The Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s Rising Global Ambitions – Analysis


By Dr. Ross Bellaby

In the ever-evolving landscape of global geopolitics, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has emerged as a focal point of strategic importance. Amidst the backdrop of the rising geopolitical tensions, the SCO’s activities have garnered significant attention. Given its expanding membership, the SCO shows global ambitions with a desire to influence both regional and global events.

Established in 2001, the SCO initially included Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan as member states. Over the years, its sphere of influence has widened significantly, encompassing India, Iran, Pakistan as member states, Afghanistan, Belarus, and Mongolia as observer states, and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Turkey as “Dialogue Partners.” The recent inclusion of Saudi Arabia, along with Qatar and Egypt signing memoranda in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, marks a noteworthy expansion in its reach. Collectively, these nations represent a substantial portion of the Asian continent, contributing to 30% of the world’s GDP and comprising 40% of the global population. This extensive reach underscores the SCO’s potential as a formidable multilateral organization.

The SCO’s stated objectives revolve around strengthening member relations, fostering cooperation, ensuring peace and security, and advocating for a “new, democratic, just, and rational political and economic international order.” These goals may indicate an intention to reshape international relations and perhaps challenge the existing world order, potentially offering an alternative to the global system.

In the current geopolitical climate, and heightened tensions between major powers, the SCO’s role becomes increasingly pivotal. The SCO’s collective stance on key international issues could significantly sway global opinions and policies.

The SCO’s influence extends beyond mere economic and demographic might. Its members’ strategic locations, natural resources, and military capabilities make it a key player in regional security dynamics. The organization’s focus on joint security initiatives and counter-terrorism efforts highlights its role in shaping regional peace and stability. Moreover, the SCO’s emphasis on economic cooperation and connectivity, particularly through projects like the Belt and Road Initiative, positions it as a catalyst for regional economic integration and development.

As Kazakhstan assumes the chairmanship of the SCO from July 2023 to July 2024, a distinctive approach within the organization comes to the fore. Kazakhstan’s tenure at the helm is poised to influence the SCO’s trajectory, especially in the context of its multi-vector foreign policy. This policy approach involves engaging with multiple global powers and regional blocs simultaneously, avoiding over-reliance on any single entity while promoting national interests. In practice, it means navigating a diplomatic path that seeks cooperative relationships with a diverse range of countries and organizations. Such a strategy allows Kazakhstan to maintain a degree of autonomy and flexibility in international affairs. This approach suggests a continued opposition to bloc and ideological approaches to security challenges, offering a nuanced balance within the SCO.

Kazakhstan’s National Coordinator for the SCO, Murat Mukushev, has articulated a vision for a balanced development across all areas of cooperation, encompassing security, trade, economy, culture, and humanitarian efforts. This indicates a comprehensive strategy, moving beyond the conventional security and economic focus, to encompass broader aspects of cooperation.

The Central Asian country has previously stated its intention to use the SCO chairmanship to promote reforms, aiming to transform the group into a “practical and effective platform.” This objective signifies a move towards more grounded and action-oriented collaboration within the SCO, especially in areas of trade and security cooperation.

Kazakhstan’s plan to propose the adoption of “On Global Unity for a Just World and Harmony” is a strategic move. This document outlines principles for strengthening confidence-building measures and ensuring global security, in line with Kazakhstan’s non-bloc approach. Furthermore, Kazakhstan’s initiative to establish the UN Regional Center for Sustainable Development Goals in Almaty, with a focus on Central Asia and Afghanistan, underscores a commitment to issues that are also relevant to the countries of the West. This may be an area of cooperation between the two sides.

Ultimately, the SCO, under Kazakhstan’s current chairmanship, is set to embark on a path emphasizing balanced development and practical cooperation, veering away from bloc or ideologically driven security dynamics. As a result, the SCO’s focus might shift towards more inclusive and diverse forms of collaboration, acknowledging and addressing the varied interests and concerns of its members. This could lead to more sustainable and cooperative solutions to the region’s challenges. The planned SCO summit in Astana next year will be a crucial moment to observe. It will provide insights into how Kazakhstan’s leadership and its multi-vector foreign policy approach is shaping the organization’s strategies and responses to the complex tapestry of contemporary regional and global challenges.

The SCO, with its expanding membership and ambitious goals, stands at a critical juncture in its quest for greater global influence. As it navigates the complex interplay of regional and international politics, the SCO’s actions and decisions can certainly leave a mark on the global stage. Its ability to effectively leverage its collective strength and strategically position itself will determine its role in shaping the future geopolitical landscape.

  • About the author: Dr Ross Bellaby is a Senior Lecturer in Security Studies at Sheffield University, UK.
  • Source: This article was published by Geopolitical

Geopolitical Monitor is an open-source intelligence collection and forecasting service, providing research, analysis and up to date coverage on situations and events that have a substantive impact on political, military and economic affairs.

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