The 12th meeting of the Council of Heads of Member States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will be held from June 6 to 7 in Beijing. The gathering is taking place soon after the May Chicago conference in which Afghanistan topped the agenda. The concerns regarding the shape of NATO presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014 and the possibility of a hasty withdrawal, both have alarmed the neighborhood. This, however, is not the only issue worrying the members of SCO. Matters related to the turmoil in Middle East and North Africa are also aggravating anxiety.
As the humanitarian crisis worsens in Syria, the prospect of NATO intervention looks very real. During her visit to Denmark on Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that the case for military involvement is getting stronger, and she blamed the Russian policy for the potential civil war in Syria.
Many experts have raised alarm bells that military intervention in Syria will likely be a prelude to a wider regional war in the Middle East. The spillover effect is already being felt on Syria’s border with Turkey and Lebanon. While the West is increasingly perceived as using liberal values to intervene in other countries, China and Russia are alarmed by the growing trend of military intervention and use of force to bring about regime change.
“The consequence of hasty military operations in foreign states usually means that radicals come to power,” Russia’s former president Medvedev stated recently. “And sometimes these actions – which undermine state sovereignty – could result in a fully-fledged regional war. And even – although I do not want to scare anyone – the use of a nuclear weapon.”
Shangri-La Meeting And SCO Conference
The growing assertiveness of NATO and increasing chaos in Middle East and North Africa are raising the profile of SCO as a security organization. Among other issues, the organization has also been contemplating on when to upgrade the observer status of Pakistan, India and Iran to full membership. During the June meeting, Turkey is likely to be included as a dialogue partner, while Afghanistan is hoping to achieve an observer status.
The SCO meeting immediately follows Leon Panetta’s major address on June 2 at the all-important 12th get-together of the Shangri-La security Dialogue in Singapore. He is also visiting India and Vietnam over a week long trip. Reportedly, the focus of his speech in Singapore is the American military shift to the Pacific. Moreover, Defense minister of India A K Antony will also deliver one of the keynote speeches.
So, while the mood at the Shangri-La is about the growing assertiveness of China in the Asia Pacific and what can be done to counter it, the sentiment at the SCO conference is regarding what happens in Afghanistan after the NATO forces leave in 2014 and the deteriorating situation of Middle East and North Africa.
Within the SCO, Russia and China are not necessarily on the same page on all issues. For example, when it comes to granting full membership to Pakistan, Iran and India, the views of two powers vary. Russia feels that the matter has already been prolonged and that it should have been dealt more robustly. On the contrary, China has taken on a much more conservative stance on the issue of full membership.
The Politics Of SCO Membership
As it relates to India, some experts claim that the country may have had tied itself to closely to the US policy in Afghanistan, while the situation is not shaping up the way New Delhi would have hoped. India now appears to be aligning its Afghan policy with Russia, China, Iran and other Central Asian states. However, the US and EU sanctions on Iranian oil have not only complicated the otherwise amicable Iranian ties with India but have also strained Iran’s ties with China, Russia and Pakistan.
Nevertheless, the SCO member states would not be comfortable with the US-centric Indian foreign policy. At the same time, it would be difficult for the alliance to ignore the opportunities India presents because of its size and location. The organization obviously would also be facing a challenging task of balancing the India-Pakistan rivalry.
On the other hand, Russian position on respecting the state sovereignty and territorial integrity suits Pakistan’s present predicament. Despite being a major non-NATO ally, the country has encountered several breaches of its borders including drone strikes. Russia announced last November it would publicly endorse Pakistan’s bid for full membership to the SCO. The Russian Premier told reporters at the time that Pakistan was an important economic and trade partner and announced Russia’s support for its proposed trade and energy projects.
Although Russia may have backed out of supporting the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, it has declared an intent to provide partial funding and technical assistance for CASA-1000 project, expansion of Pakistan Steel Mill ($500m Grant), Guddu and Muzaffargarh power plants, and Thar coal project.
While the present six members of the SCO are attempting to adopt a common stance on matters of strategic stability and balance in the region, the entry of Pakistan, India or Iran complicates the positions of alliance.
Whatever the case may be it is apparent that despite a strong desire from Pakistan, Iran and India to join the SCO as a full member, the alliance is likely to take a long-term view of the regional and global politics. The SCO will most likely allow time to take its course and for NATO to make its own mistakes, as oppose to making any hasty decisions that complicates the global balance of power. Judging from how things are evolving, Pakistan and Iran may very well end up on the SCO side with GCC countries allying with NATO. On the other hand, India and Turkey are likely to end up in a challenging position as global politics and crisis unfold.