Will the innocent sounding “Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the SCO, soon become a military rival to the Western NATO?
Not yet, that is.
The SCO, despite being many years in the making, is still one step away from being an international military organization. It is a based primarily in China as a regional security arrangement with a close Russian partner and small mix of member states, including: Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.
Is this the Chinese version of an Iron Curtain spread over the East sprinkled with a liberal charter or is this really a “peace-keeping” organization with human rights in mind, as the charter states?
It has yet to prove itself as any legitimate liberal and pro-human rights peace keeper like NATO. How can it without ever assisting the world in peace-keeping missions. How does the SCO plan to do this when all its members are authoritarian states with high political oppressions and human rights scars?
Four things should cause caution for NATO:
The first is the cooperation of SCO states against internal “separatism and extremism” as labeled in the 2011 charter on the website. Such vague mission stance against internal state opposition now has a multinational organization in place to fight state labeled enemies. For China, this might be the Tibetans or the Uighurs or even Taiwan someday. For Russia, the Chechens or political dissidents against President Putin seeking refuge in another member SCO country. Regional disputes among non-SCO members are likely to be near future problems as well.
The second cause for alarm is that the SCO is expanding with others like India and Pakistan seeking full membership. This is an upgrade from their current observer status. While India would be the only democracy, Pakistan, with a two faced dealing with the Americans, holds a highly threatening al Qaeda and Taliban support base. Among several others, Iran is also an observer nation to SCO, to which their “peaceful” nuclear program is advocated by the group.
None of the SCO memberships or observers are characterized as “free” by Freedom House. The Economist and Amnesty International give the SCO states some of the lowest democracy and human rights scores. Such are the groups that make up the SCO. The real threat is oppressive states organizing and interfering with liberal reform in Central Asia with a strategic and military agenda.
The third sign is Syria and Iran. The SCO is opposing the West’s intervention into Syria which could halt the political oppression to the growing protests and civil unrest. Dialogue is unmatched with coordinated military efforts but developments are happening. Most recently arms and helicopter shipments to Syria, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deems as related to support the Assad regime. This “Eastern” stance was clearly made in statements of SCO member states where intervention and interference against Assad’s hostilities, despite UN consensus of abuse, are to be challenged. Now actions in arms are being taken in addition to mere words. It is the first of many growing indirect resistance efforts against the US and its allies from illiberal and authoritarian Central and Eastern nations.
The SCO is also for no military intervention in Iran. Basically, the the security alliance of Eastern state is highly territorial and does not want NATO anywhere near it.
A fourth warning and an immediate signal, is the present decision of the SCO to play a greater role in Afghanistan, after NATO forces pull out. Clearly, China and Russian seek to regain control of the region. They also expect political and military gains in the country that NATO and multinational forces have broken ground. Perhaps they will make Afghanistan a member state to justify any military action?
Think drugs, corruption, oppressive regimes, loss of human rights, and kissing any American and European democratic “progress” in Central Asia good-bye with the future SCO.
Troop recall is not a bad idea for NATO forces in Afghanistan. No one in the West wants or likes war. But as NATO rushes to leave, the SCO is rushing in to fill that power vacuum. Can the US turn them into liberals before they start dropping bombs and calling the shots in their backyard? Keep your eyes on the SCO, NATO.
Brett Daniel Shehadey is a writer, commentator and holds an M.A. in Strategic Intelligence from AMU and a B.S. in Political Science from UCLA.