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Revisiting the Strengths and Potentials of SCO in a Changing Geopolitical Setting

Ramla Khan

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Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was founded in the 2001 by the like-minded Eurasian states led by People’s Republic of China. Since the more than seventeen-years of its existence there have been dramatic shifts at the global geopolitical environment, characterized by a relatively declining US power and influence, resurgence of the Russian “Bear” under Putin and the rise of India and China as the economic hubs of the world. The implication are vast for SCO is such a setting which would continue to surge in the wake of growing interest of the superpower in the Indo-Pacific region. In order to contemplate the prospective of SCO in these surroundings there is a first a need to look back in history for the organizations credentials.

SCO has witnessed limited progress to be fair over the years. Although it did have to its name breakthroughs such as providing a platform for antagonistic adversaries such as India and Pakistan to conduct joint military exercises. Added to that, in the last decade its influence in the politics of Eurasia has coursed to great lengths.  The organization covered 50 percent of global population and an area of 3716km that is before India and Pakistan were added in the picture. India with an economy of roughly $2.6 trillion and geography of the 7th largest land-mass state, along with Pakistan which with a $300 billion economy and 200 million population adds to the equation.

The organization as illustrated above presents a striking picture of tremendous power and influence when and if used “smartly and positively”. There is also a defence-oriented mindset behind the working of the SCO which is why it has been called the “NATO of the East”. It has been alleged that the organizations works in jeopardy by destabilizing the Post-Cold War unipolar structure in favor of a “multi-polar world order” of China and Russia.

It is interesting to note that the evolution of organization laid as a result of conflict resolution between Russia (former Soviet Union) and China who in the latter part of the Cold War remained hostile despite being socialist Marxist-Leninst inspired states. The two behaved rationally one could argue by putting aside their disputes and reconciling on territorial issues which laid the foundations of the “Shanghai Five”. Steady progress since then was made by Russia and China, whose progress was incorporated to trade, military and scientific cooperation which absolved them to the animosities of the past. The political calculations made, Western experts would argue was due to the mounting influence of NATO and US across the globe.

The SCO family with the expansion of India and Pakistan is an important development noting that two the possess nuclear weapons. This makes it one of the most powerful organization in the world with a combined nuclear arsenal that would from an estimate be more than 50 percent of global stockpile. Hence, out of the nine nuclear weapon states, four being part of the SCO adds to its stature. There is a possibility that with the “bridge building” history of the organization which has resolved disputes for the members in the past may extend such courtesy to the long unresolved issue of Kashmir, a bone of major contention between India and Pakistan. If such a feat becomes reality, the region could have degree of almost unprecedented stability in the modern times which would boost the economic and security impetus of all the region. SCO at present strategizes to expand its presence even further via the convenience of allowing for “Observer status” to states and regional bodies. It is a fact that Shanghai Cooperation Organization holds a degree of influence that is greater in terms of land-mass than NATO itself.

SCO and Anti-Terrorism

Global terrorism has been categorized as the deadliest of the threats in non-traditional security domain. The focus of SCO remains to be root out the destabilizing factors of “terrorism, separatism and extremism”. The SCO remains to be the single organization that has dedicated an entire wing, the “Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure” (RAT) for this menace, created months prior to the deadly “September 11” Terrorist attacks in the US. Over the years, SCO has arranged several meetings where NATO member states were invited to come up with a join action plan to counter drug smuggling, terrorism and other criminal activities.

SCO and Trade

SCO started as a platform that would facilitate peaceful resolution of border dispute and build-in a degree of military-to-military confidence. The changing geopolitical realities beset at the early parts of the 21st Century provided impetus to extend the influence to other major areas including of trade, contemporary security and politics. The patterns have since then reciprocated evenly where member states are at presented bonded via trade agreements. Such an approach has allowed Russia and China to experience growth in bilateral trade ties in recent years.

It would be interesting to see how China links up its grandeur vision of reviving the “Old Silk Route” with SCO. Linking the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) would provide the degree of trust and mutual acceptability that has been undermined by competitors and adversaries such as US via the tools of propaganda and disinformation against the “China’s Dream”. Pakistan remains at a paramount in the emerging geopolitics where the interests of former, current and aspiring powers lie at the convergence. In order for the 21st Century to be the “Asian Century,” all stakeholders need to redefine their interests from a rational approach that should be centered on “geoeconomics” rather than “geopolitics”. It is peace and stability will the “liberal market economic model” provide the maximum results, conflicts and war would not be desirable in the interests of any power in a world deeply embedded into virtues of “complex interdependence”. The SCO in this pretext can to provide the solidity to the majestic destiny that lie for the region with the largest program of economic diplomacy since the Marshall Planat its disposal to what the 20th neo-classical economist called “Creative Destruction”.

Ramla Khan is an MPhil Research Scholar at NDU, Islamabad. She writes for various policy institutes, journals and blogs. Her area of expertise is Disinformation Operations. (ramla.khan2418[at]gmail.com)

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The Real Reason(s) Trump Backed Off On Iran

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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War is a failure of reason, it has been said, and war with Iran makes little sense after they have faithfully complied with their nuclear agreement (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), endorsed as it has been by the Security Council.  It was the US, and the US alone, choosing to abrogate the deal that has resulted in the current confrontation — an unequal one in the unexpected sense that the US carrier is a big fat sitting duck for Iran’s locally manufactured  sophisticated missiles.  Additionally, its air defenses supplied by Russia will render aerial bombing an expensive proposition in airplane losses. 

A brief description of Iran’s missiles that pose a danger to the US fleet or air attacks is in order.  First, Iran’s missile program is domestic with help from Russian and China.  Iran now has the capacity to produce anti-aircraft missiles with up to long-range capability, such as the one used to destroy the $120 million sophisticated US drone which was not without avoidance measures.

Of greater worry to the task force must be the Qader anti-ship missile with a 300 km range (about 190 miles).  It can counteract electronic warfare measures and can be launched from land, sea or air, extending its range.  Deadlier still is the Khalij Fars anti-ship ballistic missile that slams down on a ship at Mach 3.  It is much harder to defend against, particularly The Fateh Mobin version which uses infrared sensors for terminal guidance and is equipped with radar evasion features.

Iran’s missile inventory extends to a dozen or more functional types including medium range ballistic missiles.  The Iranians often note these are of domestic manufacture, which in itself is a consequence of the long trade embargoes — yet another unintended consequence.

Of course, Iran also has the ability to use conventional weapons like mines to close off the Strait of Hormuz to tanker traffic, causing chaos in the world economy by throttling fossil fuel exports.

Iran is also now firmly within the China-Russia axis, and it remains a major supplier for China.  The latter is expanding the sea port of Gwadar in Pakistan, round the corner from the Gulf, to enable tankers to unload for overland transport, cutting transit time to the Chinese border to less than 24 hours … that is when the north-south artery in Pakistan is extended to Gwadar.  Infrastructure development and improvement is part of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative to which Pakistan signed on almost immediately.

Since the rest of the signatories to the Iran Deal including the EU have declared Iran to have abided by it, the US is alone in the world in its unwarranted intransigence.  In the recent past, the US has withdrawn from an anti-ballistic missile treaty with Russia, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Agreement on climate change and has threatened to pull out of NAFTA — the latter leading to hurried minor changes.  So here’s a question:  if the US were not the 800 pound gorilla on the block, who would want to negotiate with such an unreliable partner? 

It all goes to show that when Trump called off this military escalation, he was not just thinking of the 150 Iranians he claimed would be killed, he was also concerned about US casualties and the loss of a ship or two, future relations with China and its partners, the lack of support from Europe, and the uncertainties of war — all with one eye on the 2020 elections. 

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Bright Future of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)

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There are many countries in this region eagerly wanted to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The region is under severe threats, either it is US-Iran Tension or Sino-US trade War, Afghan Issue or Syrian Crisis, Yemen War or Egyptian issues, Pak-India Tension or South-China issues, all evolving situations are signs of a big threat to the region. Under this scenario, the emergence of regional alliances is very much natural.

Originally 5 countries: China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, established this group on 26 April 1996. Its scope was very limited to border security only. After the disintegration of former USSR, newly established Central Asian countries were facing challenges like drug smuggling, human trafficking, extremism, and terrorism, etc. But later on, Uzbekistan joined this group.  The formal creation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was announced on 15 June 2001 in Shanghai, China by the leaders of 6 countries, but was signed in June 2002 and entered into force on 19 September 2003.

SCO was not very popular or very active till China launched BRI – mega initiatives for Infrastructure, Connectivity, Trade & Economic Development, Security & Stability, Peace & Harmony, etc in 2013. SCO gained further momentum in 2017 when Pakistan and India joined it.

Today it is in limelight and has attracted the attention of the whole world. It was and is not against any single country of any group of countries. But, it reinforces the UN Charter and wanted to implement the UN charter in later and spirit. SCO wants the protection of humanity, and human right, whether a small nation or big, a rich country of poor, a strong state or weak, humanity deserve equal treatment. SCO stands for the resolution of all disputes among states amicably by dialogue and diplomacy. The use of force is not the option and must be avoided. Blood-shed and coercion are not accepted by any civilized nation or individuals.

Unfortunately, after the fall of the former USSR, America emerged as a unique superpower and the world turned into a unipolar world. Iraq was destroyed unilaterally without getting any approval or involvement of the UN Security Council. Libya was destroyed in the same manner. Afghanistan was invaded by by-passing the UN.

China and Russia were not in the mode to offer any resistance at that time. But things changed, when the Syrian crisis started, Russia offered resistance and Americans were compelled to announce the withdrawal of its troops from Syria.

The US-North Korean tension started two years ago, and the US wanted to attack North-Korea. But American could not attack as there was no consent from Russia and China. It is very much visible that the world has already emerged as multipolar.

Indo-Pacific alliance is focused to “contain China” and “counter Russia”.

With this in the background, it is sufficient rational and justification for the strengthening of SCO.

This region is highly populated and inhabits almost half of the world population. Similarly rich in natural resources. Yet very poor! There exists a huge potential for this region to overcome poverty, and gain prosperity. There is a dire need to promote cooperation, mutual understanding, harmony, and stability. The region is facing extremism, terrorism, and instability. SCO is an appropriate platform. Many countries in this region feel a light of hope and prosperity in SCO.

I can foresee, expansion of SCO in the near future. Many countries may join SCO as full members, and some as Observer or guests. Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Belarus, Nepal Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan, etc many countries are expected to join in due time.

SCO may need to amend its charter to cope with the evolving geopolitics and demand of the regional countries. Expansion and improvement of the Charter are very much fore-see-able. SCO has a bright future and may ensure the bright future for this region.

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Pentagon plan and dream to maintain supremacy in Indo-Pacific

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On June 1, the US Defense Department published a report on military objectives in the Indo-Pacific Region (IPR). The report, delivered by acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, contained a number of key points which he also outlined at the 18th International Conference on Regional Security “Shangri-La Dialogue” in Singapore. According to observers, the Pentagon report has become the first official military strategy of the kind for the region. What are the guidelines of the US military strategy in the context of Washington’s general policy in one of the most strategically important regions of the world?

In its National Security Strategy (NSS) and National Military Strategy (NMS), the Pentagon presents a wide-rangiong view on the present and future of the Indo-Pacific Region, which, most likely, coincides with that of the US administration. According to the report, since Indo-Pacific is of crucial importance “for America’s future”, it is therefore one of the top priorities for the Pentagon. One half of the world’s population live in the region, while its GDP makes up 60 percent of the global one. Countries of the region boast 7 of the world’s 10 largest armies. 6 states possess nuclear weapons. 9 of the top 10 seaports are in the region; and the region accounts for 60 percent of all maritime international trade. A third of all shipments run through the South China Sea.

The report says the United States has been maintaining presence in the region as a “peaceful” and “constructive” force since the 18th century, and is thus a “Pacific nation”.  US trade with countries of the region has amounted to $ 2.3 trillion, and direct US investment in countries of the region $ 1.3 trillion is more than the cumulative figures of China, Japan, and South Korea. A quarter of all US exports go to Indo-Pacific Region, while shipments to China and India have more than doubled in the last ten years. Thus, the past, present and future of the United States is inextricably linked with Indo-Pacific.

What presents the main challenge to the security of the region and the US interests is competition of states, which is based on geopolitical rivalry. First of all, we are talking about China. The report unequivocally identifies the anti-Chinese vector of US military policy in the Indian-Pacific Region. China, according to US military, under the leadership of the CPC, “is seeking to shift the balance of strength in the region in its favor,” relying on the modernization of its armed forces, “a number of influence-boosting operations, and economic methods used to coerce other states.”

The Pentagon report is set to prove that the US policies are “completely different.” In 2017, President Trump proclaimed that the United States deems the region “free and open”, “reliable, safe, prosperous and open to the benefit of all countries.” Through the Pentagon, Washington expresses its intention to encourage governments that “act in an appropriate way” and countries whose citizens “enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms.” It thus vows to maintain “order based on the rule of law”, which is “a prerequisite for peace and prosperity for all.” According to Pentagon experts, “the United States proposes strategic partnership, not strategic dependence.”

However, differences and understatements do stand out. The United States is against the “prevalence of any one power in Indo-Pacific.” To this end, the Pentagon de facto plans to pursue a policy of maintaining military supremacy of the United States. In words, America is against “strategic dependence”. But the allies are required to purchase American weapons and hardware, in accordance with the price list to be presented by the Pentagon. In the long run, they are expected to “give a support shoulder” for America to keep its dominant position in the region. Finally, in response to China’s thoroughly developed One Belt One Road Initiative, which provides a development program for decades to come,  Washington, through the Pentagon, puts forward but an abstract formula of “new strategic corridors” and “new roads”. The American idea hinges on the streamlining of traditional military ties with old allies and two or three dozen billion dollars which are supposed to stimulate “productive cooperation” with new partners.

Such a discrepancy in purposes and means of achieving them does not prevent American military strategists from portraying China as one of the three main “threats” to regional stability and security. China is seen as a “revisionist power,” which intentionally “enters into confrontation,”  as, allegedly, “its political, economic and military agendas are expansionist by nature.” Beijing’s  ultimate goal, in the opinion of the Pentagon, is “to secure hegemony in Indo-Pacific in the near future.” And in the long term, it is set on “ensuring global supremacy”.  While the United States, according to the Pentagon, in the long term seeks to establish “transparent and non-aggressive” relations with the PRC. But…. only if Beijing complies with American conditions. Why not the other way round ?!

China has indeed become one of the pillars of the current model of globalization and represents the opposite of America under Trump. Unlike Washington, Beijing strongly supports further liberalization of trade, both in the Indo-Pacific Region, and in the rest of the world, and it favors multilateral creative cooperation between countries of the region. According to Beijing, a good strategy for mutually beneficial development should embrace several elements. First of all, countries should join efforts in the process of building an open economic system based on the principles of mutual benefit and “gains for all”. Also, it is necessary to promote a growth model based on innovation, and “tap into new sources of development”. Such an approach is relies on joint development, integration and interpenetration of cultures and technologies. Finally, economic development must be inclusive and its results and fruits must be accessible to all countries and territories.

Moscow is promoting a similar regional and global development agenda. In the Indian-Pacific Region, Russia is pursuing a course for “ensuring sustainable, comprehensive growth” for all countries and peoples. Objectives of such a scale and duration can be achieved only through effective integration of economic processes, by means of open and mutually beneficial cooperation. In this regard, Moscow supports efforts towards the creation of a free trade zone in Indo-Pacific. However, the Pentagon looks at the policy of the Russian Federation from an entirely different angle. In the report Russia is described as  “a reborn malign actor” which seeks to regain and expand its influence in Indo-Pacific “in every direction”. Speaking through the military, Washington categorically refuses to admit that other countries’ policies may be more attractive than those of America, or that Moscow’s consistent efforts aimed at bridging the gap between China and the United States are aimed solely at stabilizing the international order. On the contrary, the Pentagon is extremely worried about the development of comprehensive partnerships between Russia and China in the diplomatic, economic and military spheres. For Washington, Moscow and Beijing’s efforts to build an equal and fair international system are “subversive”. It is also noteworthy that in the report, which is formally dedicated to the Indo-Pacific Region, the Pentagon is suspicious about the activities of Russia and China in the Arctic.

The third major headache of the Pentagon in the Indo-Pacific Region is the “rogue state) of North Korea. According to the military, the US position remains intact – until its complete nuclear disarmament the DPRK will remain a military threat to the United States. There have been no constructive suggestions. Instead, the US is considering the possibility of using force. The Pentagon does not foresee changes in the policy on North Korea confirming that Washington’s course remains tough and is “ultimatumlike”.

The subtitle of the report is “Readiness, Partnership and Strengthening Regional Cooperation”.

“Readiness” means maintaining peace through using force and deterrent, which require a multi-task group of armed forces capable of “securing victory in any conflict” over the shortest time possible.

“Partnership” in Indo-Pacific is declared by the Pentagon as one of the top policy priorities. But it is still unclear whether this is a course that echoes that of the Trump administration in Europe, where Washington is de facto trying to split the EU. A split comes to mind as one reads a statement about the Pentagon’s interest in forming coalitions of two, three, or four countries. Or this course could involve a secret front, since it mentions the traditional for Trump’s critics statement about allies as America’s “unparalleled advantage” over rivals and competitors.

Thus, the third goal declared is “Strengthening Regional Cooperation”, this time through the transformation of existing US military ties in accordance with the currently fashionable concept of  “network security architecture.” As an incentive to attract potential allies to this “network”, they propose expansion of cyber operations and military activities in outer space.

However, upon further reading of the report, it turns out that, in the Pentagon’s understanding, “cooperation” implies, in the first place, the policy of promoting  “monetization” of the alliance, which was formalized by Trump’s NSC in December 2017. Allies and partners are required to “make a contribution”, primarily by increasing the budget for the purchase of American weapons. The issue of the supply of weapons and equipment, in implementation of the provisions of the National Security Council, as well as the National Military Strategy, is becoming one of the Pentagon’s top priorities. And this is despite the fact that over the past three years, sales of American weapons and equipment to countries in the region have already increased by more than 65 percent.

Overall, the report, like any other publications of this kind, persistently presents the strategically optimistic prospect of “upcoming future achievements” in the region under the leadership of the United States. But will the Pentagon- proposed scenario yield the desired “security and prosperity” to countries of Indo-Pacific? The Indo-Pacific Strategy, announced by Trump, crosses out a whole range of steps which were taken by Obama. And the results of the policy of the current administration can easily be reduced to zero by the successors.

The Pentagon is trying to convince the world community of the US readiness to fight a long and fierce battle for dominance in the Indo-Pacific Region and in Asia as a whole. However, the conclusions of the five dozen pages of the report would fit on just one, the main message being the same – America first. But since not everyone agrees with this, the United States will likely have to adjust its strategy in the region to reality. 

From our partner International Affairs

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