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The Pluto of International Organizations: The Evolution of the SCO

Dr. Matthew Crosston



This piece investigates the unique peculiarities of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Instead of being a Eurasian counterpart to the EU, an additional IO bridge between East and West, or even influenced by organizations like ASEAN, the SCO is dominated by micro-agendas that work in opposition to the theoretical literature explaining international organization purpose.

Consequently, this particular IO has so far not only failed to become a nexus for globalization, democratic respect, or the fight against terror, it really cannot be considered a legitimate IO as is traditionally framed by theory at the present time. When promise is found more in the literature than in empirical reality, there is need for caution. This analysis suggests that there is a present-day tendency to be empirically loose in how the designation ‘international organization’ is applied. As such, the SCO is the ‘Pluto’ of IOs and should be renamed and removed as an international organization if its present course does not radically change.

Looking at the SCO’s relative power sources and how influence interacts with institutional design, it will become clear why the organization does not increase international cooperation, economic prosperity, or global security, as is typically expected from major IOs to strive to. Rather, the manner in which all three of the above goals are undermined by SCO institutional design and internal agendas should call into question whether it should be classified as an IO at all. Renaming it a politically-motivated axis of convenience is less grand but perhaps a more accurate description of its nature and functions.


China’s main position within Central Asia is economic, though certain security issues also exist. China is extremely interested in currying favor with Central Asia to help feed its voracious energy appetite. On the other hand issues of ethnic unrest in Xinjiang, China’s western border, make cooperation and mutual understanding with Central Asia strategically advantageous. Thus Central Asia acts as a dual purpose economic-security bridge for China: a bulwark against Uighur and pan-Turkic nationalism/separatism and an energy hub for importing oil and gas.


Russia has always viewed Central Asia as its own backyard and particular sphere of influence. Thus, the SCO has largely been seen as a soft entry for Russia to maintain and project its military influence into the region. While Central Asia may represent a buffer zone for China’s western flank, it also represents a buffer zone for Russia’s southern flank, in particular against Islamist extremist threats that may look to move into Russia from the region. There is also a clear competitive dynamic with China that has the SCO as the peaceful arena in which Russia tries to keep a warning embrace around it. Some have seen this as a voluntary division of leadership within the SCO: China maintaining economic oversight while Russia assumes the position of primacy in security matters.

Despite these explicit leadership roles, Moscow remains the weaker of the two ‘superpowers’ in comparison to Beijing. It cannot, regardless of propaganda or posturing, oppose China’s emergent economic influence in the region and as such it has largely embraced the SCO not so much because of a strong belief in the relevance of the organization but rather as an easier conduit with which to maintain Moscow-friendly regimes across Central Asia and a decent mechanism to try to keep China from sprinting too far ahead.

Central Asia

Perhaps the most unique ability of the Central Asian members is to simultaneously bargain and balance across multiple fronts. Indeed, the Central Asian states have always been acutely aware of their precarious position in between two major powers while a third distant American power commonly initiates contact because of its own crucial security agenda within the region. The SCO, therefore, has always been a tool for Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan to attempt to balance China and Russia off of each other and carving out maneuverability space. At the same time, the Stans have not hesitated to engage with the European Union and the United States, striving to expand their options and minimize the possibility of being overwhelmed by the local superpowers. While it is true that Central Asia is largely more sympathetic to Chinese leadership over Russian, it is also true that no major power has single-handedly been able to satisfy all of the diverse needs of the Central Asian states.

The multidirectional policy of bargaining and balancing best serves the interests of the Central Asian states and as such it will likely continue long into the future. After all, the primary economic and security concerns within Central Asia are not unimportant to Russia, China, as well as the United States. These concerns include: Islamic radicalization; proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; narcotics trafficking; lagging economic development and investment climates; and pervasive poverty. The obvious criticism is that none of these concerns have been alleviated with the Central Asian states’ involvement in the SCO, despite a decade of existence. The one characteristic that seemed to be an axiom for the SCO – maintaining the political status quo – cannot be considered a given, what with the non-response to civil unrest in Kyrgyzstan in 2010. The possibility that this lack of response to assist could signal a benevolent ignorance on the part of the SCO, tacitly endorsing potential democratization, falls flat: all of the members of the SCO unanimously voiced their concerns and disapproval over the events in Kyrgyzstan. As a result, it marked an IO ‘double whammy’ of hypocrisy: the SCO physically did not come to the aid of a member but then still verbally denounced democratic change.

So far, the SCO identifies as an ineffective organization. That lack of efficiency emerges whether analyzing the institutional design of the SCO or reviewing empirical evidence through case study analysis. The SCO seems to be structured in a manner that undermines its own development, as IO evolution is understood by the scholarly community. The member states simultaneously support and undermine the organization via individualized micro-agendas because of their worries about the tricks each might play upon the other. Interestingly, what the literature does not do is question the legitimacy of the SCO. This is one of the main contentions here: membership of the SCO in the IO community should be questioned instead of simply de facto bestowed. Until now, its membership has always been a given.

Recently, both India and Pakistan have been accepted as future members of the SCO, expecting to be formally incorporated sometime in 2016. There are four other states given ‘Observer Status’ which include Belarus, Iran, Afghanistan, and Mongolia. Finally, there is yet another category called ‘Dialogue Partners,’ including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Turkey. Aside from a geopolitical alliance that seems to be aiming for the SCO to absorb something that could be called the ‘Greater Caspian Region,’ none of the aforementioned countries, if formal members, can be expected to bring smooth transitions and peaceful cooperative relations between members. If anything, internal SCO relations would only become more chaotic, micro-managed, and potentially zero-sum (does anyone really think India and Pakistan will resolve their differences by being part of the SCO? Armenia and Azerbaijan? Turkey and Iran?). In short, the SCO seems to be evolving in a way to guarantee it remaining one of the most fascinating organizations in the world, but that does not mean it will be effective or outwardly-impactful on the global stage.

The Pluto of IOs?

If the SCO seems to affirm only the negative concerns and detrimental aspects of faulty IO formation and development, while providing little to no empirical evidence of the positive impacts and cooperative influence inherent to most of the general IO literature, then how can the SCO continue to be accepted as a formal IO? The answer is it should not be. There is a present-day tendency to be empirically loose in how the designation ‘international organization’ is applied. This is no small matter: lax empiricism inadequately supported by or even ignoring accepted theoretical underpinnings results not only in misdirected scholarship but actually carries the potential to undermine foreign policy analysis as a whole. Perhaps with the SCO as an initial first step, there can be renewed interest and diligence in looking over the world’s IOs and rigorously applying IO theory to empirical reality as a sort of legitimacy litmus test. Is the SCO the world’s only Pluto? The present analysis finds that highly unlikely. Scientific brethren in astronomy can attest: just because a planet has always been called a planet does not mean it should remain so. If Pluto can be re-designated, then it should not be considered too high a controversy to rename IOs that do not measure up to accepted standards. Whether that new name is ‘politically-motivated axis of convenience’ (P-MAC) or some other moniker matters little: the importance is in shoring up the discipline so that empirical reality and intellectual theory inform each other rather than contradict one another and actual analysis becomes more accurate.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Executive Vice Chairman of He is Senior Doctoral Faculty in the School of Security and Global Studies at the American Military University and was just named the future Co-Editor of the seminal International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. His work is catalogued at:

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Pakistan’s Nuclear Safety and Security

Sonia Naz



Wyn Bowen and Matthew Cottee discuss in their research entitled “Nuclear Security Briefing Book” that nuclear terrorism involves the acquisition and detonation of an intact nuclear weapon from a state arsenal. The world has not experienced any act of nuclear terrorism but terrorists expressed their desires to gain nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has observed many incidents of lost, theft and unauthorized control of nuclear material. The increased use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes has intensified the threat that terrorist can target these places for acquiring nuclear materials. They cannot build a nuclear weapon because production of a nuclear weapon would require a technological infrastructure. Thus, it is the most difficult task that is nearly impossible because the required infrastructure and technological skills are very high which even a strong terrorist group could not bear easily, but they can build a dirty bomb.

A dirty bomb is not like a nuclear bomb. A nuclear bomb spreads radiation over hundreds of square miles while nuclear bomb could cause destruction only over a few square miles. A dirty bomb would not kill any more people than an ordinary bomb but it would create psychological terror. There is no viable security system for the prevention of nuclear terrorism, but the only possible solution is that there should be a stringent nuclear security system which can halt terrorists from obtaining nuclear materials.

The UN Security Council and the IAEA introduced multilateral nuclear security initiatives. Pakistan actively contributed in all international nuclear security efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism. For example, United States President Barak Obama introduced the process of Nuclear Security Summit (NSS)in 2009 to mitigate the threat of nuclear terrorism. The objective of NSS was to secure the material throughout the world in four years.

Pakistan welcomed it and not only made commitments in NSS but also fulfilled it. Pakistan also established a Centre of Excellence (COEs) on nuclear security and hosted workshops on nuclear security. In addition to all this, Pakistan is a signatory of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540 and affirms its strong support to the resolution. It has submitted regular reports to 1540 Committee which explain various measures taken by Pakistan on radiological security and control of sensitive materials and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) transfer. Pakistan is the first country which submitted a report to the UN establishing the fact that it is fulfilling its responsibilities. Pakistan ratified Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) in 2016. It is also the member of Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT). It can be rightly inferred that Pakistan is not only contributing in all the international nuclear security instruments but has also taken multiple effective measures at the national level.

Pakistan created National Command Authority (NCA) to manage and safeguard nuclear assets and related infrastructures. The Strategic Plan Division (SPD) is playing a very important role in managing Pakistan’s nuclear assets by collaborating with all strategic organizations. Establishment of Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA)in 2001 is another development in this regard. The PNRA works under the IAEA advisory group on nuclear security and it is constantly improving and re-evaluating nuclear security architecture. National Institute of Safety and Security (NISAS) was established under PNRA in 2014. Pakistan has also adopted the Export Control Act to strengthen its nuclear export control system. It deals with the rules and regulations for nuclear export and licensing. The SPD has also formulated a standard functioning procedure to regulate the conduct of strategic organizations. Christopher Clary discusses in his research “Thinking about Pakistan’s Nuclear Security in Peacetime” that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals are equipped with Permissive Action Links (PALs) for its stringent security. According to Pakistan’s former nuclear scientist Samar Mubarakmand, every Pakistani nuclear arsenal is now fitted with a code-lock device which needs a proper code to enable the arsenal to explode.

Nonetheless the nuclear terrorism is a global concern and reality because terrorist organizations can target civilian nuclear facility in order to steal nuclear material. The best way to eradicate the root of nuclear terrorism is to have a stringent nuclear security system.

Western media and outsiders often propagate that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals can go into the wrong hands i.e. terrorists, but they do not highlight the efforts of Pakistan in nuclear security at the national and international level. The fact is that Pakistan has contributed more in international nuclear security efforts than India and it has stringent nuclear security system in place.

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India’s Probable Move toward Space Weaponization



The term Space Weaponization tends to raise alarm as it implies deployment of weapons in the outer space or on heavenly bodies like Sun and Moon or sending weapon from earth to the outer space to destroy satellite capabilities of other states. Thus, space weaponization refers to the actions taken by a state to use outer space as an actual battlefield.

Space militarization on the other hand is a rather less offensive term which stands for utilization of space for intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance missions through satellites to support forces on ground in the battle field. Space militarization is already in practice by many states. In South Asia, India is utilizing its upper hand in space technology for space militarization. However, recent concern in this regard is India’s attempts to weaponize space, which offers a bleak situation for regional peace and stability. Moreover, if India went further with this ambitiousness when Pakistan is also sending its own satellites in space, security situation will only deteriorate due to existing security dilemma between both regional counterparts.

Threats of space weaponization arise from the Indian side owing to its rapid developments in Ballistic Missile Defenses (BMDs) and Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM). Both of these technologies, BMDs and ICBMs, hand in hand, could be used to destroy space based assets. In theory, after slight changes in algorithms, BMDs are capable of detecting, tracking and homing in on a satellite and ICBM could be used to target the satellites for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Many international scholars agree on the point that BMD systems have not yet acquired sophistication to give hundred percent results in destroying all the incoming ballistic missile, but they sure have the capability to work as anti-satellite systems. The reason behind the BMD being an effective anti-sat system is that it is easier to locate, track and target the satellites because they are not convoyed with decoys unlike missiles which create confusions for the locating and tracking systems.

India possesses both of the above-mentioned technologies and its Defense Research and Development Organization has shown the intention to build anti-satellite weaponry. In 2012, India’s then head of DRDO categorically said that India needs an arsenal in its system that could track the movement of enemy’s satellite before destroying it, thus what India is aiming at is the credible deterrence capability.

One thing that comes in lime light after analyzing the statement is that India is in fact aiming for weaponizing the space. With the recent launch of its indigenous satellites through its own launch vehicle not only for domestic use but also for commercial use, India is becoming confident enough in its capabilities of space program. This confidence is also making India more ambitious in space program. It is true that treaties regarding outer space only stop states from putting weapons of mass destruction in outer space. But, destruction of satellites will create debris in outer space that could cause destruction for other satellites in the outer space.

On top of it all the reality cannot be ignored that both Pakistan and India cannot turn every other arena into battlefield. Rivalry between both states has already turned glaciers and ocean into war zones, resultantly affecting the natural habitat of the region. By going for ballistic missile defences and intercontinental ballistic missiles India has not only developed missile technology but also has made significant contribution in anti-sat weaponry, which is alarming, as due to security dilemma, Pakistan will now be ever more compelled to develop capabilities for the security of its satellites. So far both states are confined till space militarization to enhance the capabilities of their forces, but if that force multiplier in space goes under threat, Pakistan will resort to capability to counter Indian aggression in space as well, which will be the classic action-reaction paradigm. Thus, it is pertinent that India as front runner in space technology develop policy of restrain to control the new arms race in the region which has potential to change the skies and space as we know them.

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Pakistan’s Nuclear Policy: Impact on Strategic Stability in South Asia

Sonia Naz



Most significant incident happened when India tested its nuclear device on18 May, 1974.After India’s nuclear test, Pakistan obtained the nuclear technology, expertise and pursued a nuclear program to counter India which has more conventional force than Pakistan. Pakistan obtained nuclear program because of India, it has not done anything independently but followed India. Pakistan just wanted to secure its borders and deter Indian aggression. It was not and is not interested in any arms race in the region. It is not signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Comprehensive Test-Ban-Treaty (CTBT). Pakistan has not signed NPT and CTBT because India has not signed it. Since acquiring the nuclear weapons, it has rejected to declare No First Use (NFU) in case of war to counter India’s conventional supremacy.

The basic purpose of its nuclear weapons is to deter any aggression against its territorial integrity. Riffat Hussain while discussing Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine argues that it cannot disobey the policy of NFU due to Indian superiority in conventional force and it makes India enable to fight conventional war with full impunity. Pakistan’s nuclear posture is based on minimum credible nuclear deterrence which means that its nuclear weapons have no other role except to counter the aggression from its adversary.  It is evident that Pakistan’s nuclear program is Indiacentric.. Owing to the Indian superiority in conventional forces Pakistan nuclear weapons balance the conventional force power percentage between the two states. In November 1999, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar stated that ‘more is unnecessary while little is enough’.

The National Command Authority (NCA), comprising the Employment Control Committee, Development Control Committee and Strategic Plans Division, is the center point of all decision-making regarding the nuclear issue.According to the security experts first use option involves many serious challenges because it needs robust military intelligence and very effective early warning system. However, Pakistan’s nuclear establishment is  concerned about nuclear security of weapons for which it has laid out stringent nuclear security system. Pakistan made a rational decision by conducting five nuclear tests in 1998 to restore the strategic stability in South Asia, otherwise it was not able to counter the threat of India’s superior conventional force.

The NCA of Pakistan (nuclear program policy making body) announced on September 9, 2015 the nation’s resolve to maintain a full spectrum deterrence capability in line with the dictates of ‘credible minimum deterrence’ to deter all forms of aggression, adhering to the policy of avoiding an arms race.”It was the response of Indian offensive Cold Start Doctrine which is about the movement of Indian military forces closer to Pakistan’s border with all vehicles. Pakistan wants to maintain strategic stability in the region and its seeks conflict resolution and peace, but India’s hawkish policies towards Pakistan force it to take more steps to secure its border. Pakistan’s nuclear establishment is very vigorously implementing rational countermeasures to respond to India’s aggression by transforming its nuclear doctrine. It has developed tactical nuclear weapons (short range nuclear missiles) that can be used in the battle field.

Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in 2013 that Pakistan would continue to obey the policy of minimum credible nuclear deterrence to avoid the arms race in the region. However, it would not remain unaware of the changing security situation in the region and would maintain the capability of full spectrum nuclear deterrence to counter any aggression in the region. Dr. Zafar Jaspal argues in his research that Full credible deterrence does not imply it is a quantitative change in Pakistan’s minimum credible nuclear deterrence, but it is a qualitative response to emerging challenges posed in the region. This proves that Islamabad is not interested in the arms race in the region, but India’s constant military buildup forces Pakistan to convert its nuclear doctrine from minimum to full credible nuclear deterrence.

India’s offensive policies alarm the strategic stability of the region and international community considers that Pakistan’s transformation in nuclear policies would be risky for international security. They have recommended a few suggestions to Pakistan’s nuclear policy making body, but the NCA rejected those mainly because Pakistan is confronting dangerous threats from India and its offensive policies such as the cold start doctrine. Hence no suggestion conflicting with this purpose is acceptable to Pakistan. This is to be made clear at the all national, regional and international platforms that Pakistan is striving hard to maintain the strategic stability while India is only contributing toward instigating the regional arms race.

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