of asymmetric warfare, globalization and many other related factors, definition and application of deterrence have been changing. Post World War II era saw numbers of asymmetric conflicts where weaker nations did not allow strong actors to coerce them with violence or the threat of violence. This seemingly paradoxical phenomenon and superpowers’ failure to win asymmetric war prove that weak actors are no more that underdog – providing a scope of a new kind of unorthodox deterrence. Therefore, though economic realities may not suggest Bangladesh to boost its military arsenal to attain conventional deterrence ability right now, yet adopting different kind of strategy might open a window of opportunity for Bangladesh to deter its potential adversaries. Whatever may be the case, Bangladesh must have the ability to deter its potential adversaries to ensure its unhindered economic development. Deterrence brings peace and peace is a prerequisite for development.

The writer is a serving officer of the Bangladesh Army

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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