The secret of SCO alliance
On June 14-15, 2011, Kazakhstan’s capital Astana will be the focus of intent international attention: leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s member states will gather here for a summit. The organization has 6 full members, but there will be 12 participants, due to observers and dialog partners. It can be said with certainty that they will represent half of the world’s population.
As an eyewitness and participant of the two latest summits, in Yekaterinburg and Tashkent, I can insist that such events, marking the anniversaries of the SCO’s existence, are extremely attractive for the world. Anyway, several hundreds of journalists from different countries flock in to cover the event, and each “media bee” brings nectar to its hive. It doesn’t matter what they write, it’s their interest in the SCO that is important.
How can it be explained? Most probably, the reason is a certain secrecy that surrounds the organization. Foreign journalists admit that they cannot quite understand the image and goals of this “elusively strange” organization.
The abbreviation SCO emerged in the global politics ten years ago. As a Western journalist wrote, “in the muted chord of letters, it was easy to discern oriental, Asian symbols – wild winds of the steppe, subtle murmur of the desert, rustling wings of golden eagles… and hissing of a snake.”
The metaphors were not without poison, of course. Indeed, the most wide spread opinion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the West is that it is “an inscrutable and dangerous alliance.” I remember Parisian Professor Catherine Poujol speaking at an Issyk- Kul international expert conference devoted to the SCO and describing it as “powerful and terrible.”
The former title – “powerful” – doesn’t raise any doubts: the aggregate territory of the SCO member states makes up three fifth of Eurasia (30 million sq km), while their citizens make up one fourth of the world’s population. Including the countries that have the status of an observer or dialog partner will easily embrace half of the planet’s citizens.
As to the latter adjective – “terrible” – it is, no doubt, unfair and testifies to the lack of understanding of the SCO’s idea and values, the lack of impartial information.
So what is the SCO? Which bundle of energy created this international alliance? Inter-government unions do not emerge out of nowhere; everything has its reasons.
Speaking of the SCO’s genetic source, it goes back to the last years of the Soviet Union, when it began actively developing cooperation with China around their common border. Both countries then initiated drafting of measures of military trust and reduction of the armies on the border that were unique for Asia. This absolutely new for the continent process resulted in an important development: it created an atmosphere of mutual trust in a broader sense.
It stayed even after the Soviet Union broke up. Young sovereign nations emerged in Central Asia, and they were also oriented towards cooperation and trust. This positive process contributed to reaching a new quality of inter-state relations in this part of the world in the post-Soviet political reality.
The SCO founding fathers met in Shanghai on June 15, 2001, and the organization was named after the city. The life-changing forces of the historical process gathered regional neighbors there – they were brought closer by the harsh reality. The predecessor of the SCO was a political union that was interested in joint efforts to prevent terrorist attacks, separatism and extremism on the border and within the young Central Asian countries.
In the beginning, it was a “Shanghai Five”, but next year, after Uzbekistan joined in, it became a “Six” and was renamed as the SCO. In June 2002, at the St Petersburg summit of the SCO heads of state, the organization’s Charter was signed, and it started its chronicles.
In 2006, the SCO announced its plans to fight international drug mafia as the financial backbone of terrorism, and in 2008, it said it was going to actively participate in resolving Afghanistan’s problem.
Simultaneously, the organization became active in the economic sector. Its long-term goal is to create free trade zones within the SCO, and in the near term, it wants to boost the process of creating favorable conditions for trade and investment.
The SCO headquarters are located in Beijing. The organization has six members (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Uzbekistan, Russia and Tajikistan), four observers (India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan) and two dialog partners (Belarus and Sri Lanka). The SCO’s scope is the most of Eurasia.
At the same time as the SCO was born, the notion of “Shanghai spirit” emerged. It defines the general atmosphere and the ethical code of the organization. Its members chose consensus as their decision-making format and declared a high style of communication based on mutual respect, trust and tolerance. The countries are ready for mutual assistance and efficient cooperation; they are oriented towards joint development and exchange of humanitarian values.
The emergence of the SCO gave rise to the metaphor, “NA TO in the East.” But the SCO is not a military bloc, it is not a clenched fist threatening someone or a political sect. It is an alliance of countries that “have joined hands” to counteract the challenges of their time. It is also an absolutely new tool for resolving current problems in the reality of the multipolar world.
Speaking of the SCO’s political philosophy, it is based on adherence to the international law and the UN Charter. The SCO is transparent and oriented towards broad international cooperation; it is ready to work with anyone willing to do so. It has two working languages (Russian and Chinese) and two permanent bodies, the Secretariat in Beijing and the Executive Committee of the Regional Counter-Terrorism Structure in Tashkent. Economic cooperation within the organization is promoted by the Business Council and the SCO Interbank Consortium, both based in Moscow.
Today, cooperation within the SCO embraces the energy sector, transportation, agriculture, telecommunications and other industries. The member-states broadly interact in the research, technical, cultural, educational, tourist and humanitarian spheres, in environment protection and healthcare. Its “youth wing” has emerged, a discussion forum of the Energy Club has opened, and the SCO Network University is coming to life.
It is impossible not to recall the wonderful children’s exhibition “Children Painting Tales”, which has been travelling the SCO expanses with a great success. The unique project was designed and initiated by Irina Zakharova of the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum in Moscow, and was enthusiastically supported by the SCO Secretariat and all the leaders. Looking at the exposition lit by the pure light of young souls and the vivid imagination of the “SCO children”, one understands that the alliance has powerful braces to ensure its future.
At first sight, the SCO is not designed equal: there are two great powers – China and Russia – and four relatively small young sovereign Central Asian states – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. But, in line with the “Shanghai spirit”, there are no “majors” here, and no decision depends on the political or economic power of one of the members. The opinions of China with its population of over billion people and of small Tajikistan are equally important when working on and making decisions.
The supreme body of the SCO – the Heads of State Council – meets once a year. The countries preside in the organization one after another, for a year, ending their term at the summit. This time, the leaders will be gathering in Astana.
Remarkably, the Western press has recently been complimenting the SCO. Notably, Richard Colas of the L’Essentiel des Relations Internationales magazine, published an article on the SCO, where it is described as an “accomplished and influential international organization, attractive for many countries.”
The magazine says also that “based on mutual interest and trust, the SCO aspires for establishing a new economic and political order, balanced and sensible, both on the Asian continent and in the world, simultaneously working to maintain safety and stability in the region.” This is indeed a revolutionary assessment compared to the previous ones.
The joint declaration of cooperation between the secretariats of the SCO and the United Nations, which enriched the “Shanghai Six’s” international relations bank, was actually the act of recognition of the SCO on the part of the international community.
Of course, some UN divisions had been in contact with the SCO even before (the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the UN Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia). But the Tashkent joint declaration built the legal framework for the relations, creating a new incentive for the SCO-UN dialog. This area has wonderful cooperation opportunities.
A serious problem of the SCO, a true headache, is the problem of Afghanistan. Russia as the organization’s president in June 2008 – June 2009 seriously contributed to shaping new ideas about the SCO in Afghanistan. Notably, a significant part was played by the Moscow Afghanistan Conference, which was attended by all leading regional and world players engaged in the Afghanistan settlement, including the UN , the Collective Security Treaty Organization, NA TO, OSCE and some more.
Even Tashkent made proposals related to Afghanistan. It suggested a “6+3” contact group that would act under the auspices of the UN . This means that it will comprise plenipotentiaries from Afghanistan’s neighboring states, as well as from Russia, the United States and NA TO. Tashkent believes this advisory and diplomatic body would be able to achieve agreement both within and outside Afghanistan.
Sometimes, it seems that the Afghanistan problem, its notorious drug trafficking, is eternal: the poor Afghani peasants do need to survive and to feed their children, and there is no competitive alternative to poppy planting to ensure their earning their living. The problem is of extreme importance and requires a quick solution, which the entire world is trying to find. The SCO is also part of this global process. The solution is yet to be found, but, perhaps, some optimizing proposals will be voiced at the Astana summit.
What has the SCO succeeded with? First of all, it is security. Comparing the regional situation at the time when the SCO was being created with the current one, stabilization in the region in terms of security is obvious.
The future of the SCO is to a large extent determined by the draft resolution on admission of new members (there are quite a few aspirants). During its presidency, Tashkent drafted a resolution on admission of new members to the organization, and it is up to Astana to make the next step in this direction. The summit will show what it will be.
The Astana meeting of the SCO leaders will sum up the results of another SCO year, which lasts from June to June. The presidency will be taken over by China, and next year the SCO heads of state will gather in Beijing. Such is the life cycle of the SCO.
In today’s reality, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is a powerful inter-state union that has a huge potential and has fit well in the global political architecture. It is growing, gaining authority and political weight, and this is doubtless. Still, the main reason of its attractiveness is in its “commandments” that reflect such values as parity, consensus, trust, team spirit and respect of each other’s interests. Aren’t these the traits of the ideal each international partnership strives to achieve?