Global Firepower Ranking 2023: Implications for Bangladesh
For a country to showcase its national strength, military capability and coercive endurance, power becomes an important denominator in international politics. Despite the renewed focus on ideational power exercised by countries be it in international forums, ideology and diplomacy, military power remains the core tool of any country to advance its security image in international relations. Global Firepower (GFP) is an internationally recognised ranking system to understand the military rankings, status and development of countries. In its recent issue, the Global Firepower 2023 ranks Bangladesh as the first paramilitary power and 12th "Powers on the Rise" in the world, a milestone achievement for a South Asian country only after India and Pakistan.
However, what constitutes power itself, remains a contested definitional pursuit among scholars, academicians and practitioners in international relations. Joseph Nye, an influential scholar on American foreign policy, stated that power is not only about commanding others to do something rather it is also about persuading others to get what one wants. This suggests power can be both soft power or hard power, where soft power includes economic pursuit or diplomacy and hard power includes military strength, defence and warfare equipment. Such soft/hard-power distinction may not always be a useful analytical tool to understand a country's influence in global politics, but certainly understanding a country's military capabilities in numbers can provide a brief overview of a country's position in the global armament landscape.
Global Firepower (GFP) Index illustrates a country's conventional fighting capability measured by eight categorical groups such as financials, geography, manpower, airpower, land forces, naval forces, natural resources, and logistics. Under these categorical groups, the index uses over 60 factors to calculate the comparative military strength of each country – standardised by the perfect Power Index (PwrIndx) value of 0.0000. Currently, Global Firepower (GFP) comprises 145 nations in its list with an expanding range each year.
The USA, Russia and China top the first three positions of the 2023 GFP list with PwrIndx of 0.0712, 0.0714 and 0.0722, respectively. Comparatively, the USA excels in airpower, logistics and geography, whereas Russia excels in manpower, land power, naval power, natural resources and financials. Similarly, China excels in manpower, naval power, land power and financials over the USA. For South Asia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh tops the list with PwrIndx of 0.1025, 0.1694 and 0.5871 respectively. The ranks of India (4th), Pakistan (7th) and Bangladesh (40th) describe the stark power imbalance in the region.
In comparison, India and Pakistan both hold a stronger advantage over Bangladesh in almost all categories. However, one interesting finding is that Bangladesh, given its relatively small square land (143,998 km), shared border (4413 km), coastline (580 km) and waterways (8370 km), still holds the upper hand over India in its geographical position. The reason for this is that Bangladesh has significant shared borders and a critical coastline on the Bay of Bengal with strategic maritime advantage.
Global Firepower (GFP) Index illustrates a country's conventional fighting capability measured by eight categorical groups such as financials, geography, manpower, airpower, land forces, naval forces, natural resources, and logistics.
One of the main strengths of Bangladesh is its population counting over 165 million. This fact can be acutely observed in the manpower category of Bangladesh, where in all of the indicators (available manpower, paramilitary, fit-for-service, reaching military age annually, total military personnel, active personnel and air force/army/navy personnel) the country tops among the first 32. The country currently hosts the world's largest paramilitary force combining 6,800,000 personnel, making it first in the GFP list. Also, the country has one of the largest active military forces in the world with around 7 million personnel. This might be one of the finest examples of a country's security landscape bound with territorial limitation, that a heavy population can act as an asset if mobilised effectively.
Bangladesh's military modernisation has been facilitated by the increased defence expenditure of the government. Starting in 2009, Bangladesh Armed Forces has focused on modernising its core forcesincluding the Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Navy and Bangladesh Air Forces often known as Force Goal 2030. The programme facilitated numerous upgradation programmes of tanks, tank missiles, light armoured vehicles, radar and aviation equipment, etc. Under this modernisation programme, Bangladesh currently stands 40th globally in terms of defence spending, amounting to USD 3.8 billion. In South Asia, the defence expenditure of Bangladesh ranks third only after India and Pakistan, which suggests in terms of strategic political calculation, the country is not limited only to soft power diplomacy.
However, the military landscape also suggests that Bangladesh is aptly equipped for conventional military warfare. On the contrary, the present global firepower landscape is increasingly shifting to the airspace and airborne military equipped with high-range missiles, advanced AI technology and data-enabled geo-precision. Adaptation to the global tech-military landscape will require heavy investmentin military research and technology. Hence, Bangladesh needs to focus on increased R&D investment in the defence sector, instead of merely importing the logistics from other countries. This will enable the country to gather sufficient footing in the military research industry as well.
GFP 2023 signifies the fact that modern firepower capabilities depend not only on expenditure-reliant armed forces of a country's army, navy or air power, rather financialisation, logistics and geography also play a major role in determining a country's rank. Increased intra-state conflicts, growing polarisation, external allied pressure and existing security dilemmas all contributed to an increased securitisation and advancement of military power in recent decades. For South Asia, the implication will not only cover the uneasy tension between India and Pakistan, but also will extend to the other countries as well. Bangladesh's gradual climbing up in the ranks is the best example of this – that regional geopolitics has significant implications for a country's modernising military tendency.
Towkir Hossain is a Dhaka-based research analyst on international affairs and strategic issues.