SCO through the eyes of America and Europe
18.12.2008 10:52

RIA Novosti political observer Andrei Fediashin – specially for InfoSCO

America and Europe looked attentively at SCO a long time and wouldn’t understand, where to place this exotic, by Western standards, organization? Mixture of the Russian bear and the Chinese dragon, flavoured with " Shakherezada tales" from the Central Asian part of the Silk Route. There was so much exotics in the new establishment, while distinctions between countries seemed so big, that it could make everyone pause...

The 2009 year seems to be critical for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization from every side. It will be a year of transition to new quality standards. In all respects.

In 2008-2009 Russia is Chairman of the SCO. According to the European Union experience, where chairmanship of member states is changeable too, the state, taking over the leading duty, always tries to draw attention by something significant, to influence the organization development, further movement vector. The President Dmitry Medvedev and the Prime Minister Vladimir Putin believe that the world financial crisis, ironically enough, will help the SCO to become firmly established in a new geopolitical situation. World’s remagnetization to multipolarity (and there is no doubt this process is getting under way) must give an impetus to SCO too: the Organization is obliged to get its special "polar" attraction.

And the fact is not somebody from the "Six" tries to use "difficulties of the moment", to practice on the fact that the US previous administration has already left, and the new one has not come into force yet. This thesis is advanced mostly by neoconservatives from the Bush administration that does not want to understand, how far the world has gone since the beginning of the 1990s. And how Russia, China and attitude toward America changed as well; what new international organizations are now. But there is another problem. Numerous examples of history show that global crisis, generating new decisions, at the same time give new instruments and mechanisms. SCO is just the case.

Any organization activity is determined by what it has “under its belt”, and what it is working on now. But there is another very important indicator, it is necessary to take into account when defining influence and efficiency of each international structure. Its sense is the following: who, what, how and how much is mentioned. Frequency of abbreviation of any international organization’s name in the press, expert circles, scholarly disputes, at seminars, in diplomats’ and state officials’ mouth? It is almost like a barometer: the more frequently a name is heard – the higher its authority is.

I always liked to look at things through “somebody else’s eyes” - in such a way they look more prominent, the good and the bad become more apparent. So, how does SCO look "sideways"?

America and Europe looked attentively at SCO a long time and wouldn’t understand, where to place this exotic, by Western standards, organization? Mixture of the Russian bear and the Chinese dragon, flavoured with " Shakherezada tales" from the Central Asian part of the Silk Route. There was so much exotism in the new establishment, while distinctions between countries seemed so big, that it could make everyone pause.

Many things were incomprehensible for the European mind. But as for the American one, in the Bush era that confirmed a primitive representation of the world around to a wonder, almost nothing was understandable. Since 2001, when SCO was formed, the USA could not believe that these very "bear and dragon" without prejudice to anyone can become established on the Silk Route and create something useful. That is why Washington reacted very sluggishly to all SCO’s movements. However in 2005 the Americans made a lukewarm attempt to become the SCO observer, but the matter did not advance.

When SCO became more serious than they thought, they made an attempt to pass it for something like a new "Warsaw pact," a counterbalance to NATO, and scare the whole Asian region. But eventually they had to refuse this unjustified postulate.

Presently, the Americans assert that as yet they can not understand at all, what SCO is and where it is going to. “Ask the Russian, Chinese, Kirghiz or Uzbek, what the SCO agenda should be, and you will hear four quite different answers. Somebody wants to focus on security, somebody on economics, somebody on the "three evils” (narcotics, terrorism, smuggling), and somebody else – on pressure on international organizations.” Such an assessment was recently given by Evan Feigenbaum, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, and yet there are no other opinions.

But without knowing what SCO is, the Americans begin to prescribe where it is to go. "Maybe It would be best for them to begin with agenda, we and our partners carry out in the region.” No more, no less. Feigenbaum further unscrambles, what exactly it means: to offer comprehensive aid to the USA in Afghanistan and to abandon attempts to create certain "energy clubs." The USA understands by this the SCO countries integration with the view of mining activities in the Caspian and oil transmission pipeline construction towards China, India, and Pakistan. All that happens without the USA’s taking part in it is already considered as foreign-policy and economic heresy, for it affects and infringes upon Washington’s interests, so they begins to cross swords with it.

Actually neither of the SCO members affirms that the Americans hold no interests in the Silk Route. Sure enough, they do. But nobody can understand why Washington also wants to control traffic here?

As far as SCO is concerned the USA begins increasingly to bring up a subject of absolute incompatibility of Russia’s and China’s interests. There are two theses. The first one: Moscow and Beijing, on a stand-alone basis are no good match as partners in view of deep difference of foreign-policy aims. And the second one: Moscow and Beijing together do not suit all the other SCO members, so long as they would depress their national interests, sovereignty and aspiration for democracy... All the same the President Medvedev was absolutely right, when he told that American Sovietologists? are endangered species because they use the last century’s templates.

In the offing China and Russia, no matter what reaction it can cause from outside, will remain major players of SCO. Their participation there is a principal benefit of the organization. To some degree they resemble the two most voluminous passengers of one boat, which have to coordinate their bodily movements to prevent the boat’s turnover. It is them which the USA starts hunting for.

Under new administration of President Barack Obama the Central Asia becomes ever more important region in geopolitical games of Washington. There is something behind a sudden change of his tone in his treatment of this part of the world. A refrain is heard from American diplomats like this: “to call all the Central Asian republics by a term “Central Asia" is pejoratively, disrespectfully” etc. Only those can do like this who practically do not respect national sovereignty of original nations being part of the region, and use them as pawns in their geopolitical chess. But as for us (Washington), we do not do it; that is why they should reach for us solely. While Moscow and Beijing “uses” Central Asia.

If to take the trouble to think over such assertions, their absurdity will become obvious at once. Generally speaking, “art of use” is what diplomacy is all about. On their part the Central Asian countries “use" Moscow, Beijing, Washington, and the EU as well.

Membership in SCO, for example, does not prevent Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan from being the most active partners of NATO’s “Partnership for Peace”programme or others jointly with the USA or North Atlantic Alliance in the field of military security. Tajikistan receives from the United States a solid support for the development of its state border. To date Washington has granted to Dushanbe $40 million for reconstruction, building and equipment purchasing for 15 frontier posts at the Tajik-Afghan border. American instructors train Tajik border guard, and, at the same time, supply their Kazakh and Uzbek colleagues with special cutters to control the Caspian and the Aral. The USA has almost completed the Kirghiz and Tajik drug enforcement administration with hardware and equipment. It also helps Kirghizia to upgrade Russian MI-8 helicopter gunship. In Kazakhstan American companies altogether are on a level with Russia and China by size of foreign investments - 30% of the whole portfolio...

The Americans have never been notable for refinement of their foreign-policy propaganda, whereas Europe is much more tactful in respect to SCO. It has already begun the process of its relations reconsideration with Central Asia. Last year Brussels developed and approved the “The EU and Central Asia: Strategy for a New Partnership” long term programme valid till 2013. One of the leading European experts of the Central Asian region, former director of the well-established Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Alyson Bailes believes that SCO is a very solid mechanism to maintain stability and security not only in Central Asia, but in the Asian region as a whole.

“However high or low we assess the possibility of conflict between China and Russia after the cold war period”, she writes in a special research for the Council of the European Union, “SCO is constructed so that to avoid, either by a deterrent device, or positive management of both states and their common interests in Central Asia. It is of somewhat ironic that SCO’s manageable format also offered Central Asia a basis for accurate calculation of their traditional exercise in balancing between Moscow and China, western and oriental friends.

SCO advanced much farther than others in the case of the Central Asian nations’ involvement in real tasks performance. If SCO manages to open channels for Chinese investments in coordinated infrastructure projects and other plans of specific development in the whole Central Asia, then everybody will only gain from it. Moreover, a wide “cooperation menu” offered by SCO to its members, also means cooperation at “prior national" level – between businessmen, parliamentarians, various types of players. And that is already “progressive versatility.” A western expert’s very capacious thought.

After all, there is no use to have illusions that “good Europe” unlike the USA, is ready to accept SCO as an equal international partner. Europe is just looking closely at it so far.

As a matter of fact, SCO, to be quite frank, has just confined itself to declaring its readiness to consolidate its relations with European organizations. For the time being links are formalized only with UN and ASEAN Regional Forum on Security. Europe is informed of SCO from its member states, and not from the very organization. Though, according to the European Commission experts, Brussels is ready for relations development – jut to the level of observers’ exchange.

Brussels, unlike Washington takes as positive the fact that Iran is an observer in SCO. Europe believes that Tehran’s participation in any multilateral organization can help to “cultivate” the Iranian regime. Therefore, if the Shanghai Cooperation Organization takes step towards Europe in the new year, it will only gain from it.