RAB Sanctions: Does It Reflect A Changing US Foreign Policy?

Does news of the Biden administration’s sanction against the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) force and seven officials indicate a change in US foreign policy under the Biden administration? The logic, context, and implications of Biden’s policy show that the United States has shifted the central ideological spectrum of its foreign policy from counterterrorism and increased security to democracy and human rights. man.

Skeptics may downplay any analysis that uses ideology as a fundamental tenet of American politics. Yet historical analysis of US foreign policy shows that a values-based ideological model has dominated its engagement with the world for years.

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After World War II, the United States established a liberal world order. On his own, he helped rebuild war-torn Europe through the Marshall Fund and set up the Bretton Woods institutions to facilitate international cooperation, negotiation, and means of dispute settlement. The Cold War tested the limits of the so-called capitalist system against communism, although the United States emerged victorious by upholding the ideas of democracy, free speech, the rule of law, a free economic system and human rights. Even the very controversial War on Terror was also an ideological war, where the Bush administration’s so-called “freedom agenda” presented terrorism as the result of the suppression of democracy in the Middle East. At the time, President Bush sadly declared: “either you are with us or with the terrorists”.

However, the decline of democracy around the world over the past decade has caused significant setbacks for the United States and its allies. The emphasis on wars as a means of establishing domination over the enemy and resolving conflicts has done the United States a disservice, as we have seen in the case of Afghanistan. The deaths of hundreds and thousands of civilians in the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the mass movement of refugees, show the limits of the war.

Meanwhile, there has been a steady rise in autocracy as an ideology for governments around the world, which have used brute force to quell dissent while championing the idea of ​​”growth and stability.”

The 2021 Democracy Report from the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Index points out that “autocracies are now home to (the) 68% of the world’s population” while “liberal democracies have shrunk over the past decade, rising from 41 countries to 32, with a population share of just 14 percent. The V-dem index collects data on “voting rights, smooth elections, equality before the law, constraints on ‘executive and freedom of association and expression’ – one of the largest social science data collection efforts ever with a database containing over 28.4 million data points.

V-Dem notes that “the level of democracy enjoyed by the average global citizen in 2020 has fallen to levels last found around 1990”. In its latest report, Washington-based Freedom House also observed that “defenders of democracy have suffered further heavy losses in their struggle against authoritarian enemies,” which “shifted the international balance in favor of tyranny ”.

In this context, on February 4, 2021, US President Biden, in a speech to the US State Department, said: “The American people will emerge from this moment stronger, more determined and better equipped to unite the world in the fight. defend democracy. ”Subsequently, the US Interim National Security Strategy Guidance was published in March 2021. This critical policy document purports to chart“ a new course in foreign and national security policy ”.

He insisted a lot on the “defense of democratic values” and noted that “the defense of democratic values ​​does not stop at the [American] shore “, because” authoritarianism is on the move. “It is clear that the policy is founded on the defense of democracy, it undoubtedly targets China.

The Biden Democracy Summit is a step towards realizing this set of national security policy goals, where the current US administration is trying to reinvigorate and defend the idea of ​​democracy. Perhaps this is why the framing of the US Treasury sanction on the RAB as an entity was tied to the threat to US national security.

The analysis of this very curious sanction stipulates two powerful messages to analysts. First, this is in conjunction with its national security strategy. The United States views democracies as more stable, richer, and producing fewer terrorists because widespread disregard for human rights violations produces widespread grievances in society. Impunity for human rights violations undermines public confidence and confidence in the law and the state. However, we must also recognize that the United States has invited countries with declining democracies, like Pakistan and India, to the summit. These countries may be strategically more important to them.

If people feel that they cannot peacefully and safely exercise their democratic rights to dissent and protest, it fuels resentment, anger and can destabilize the state, creating conflict and violence. Bangladesh is a country with a huge population, where the quality of elections remains questionable. Is it possible that the interests of the United States coincide with having a stable and functioning state, rather than a state that constantly removes people through a draconian act like the Digitial Security Act, or through extrajudicial activities?

Second, the sanction appears to be an effort to strike a balance with China, as China has yet to denounce widespread allegations of human rights abuses in Bangladesh or raise questions about the quality of the elections. Therefore, the United States is more likely to view this sanction as a deterrent strategy for Bangladesh so that it does not move towards China. It is undeniable that the United States has a lot of influence over Bangladesh, as it is the largest export destination for Bangladeshi products and the most important development partner of the country, besides having a significant influence on the UN as one of its major donors.

Does the United States expect this pressure to induce reforms in Bangladesh? Previous US policy towards Bangladesh appeared to woo the country by keeping its criticisms of democracy and human rights muted. The Democracy Summit and the sanctions are an abrupt change, but it’s also part of the same goal of keeping Bangladesh from China. It is a shift from “carrot” to “stick” concerning Bangladesh, in the hope that it will induce democratic reforms, which in turn will move it away from China.

Critics, including Democrats in the United States, have a stronghold on the sanction’s “hypocrisy” given the United States’ human rights record and claims that its justice system is failing. racist. Police brutality towards black populations and other people of color in the United States is also a big dent in its image of defending human rights around the world. However, it must be recognized that police officers guilty of committing brutality regularly face the courts in the United States. In contrast, this record in Bangladesh is close to zero.

While the Bangladeshi government has rightly decided to engage diplomatically with the United States, it should also commit to improving the democratic sphere in the country. Today, all of the globally accepted indicators for measuring the democratic quality of a country have consistently painted a regressive picture of the nation.

For example, the 2021 World Press Freedom Index ranks Bangladesh 152nd out of 180. It ranks 115th out of 128 countries in the World Justice Project rule of law index. Freedom House called it a “partially free country”, while the V-Dem Index classified Bangladesh as an “electoral autocracy”. A forum of international human rights organizations has documented allegations of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in the country for many years, although the government has called the allegations a “conspiracy against the state” and the perpetrators of these acts enjoyed impunity.

One can see how such a picture of Bangladeshi politics and the human rights situation contradicts the national security strategy projected by Biden, where the emphasis on democracy is placed at the heart of politics. American foreigner.

Mubashar Hasan PhD is Associate Researcher at the Humanitarian Research and Development Initiative (HADRI), University of Western Sydney, Australia.

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