The Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

            Modern history (1500–) instructs us to think of the Nation-State as the natural form of political community.  That isn’t true.  Once upon a time there were supra-national communities like the Medieval and Early Modern Empires.  To take one example, the Russian Empire (and the Soviet Union) once encompassed European Russia and Siberia, Ukraine, Belarus, eastern Poland, and the Baltic states, but also the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.  Such empires disintegrated during the Twentieth Century. 

In their place arose the idea of supra-national communities.  The post-1945 development of European integration has set an example for others seeking strength in a supra-national group.  European integration advanced from the 6-nation European Coal and Steel Community of 1948 to the 27-nation political and economic union of today.  No one has yet found the path to an equivalent unity.  It hasn’t stopped countries from pursing joint action. 

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is one such effort.  In 1989 the collapse of the Soviet Union, marked by the secession of many parts of the Soviet empire, created a potential vacuum of power in Central Asia.  In 1992, Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan signed a Collective Security Treaty.  In 1993, Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Georgia joined.  The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) was born in the nadir of Russian power. 

Competition between Russia and China for dominance in the region raised the real possibility of future wars.  In 1996, as a safeguard against this danger, Russia and China, with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan dragged along, formed the “Shanghai Five” group.  Its first achievement came in a “Treaty on Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions” (1996), followed by a “Treaty on Reduction of Military Forces in Border Regions” (2017).  In 2000, the Five agreed “oppose intervention in other countries’ internal affairs on the pretexts of ‘humanitarianism’ and ‘protecting human rights’.”[1]  In 2001, Uzbekistan joined and the group became the “Shanghai Cooperation Organization.”

After 2001, the reckless American foreign policy[2] set off alarm bells in the region.  This might be thought of as the “push” influence on decisions.  Since 2013, China’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure initiative has aggressively extended its presence through much of Central and South Asia.  This might be thought of as the “pull” influence on decisions.  India and Pakistan both joined in 2017; Belarus, Iran, and Turkey plan to join in the near future.[3]  It is an alliance of those discontented with the American-led international order. 

Can an organization of authoritarian states with disparate interests build something real? 

[1] Probably inspired by American and European intervention in the Bosnian Civil War (1992-1995). 

[2] The failure to capture or kill Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora, followed by the decision to remain in and to transform Afghanistan; the attack on Iraq and the botched occupation, leading to civil war and Kurdish separatism; the overthrow of Libya’s dictator, followed by the abandonment of the country to civil war; and the support for the dissidents in Middle Eastern societies during the failed “Arab Spring” movements, including pressing for the overthrow of the Egyptian dictator Mubarak.  So, yes, “reckless.”  Or wanton.  Or dough-headed. 

[3] India purchases 60 percent of its military arms from Russia and has an on-going border dispute with China; Belarus is a Russian client-state; Iran is at odds with the United States and sells much of its oil to China; Pakistan has security interests in Afghanistan, a hostile relationship with India, and a deep involvement in China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”; Turkey has been at odds with the EU and the United States for a long time.      


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