Tuesday, 25 January, 2022

Soft Power and Bangladesh’s Foreign Policy

A.K.M. Atiqur Rahman

Soft Power and Bangladesh’s Foreign Policy
A.K.M. Atiqur Rahman

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As defined by Nicolas Blarel, power in International Relations is the ability of actor A to influence the behaviour of actor B to get the outcome it wants. Traditionally, military and economic powers were considered the major factors. However, the term ‘Soft Power’ was first used by the eminent IR scholar Joseph Nye in his book "Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power.” He identified three dimensions of power; coercion by military force, influence by offering economic incentives and finally the ability to co-opt other states by the nation’s appeal based on its culture and values. However, soft power should not be considered as a product, but a process.

Three factors mainly determine the foreign policy of a country: its geography, history and capabilities. The size of a state is an important factor of its foreign policy. Size influences the psychological and operational environment within which the foreign policy-makers and public respond. It includes, as Rosenau says, both human and non-human resources. Countries with large human and non-human resources have better chances of becoming big powers in international relations.

While it concerns soft power, capabilities become relevant to protect interests. At the most fundamental level, soft power is about winning the hearts and minds of the people. Hence, there has to be a people centric approach. Governments cannot do anything beyond facilitating the process. Nonetheless, governments all over the world are now-a-days facilitating the spread of positive ideas from their countries. This would also include arts, culture, music, philosophy, sports and cuisine. Bangladesh is no exception to this rule.

We know that diplomacy is a tool for implementation of a country’s foreign policy. And foreign policy is nothing but the shadow of that country’s internal policies. In fact, we find the reflection of internal policies of a country in its foreign policy behaviours. Foreign policy of a country would produce better performance in the international field if its internal policies are of that standard. However, the ultimate results depend on the use of diplomatic skills, opportunities in the field, relations with other countries and the leadership quality.

The base of Bangladesh’s foreign policy is ‘friendship to all, malice towards none’ and peaceful co-existence. It believes in peaceful resolution of any dispute with any country. It always opposes the use of forces or arms races. It gives importance to mutual respect and friendship in its interactions with other nations. Bangladesh follows the path of advancement through soft power. Whatever development Bangladesh has achieved or the image it has established in the international community, all were possible using its various tools of soft power and thus, it has shown the world that might not always be right.

Being a strong believer in soft power policy, Bangladesh has been performing appreciating roles in various sectors, like economy and trade, humanitarian activities, regional and world peace, culture, politics, human development, ICT, public diplomacy, etc. However, there remains more space to work in those sectors as well as new sectors that may evolve in the future.

Bangladesh has graduated as a developing nation and is walking towards the road that would accommodate Bangladesh in the row of developed nations. It will have to face a lot of challenges on its way.To overcome the exports challenges, it must formulate export strategies and policies to be followed while locating markets for our products. Bangladesh offers very lucrative facilities for foreign direct investments (FDI). As it concerns the rich groups of any country, it weighs much not only economically but also politically. In view of that, it demands very careful handling. In addition to increasing our economic outputs, FDI generates employment opportunities. However, the existing loopholes in the system should be removed to make it investors-friendly. A win-win situation should be ensured in investment policies. “Blue Economy’, a new sector added to our economy through soft power efforts, has placed Bangladesh with another prospect. Necessary planning and policies are required for proper management and utilisation of the abundance of resources in our sea areas.

Being one of the major source countries for migrant workers in the world, a good number of our diplomats are engaged in migration diplomacy. It is one of the tools that creates people to people contacts between the people of Bangladesh and the recipient countries. However, to make the sector more economically vibrant, we need to develop the skill of those migrant workers following the demands of the destination countries.

Public diplomacy has become a very important part of our ongoing soft power initiatives. It is one of the best practices to influence the people of another country. It is believed that by developing interactions between the people of two countries, the governments of those countries also become closer. We need to find the ways and means to bring two countries’ people closer. As the whole world is availing digital facilities, digital diplomacy might also be a new part of public diplomacy. Bangladesh is no more behind in taking the benefits of global digitalisation. Using social media, the establishment of people to people contacts could also be enhanced. This might have both direct and indirect impact on our economy (FDI and export), culture, tourism and obviously strengthening two countries political relationship.

Nature has enriched Bangladesh with endless beauty and generosity. There are efforts to attract tourists, both local and foreign, but it still remains below our expectation. To transform it into a potential sector for the Bangladesh economy, it should be developed according to international requirements. Culture has an enormous strength to influence the people, if it can be given that structure and platform. Bangladesh can use its cultural potential to brighten its image in the world community. The same emphasis we should give to our sports or cuisine sectors as soft power tools.

Bangladesh has already earned international appreciation for its role in humanitarian crisis and disaster management. Our active participation at all UN-organised peacekeeping forces has been deeply acknowledged. Bangladesh is now the premier country in the international peacekeeping forces. By providing shelter to the Rohingyas, Bangladesh has, once again, shown the world community its commitment for humanity and peace.

Bangladesh is very much attached to the climate change issue. It never keeps silent when there is any crisis in the environment. In the international forum, it has raised its voice to ensure justice to the countries those are affected and vulnerable.

Religious harmony, existing in Bangladesh, not only contributes to the country’s national developed endeavours, but also to maintaining the country's image and acceptability in the international community. Thousands of Muslims from various countries come to Bangladesh every year to participate in ‘Tablig Istema’. There are other religious places in Bangladesh where foreigners come to visit.This is also a sector to use soft power diplomacy. Bangladesh believes in a world of peace and justice where everyone, irrespective of caste or creed, would live together in every corner from north to south and from east to west. This was the dream of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In that context, Bangladesh may find that opportunity to lead the world.

As soft power plays an important role in attaining Bangladesh’s foreign policy objectives, we should give priority to soft power through building networks, communicating compelling narratives, establishing international rules, and drawing on the resources that make a country naturally attractive to the world. We believe, the present government also thinks in that line and gives its full concentration to develop its capability to enhance and strengthen soft power potentials for the greater interest of humankind. As such, Bangladesh will also be more benefitted. 


The writer is a former

Ambassador and Secretary