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BANGLADESH: Non-traditional security


Paper 751                                                     30.07.2003

By Jyoti M. Pathania 

This  paper is about the notion of Non-traditional security (NTS) and its application in the context of Bangladesh.  The first section of this paper traces the entomology of NTS thinking various theories, paradigms and metaphors in this field.  In the next section an attempt has been made to study various NTS issues and relate them to Bangladesh as a case study. 

THE CONCEPT OF NTS: Historical Picture

During the cold war period, the notion of security was generally understood in relation to the security of the State, in terms of preserving its territorial integrity and political sovereignty (military threats).  In the 80’s, the notion of security was broadened to include not only the military and territorial security of a state, but also economic and environmental issues (comprehensive security).  Still the central objective of security remained the state,.  Even as this concept was “broadened”, the taboo to “deepen” it i.e. to enlarge the notion of security in order to reach the human being was still there, it was only during the 90’s that the security paradigm was “deepened” and the security of the individual was put at the center of security strategies (human security). Thus discourse on security has shifted from a focus on State and towards individual and second, broadening the analysis beyond military dimension in order to reach non-military threats to the individual. 

The concept: Reconceptualization of security has become necessary because of gradual but fundamental and long-term changes in the international system.  Some of the prime factors which have necessitated a new thinking on the concept and scope of security studies are the demise of cold war which has led to global interdependent world; change in nature of warfare as now there is struggle for techno –economic, political and cultural space rather than pure conventional military means; states are more than ever dependent on International society & institutions 1.           

Against the backdrop of all these factors, the late 20th century has seen a rise or prominence of non-traditional security issues (in particular human security).  The genealogy of the idea can be related to if not traced back to the growing dissatisfaction with prevailing notions of development and security in the 1960’s, 1970s, & 1980s.  Economics undoubtedly led the way with its critiques of the dominant models of economic development beginning in the 1960’.  Kanti Bajpai argues that the most important forerunners of the idea of NTS/ human security were the reports of a series of multinational independent commissions composed of prominent leaders, intellectuals & academicians5.  Beginning in the 70’s the Club of Rome group produced a series of volumes on the “world problematique” which were premised on the idea that there is a complex of problems troubling men of all nations: poverty.  Degradation of the environment: alienation of youth: rejection of traditional values: and inflation and other monetary and economic disruption2.  In the 1980’s two other independent commissions contributing to the changing thinking on development and security: the first was the Independent Commission on International Development Issues chaired by Willy Brandt which, in 1980, issued the so called “North –South report”. This report not only raised traditional security issues like peace and war, but also issues like how to overcome world hunger, mass misery and alarming disparities between the living conditions of rich and poor”.3

The second commission of the 1980s the Independent Commission on Disarmament and security issues (chaired by Olof Palme) authored the famous “common security” report, which also drew attention to alternative ways of thinking about peace & security. It acknowledged that common security requires that people live in dignity and peace, that they have enough to eat and are able to find work and live in a world without poverty and destitution. 6

In 1991 Stockholm initiative on Global Security and Governance issued a call for “common responsibility in the 1990s which referred to” challenges to security other than political rivalry and armaments” and to a wider concept of security, which deals also with threats that stem from failures in development, environmental degradation, excessive population growth and movement, lack of progress towards democracy. 

In 1995, the commission on Global Governances report, our Global Neighborhood stated  “the concept of global security must be broadened from the traditional focus on the security of states to include the security of people and the security of the planet.7

The first explicit document wherein mention of the name NTS/ human security was the UNDP report of 1994.   Mahbub ul Haq was the man behind this report.  In this new conception of security he said, security would be equated with the “security of individuals, not just security of territory, he further says we need to fashion a new concept of security that is reflected in the lives of our people, not in the weapons of our country.  Fundamentally human security will be achieved through “development, not …. through arms”8

The report called “Redefining security: The Human Dimension” purports to offer a through going alternative to traditional security and a necessary supplement to human development.  It further on stated that it is time to redress the balance and include protection of people as security.  The report lists seven components or seven specific values of human security: economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community security & political security.

The Canadians also gave a people centric view of security in 1996 when their foreign minister Lloyd Anworthy in an address to the 51st UN General Assembly first broached the idea of human security on behalf of his government.  By focusing on people and highlighting NTS, the UNDP has certainly made an important contribution to post Cold War thinking.

After going through the genealogy of NTS, I think it is pertinent for us to define this very concept and view it from the prism of scholars and practioners as also their various theories on this subject. 

Theories, Paradigms & Metaphors


Richard H Shultz describes NTS as complex, involving a myriad of threats (internal, regional and transnational), wherein a large number of actors are involved (governmental & non-governmental), where violence is generated not only by conventional physical force, but by economic, environmental and social forces.9

Roberts Mac Namara argues that” it is increasingly being realized that it is poverty, not the lack of military hardware that is responsible for insecurity across the southern half of the planet”. 10  To prove this statement one can see in countries like Rwanda, Liberia, and Somalia & Zaire, wherein environmental threats and poverty were the major cause of civil war and infightings hampering the traditional security parameters. 

Greg Mills a South African scholar lists out four types of Non-Traditional threats as confronted by developing countries. Territorial threats, Economic threats, Environmental threats, Political threats. 

Theories, Paradigms & Mataphors:

The subject of NTS is at a nascent stage and definitely under researched.  Scholars & practioners are still grappling with conceptual technicalities of this term. Not much has been built in terms of conceptual & theoretical tools: Some of the important theories & paradigms on NTS have been highlighted. 

According to Barry Buzan, a security analyst there are three-pronged debates/ approaches to security studies in the post cold war era.  First school of thought is theTraditionalist10 who retains the military focus of security.  Second school of thought is the widener 11, who extend the range of security issues to include threats other than military ones. Third school of thought is the Critical security studies who have a questioning attitude to the whole framework in which security is conceptualized12

Buzan proposes a constructivist method for security. This method synthesis all the three schools of thoughts and offers some reintegrative potential to this approach.  Security is understood not as the content of a particular sector (military) but as a particular type of politics defined by reference to existential threats and calls for emergency action in any sector. 13 Hence Buzan argues for a multi-sect oral approach – finding “security” agendas appropriate to the environmental, economic, social and political as well as military sectors and including cross – linkages between them. Buzan insists that “security” should be an empowering word – setting political priorities & justifying the use of force, the intensification of executive etc.  Buzan broadened the focus beyond the level of the individual as the ultimate referent object. 

(Swedish based) Nordic Africa Institute defines security as having “environmental military, economic and political dimensions”. 

Ramesh Thakur, argues for a “pluralistic co- existence” of differing concepts of security, including “national security”, “collective security” and “environmental security” along with “human security”14


Bangladesh the largest deltaic region of the world is a small state overarched by the geographical presence of India.  Its idea of security is in tune with Barry Buzan’s idea that domestic threats to a weak state can almost never be isolated from the influence of outside powers, thus entangling domestic security problems with its external relations.  Buzan further states that the tyranny of geography is the most important factor in the defense-vulnerability of the small states.15 

Bangladesh posses a host of security problems, which are no longer of conventional nature but have non-conventional nature i.e. Non-traditional security issues which are in the state of constant evolution. For the sake of brevity I have decided to follow the Greg Mills model of NTS wherein he lays down four elements of NTS; economic, environmental, political and territorial threats.   I shall deal with the first one in this paper and the next ones will follow suit in the next papers.  Broadly speaking, on the economic front Bangladesh has to reduce the vicious circle of foreign aid dependence and debt servicing, further on it needs to exploit and explore to the fullest its oil, gas and sea resources. 

Economic security:

In this section I have tried to highlight some of the pertinent economic insecurities faced by Bangladesh. Heavy dependence on foreign aid curtails the sovereignty of the state by making it more and more arduous to be self reliant- “NEO-COLONIALIST” policy as often quoted by the Bengali press. Noted Bangladesh economist Rehman Sobhan puts it more graphically: 

‘In Bangladesh donors have tended to freely express their views on the suitability of various policies enacted by the government of the day, the quality of their administration and their political integrity. This attitude originates from the belief that the size and importance of their contribution to Bangladesh’s development efforts give them a right to dictate how it should conduct its development affair’.16  

Bangladesh’s dependence on foreign aid can be traced to the compulsion of a war ravaged economy of 1971, but what initially began as a necessity for the rehabilitation of 10 million refugees displaced by the nine months of independence, soon became a pattern of dependent development.17

Bangladesh receives various aids, grants and loans in the form of food aid, commodity aid and project aid. In the recent past it has become a convenient and easy option in place of taking hard decisions on mobilizing domestic resources and improving the yield of dying investments.   Accompanied with the aid were some other structural changes, which were the muscle pullers of the domestic politics; some of them have been mentioned below: 

* It has been reported and a well known fact that the threat of withdrawing all aid in 1990, made by Japan (the largest bilateral creditor) and United Kingdom, put additional pressures on Ershad to resign, paving the way for the first free and fair elections.

*A new elite class has emerged in Bangladesh whose affluence derives from such aid programmes so much so that the percentage of businessmen and industrialists among the legislators has increased from 4% in 1954 to 24% in 1973 and 59% in 1991-92.

* Bangladesh’s human rights record, defense expenditure and other Internal developments, all remain under the observations of the donor countries.

* Privatization and disinvestments of the public sector enterprises have grown fastidiously due to foreign aid but at the cost of lack of sustained industrial growth.  Rehnman Sobhan and Iftekharuzzaman and Rumana S. Khan estimate that 75%of aid goes to the donors in the form of costs of Procurement of projects inputs and consultancy fees to foreign experts.18

* Aid leads inevitably to a heavy debt burden that future generations of Bangladeshis have to pay one day or the other.  Aid dependence has eroded the sovereign power of Bangladesh in the economic realm.  The massive amount of aid, US$ 27.5 billion from 1971-June 1994 has imposed a serious financial burden on future generations of Bangladeshis19.

* Heavy dependence on external resources for public expenditure has had its impact on the domestic economy. Domestic savings as a percentage of the GDP had fallen from 3.4% in 198081 to). 8% in 1989-90. This declining rate of saving is in turn reflected in the low rate of gross investments.  This could explain the lack of dynamism in the economy.

* Investments in the installation of irrigation equipment registered a precipitous decline from Tk.844 million to Tk.261 million in the same period. This indicates that the growth in the productive capacity of the economy was if anything contracting both absolutely and relatively. This also explains the sluggishness in the economy.


Foreign aid thus plays an intrusive role in Bangladesh. And it is time now for Bangladesh to assert itself in relation to the donors.  And this is possible if Bangladesh continues its democratic governance and uses its diplomatic skills in dealing with different donor nations.  Furthermore it must attract foreign investment in power, energy, port infrastructure, telecommunications, finance, banking, textiles and manufacturing sectors and most important of all its oil, gas and sea resources which still lies almost untapped. 


  1. Sujit Dutta, “In search of New Security Concepts”, Strategic Analysis, April 1997.
  2. Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jorgen Randers, William W. Behrens Ed The limits to growth, NY. Universe Books 1972,
  3. The Independent Commission on International Development Issues, North-South A Programme for Survival (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Pres 1980)
  4. Kanti Bajpai, Human security: Concept and Measurement. Occasional Papers August 2000.
  5. The Commission on Global Governance, Our Global Neighborhood (New York: Oxford Univ Press 1995)
  6. Mahbub ul Haq, “New Imperatives of Human security”, RGICS Paper No. 17, RGICS. Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, N.D.
  7. Richard H. Shultz, Paper Presented by him at the International Security studies program. The Fletcher school of Law & Diplomacy.
  8. Robert S. McNamara, The Essence of security, Harper & Row, NY. 1968
  9. Traditionalist thinkers like Stephen Walt, Ayoob, Grey, and Chipman.
  10. Widener’s thinkers are Ullman, Nye & Lynn Jonnes, Brown, Growford, and Waever.
  11. Barry Buzan, Rethinking Security after the cold war. Corporation & Conflict, Sage Publication, vol 32(I), 1997
  12. Abdur Rob khan Interfacing Traditional and NTS in South Asia, Biiss Journal vol22; No.43, Oct 2001 
  14. Barry Buzan, People, States and Fear: The national security problem in International Relations, London: Wheatseaf  Books Ltd, 1983.
  15. Rehman Sobhan, Ed.’ From Aid Dependence to Self Reliance: Development Options for Bangladesh, Dhaka: BIDS/UPL, 1990
  16. Hamza Alavi And John Harris, Eds. South Asia: Sociology of Developing Societies, London: Macmillian Education Ltd., 1989
  17. Rehman Saniruddin Khan, Non -Military Security of Bangladesh: External Determinants, Dhaka: upl, 1996    
  18.  Major General Dipankar Banerjee (Retd), Security in South Asia, Manas            Publications, New Delhi, 1999