Maritime Security of Bangladesh: Is Foreign Assistance Necessary?

Maritime Security of Bangladesh:  Is Foreign Assistance Necessary?

On 8th February, Richard Boucher, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, prior to his departure from Dhaka wrapping up his two-day trip, reportedly has expressed his country’s willingness to assist Bangladesh in maritime patrol and secure its unprotected territorial sea though Washington has no plan to set up a ‘military base’ in Bangladesh’s territorial waters.

Boucher said, ‘I think there are some interests in maritime patrol so you can protect your sea areas better. We can help their [border security agencies] activities but the modalities will depend on what Bangladesh wants.’

This statement has raised interest in discussions on the maritime security of Bangladesh and its interests of the US.

What is maritime security?

Maritime security is described as those measures government and other stake holders employ against maritime threats- both military and non-military threats.

Maritime security is a multi-faceted concept that not only involves domestic and international laws but also consideration of geopolitics of the area concerned. Maritime security should be viewed from global and regional geo-political perspectives.

Regional Environment:

Indian Ocean:

Bangladesh opens to the Indian Ocean through the Bay of Bengal in the south. We have to look at the current geo-political players of the Indian Ocean which is being gradually militarized. The players are US, China, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia and their naval ships routinely patrol the Indian Ocean to keep the sea-lanes safe from threats for oil tankers, cargo and passenger ships.

India has undertaken a number of important naval and air construction projects at Lakshadweep, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a planned military reconnaissance centre in the Maldives and new interest in naval facilities in Sri Lanka.

Since the US considers China a strategic competitor, not a strategic partner, China feels that it is being encircled by the US and its allies to contain China’s influence in the Asia Pacific region. Obviously China has been monitoring the US and India’s increased military role in the Ocean-area from a base in Myanmar (Coco Islands). There appears to be a “silent cold war” going on between China and the US and its allies on the Indian Ocean.

Global Security Environment:

The two wars in the Middle East and the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian issue have unsettled many countries with mindless terrorism. Bangladesh is no exception.

Terrorism can not be fought by a single state. Terrorism is a strategy and a deadly game of ” hide and seek”. Terrorists are non-state actors that are elusive. The principal problem of terrorism is that they have a global reach, estimated to be in 60 countries. The terrorists are groups, without countries or uniforms and may lie low for years before they act.

Second, while the US is clearly too strong to stay on the sidelines of world affairs, it is too weak to implement its own agenda without wide international support. That is why the Bush administration had to negotiate with North Korea and seems to be powerless to stop Iran’s nuclear programme.

The new administration of President Obama ushered in a new dawn of realism, diplomacy and inclusiveness in foreign policy, missing in the Bush administration. Let us hope under the Obama’s administration the global security environment becomes calmer and reconciliatory.

Third, the current political and security environment is very fluid. Many security experts believe the world order is in transition because there is no power at the moment including the US that can force an issue to its wishes and satisfaction. This has led to an awkward truth is that the world is neither dominated by a unipolar power nor multipolar powers. Currently we live in a non-polar world and the balance of power is going through an evolution period.

It is obvious that power in the world is realigning and that Asia is going to become more important. These things are clear and do not need to be debated at length.

Bangladesh Case:

With regard to Bangladesh’s maritime security, let me begin by posing three questions: The word “security” presupposes something to be secured. The three questions are: (a) what is being secured, (b) what is secured against? And (c) what mechanisms may be undertaken to provide security?

We know that maritime space belonging to Bangladesh has to be secured from military and non-military threats. The mechanisms often employed include adequate resources for physical security measures, crisis management, intelligence gathering and regional cooperation.

Bangladesh is a coastal state. This brings both advantages and difficulties. Given the current global and regional security environment, a comprehensive maritime security that includes Bangladesh ports, Bangladesh shipping, off-shore oil and gas facilities and shipping lanes in Bangladesh waters is required.

Bangladesh has to secure 12 miles territorial sea, 200 miles economic zone (12 miles+188 miles=200 miles) and another 150 miles of continental shelf from the limit of 200 miles, declared by the 1974 Territorial Waters and Maritimes Zones Act.

Bangladesh has the exclusive right to explore and exploit marine and continental shelf resources. These include not only fish and other living resources but also petroleum, gas and other minerals.

Furthermore seawater according to scientists, contains about 300 chemical elements which can be exploited with the assistance and support of the technologically-advanced states. Bangladesh has to safeguard these maritime intertests.

The difficulty in exploring and exploiting exclusive economic zone and continental shelf in the Bay of Bengal lies in the non-delimitation of maritime boundary with India and Myanmar.

In recent months, we witnessed both Myanmar and India sent survey ships in Bangladesh’s area supported by naval ships. Although Bangladesh had successfully defused the likely confrontation on the sea through diplomatic efforts and dispatching Bangladesh naval ships in the area, potential tension remains until the area is delimited with India and Myanmar.

Non-military threats:

Bangladesh has to cope with transnational non-military threats emanating from seas.Relaxed security on the seafront facilitates easy illegal entry and departure from seas. For instance, 20 young terrorists of the Mumbai attacks on November 26th came to that city by a boat because of relaxed immigration control.

An important adjunct to martime terrorism is drug trafficking. Terrorist groups often work hand-in-hand with drug cartles. While Iran and Pakistan have become “the Golden Crescent” in drug trafficking, Myanmar and Thailand constitute the “Golden Triangle”. Bangladesh could be used as a transit point forn drug trafficking.

Gunrunning by sea is the safest means of transferring illegal arms and ammunition around the world. Ever since the seizure of arms and ammunitions including submschine guns and AK rifles, rocket propelled grenades and their launchers, 2000 grenades and three lakh bullets during unloading from MV Khazar Dan and FB Amanat, at the jetty of Chittagong Urea Fertiliser on April 2, 2004, , there had been an unending stream of reports in all newspapers of such entry of illegal arms and weapons through sea port.

The Home Ministry of Bangladesh has in recent days declared its firm commitment to undertake a thorough investigation to find out who were responsible for the illegal entry of weapons and who were the financiers of such vast quantity of weapons through Chittagong port that has become a strategic point of entry for illegal arms.

Furthermore pirates are quite active on the high seas and they may operate in the contiguous zones. Maritime piracy, consists of any criminal acts of violence, and detention, committed against a cargo/passenger ship on the sea.

Seaborne piracy against transport vessels remains a significant issue with estimated worldwide losses of US $13 to $16 billion per year, particularly in the waters between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, off the Somali coast, and also in the Strait of Malacca and Singapore, which are used by over 50,000 commercial ships a year.

Another threat has emerged from unlikely place. This is container security that is often linked to maritime terrorism.

In 2002, the US navy found that al-Queada terrorists who were hiding inside a well-equipped containers escaped before the search commenced. In another case a suspected terrorist smuggled himself halfway the world inside a shipping container that was well equipped with a bed and toilet. He was carrying computers, cameras, mobile phones, maps and seaport security passes for Thailand, Egypt and Canada.

It has been reported that cargo ships are often used for unloading supplies for terrorists and one instance was that the suicide cadres who bombed US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998 were provided with supplies by cargo ships.

Oil- related disasters at sea are not only environmental hazards but also affect maritime security Oil spills can seriously affect the flow of merchant shipping traffic to and from Bangladesh

Foreign assistance:

I would suggest that inviting the US or any other power to assist Bangladesh in maritime patrol is to be viewed from global and regional geo-politics.

I would argue that it would be pre-mature at this stage to seek US or any other power’s assistance in patrolling the Bangladesh maritime areas.

What Bangladesh can do is to engage itself in capacity building of our Naval Coastguards and Navies with foreign assistance (which ever country is willing) by imparting training and transferring of technology to secure the maritime areas of Bangladesh.

To sum up:

Maritime security cannot be separated from a broader picture of strategic environment. Maritime security has two aspects: macro and micro issues and the synthesis of the two will guide Bangladesh in combating threats to its maritime security.

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid
Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

Place your ads here!

No comments

Write a comment
No Comments Yet! You can be first to comment this post!

Write a Comment