How will nuclear proliferation and water security threat in Southeast Asia affect the security of Bangladesh?

Jafreen Alamgir

A small country with a population of 16 crores is Bangladesh, yet powerful in terms of maintaining relations with its neighboring countries. No one could defeat Bangladesh in the Liberation War when they were the only nation fighting for their language and identity during 1971. India and Burma had developed a friendly relation with Bangladesh, but it still seems like a mere strategic alliance. Since there are disagreements as to how nuclear proliferation takes place in Bangladesh and in India. Definitely, it is different from India which usually takes the major decisions as to how they are going to use nuclear weapons. Considering the water security issue, it has created a sour touch on the friendly relation we observe when we as Bangladeshis are watching Star Plus at home. In our discussion, we will try to explain how will nuclear proliferation and water security threat in Southeast Asia affect the security of Bangladesh? It is highly important to understand the similarity of how both the issue affect the human security of Bangladesh. Since nuclear proliferation questions the freedom of the people of Bangladesh from fear and water security questions the freedom from want. Be it horizontally, vertically or diagonally, the geopolitical relation between Bangladesh and India will have a significant impact on the security of the huge population of Bangladesh.


read more Why Bangladesh is important in geopolitical context?


Bangladesh is one of the developing countries which signed the UN Nuclear Disarmament Treaty at the 72nd UN General Assembly in New York. However, India having between 130 and 140 nuclear warheads, it did not sign any NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) demonstrating that there is no guarantee as to when and how they will use the nuclear weapons. The NPT is a landmark international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.  But we should definitely have a glance as to how the nuclear politics is affecting the way nuclear weapons are being produced and used in India. Since ‘umbrella protection’ is provided by India and China to Bangladesh while India is being the largest protector of Bangladesh due to the geographical location of being close to each other.

India, the biggest democratic country around the world, started to produce nuclear weapons with the intention of aspiring for great power status among other nations and its sense of insecurity due to being a hostile nation to a few countries like Pakistan and China. Even though it is evident that China is completely focused on the strategic thinking of its relationship with the United States due to being the nearest competitor in terms of economic growth, there are still doubts as to whether it finds India a hostile nation. To introduce, China is a unitary one-party sovereign state. Historically, it is assumed that India has produced nuclear weapons when China introduced it. China had technological advantage over India before the peaceful 1974 nuclear explosion and they had developed a political relation that explains how China ignores the existence of nuclear programs in India but remains aware that India might conduct another explosion if it collaborates with the US whereas India is constantly on the run to ensure the quality development of the nuclear weapons in their own country keeping China’s quality as the benchmark. In the case of Pakistan, India already had a sour relation due to the religious differences that exist-Hindus and Muslims. Pakistan is a Muslim majority country which has been separated from India after being independent of the British Empire in 1947. This has led to the conflict which is still ongoing as to which country the city of Kashmir should belong to. With the city being the tool of conflict, the introduction of Islamic fundamentalists like Taliban or Al-Qaeda has led to the relation to be never-ending sour. Moreover, Pakistan has received assistance from China for nuclear production. And China agreed to provide support due to the fact that India is an ally of the United States, which was the first nation to test nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War 2. The United States is one of the five nuclear weapons states with a declared nuclear arsenal under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), of which it was an original drafter and signatory on 1 July 1968 (ratified 5 March 1970).  Nevertheless, in July 2009, New Delhi designated two sites for U.S. companies to build nuclear reactors in India. But a nuclear liability law passed by the Indian parliament in August 2010 is causing a rift with U.S. nuclear suppliers. In fact, the only thing common between India and Pakistan is that they produce nuclear weapons and did not sign the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty). When the relation of Pakistan and China with the US became hostile, Pakistan has become more and more dependent on China for nuclear support in order to deter threats from India. Moreover, the US is building a strategic alliance with India for nuclear weapons due to the fact that China has a strong rivalry with the US. With the interrelationship between the US, China, India, and Pakistan, it has become evident as to why the possession of nuclear weapons itself becomes a threat to a nation.

However, Bangladesh is not a hostile country and it has not yet faced any threats from any country for a nuclear attack. There is a clear understanding among the security forces as to how to deal with the uncertainty despite the ‘umbrella protection’ providing security. Bangladesh must embrace for enhancing national security intelligence to detect any nuclear threats and focus on radiation survival strategies from such attacks since being a member of a nuclear club is very expensive and unsafe. Moreover, India has the intention of building a nuclear plant in Bangladesh. India, Bangladesh, and Russia have signed a tripartite memorandum of understanding (MoU) for cooperation in the construction of the Rooppur nuclear power plant in Bangladesh. This can be a message of threat for Bangladesh if the production of nuclear weapons suddenly attracts any of the citizens to produce. Despite all the uncertainty, we believe that by signing the NPT, we are introducing peace and inspiring other nations to introduce peace by avoiding the unnecessary costs of producing nuclear weapons.

Bangladesh has an unstable relationship with India regarding water sharing for Ganges Rivers which has been going on for 35 years. The Ganges is a trans-boundary river of Asia which flows through the nations of India and Bangladesh. The Hooghly, or Adi Ganga, flows through several districts of West Bengal and into the Bay of Bengal near Sagar Island. The other, the Padma, also flows into and through Bangladesh and also empties into the Bay of Bengal. Despite the fact, that a comprehensive bilateral treaty was signed by Indian Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid on 12 December 1996 in the Indian capital of New Delhi for a just water resource divide, Bangladesh believes that India is drawing excessive water by building dams and barrages and the amount allocated to Bangladesh is unjust and insufficient. Due to the allegations, the relation between Bangladesh and India as a neighboring country becomes a matter of question. Instead of going deeply as to how the relationship is getting affected, we need to understand as to how lack of proper access to water is creating a drawback on the well-being or security of Bangladesh. Water security is essential for health, wellbeing, economic, sustainability of climate and political stability. Bangladesh is a lower riparian, river-reign country. There are 808 rivers in Bangladesh where most rivers rise from Himalayan reign and fall into the Bay of Bengal. There are 57 trans-boundary rivers that Bangladesh shares with her neighboring countries; 54 with India and 3 with Myanmar. In spite of the long-term treaty, Bangladesh still does not get the amount of water that she supposed to get according to the treaty. The Gorai, which is the main tributary, carrying water to the south-west region becomes totally dry at the beginning of the lean period. The most devastating effect of the diversion of the Ganges water has been caused by the increase in salinity, both in surface and groundwater leading to higher soil salinity in the south-west region of Bangladesh. Since the Farakka Barrage withdrawals commenced, the salinity ingress pattern in the area has a tendency of the cumulative increase due to residual deposits which would further exacerbate the relation if the present pattern of Ganges flow continues. As a matter of fact, when salinity increases, more and more lands become barren. Bangladesh carries out most of its agricultural activities by using water from rivers, wells, and tube-wells.  So increasing salinity means the presence of arsenic and using that water in agriculture, Bangladesh loses the output that could have been gained from food production. Farakka Barrage has been the main reason for the drastic drop of the sediment carried by the rivers to the Bay of Bengal from an annual about two billion tonnes to only about one billion. As a result, the coastal land elevation and normal delta formation processes have taken place to a significant extent and this makes Bangladesh more vulnerable to the climate challenge of global warming due to sea level rise. This can have a serious consequence on food security. Regardless of the tension, both India and Bangladesh have realized the importance of using their water-connectivity for making transportation more cost-effective and environment-friendly.


When water security is already in crisis due to tensions from India, imagine what it would be like if the country decides to introduce nuclear submarines for its hostility with Pakistan in the Bay of Bengal or the Indian Ocean? Geographically, it is quite evident that the Ganges Rivers flow to the Indian Ocean through the Bay of Bengal. So, whatever happens in the Indian Ocean does not really affect the quality of water nearby. Nevertheless, let’s assume that the future is simply uncertain. Pakistan says its decision to add nuclear weapons to its navy is a direct response to India’s August 2016 deployment of its first nuclear submarine, the Arihant. In fact, it is almost impossible to detect nuclear submarines which will give the enemy nation a great advantage of surviving a nuclear strike which will, in turn, launch a devastating second-strike response beneath the ocean. And if it falls in the hands of the terrorists, this can pose a huge risk to the security and peace of the nations. Since we cannot guarantee as to how and where terrorists will carry out their attacks. No one really thought that Dhaka Artisan Attack would ever happen in Bangladesh. This questions that how terrorists will use the nuclear weapons and if it uses in the water as nuclear submarines, it will be much more difficult for Bangladesh to face another reality. Although high hopes still exist that this will never happen if God wills. Not only that, the increasing leakage of plutonium and radioactive materials in the water will make it toxic to use causing a pollution to the water which is essential to be kept clean, posing a threat to climate change. A scientific challenge can have a negative effect on how the climate efforts the environmentalists are using to reduce Bangladesh from being affected by the climate changes. Bringing up a certain amount of challenges, it will help us to figure out what steps we can take and solutions we can draw. Since without having an ounce of understanding or prediction, it will come as a shock to all of us and remain freeze instead of fighting it with all our best to save our dear nation.


read more Security Complexities of South Asia and its impact on the integrity of SAARC

With the ongoing tension between so many countries and our country being small and vulnerable, it feels impossible to feel safe anymore. Bangladesh is a small country with a huge population and a war in a neighbor country can cause a huge impact on the nation’s performance whether economically, environmentally or politically. We have to work together to bring an inclusive solution in order to make all the people of neighboring countries the importance of peace. The benefits of peace are not confined to only loss of status, but also the harmony and happiness of a nation which unfortunately is not yet taken into account like GDP is. We should ignore the past wounds and focus on building a future based on ideas that support peace. Since without peace, the world is nothing but empty.


Jafreen Alamgir
student, Asian University for Women



works cited

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