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.
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.
European army: An apple of discord
The initiative of creating a European Army actually is in the air of the European Union.
Both French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel declared this month that they support the need to create a joint European army. By the way these two countries are the strongest EU member states from economic and political points of view. Their words are not just “air shaking” but the subject to think it over.
France is the only remaining nuclear power in the EU once Britain leaves the organization – and Germany – its major economic power. Both countries make up about 40 % of the industrial and technological base in Western and Central Europe, as well as 40 % of the EU overall capabilities and of combined defence budgets.
The main reason why European leaders voiced the initiative now can be considered from two different points of view. From one hand this can be the indicator of European fears of Russia, China and even the US military activities. According to Macron, “an EU army is needed to “protect ourselves” with respect to these states.”
On the other hand such initiative can be used by France and Germany to stop the US from weakening Europe and promoting its interests in the region. Donald Trump reacted to the statement by tweeting: “Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., China and Russia. But it was Germany in World Wars One & Two – How did that work out for France? They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for NATO or not!” Thus, he tied closely the idea of a European Army to his demand to increase defence spending to NATO.
At the same time the initiative of strengthening the European collective defence capabilities not only irritates the US but scares many EU countries as well.
As for the Baltic States, they have not formed their official opinion yet. The matter is the Baltics are “between two fires.” The EU membership gives them good political positions in Europe where they try to gain respect and influence. But the US remains their main financial donor and security guarantee at the moment. They can’t sacrifice relationships with Washington for the sake of ephemeral European Army. It means that there is a greater likelihood that Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will softly reject the idea. It is not necessary to expect strong opposition to Germany and France. But they surely will do their best to postpone decision making.
After all the initiative could become an “apple of discord” in the EU and split the organization in two sides making the organization even weaker than now.
Global arms industry: US companies dominate the Top 100, Russian arms industry moves to second place
Sales of arms and military services by the world’s largest arms-producing and military services companies—the SIPRI Top 100—totalled $398.2 billion in 2017, according to new international arms industry data released today by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
The total for the SIPRI Top 100 in 2017 is 2.5 per cent higher than in 2016 and represents an increase of 44 per cent since 2002 (the first year for which comparable data is available; figures exclude China). This is the third consecutive year of growth in Top 100 arms sales.
US companies increase their share of total Top 100 arms sales
With 42 companies listed in 2017, companies based in the United States continued to dominate the Top 100 in 2017. Taken together, the arms sales of US companies grew by 2.0 per cent in 2017, to $226.6 billion, which accounted for 57 per cent of total Top 100 arms sales. Five US companies were listed in the top 10 in 2017. ‘US companies directly benefit from the US Department of Defense’s ongoing demand for weapons,’ says Aude Fleurant, Director of SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.
Lockheed Martin remained the world’s largest arms producer in 2017, with arms sales of $44.9 billion. ‘The gap between Lockheed Martin and Boeing—the two largest arms producers in the world—increased from $11 billion in 2016 to $18 billion in 2017,’ says Fleurant.
Russia becomes the second largest arms producer in the Top 100
The combined arms sales of Russian companies accounted for 9.5 per cent of the Top 100 total, making Russia the second largest arms producer in the Top 100 in 2017—a position that had been occupied by the United Kingdom since 2002. Taken together, the arms sales of the 10 Russian companies listed in the Top 100 increased by 8.5 per cent in 2017, to $37.7 billion. ‘Russian companies have experienced significant growth in their arms sales since 2011,’ says Siemon Wezeman, Senior Researcher with SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. ‘This is in line with Russia’s increased spending on arms procurement to modernize its armed forces.’
In 2017 a Russian company appeared in the top 10 for the first time since SIPRI started publishing its annual Top 100 list. ‘Almaz-Antey, which was already Russia’s largest arms-producing company, increased its arms sales by 17 per cent in 2017, to $8.6 billion,’ says Alexandra Kuimova, Research Assistant with SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.
Along with Almaz-Antey, three other Russian companies in the Top 100 increased their arms sales by more than 15 per cent: United Engine Corporation (25 per cent), High Precision Systems (22 per cent) and Tactical Missiles Corporation (19 per cent).
The UK remains the largest arms producer in Western Europe
The combined arms sales of the 24 companies in Western Europe listed in the Top 100 increased by 3.8 per cent in 2017, to $94.9 billion, which accounted for 23.8 per cent of the Top 100 total. The UK remained the largest arms producer in the region in 2017, with total arms sales of $35.7 billion and seven companies listed in the Top 100. ‘The combined arms sales of British companies were 2.3 per cent higher than in 2016,’ says Fleurant. ‘This was largely due to increases in the arms sales of BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and GKN.’
BAE Systems, which is ranked fourth in the Top 100, is the UK’s biggest arms producer. Its arms sales rose by 3.3 per cent in 2017, to $22.9 billion.
Other notable developments
- The arms sales of Turkish companies rose by 24 per cent in 2017. ‘This significant increase reflects Turkey’s ambitions to develop its arms industry to fulfil its growing demand for weapons and become less dependent on foreign suppliers,’ says Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher with SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.
- Taken together, the arms sales of the four Indian companies ranked in the Top 100 totalled $7.5 billion in 2017, representing a 1.9 per cent share of Top 100 arms sales.
- Sales of the top 15 manufacturing companies listed in the Fortune Global 500 totalled $2311 billion in 2017. This is almost 10 times greater than the total arms sales of the top 15 arms producers ($231.6 billion) in 2017, and almost six times greater than the total combined arms sales of the Top 100 ($398.2 billion).
Modern Russian Defense Doctrine
On December 26, 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new military doctrine for the Russian armed forces. The document identifies the expansion of NATO and efforts to destabilize Russia and neighboring countries as the biggest security threats. This doctrine somehow is Continuation Russia’s military doctrine previous in the years 1993 – 2000- 2010.
In the Tsarist, Soviet, and Russian military tradition, doctrine plays a particularly important role. The state’s defense or military doctrine possesses a normative and even, often a juridical quality that should be binding on relevant state agencies, or at least so its adherents would like to claim. Doctrine is supposed to represent an official view or views about the character of contemporary war, the threats to Russia, and what policies the government and armed forces will initiate and implement to meet those challenges. Thus beyond being a normative or at least guiding policy document, defense doctrine should also represent an elite consensus about threats, the character of contemporary war and the policies needed to confront those threats and challenges.
Since 2002 President Vladimir Putin has regularly called for and stated that a new doctrine, to meet the challenges of the post September 11 strategic environment will soon appear. However, no such doctrine has yet appeared or is in sight. In 2003 the Defense Ministry published a kind of white paper that foreign observers then called an Ivanov doctrine after Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. But no Russian authority has followed suit. This document argued that the Russian forces must be ready for every sort of contingency from counterterrorism to large-scale conventional theater war and even nuclear war. Ivanov and the General Staff also argue that the forces can and must be able to handle two simultaneous regional or local wars. This guidance also evidently follows Putin’s direction that the armed forces must be able to wage any kind of contingency across this spectrum of conflict even though he apparently had ordered a shift in priorities from war against NATO to counter-terrorist and localized actions in 2002-03.
Within this spectrum of conflict, most published official and unofficial writing about the nature of threats to Russia repeatedly states that terrorism is the most immediate and urgent threat to Russia, that Russia has no plans to wage a war with NATO, i.e. a large-scale conventional or even nuclear war, and that Russia sees no visible threat from NATO or of this kind of war on the horizon. Indeed, Russian officials like Putin and Chief of Staff, Colonel-General Yuri N. Baluyevsky have recently renounced the quest for nuclear and conventional parity with NATO and America, a quest whose abandonment was signified in the Moscow Treaty on Nuclear Weapons in 2002. Yet the absence of doctrine suggests an ongoing lack of consensus on these issues. And this discord is particularly dangerous at a time when Russian leaders perceive that “there has been a steady trend toward broadening the use of armed forces” and that “conflicts are spreading to larger areas, including the sphere of Russia’s vital interests,” because they may be tempted to follow suit or react forcefully to real or imaginary challenges.”
Indeed, if one looks carefully at Russian procurement policies and exercises, both of which have increased in quantity and intensified in quality under Putin due to economic recovery, we still find that large-scale operations, including first-strike nuclear operations using either ICBM’s or tactical (or so called non-strategic) nuclear weapons (TNW) predominate, even when counterinsurgency and counter-terrorist exercises are included. In other words, the military-political establishment, rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding, still believes that large-scale war, even with NATO or China is a real possibility. Ivanov’s speech to the Academy of Military Sciences on January 24, 2004 excoriated the General Staff for insufficient study of contemporary wars and for fixating on Chechnya. Blaming it for this fixation, he said that,
“We must admit that as of the present time military science has not defined a clear generalized type of modern war and armed conflict. Therefore the RF Armed Forces and supreme command and control entities must be prepared to participate in any kind of military conflict. Based on this, we have to answer the question of how to make the military command and control system most flexible and most capable of reacting to any threats to Russia’s military security that may arise in the modern world.”
Ivanov had earlier observed that Military preparedness, operational planning, and maintenance need to be as flexible as possible because in recent years no single type of armed conflict has dominated. The Russian armed forces will be prepared for regular and anti-guerrilla warfare, the struggle against different types of terrorism, and peacekeeping operations.
Baluevsky has also since argued that any war, even a localized armed conflict, could lead the world to the brink of global nuclear war, therefore Russian forces must train and be ready for everything. These remarks reflect the continuing preference for major theater and even intercontinental nuclear wars against America and NATO over anti-terrorist missions.
Neither are they alone. In 2003, former Deputy Chief of Staff, General (RET.) V.L. Manilov, then First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Defense and Security Committee, told an interviewer that,
Let’s take, for example, the possible development of the geopolitical and military-strategic situation around Russia. We don’t even have precisely specified definitions of national interests and national security, and there isn’t even the methodology itself of coming up with decisions concerning Russia’s fate. But without this it’s impossible to ensure the country’s progressive development. … It also should be noted that a systems analysis and the monitoring of the geostrategic situation around Russia requires the consolidation of all national resources and the involvement of state and public structures and organizations. At the same time, one has a clear sense of the shortage of intellectual potential in the centers where this problem should be handled in a qualified manner.
Since Russian planners cannot develop a truly credible hierarchy of threats or adequately define them or Russia’s national interests they inevitably see threats everywhere while lacking the conceptual means for categorizing them coherently. Lacking a priority form of war or threat for which they must train, the troops must perform traditional tasks and priority missions like defending Russia’s territorial boundaries, i.e. Soviet territorial boundaries, preventing and deterring attacks on Russia, and maintaining strategic stability. They also must participate directly in achieving Russia’s economic and political interests and conduct peacetime operations, including UN or CIS sanctioned peace operations. Consequently coherent planning and policy-making are still bedeviled by multiple threats that haunt senior military leaders. In 2003, Baluevsky said that,
In order to conduct joint maneuvers (with NATO-author), you have to determine who your enemy actually is. We still do not know. After the Warsaw pact disappeared; there was confusion in the general staffs of the world’s armies. But who was the enemy? Well, no enemy emerged. Therefore the first question is: Against whom will we fight?
But the campaign against terrorism does not require massive armies. And NATO’s massive armies have not disappeared at all. No one says “We do not need divisions, we do not need ships, and we do not need hundreds of thousands of aircraft and tanks …” The Russian military are accused of still thinking in World War II categories. Although we, incidentally realized long before the Americans that the mad race to produce thousands and thousands of nuclear warheads should be stopped!
Thus the General Staff and for that matter the Ministry have abdicated their critical task of forecasting the nature or character of today’s wars.
Today, if anything, we see a continuing inclination to turn back the strategic clock towards quasi-Cold war postures and strategies. Much evidence suggests that various political forces in Russia, particularly in the military community, are urging withdrawal from arms control treaties, not least because of NATO enlargement towards the CIS and U.S. foreign and military policy in those areas. In March, 2005 Ivanov raised the question of withdrawal from the INF Treaty with the Pentagon. Since then Russian general Vladimir Vasilenko has raised it again more recently though it is difficult to see what Russia gains from withdrawal from that treaty. Indeed, withdrawal from the INF treaty makes no sense unless one believes that Russia is threatened by NATO and especially the U.S.’ superior conventional military power and cannot meet that threat except by returning to the classical Cold War strategy of holding Europe hostage to nuclear attack to deter Washington and NATO. Apparently at least some of the interest in withdrawing from the INF treaty also stems from the fact that Vasilenko also stated that western missile defenses would determine the nature and number of future Russian missile defense systems even though admittedly it could only defend against a few missiles at a time. Thus he argued that,
Russia should give priority to high-survivable mobile ground and naval missile systems when planning the development of the force in the near and far future. … The quality of the Strategic nuclear forces of Russia will have to be significantly improved in terms of adding to their capability of penetrating [missile defense] barriers and increasing the survivability of combat elements and enhancing the properties of surveillance and control systems.
But then, Russia’s government and military are thereby postulating an inherent East-West enmity buttressed by mutual deterrence that makes no sense in today’s strategic climate, especially when virtually every Russian military leader proclaims that no plan for war with NATO is under consideration and that the main threat to Russia is terrorism, not NATO and not America. Nonetheless Russian generals do not raise the issue of withdrawal from the INF treaty unless directed to do so. As of 2003 the General Staff made clear its opposition to joint Russian-NATO exercises allegedly on the grounds of NATO enlargement and the improvement of missiles. In fact, the military’s enmity to NATO is due to the fact of its existence. As the so called Ivanov doctrine of October, 2003, stated,
Russia … expects NATO member states to put a complete end to direct and indirect elements of its anti-Russian policy, both form of the military planning and the political declarations of NATO member states. … Should NATO remain a military alliance with its current offensive military doctrine, a fundamental reassessment of Russia’s military planning and arms procurement is needed, including a change in Russia’s nuclear strategy.
Alexander Golts, one of Russia’s most prominent defense commentators, observes that the military must continue to have NATO as a ‘primordial enemy’. Otherwise their ability to mobilize millions of men and huge amounts of Russian material resources would be exposed as unjustified. Similarly Western observers have noted the resistance of the military to a genuine military reform, even though the forces are being reorganized. The problem here is well known to the Russian military. Genuine reform is a precondition for effective partnership with NATO. Therefore resistance to reform, in particular, democratization of defense policy, inhibits cooperation with NATO and is therefore deliberately created from within the military and political system. Evidently Russian leaders no longer perceive democratization as a mere ritual for the White House, as in the past, but as a threat to the foundations of Russian statehood, including a threat to the structure of the armed forces and its top command organizations.
This hostility to NATO as such also appears in the growing opposition to continuing to observe the CFE treaty. Since the bilateral partnership with NATO began, Russian officials openly stated that if the Baltic States remained outside the treaty then its future would be at issue along with Europe’s overall security of which it is a key part. Ivanov frequently says that Russia has fundamental differences with NATO over the CFE Treaty and that NATO’s insistence upon Russia withdrawing from Moldovan and Georgian bases as promised in 1999 at the OSCE’s Istanbul summit is a “farfetched” pretext for not ratifying the treaty or forcing the Baltic States to sign it. Thus the Baltic States form “a gray zone” with regard to arms control agreements that could in the future serve as a basis for first-strikes, mainly by air, upon nearby Russian targets. This sums up many of Moscow’s military arguments against the CFE treaty.
Ivanov and other officials, like former Deputy Foreign Minister, linked the CFE to the realignment of U.S. forces and bases in Europe. Likewise, speaking of the connection between the CFE treaty and enlargement, Lt. General Alexander Voronin wrote in the General Staff’s journal VoyennayaMysl©(Military Thought) that,“Russia’s opposition to CIS members’ joining NATO is immutable and that NATO’s failure to take Russia’s interests into account here is very troubling. Russia should fully take into account the alliance’s strategy of spreading its influence to countries neighboring Russia in the west, south, and southeast, uphold its interests, show strong will, make no concessions, and pursue a pragmatic and effective foreign policy. This raises a number of questions: First, why do we have to cooperate with NATO at all? Second, what could be the practical payoff from this interaction? And finally in what areas is it expedient to develop military cooperation with the alliance?”
Voronin’s answer to these rhetorical questions is that it all depends on how soon NATO overcomes Cold War inertia to meet new challenges and threats. In this respect his approach merely confirms earlier military arguments against the CFE treaty.
In 2004 Baluevsky raised the issue that the Baltic States’ membership in NATO would doom the CFE treaty. In 2005 Colonel-General Anatoly Mazurkevich, Chief of the Main Directorate of International Military Cooperation in the Russian Ministry of Defense complained that the CFE treaty has been ignored since it was revised in 1999 and that it is slowly ‘expiring’. Allegedly the CFE treaty can no longer uphold the interests of the parties or stability in Europe and now in a strategic region adjacent to Russia and under NATO’s full responsibility — the Baltic — the region is absolutely free of all treaty restrictions.
Yet since they are critical elements of any democratic reform, the failure to reach a coherent defense doctrine is a critical sign of the failure of Russia’s democratic project. This failure to devise a coherent doctrine that realistically assesses Russia’s capabilities and prospects, is not just a failure to achieve democracy, it also represents an enduring threat to Russia itself, its neighbors and interlocutors.
Author’s note: This article first published in Iran Review
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