The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) came into being in 1949 in the aftermath of World War II. The first NATO Secretary General, Lord Ismay, famously stated the organisation’s goal was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” With the end of the Cold War and the Warsaw Pact, one of the main premises upon which the NATO military alliance was formulated was gone. The alliance began to look for a new purpose and identity that would keep it united against emerging threats. The war against terror has proven to be one such unifying factor, as has dealing with rogue dictators that threaten western interests, such as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi.
The emergent world, however, has become increasingly multi-polar in nature, represented in the form of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Additionally the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) represents the interests of Central Asian states, and is thought of as the BRICS security arm. India, Pakistan and Iran maintain an observer status on the SCO. It is of special interest to study the connection between BRICS and the SCO, and their reaction to events in countries impacted by the Arab Spring and their position on the developments of the AfPak region.
The cooperation and competition between established and emerging powers is now playing out in key strategic regions of the world, most recently in Libya and Syria. In both cases, the positions of BRICS nations were in stark contrast to western powers. In the case of Libya, these nations – including Germany – abstained from voting on the Security Council resolution 1973.
In the recent vote on Syria, Russia and China both vetoed the resolution meant for punishing Syria. The resolution received 9 votes in favour, while India, Brazil, South Africa and Lebanon abstained. Germany this time opted to vote for imposing sanctions on Syria. The role of Turkey, a NATO member, has also been noteworthy. Although it has maintained an aggressive posture towards Israel recently, in the case of Libya and Syria its position has shifted more in line with NATO. This is in contrast to Turkey’s stance towards the Iraq war in 2003.
To explore the role of BRICS and SCO towards the AfPak region further, we examined the views expressed at a conference held at the Woodrow Wilson Center in June, titled, BRICS: Shaping the New Global Architecture. We especially focused on the comments of Da Wei, who is the Director of the Presidents Office, China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR); Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor in Chief of Russia in Global Affairs; and Inderjit Singh, Professor of National Strategy at the National War College, US National Defense University.
In expressing his views, Da Wei distinguished the role of BRICS countries and the SCO, and avoided making any comparison of the SCO with NATO, or any comment on the role of the SCO in Afghanistan. He clarified that the BRICS are focused on global economic and political affairs while the SCO is more concerned with security issues. He added that BRICS membership is open to other countries and is a forum for emerging powers to dialogue amongst member countries and with other institutions like the SCO. He clarified further that both BRICS and the SCO are not very “strict-tight” organisations.
On the other hand, Fyodor Lukyanov emphasised the role of the SCO in Afghanistan and stated that, “The SCO now is primarily about Afghanistan because this [is] a matter of huge concern for all countries of Central Euro Asia [because of the question of] what will happen in Afghanistan after American and NATO exit, and no body can answer it.” He added that NATO should be very much interested and should encourage the SCO to take over the settlement of this issue and that it’s the only organisation that is very well-placed to take on this responsibility.
In contrast, while speaking to PoliTact, Dr Inderjist Singh stressed a regional solution to Afghanistan that includes the interests of India, Russia, China, and Iran. He noted that the invitation recently from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Afghan President Hamid Karzai to join the SCO does not carry much significance, as the country cannot yet ensure its own security – and that’s why the role of Pakistan is important. He commented that Pakistan should not attempt to marginalise the interests of the Northern Alliance and India through the Haqqani network because a stable solution for Afghanistan would have to involve regional powers and the route of negotiations would be better than the use of force.
The Chinese are clearly adopting a cautious posture as oppose to the more aggressive Russian stance. These differences in approach are obviously the result of their respective threat perceptions vis-à-vis the United States and Europe.
The future of the US presence in the region was also a central theme on the agenda of the SCO meeting held in mid June in Kazakhstan. At the meeting, President Medvedev commented that the future of Afghanistan was directly relational to security and stability in all SCO countries and most observer countries, and that the SCO must endeavour to increase cooperation and involvement in Afghanistan to try and ensure stability in a post-US scenario.
In a UN Security Council meeting on September 29th, Russia insisted Afghanistan must stay neutral after troops withdraw from the region. Russian deputy ambassador to the UN, Alexander Pankin said, “if Kabul sets a goal of restoring neutrality as early as now, this can ease the reconciliation dialogue with the opposition.” The diplomat told UN members that military means were not enough to stabilise Afghanistan. Pankin criticised NATO’s ineffectiveness in controlling the situation and warned militancy networks could spread to bordering countries. Russia and China both fear the situation in Afghanistan could destabilise the Central Asian states.
On the other hand, India warned on September 30th against hasty withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Hardeep Singh Puri stated the stability in the region can only be achieved once terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda and Taliban are rooted out of Afghanistan. US and Indian interests are no doubt convergent when it comes to the AfPak region, however, India has consistently taken a position against foreign intervention in both Libya and Syria.
Understanding the positions of the emerging powers has become paramount, as they will play an increasingly important role in determining the fate of existing and future conflicts.
The writer is the chief analyst for PoliTact (www.PoliTact.com and http:twitter.com/politact) and can be reached at [email protected]