ALTHOUGH intelligence plays an important role in making and shaping a state’s foreign and security policy, there is little or no public discussion of intelligence issues in Bangladesh. This is due to the fact that intelligence is thought to be an extremely ‘sensitive’ issue, which should be left only to the practitioners. The construction of intelligence as a sensitive issue has been facilitated by the colonial era Official Secrets Act 1923, and a host of post-colonial laws such as the East Pakistan Public Safety Act 1958, and the Special Powers Act 1974. To the dismay of many, successive governments have exploited these laws to legitimize the use of intelligence for political purposes. The Right to Information Act 2009 failed to shred the culture of secrecy, as Section 32 of the Act gives immunity to principal intelligence agencies from being questioned by citizens.

We feel that Intelligence is hardly a sensitive issue to be left only to practitioners. Given the potential role it can play in the management of national security and the formulation of foreign policy, a constructive dialogue on intelligence is necessary, and, in order to so, one needs to look at the changing concepts and theories of national security and foreign policy, and their effect on intelligence practitioners.

Broadly speaking, intelligence refers to a cyclical process of defining needs, collection, processing and analysis of information, and the dissemination of such information to decision-makers. And intelligence analysis is sharply different from academic analysis. This is due to the fact that intelligence analysts are more interested in supporting the policy process, whereas academic analysts prioritize theory building.

Despite the gaps that exist between intelligence analysts and academic experts, there are also possibilities for cooperation. One crucial example would be the U.S. National Intelligence Council’s consultation with the academia in writing and re-writing the Global Trend reports, which illustrates how the practitioners can benefit from academic experts.

In what ways can intelligence contribute to the national security decision makers and foreign policy practitioners? According to Mark Lowenthal, a renowned intelligence practitioner in the United States, intelligence services can make four major contributions to policymaking: by avoiding strategic surprise, by providing long-term expertise, by supporting the policy process; and by maintaining secrecy of the information, needs, and methods. Modern nation-states recognize the need for professional intelligence agencies and construct an intelligence community that reflects their unique political and strategic cultures.

What is then national security and foreign policy? Strictly speaking, the term national security refers to the core values and vital interests of the state. The realist paradigm of international relations equates national security with the protection of territorial integrity, and national sovereignty of a state.  With the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, the realist notion of security has come under challenge from various sources. This has led to the emergence of an alternative approach to security, which is called human security or non-traditional security.

Prussian military strategist Otto von Bismarck once defined foreign policy as the extension of a state’s domestic policy. Modern nation states have established the ministry of foreign affairs to articulate their foreign policy goals and to conduct their relations with external actors. The external relations of a state may include diverse issues, such as development and trade, energy and environment, as well as interactions with regional and international organizations. Although the process of foreign policy formulation and implementation often involves various stakeholders in a state, the realist theory of IR rejects such plural decision process.

While the concepts of national security and foreign policy represent two separate domains, there are strong linkages between them. Most academics and practitioners would agree that states tend to pursue their foreign policy in such a way, which would enhance, and not undermine, their national security. Similarly, the national security strategy of a state would be consistent with its foreign policy priorities. Put simply, a state’s national security and foreign policy priorities need to be consistent with each other’s.

The changing notion of national security has enormous challenges to foreign policy practitioners. While in the past, states would mostly direct the intelligence agencies to collect information on the decision process of target nations, the stock of military capability in enemy states, and the order of battle of rival powers, states are now required to monitor their human security standards more closely than before, and to ensure that they are compliant with international human rights law and humanitarian law. Even security forces, fighting intra-state wars or inter-state wars, are under constant surveillance to ensure compliance with the Geneva Conventions and other laws of war.

States failing to respect human rights risk become the targets of international condemnation, sanctions, and humanitarian or military intervention. For instance, in light of the political impasse prior to the January 2014 national elections in Bangladesh, a New York Times editorial on November 20, 2013 warned the Bangladesh Government that “If violations of rights [against opposition leaders] continue, Bangladesh could face pressure, including perhaps sanctions, from the international community.” The wording of the NYT editorial had a quick effect. It prompted the Bangladeshi ambassador to Washington  to send a rejoinder defending the position of the government and its actions against opposition leaders. We have also seen how the BNP-led opposition alliance has come under intense pressure from the European Union and the United States to abandon any political strategy which disregards the protection of innocent civilians.

In summary, the paradigm shift from national security to human security has serious implications for the operations of security and intelligence practitioners, as well as for the incumbent government and the opposition parties in a state.

 [This is an excerpt of a paper presented at the seminar on Intelligence, National Security, and Foreign Policy held at the University of Dhaka on March 15, 2014]


The writer is Associate Professor of International Relations at the University of Dhaka and member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), London.
MARCH 19, 2014


About Ehsan Abdullah

An aware citizen..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s