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The Maturation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization: An Emerging IO of Significance

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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Dr. Matthew Crosston & Anonymous (*)

The United States has long been the dominant economic-security structure in the world. It steps in to negotiate international trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership. Its military is relied upon to train NATO troops and forces from Iraq to Colombia on how to manage uprisings, terrorism, and invasions.

Its Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) trains other countries’ law enforcement units about counter-narcotics trafficking and other anti-crime measures. Its Secretary of State and President are often called upon to negotiate peace treaties and conflict settlements. However, with new nations rising to become powerful economic and military blocs in their own right, the United States may have new allies it can rely on to manage regional matters or, conversely, have new contenders to push into the power market and threaten America’s standing as the only global super power. The direct threat to US influence in economic trade or military matters will not likely come from Russia or China independently. The concern, rather, is an ever-strengthening alliance where Russia and China come together to oppose Western influence with other like-minded nations. One such alliance to emerge in the next decade is likely the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which combines China’s economic power with Russia’s military assertiveness.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was created as a Eurasian political, economic, and military organization in 2001 between China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. It was originally focused just on the Central Asian region but it has rapidly expanded its purview. In 2016, the SCO decided to admit India and Pakistan as full members and they are expected to join within the next year. Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia are considered observer states while Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Turkey participate as dialogue partners. The SCO established formal relations with the United Nations where it is an observer in the General Assembly, alongside the European Union, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), The Commonwealth of Independent States, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

The SCO largely focuses on economic trade opportunity and security in the Central Asian region. Initially, the organization was mostly oriented towards China’s interest in better economic trade. It has since broadened that focus to also build economic opportunities beyond the region and into the Persian Gulf. Iranian writer, Hamid Golpira stated, “according to Zbigniew Brzezinski’s theory, control of the Eurasian landmass is the key to global domination and control of Central Asia is the key to control of the Eurasian landmass…thus, Russian and China have been paying attention to Brzezinski’s theory since they formed the SCO in 2001, ostensibly to curb extremism in the region and enhance border security, but most probably with the real long-term objective of counterbalancing the activities of the United States and NATO in Central Asia.”

In 2004, the SCO established the Regional Antiterrorism Structure (RATS). RATS is funded by the SCO and has a permanent staff of 30 with an initial budget was $2.6 million. Since then its budget has increased considerably. RATS is primarily a hub of information exchange between the security services of SCO members and conducts extensive analytical work. The 30 RATS staff includes seven from Russia and China, six from Kazakhstan, five from Uzbekistan, three from Kyrgyzstan, and two from Tajikistan.   RATS was established to fight the “three evils”- terrorism, separatism, and extremism. One way this is supposedly done is by disrupting cross-border drug crimes, taking away economic opportunity and illicit finances.

The SCO has also conducted joint military exercises that the organization claims are transparent and open to the media and public. As SCO’s counterterrorist arm, RATS advises members on operational training, drafts international legal documents to combat terrorism, and is compiling a database of suspected or known terrorists and extremists for SCO-member use. The RATS committee participated in drafting the action plan on the implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in Central Asia and sought to strengthen counter-terrorism cooperation with ASEAN. In addition, RATS reportedly assisted with security for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2010 World Expo, and the 2011 Asian winter games.

RATS also supports security efforts and military training exercises for SCO members. China and Russia send the majority of troops participating in such games. However, all of the members are welcome to participate in these training exercises with topics ranging from peacekeeping activities to anti-terror exercises. All are joint efforts and depict scenarios such as disrupting and defeating hostage-takers, storming buildings and villages, and forcing down hijacked airliners. The main benefit to the members is that their military and security services practice tactics and weapons-handling while also gaining useful experience working with other countries on coordinated planning, command and control, logistics, and maneuvers. In 2008, for example, an exercise depicted neutralizing terrorists who had seized an oil tanker and its crew while another focused on repelling a simulated attack on a nuclear reactor.

Another extraordinary agreement between RATS member states is the ability to extradite criminals across borders. In other words, RATS members can carry out abductions across national boundaries and outside of standard judicial procedures. This has been compared to the CIA’s practice of extraordinary rendition and allows members to detain suspects across the six participating states. Furthermore, the members’ agents are not subject to criminal liability for any actions committed in the course of their duties and are immune from arrest and detention within the six states.

Finally, the SCO RATS has held several conferences that allow for coordination between the UN, ASEAN, NATO, EU, G8, and Organization of the Islamic Conference on critical issues like the lack of security and drug-trafficking in Afghanistan. The conference in 2009 developed a framework for the SCO-Afghanistan Action plan, which called for joint operations to combat terrorism, drug-trafficking, and organized crime. It involved relevant Afghan bodies to take part in joint law-enforcement exercises led by the SCO, as well as provided measures to improve drug agency training and border patrols. A successful raid in 2010 by Russian, US, and Afghan forces against drug labs in Afghanistan was actually an example of international cooperation launched in the region by the SCO. In 2010, RATS signed a Protocol of Cooperation with the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Center (CARICC) to combat drug-trafficking, trans-border drug crime, and subsequent terrorist-related financing. The CARICC was originally established in 2006 between Central Asian nations, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, and Russia. In 2015, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi officially reaffirmed the SCO’s commitment to becoming a regional security leader by calling for the organization to take a larger role in regional security and stability during a meeting of foreign ministers held in Moscow.

Once a group globally dismissed as an international organization in name only, the SCO has slowly evolved and deepened its power relevance within the constituent member states. As it continues to grow its ranks and develop deeper ties of influence within each member, the SCO has the chance to become an IO that actually wields an impressive portfolio of legitimate security, economic, and trade responsibilities. While there are still obstacles and tensions between the member states that hinder this future potentiality, it is nonetheless important that the SCO can no longer be considered a joke on the global stage.

(*) Anonymous is currently a graduate student in International Security and Intelligence Studies at Bellevue University and works within the US governmental system. The opinions expressed are strictly personal and do not reflect a formal endorsement of or by the United States’ government and/or Intelligence Community.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Executive Vice Chairman of ModernDiplomacy.eu and chief analytical strategist of I3, a strategic intelligence consulting company. All inquiries regarding speaking engagements and consulting needs can be referred to his website: https://profmatthewcrosston.academia.edu/

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Should Turkey and Azerbaijan Be Worried About Killed Syrian Mercenaries?

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Just a few weeks ago many analysts and observers were sceptical about reports of Turkey’s transferring units of its Syrian National Army (SNA) proxies to Nagorno Karabakh, even more so because Turkish officials denied any such claims. However, as evidence of massive casualties among the Syrian mercenaries continues to mount, there is little space left for doubt: SNA fighters have become cannon fodder in the Turkish operation in support of Azerbaijan.

The first batch of bodies of those Syrians who perished in Nagorno Karabakh counted over 50 people, according to messages and videos that went viral on opposition WhatsApp and Telegram channels. Among the dead who were delivered to Syria over Hiwar Kilis border crossing and were given a hasted burial were men from Aleppo, Idlib, Homs and other regions of Syria. Many of their relatives, like families of Muhammad Shaalan from Atareb and Kinan Ferzat from Maarat al-Nuuman, were shocked to learn about their death.

Just like the majority of the Syrians who travelled to Nagorno Karabakh,  Muhammad and Firzat were primarily motivated by lucrative rewards of up to 2,000 dollars promised by Turkey. “I came here to make money and have a better life back in Syria where the living conditions are miserable. I consider this a job, nothing else,” a member of Liwa Sultan Murad, one of the first SNA factions to deploy its fighters to the contested region, told Guardian.

The reason behind heavy casualties of the Syrian mercenaries is that they are thrown into action where the clashes are the most violent, including Jabrayil, Terter, Fizulin and Talysh. This move allows Azerbaijan to keep its military, who mainly provide air support including operating Turkey-made Bayraktar TB2 UAVs and coordinate artillery and missile strikes of the Armenian positions, out of direct contact with the enemy.

The estimates of the numbers of the Syrian mercenaries present in Nagorno Karabakh are wildly different. While initial reports put their number at 500 men, it is currently believed that the actual number may be in thousands. This data indicates that at least 10 percent of the fighters were killed during the very first days of the escalation – a serious alarm for the mercenaries as well as their Turkish backers.

These developments must ring a bell for Azerbaijan as well. The longer the conflict protracts, the higher the risk of casualties among the Azeri servicemen becomes, who have already suffered losses in Armenian retaliation strikes. Baku has managed to avoid discontent among the military as well as the civilian populace – not least thanks to the Syrian mercenaries crushed as cannon fodder – but this can not continue for long.

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Emerging Multipolarity and its consequences

Abdul Rasool Syed

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“Make America great again” a slogan that formed the nucleus of trump’s electoral campaign vividly suggests that America is no more a great country. It is, in fact, an implicit admission that U.S is gradually losing its clout in international politics and hence, its image as a sole superpower of the world has virtually tarnished. Let me rephrase this connotation; it means that the era of unipolar world is over and the world has now transitioned to a multipolarirty.

Currently, new power centers are emerging in transnational political landscape. China, Russia, India and Turkey are excessively engaged to carve a niche for them in evolving international order. Most importantly, with China and Russia’s mushrooming proximity, balance of power is now shifting from west to east. Former United States (US) Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton at her state visit to New Zealand was one of the first to observe “a shifting balance of power to a more multi-polar world as opposed to the Cold War model of a bipolar world”. This conspicuous change in multi-national political setup was also realized by Ban ki Moon, the then secretary- General of United Nations who stated at Stanford University in 2013 that we have begun to “move increasingly and irreversibly to a multi-polar world”. Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, also declared at the Russia-China Conference 2016 that “international relations have entered into a conceptually new historical stage that consists in the emergence of a multi-polar world order and reflects the strengthening of new centers of economic development and power”.

These manifestations of political spin doctors have since then revealed a general acceptance of the idea of multi-polar world as a concept that is inescapable political reality in the contemporary international dynamics.   However, when it comes to the transitions and inevitability of power structures, there is a little agreement among the international states.

A much stronger resistance to forego unipolarity remains embedded in the Trump administration vision to “make America great again”. Political pundits such  as Robert Kaplan continue to question, whether there is an overlap of unipolar and multi-polar world realities; where US continues to retain the supremacy in military realm of affairs and is anticipated to remain so for a considerable future time, whereby China leads in the economic realm. Additionally nations in the former Third World are acquiring status as rising powers, notably India who have over the years with smart diplomacy have acquired global outreach to shape international agenda.

Chronologically, After World War II, the U.S. became the undisputed and unchallenged global superpower. It was the only country, equipped with nuclear warheads and was one of the few countries involved in the war that came away from it relatively unscathed at home. The U.S. underwent a meager loss of approximately 400,000 soldiers and a fractional amount of civilians in the war. The Soviet Union, meanwhile, incurred a gigantic loss of around 11 million soldiers and some 7 million to 10 million civilians. While Soviet and European cities were undergoing the process of rehabilitation, American cities flourished. It seemed clear to all that the future belonged to the United States.

But it didn’t take long for the luster of unrivaled power to tarnish. The U.S. military machine relaxed as quickly as it had mobilized, and wartime unity gave way to peacetime political debates over government spending and entitlement programs. Within five years, a bipolar world emerged: The Soviets attained an atomic bomb, and the U.S. was caught flat-footed in a war on the Korean Peninsula that ended in a stalemate. Soon thereafter, the U.S. was withdrawing from Vietnam and rioting at home. In 1971, then-President Richard Nixon predicted a world that he said would soon emerge in which the U.S. was “no longer in the position of complete pre-eminence.” Within 26 years of the end of World War II, Nixon’s prediction saw the light of the day and the U.S. had to resign to its fate.

Theoretically, multipolarity refers to a distribution of power in which more than two states have nearly equal amounts of military, cultural, financial and economic influence.

If we look at the contemporary world, we find that with the rise of like China, India, Russia, Indonesia, Turkey and Brazil, global power will spread across a wider range of countries, hence, a new world order with multipolar outlook is likely to emerge .

Realistically speaking, several revisionist powers are and will shaking up their regions. For instance, Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 – annexing Crimea, over which it has fought several wars throughout history (mainly with Turkey). In turn, Turkey is asserting its sovereignty over the eastern Mediterranean to the frustration of countries like Greece, Egypt, Cyprus and Israel. Meanwhile, India has upped its aggression in its border dispute with Pakistan as Modi began a process to revoke the autonomous status of the disputed territories of Jammu and Kashmir.

Notably, after the age of city-states and nation-states, we are now entering the age of continental politics. The most powerful countries of the 21st century (the U.S., China, Russia India, Indonesia, and Brazil) are the size of continents. They have broad economic bases and their digital economies potentially have hundreds of millions of users. Internationally, their scale requires them to seek broad spheres of influence in order to protect their security.

Here the question arises what will be the impact of growing multipolarity in the world? First of all, revisionist powers will increasingly ignite tensions. The growing assertiveness of countries like Russia, Turkey and India is the new normal. As they grow more powerful, these countries will seek to revise arrangements in order to reflect the new realities of power. Because these (continental) states seek broad spheres of influence, many places are at risk of destabilization.

Second, one of the biggest risks is the growing paranoia of the hegemon (the U.S.). The current trade war has shown how destabilizing the policy of the (financial) hegemon becomes as it feels threatened by the rise of a rival. Historically, this has been the most important source of violent conflicts. Indeed, the biggest source of uncertainty in the coming years is how the U.S. will react to the rise of China.

Third, the world order will become more ambiguous. Two developments deserve our attention. First, the growing use of shadow power will make conflict more unpredictable. With digital tools, states (and non-state actors) are manipulating each other in subtle ways. For example, Russian hackers  posed as Iranians to hit dozens of countries and Americans blamed Russia for tampering with American elections. Second, alliances will also become more ambiguous. With ever changing dynamics of world economy, new alliances, motivated by the concept of triangulation (to keep balance in relation with the US and China, the trade warriors) will form and such alliances, as predicted by spin doctors; will be less stable than the blocs, formed in 20th century.

To sum it up, before we reach a multipolar world order, we will see a period of growing uncertainty based on the rise of revisionist powers, the paranoia of the U.S. and growing ambiguity of conflict and cooperation. Moreover, the political pundits are divided in opinion that whether multi-polarity is unstable than unipolarity or bipolarity. Kenneth Waltz strongly was in favor of “bipolar order as stable”. On the other side, Karl Deutsch and David Singer saw multi-polarity as guaranteeing a greater degree of stability in an article published in 1964, “Multipolar Systems and International Stability”. Simon Reich and Richard Ned Lebow in “Goodbye Hegemony” (2014), question the belief whether a global system without a hegemon would be unstable and more war prone. However, whatever the system the world is likely to witness in the days to come, let’s hope that this should be in the best interest of humanity and it should make the lives of the inhabitants of this planet peaceful and prosperous.

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The future of strategic intelligence

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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There are currently three types of intelligence transformations, namely conceptual, technological and operational.

 In the first case, we are dealing with a new and original intelligence paradigm.

 From a mechanism based on the identification of the need for information-research-processing and analysis-dissemination-feedback, we are shifting to what some people already call “position intelligence”.

 In other words, we are coming to an information mechanism that continuously perceives data and processes it, and then spreads it permanently and continuously to those who have to use it.

While the old intelligence model was “positivist”, i.e it concerned single objective and empirical data to be included in a decision-making process that is not determined by intelligence, currently it is instead a matter of building acontinuous follow-up not of data, but of political behaviours, perceptions of reality by the enemy-opponent, as well as complex phenomena that constantly reach the intelligence matrix from different parts and areas.

While in the past intelligence was rhapsodic and temporary, à la carte of politicians, and sometimes even unsolicited and not requested, it currently becomes the stable core of political, strategic, economic and industrial decisions.

This obviously results in a new relationship between politicians and Intelligence Services.

While, in an era we have already defined as “positivist”, facts, news and the unknown novelties of the enemy-opponent counted, what currently matters is the ever more evident integration between the intelligence system and politicians.

 There is obviously a danger not to be overlooked, i.e. the danger that – without even realizing it – the Intelligence Services take on responsibilities which must be typical of elective bodies only.

 But certainly intelligence currently plays a much greater role than in the past.

Another key element of the conceptual transformation of intelligence is the use not only of highly advanced and powerful information technologies, but also of scientific paradigms which were unknown to us only a few years ago.

Just think about Artificial Intelligence, but also cloud computing, algorithm theory and Markov chains – and here we confine ourselves to the mathematics that sustains current IT and computing.

 But there is also human ethology, an extraordinary evolution of Konrad Lorenz’s animal ethology, as well as social psychology, sociological analysis and scientific depth psychology.

 A whole universe of theories that, in Kant’s words, have recently shifted from metaphysics to science.

It must certainly be used to analyse, for example, mass behaviours that seem unpredictable, as well as the psychological reactions of both the ruling classes and the crowds, and the interactions between the various group behaviours of a country.

Nothing to do with the old Habsburg Evidenzbureau, which informed the General Staff of enemy troops’ movements or of the various generals’ lovers.

We here witness a substantial union between intelligence and political decision-making or, rather, between the thought produced by intelligence and the foundations of political decision-making.

 CIA has often tried to poison Fidel Castro’s beard.

 Today, apart from the doubtful rationality of that operation, it would be a matter of using – for example – advertising, TV series, Hollywood movies, the sugar, tourist or tobacco market cycles, not to poison late Fidel’s beard, but to put the Cuban economy and decision-making system into structural crisis.

 The typical idea of Anglo-Saxon political culture –whereby, once the “tyrant” is eliminated, everything can be fine and back in place – has been largely denied by facts.

 All this obviously without being noticed, as far as the operations for disrupting a country are concerned.

 Another factor of the conceptual transformation of intelligence is speed: currently the IT networks are such as to allow data collection in real time with respect to facts and hence favour wide-ranging decisions.

 As far as technology is concerned, it is well known that both the AI networks, the new calculation structures, and the networks for listening and manipulating the enemy-opponent data are such as to allow operations which were previously not even imaginable.

At this juncture, however, there are two problems: everybody has all the same tools available and hence the danger of not “successfully completing” the operation is great, unlike when the Intelligence Services’ operations were based on the skills, role and dissimulation abilities of some operatives – or on confidential and restricted technologies.

 The other problem is intelligence manipulation: a country that thinks to be a target can spread – in ad hoc networks – manipulated news, malware, data and information which are completely false, but plausible, and can modify the whole information system of the country under attack.

 Another problem of current intelligence technologies is their distance from the “traditional” political decision-making centres.

 A politician, a Minister, a Premier must know what comes out of the intelligence system. Nevertheless, it is so specialised and sectorial that the distance between technical data processing and the “natural language” of politics is likely to make data ambiguous or unclear and of little use.

 Moreover, there is a purely conceptual factor to be noted: if we put together the analysis of financial cycles, of technology change, of public finance and of political and military systems, we must connect systems that operate relatively autonomously from each other.

 In other words, there is no “science of the whole” that can significantly connect such different sectors.

 Therefore, there is the danger of projecting the effects of one sector onto another that is only slightly influenced by it, or of believing that, possibly, if the economy goes well, also the public debt – for example -will go well.

 The room for political decision-making is therefore much wider than modern intelligence analysts believe.

Political decision-making is still made up of history, political-cultural traditions and of perceptions of reality which are shaped by many years of psychological and conceptual training.

With specific reference to operativity, once again we are dealing with radical changes.

 Years ago, there was the single “operative” who had to decide alone – or with very little support from the “Centre” – what to do on the spot and with whom to deal.

 Today, obviously, there is still the individual operative, but he/she is connected to the “Centre” in a different way and, in any case, imagines his/her role differently.

 On the level of political decision-making, intelligence is always operative, because reality is so complex and technically subtle that it no longer enables even the most experienced statesman to “follow their nose”.

The primary paradox of the issue, however, is that intelligence cannot take on political roles that imply a choice between equivalent options.

 This is inevitably the sphere of politics.

 Another factor of the operational transformation is the inevitable presence of intelligence operatives in finance, in the scientific world, in high-level business consulting, in advertising, communication and media.

 Intelligence has therefore progressively demilitarised itself and is increasingly operating in sectors that we would have previously thought to be completely alien to Intelligence Services. Instead, they are currently the central ones.

 Moreover, we are currently witnessing a particular mix of strategic intelligence, geopolitics and financial analysis.

 Why finance? Because it is the most mobile and widespread economic function.

 We are witnessing the birth of a new profession, namely currency geopolitics.

 Hence we are also witnessing the evolution of two new types of intelligence, namely market intelligence (MARKINT) and financial intelligence (FININT).

 An old and new problem is secrecy. The greater the extent to which old and new intelligence is used, the less it can keep secrecy, which is essential now as it was in the past.

 What has always been the aim of strategic intelligence? To predict phenomena starting from a given context.

Contexts, however, change quickly and the interaction between sectors is such as to change the effect of forecasts.

 The formalised techniques for analysis-decision making are manifold: intelligence data mining, “grid technologies”, knowledge creation and sharing, semantic analysis, key intelligence needs (KINS) and many others.

 All operations which are often necessary, but currently we need to highlight two factors typical of the North American intelligence culture which, unfortunately, also negatively affects the models used by U.S. allies.

 The first aspect is that, strangely enough, the same formal models are proposed for both companies and States.

 A State does not have to maximize profits, while a corporation does, at least on a level playing field with its competitors.

 A State is not a “competitor” of the others and ultimately a State has no specific “comparative advantage” but, on the contrary, some of its companies have, if this happens.

 Therefore, the overlap between business intelligence, which is currently necessary, and States’ intelligence is a conceptual bias, typical of those who believe that a State is, as Von Mises said, “the joint stock company of those who pay taxes to it”.

 For companies, it is obvious that all specific and original intelligence operations must be known to the State apparata, which may coordinate them or not, considering that they inevitably have additional data.

On the other hand, some business operations can become very useful for intelligence.

Hence a structure would be needed to put the two “lines” of operations together, and above all, a new intelligence concept is needed.

In the past, the Intelligence Services’ operations were largely defensive: to know something just before it happened, to avoid the adverse operations of a State hitting its own resources, but all with often minimal time limits.

 Now we need expressly offensive intelligence which can hit the opponents’ (commercial, economic and strategic) networks before they move and in good time.

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