National vision, which usually reflects long-term goals of progression, is crucial for planned development of any country including Bangladesh. A well-developed national vision provides overall development targets to be achieved within a specified time in planned manner, while ill-formulated vision or lack of national vision may result in haphazard or distorted development. Of course, many countries in different regions have national visions, even if all countries do not. Interestingly, Bangladesh formulated its national visions 2021 and 2041, which is rendered as an extension of the former. These are obviously good initiatives of the government for guiding diverse national development initiatives — five-year plans, national policies, national budgets, annual development programs, and so on.

There are many progressive sides of the national visions and realization of goals and strategies, laid down in perspective plans 2010-2021 and 2021-2041, will undoubtedly bring prosperity for Bangladesh as well as its citizens. Some notable developmental goals of national visions are making a poverty free society, becoming a middle income country by 2021, increased economic growth, industrial and infrastructural development, becoming a higher-income and developed country by 2041, securing green and affordable energy, development of human resources, increasing per-capita income to USD 12500 by 2041, empowerment of women, securing healthy and producing educated citizens, achieving good governance and participatory democracy, making environment sustainable, and greater regional connectivity. In fact, vision 2021 has in the mean time resulted in some remarkable impacts including moving towards a middle income country and increased regional connectivity.

But, unsurprisingly, there are some crucial limitations to national visions. One of the most important loopholes is scant focus on international status from broader viewpoint, which takes account of not only economic, social, environmental, political and cultural development in domestic front, but also the capacity— or power — to exert influence in international sphere on economic, social, environmental, political and cultural terms. Even if the formulated national visions incorporated some components including strengthening capacity of Bangladeshi missions abroad, consolidating and expanding ability for trade negotiations, taking initiatives for the resolution of cross-border issues and strengthening regional cooperation with the reflection of the latter sense, these are actually far away from being sufficient for improving national standing in international arena from broader viewpoint.

Of course, enhanced focus on economic, social, environmental, cultural and human resource development is very critical for furtherance of overall national conditions, which can upgrade living standard and facilitate realization of diverse externally targeted national goals, including acquiring position in regional and global forums, at least to a certain extent. In effect, some socio-economic indexes — regional and global — indicate that societal conditions of Bangladesh such as quality of life and business friendly environment are improving compared to a number of Asian and African countries. Yet, without significant focus, it remains unclear what and how international status Bangladesh can obtain, regionally and globally, from overall perspective and whether it can realize internal socio-economic, cultural and other developmental goals — or visionary goals — as desired.

It is simultaneously undeniable that improved international status from broader perspective can make Bangladesh more capable of materializing a variety of national developmental goals in social, economic and other terms including development of human resources, increased economic growth and industrial and infrastructural development. In actual fact, countries having more internal socio-economic development and capacity to use soft-power and hard-power resources can materialize their national interests more than those which have less internal development and influencing capacity. Since Bangladesh is progressing on diverse socio-economic indicators, I think that it needs to increase its focus on international status from broader sense too from now on, not only for accelerating its internal development but also upgrading its international position as a distinct country.

Now, a crucially relevant question may be raised on whether Bangladesh should focus on soft-power or hard-power or both for improving international status from broader sense. In my view, a combination of resources of both soft-power and hard-power — or, as is alternatively called in international relations discourse, smart-power tactics — is preferred for Bangladesh. In fact, smart-power approach, which can be applied based on national capacity and trans-boundary challenges, is increasingly rendered as more effective at present for dealing with state and non-state actors aiming at realizing national interests including exertion of influence in international sphere. Yet, on the basis of situational demand, a suitable combination of soft- and hard-power is crucial for better outcomes with this approach.

Undoubtedly, more engaging soft-power — the ability to attract and co-opt, rather than coerce, with measures like diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action and economic reconstruction and development — has no alternative, despite the fact that significant usage of hard-power, which usually refers to the use of military and economic means to influence the behavior or interests of other political bodies, is crucial too. While soft-power can develop effective relations with external actors, mitigate tensions bilaterally and multilaterally, and realize many of national goals through diplomatic persuasion, strategic communications and some other means, hard-power can help actualize national interests on some occasions including deterrence and defence from external threats and strengthen national standing in the international arena.

Unsurprisingly, it is neither possible nor necessary for Bangladesh to use all sorts of soft- and hard-power tactics. Usage of some sorts of soft- and hard-power tactics such as economic reconstruction and development in foreign countries and military war — even at a limited scale — requires huge amount of budgetary allocations and persuasion of such tactics can be of serious concerns when increased economic growth with its just distribution and social development is crucial. Obviously, I am neither talking about compromise in social and economic sectors nor favoring development of nuclear arsenal. My position is that more focus can be given on some crucial smart-power tactics including strengthening military power capable of dealing with non-nuclear threats from relative perspective and increasing activism of foreign missions to the extent needed for realizing national interests.

Even though there are many regional and global intergovernmental organizations, treaties, conventions, and bi-lateral and multi-lateral pacts, the reality is that international arena still lacks governance in strict sense, especially the way it is present within a country. Under such a context, countries with capacity to use both soft- and hard-power resources can secure better international status and play according roles in the world order with increased influence in economic, political and other terms at national and transnational sphere. In my view, early focus can help upgrade international position early. Alternatively speaking, Bangladesh simultaneously can improve its socio-economic conditions in domestic front and emphasize its international position making efforts reflecting the broader sense, although usage of soft-power approach over hard-power is prioritized.

Peace is obviously not up to the mark in the present world, at least functionally; in fact, conflicts often occur in different regions. In my opinion, Bangladesh having some good cultural features including peace-loving norms and values may play its roles in the promotion and establishment of peace and peace-loving culture in the world. Along with the realization of diverse national interests including socio-economic development and effective international connectivity, the country may focus on some diplomatic efforts to mitigate inter-country conflicts based on national resources and establishment of its importance in regional and global peace mediation with the reflection of its much-discussed foreign policy ideology — friendship to all and malice towards none — as much as possible.

Amir Mohammad Sayem is a researcher and writer of Op-eds on miscellaneous issues including social, environmental, political, public health and international relations, Dhaka, Bangladesh



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