ISTANBUL: In three questions, Ilyas Kemaloglu analyses the importance of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) for member countries and the new world order with the possible challenges the organisation is facing for Anadolu‘s Analysis Department.
Is SCO expanding against NATO?
After the end of the Cold War with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc in 1991, Russian officials began to question the existence of NATO.
For Kremlin, NATO’s presence should have ended after the dissolving of the Warsaw Pact.
However, NATO has continued its enlargement policy, and Moscow believes this policy directly targets Russia and each membership negotiation with NATO is causing tensions in its relations with Russia.
On the other hand, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia began integrating with neighbouring countries in the political, military, and economic spheres.
Russia has tried to deepen its cooperation with the former Soviet countries by establishing some organisations such as the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), and the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).
The Shanghai Five, comprising China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan, was formed in 1996. Five years later, Uzbekistan joined to formally establish the SCO, which was initially considered an alternative to NATO.
As a result of Russia and China’s cooperation with the Central Asian countries within the SCO, the US military presence in the region ended, and Western countries’ influence over the Central Asian countries has been minimised.
Later, India, Pakistan, and Iran joined the organisation, while Afghanistan, Belarus, and Mongolia received observer status.
After Saudi Arabia’s decision to join the organisation in March, SCO drew attention from the international community once again.
The question once posed by Kremlin to NATO “Who is it expanding against?” is now being directed towards the SCO by Western countries.
The fact that Saudi Arabia’s decision coincided with Finland’s NATO membership has once again brought the SCO’s anti-NATO image to the public.
What is the importance of SCO for member countries and the ‘new world order’?
Leaders of SCO member countries have always stated that the organisation is not an alternative to NATO. But the enlargement of SCO has increasingly been seen as a centre of the “multipolar world order” that Russia and China have been advocating for.
There are several reasons that Russia and China pursue this policy for multipolar world order: Russia and China have deteriorating relations with the US, due to Russia’s Ukraine war and China’s Taiwan issue, respectively.
Both countries are upset with US hegemony, the expansion of NATO, the collaboration of the US and EU against Russia and China, and the double standards applied by some international organisations under the influence of the US.
On the other hand, SCO is an important organisation for each member or observer country, and it is one of the doors opening to the world for Russia.
For the Central Asian countries, SCO plays a role in providing security guarantees against possible foreign-backed color revolutions.
For India and Pakistan, the US is pursuing a repressive policy against their interests, and SCO membership is important to balance US power.
Taliban in Afghanistan seeks to legitimise its power through SCO as Iran seeks to get rid of its international isolation imposed by the West.
Mongolia, which is squeezed between Russia and China, is trying to develop its economic relations with neighboring countries through SCO.
The expansion of SCO also reinforces energy cooperation, as well as trade relations among member countries.
Therefore, Saudi Arabia’s decision to become a member of organisations to increase cooperation with member countries in energy and economy did not surprise anyone. It is expected that other countries would follow Saudi Arabia to join SCO.
What are the challenges facing SCO?
SCO points out that the potential of its member countries in the economic, energy, and military, as well as the organisation’s power, should not be underestimated.
However, there are some challenges for SCO to become more active in the region and the main actor of the “multipolar new world order” led by Russia and China.
China and Russia have disputes despite their rapprochement in recent years. They have some disagreements over the SCO. Moscow emphasises the security and military aspects of the organisation, while Beijing focuses the economic cooperation.
The organisation’s inability to pursue a unified policy can be attributed to factors such as intermittent India-Pakistan tensions and unresolved border disputes among the Central Asian countries.
This has resulted in the SCO’s limited involvement in crucial regional matters such as the Syrian war, the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, and the Uzbek-Kyrgyz conflict.
In addition to the positive results of the enlargement of the SCO, there will also be negative consequences of its expansion.
Despite the recent agreement over reestablishing diplomatic ties between the two countries, Saudi Arabia’s acceptance of the SCO will introduce the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia to the organisation.
Essentially, each member state of the SCO has its own agenda within the organisation, making it challenging to establish a unified policy, particularly in politics.
Nevertheless, the SCO is becoming more attractive not only for the Eurasia and Asia-Pacific countries but also for the Middle Eastern nations.
This is due to these countries in the Middle East discomfort with the current unipolar world order, their quest for alternative ways to enhance their powers, to ally with powerful countries such as Russia, China, and India, and taking advantage of this collaboration in security and economics.