“We need a holistic understanding of what is happening,” said Maj Gen Muniruzzaman, referring to the various global trends of 2022. “For example, forces of populism are driving the politics in many nations. The demography is a critical issue too. We live in a data driven world, but again data nationalism isn’t conducive to global cooperation. Then there are issues of food, water and energy. We are in the process of mega urbanisation. Mega cities are emerging, new cities are emerging all over.”

Continuing on the unfolding trends around the world, the BIPSS said, “We are going to experience a whole lot of changes in the current year. This is important for smaller nations to understand too so we don’t go into strategic shock. We have to look out for ‘black swans’ like possible solar geo-magnetic events that would wipe out communications and other technology upon which we have become so dependent.”

Picking up on trade and economic trends, economist Debapriya Bhattacharya, distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said the major dimension of global trends at present is the pandemic and vaccinations. He pointed to the disparity in vaccinations, saying that while in the developed world, 2 out of 3 persons were vaccinated, in the developing world this was 1 out of 9. The question was whether this gap would reduce in the coming days. Men were more vaccinated than women, the urban population more than the rural.

Continuing on the vaccine issue, he said, “The cost of the vaccine remains an enigma to us. It is said to cost between 2 dollars to 40 dollars, depending on the source. A way to reduce costs is to do away with the intellectual property rights, even if just for some time. The US is on board about this, but the EU is reluctantly coming on board. But there are other problems too involving raw materials, manufacturing, cold storage chain and so on.” He felt that inequity in vaccine priorities will persist and new variants of the virus would remain a problem globally, and an important challenge to Bangladesh.

Coming to the issue of economic trends, Debapriya Bhattacharya said we have entered the third year of the pandemic. The year 2020 was a disruptive year. Then in 2021 things were being managed and optimism went up towards the end. “Unfortunately that optimism is now withering,” he said, pointing to various negative trends like the supply and demand imbalance, the commodity crisis, increasing costs in bank lending which was driving financial flows to developed countries, falling remittances and unfavourable trade trends.

In deliberating on ways to tackle these economic trends, he said 2022 will demand much more macroeconomic management. He recommended that strong vigilance be kept on remittance and exports. The positive development was an increase in foreign funds. He suggested structural reforms and means to prop up demands in the domestic economy.

The issue of security and technology trends was taken up by Shafqat Munir, research fellow and head of BCTR, BIPSS. On the topic of security, he spoke of potential flashpoints, new domains of warfare, hybrid warfare and the unabated arms race. The potential flashpoints included Ukraine, with Russia and Ukraine eyeball to eyeball. Then there was the Taiwan strait on the front burner again with strong advocacy within Taiwan for independence, escalating tensions with China. Tensions brewed between China and India too, which had distinct implications for Bangladesh. The Korean peninsula was another flashpoint, particularly with the launch of a medium range ballistic missile recently by North Korea. The South China Seas also sees new tensions.

Hybrid warfare is coming as a game changer
Shafqat Munir, research fellow and head of BCTR, BIPSS

Elaborating on the changing domains of warfare, Shafqat Munir said warfare was morphing into different variants. There was a militarisation of space. Tensions were shifting from land to sea as was evident in the competing strategies and naval exercises in the Indian Ocean. “Hybrid warfare is coming as a game changer,” continued Shafqat Munir, saying this would probably be further manifest in coming conflicts. He also pointed to the unabated arms race with the emergence of hypersonic weapons and more.

“Artificial intelligence will essentially determine what we do in coming days,” he said about the technology trends, adding, “In Bangladesh, we need to understand how to integrate AI and robotics in our lives. Our digital universe will be changed by metaverse, augmented reality. It is crucial for Bangladesh to be ahead of the curve.”

Lailufar Yasmin, professor of international relations at Dhaka University, presented her views on strategic and geopolitical trends. Starting with the issue of geo-economics, she spoke of the butterfly effect theory which could be exemplified by the outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan which has led to social, political and economic challenges all over. “The size of the global economy was already shrinking and this has been exacerbated,” she said.

We can’t talk of 2022 in isolation. It is the start of a new world. The pandemic had put the world in deep freeze from which we are now emerging.
Zafar Sobhan, Editor, Dhaka Tribune

Highlighting environmental issues, she pointed to how climate change had changed weather patterns with the onset of extreme winters and extreme summers. About the geo-political trends, she also pointed to Ukraine, the Korean peninsula, China and Taiwan, the growing significance of the Bay of Bengal with mechanisms like AUKUS emerging on the scene. She also highlighted the conflicts in Africa such as the recent developments in Burkina Faso.

On the social front, there was a growing aging population in western countries and so Bangladesh could look to exporting semi-skilled manpower to meet the consequent demand there, rather than unskilled labour as it had been doing. Lailufar Yasmin also pointed to mental health issues during the pandemic, including the stress of joblessness and so on.

The presentations were followed by a lively session of interaction and questions by the guests who included senior foreign diplomats, serving and former military and civil officials, former ambassadors, academics, journalists, students and others.

In his closing remarks, Zafar Sobhan, editor of the Dhaka Tribune, said, “We can’t talk of 2022 in isolation. It is the start of a new world. The pandemic had put the world in deep freeze from which we are now emerging.”

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