It’s that time of year again. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization Annual Summit! The meeting will be held in Dushanbe, Tajikistan on August 28, and foreign ministers from all six of its member states have already concluded a meeting going over a few topics to be discussed at the larger summit. The group of ministers decided that no new members, not Iran, Pakistan, Mongolia, or India (all have Observer Status), will be enshrined, but that a SCO Dialogue Partners mechanism will be instituted to increase cooperation between the organization and these important neighbors. During last years meeting, the main topic of media/geopolitical debate was the appearance of Iran’s President Ahmadinejad, who brought with him Iran’s ‘right to have nuclear energy’ and his own bombastic style of speaking and railing against the US. Well, he’s back for more. Iran will lose some spotlight this year, as Russia’s actions in Georgia and China’s Olympic spectacle will take center stage once again. Both dominating members of this alliance will come with their chests bursting.
The debate of the SCO’s nature and actual power, and how these may affect US policy and influence in Central Asia, have been major topics since its existence in 2001. Is it a rival, partner, both? How well does it function? Does it provide benefits to its CA members or does it only provide a venue for China and Russia to dominate them? Well, the host of Summit, Tajik President Rahmon seems to be quite excited about the upcoming meeting and the SCO’s accomplishments so far. “The SCO has demonstrated specific results in the years of its existence, and its future is cloudless.” Rahmon went on to discuss how important its relations with Russia and China were, which is indeed obviously true. The US State Department view of the SCO is not as glowing, but not fearful either, at least not in the words of Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Evan A. Feigenbaum. He acknowledges that the US does not have a clear idea of what the SCO is and does, but is quick to assert that it ‘is no Warsaw Pact’ and that there are many shared interests between the US and the Organization’s professed goals: border security, economic development, Afghanistan stability, and defeating radical terrorist elements. However, Feigenbaum draws a firm line when it comes to supporting the region’s smaller states’ sovereign and independent rights to look in all ‘four directions of the compass’ for economic and strategic opportunities, i.e. he wants the states to be able to look and work with the West, not just be dominated by Russia or China.
A perennial concern for the growth of the SCO as a regional and international powerhouse is the relationship, or lack thereof, between Russia and China. The two have been getting along nicely in past years, and have used the SCO to work out many differences between the two Great Powers, especially regarding border demarcations. But man, oh man, do they have some fundamental differences, as any two large nations would who share an extensive border. In fact, they both desire to use the SCO to cooperate in CA, but also to get their individual interests in the region’s resources further embedded. In many ways, its pipeline vs. pipeline and gas deal vs. gas deal between the two. But there have been very few times of crisis/conflict between the two growing powers and the SCO probably deserves some credit for this smooth management.
So how do you see the SCO changing, evolving in the recent geopolitical context? Are its motivations the same? Is its power the same? Does it help the CA states autocrats keep their hold on power? How will the recent Georgian-Russian conflict and the terrorist attacks in Xinjiang Province affect this year’s meeting and future policies of the organization? What about the Observer States? What about them? Should they allow Iran in and receive energy help but diplomatic pain? Is there any chance in Nirvana that India might become a Full Member?
On a less geopolitically fun note, The Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) will have an important summit on September 25 featuring high level officials. Here is a short article discussing the organization’s positive elements and some of its challenges in being an effective force for economic development in the region.