June 13, 2024

Samara Ashrat: The US decision to put visa restrictions on a variety of officials and their families in the country in the case of election-related breaches was recently regarded as an uncommon turn of events in Bangladesh’s political history. Both the ruling Awami League and the main opposition BNP applauded the move. Despite having distinct motivations, both parties’ acceptance of the action is embarrassing for the country because, after all, it is the political parties that are to blame for this humiliating action.

The United States’ foreign policy has undergone a considerable change since the end of the Cold War. In the past, the USA relied on military intervention to further its foreign policy goals. During the cold war, examples of those interventions were seen. But over time, as geopolitics and geoeconomics have become more significant, the US has turned to sanctions as a means of putting pressure on other nations to support its foreign policy goals. Sanctions, particularly economic ones, are being employed more and more to advance the entire spectrum of American foreign policy goals.

Due to South Asia’s growing geopolitical importance, the USA has adopted the same approach toward Bangladesh and India. For instance, the USA imposed sanctions on Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an elite paramilitary organization, and seven of its current and former officials on December 10, 2021, without providing any previous notice regarding the alleged human rights violations and kidnappings. The sanctions prevent the RAB from owning property in the US or conducting any financial transactions with entities or individuals associated with the US. Benazir Ahmed, the inspector general of the Bangladesh Police, and seven other current and former RAB high officers are also prohibited from entering the US as a result of the sanctions.

The US Treasury Department, on the other hand, levied financial restrictions against the Indian petrochemical firm Tibalaji for allegedly “buying millions of dollars” worth of Iranian petrochemical products for further shipping to China. Additionally, they warned to impose sanctions on India if it continued to purchase Russian missiles. So why are sanctions being imposed now in a time of cooperation?

A geopolitical pressure-creating ruse?

It is nothing more than a geopolitical tactic to put pressure on the two strategically significant South Asian nations to support American foreign policy goals. The United States didn’t take harsh measures against any of the nations. In addition, because of their mutual economic interests, the USA lifted the ban on India purchasing Russian missiles.

By putting electoral democracy and human rights at the center of its foreign relations, the US has undertaken a “significant policy shift” not only toward Bangladesh and India but also in terms of its overall foreign policy. When pursuing its foreign policy objectives against the “targeted” countries, the USA frequently refers to “democracy” and “human rights,” which are catchy words. By implementing sanctions in areas where it has an interest, the nation demonstrates its use of a double standard. For instance, the USA says nothing about Saudi Arabia’s autocratic government, Israel’s flagrant violations of Palestinian human rights, or the failure to address racial and regional disparities in police violence. Furthermore, it paid little attention to Myanmar’s treatment of Rohingyas. However, they are excessively vocal about China, Russia, North Korea, and Bangladesh’s breaches of human rights. The legitimacy of the sanctions was called into question by the application of a double standard to country-specific human rights abuses.

The USA uses sanctions as a weapon to exert pressure on nations whenever it notices their allegiance to a certain rival. A good example of that is the situation involving Bangladesh and India. The US threatened India with penalties whenever it began to maintain tight bilateral ties with Russia.

Why does the US employ sanction as an instrument for foreign policy?

Sanctions are essentially a technique to express official disapproval of a particular behavior. They can strengthen a commitment to a normative behavior, such upholding human rights or opposing nuclear proliferation. Another driving factor is American hesitancy to deploy military action. An obvious and more affordable alternative to military intervention and inaction is the use of sanctions. Another reason is because the media has a wider audience. The CNN effect has the power to make international issues more visible and motivate Americans to take action.

In the past, these sanctions have aided the USA in achieving a number of important foreign policy goals. Following the Gulf War, sanctions were imposed, which reduced Iraq’s capacity to import weapons and enhanced Iraq’s compliance with resolutions requiring the complete disposal of its WMD. Sanctions in the former Yugoslavia played a role in Serbia’s decision to ratify the Dayton accord in August 1995. Due to China’s extensive engagement with Bangladesh, which has increasing geopolitical interest, Bangladesh has become a victim of the USA’s double standard sanctions.

Therefore, Bangladesh’s fundamental foreign policy is comparable to India’s. To increase its capacity to operate independently and according to its own terms, the “Friendship to all, Malice to None” policy seeks to diversify its interactions with other players. Let’s say the USA is aware of this fundamental truth. In that situation, they will have a better chance of advancing their relations with and realizing their larger objectives in South Asia and the Indo-Pacific region.

Author: Samara Ashrat is columnist specialized in South Asian Geopolitics and India-Bangladesh Relations 


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