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SCO External Relations and Focus on Regional Cooperation

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The world has trekked from a hegemonic uni-polarity towards bipolarity and now the phenomenon of globalization has given rise to a multipolar world in current international relations which indicates that more and more countries are having influence over world politics, economy and security as opposed to past. The scales of global politics are now tipping in the favour of regionalization and multilateralism. Eurasia and especially Central-Asia has emerged as the most important region in respect of strategic location, natural resources, man power and economic potential in recent times.

Such speculations about Eurasian region are not newly found. A cursory glance at the map purposes that supremacy over Eurasian region would guarantee supremacy over African continent, Western hemisphere, and its peripheries. Currently, Eurasia has about 75% of the world’s population and about three-fourth of the world’s energy sources. It was perhaps the realization of the potential of Eurasian region that prompted the countries in this region to formulate Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). SCO was formulated to enhance regional cooperation between these countries to optimize mutual benefits and minimize shared threats.

SCO is the world’s largest organization in terms of member countries having largest portions of world’s overall population and world’s total energy resources. Currently SCO has eight permanent member countries out of which four members are international nuclear powers. Furthermore, SCO member countries have 18% of the total of world’s road network. The charter of SCO was signed in 2002 by founding countries including China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to mark the establishment of the organization. Pakistan and India were accepted into organization as members in 2017. Additionally, Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia has been given the status of observer states. United States’ request of observer state membership was rejected by the organization. The possible reason of rejection is the presence of US forces in the central Asian member countries of the organization which is in conflict with the regional cooperation goals of the organization. Furthermore, the cooperation of member countries over terrorism and security will most likely curb US interference in the region and will accelerate economic and trade exchange in the region.

The objectives and accomplishments of SCO is to ensure regional cooperation in politics, economy and security as a priority and expand that cooperation to culture, health, education, tourism, technology, media and sports and to mitigate the evils of terrorism, extremism and separatism in the region.SCO has signed multiple MOUs (Memorandum of Understanding) with different international and regional organizations to achieve its objectives. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the United Nations and SCO to prevent human trafficking, drug smuggling, and organized transnational crimes. SCO signed a MoU with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) to cooperate over issues of arms trafficking, money laundering and transnational terrorism in the region.  Furthermore, CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) and SCO signed a memorandum to combine efforts to maintain regional stability, security and counter terrorism. To increase cooperation over trade, economy, transportation and infrastructure, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between ECO (Economic Cooperation Organization) and SCO.

All members enjoy equal status when it comes to decision making process. Decisions can only be made through consensus. This structure ensures that all countries have their concerns met at this platform regardless of the opportunities or potential they have to offer. This structure is unique to the organization and has met with appreciation as well as criticism from the international forums. Experts seem divided over the fact whether the structure will promote or demote regional cooperation. It is assumed that the extent of diversity in the countries involved can make it difficult to reach consensus. However, it is important to note that these countries have shared concerns over security and economy which has gathered them over the platform of SCO in the first place. It is the realization of the fact that only regional connectivity can capitalize the potential of this region that has prompted these countries to form this organization. Consensus based decision making process will tap into the resources and potential of all countries and prevent exploitation of smaller countries to pave the way of regional connectivity that is stable and long term in nature.

Member countries of SCO have already started projects that are connecting the region for trade and economic exchange. These include One Belt One Road (OBOR) or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project by China. This initiative plans to build roads and infrastructure that will connect China to Europe through Central and South Asia through Silk Route and simultaneously linking China to Southeast Asia, gulf countries and North Africa. This project has already started and its objective is to not just build road but overall infrastructure that will help the growth of mutual trade and economic exchange by connecting the region. The advanced phase of BRI involves construction of trade zones, industrial parks, and energy sources in the connecting countries along its way. The project also aims to achieve regulating the industry standards across the region, standardizing trade rules, hassle free currency exchange and sharing credit information.

Through the platform of SCO, BRI project and EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union) are linked and different agreement between China and Russia have been signed to ensure cooperation in this regard. This link will enable BRI and EAEU to reciprocate each other in achieving their goals.  The materialization of conflict between Russia and China was a real possibility because of contrast of interests in the region. However, SCO has eliminated that possible threat to regional connectivity in Eurasia by joining both the countries on its platform.

Other projects of trade and transport connectivity in the region have found integration with BRI through the platform of SCO. These include INSTC (International North-South Transport Corridor) by India and Nurly Zhol project by Kazakhstan. INSTC is a project of launching freight from India to Europe through central Asia and Nurly Zhol is a project of building transportation infrastructure in Kazakhstan. SCO has facilitated the smooth amalgamation of these projects with BRI by gathering the concerned countries on a platform that gives them equal say in the process of making any decision related to Eurasian region. It does not only help economic development in the region but accelerates transnational relations by creating a sense of security among the member countries. Additionally, it preventing exploitation of smaller regional countries through consensus based structure.

Furthermore, SCO will also strengthen culture ties through new visa opportunities. Road transport licensing will increase cross border trade and tourism from Pacific Ocean to Baltic Sea in the region. Furthermore, transportation by road will only require single entry permit and the transnational transportation activities will be observed by joint commission of the member states of SCO.

This comes as no surprise that like any other international cooperation organization, SCO has some challenges that may hinder the process of achieving greater regional connectivity in Eurasia. Afghanistan is a destabilizing factor in the whole region that may pose a threat to achieving stability in central Asia. Although, Afghanistan has obtained the status of observer state in SCO, it needs urgent attention of the organization for its infrastructural reconstruction. The traditional hostility among India and Pakistan may also find its way into the organization in future and form opposing blocks in the organization. However, until now, there have been no such conflicts. Additionally, China and Russia may find themselves locking horn over creating their hegemony in the region in future.

The overall history of achievements by SCO makes the challenges in the region seem important but resolvable. Still, the dream of greater regional connectivity in Eurasia is still to be achieved and SCO is just the first step towards it. SCO is a good start towards regional cooperation as a platform and all factors point to an optimistic future of the organization in achieving regional connectivity.

Author is a Foreign Policy Analyst and Research Head at a think tank based in Islamabad. She has done Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.) in Governance and Public Policy. Her areas of research include both regional as well as global issues of contemporary international relations.

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Defense

Why is Sweden still on standby to join NATO ?

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Image credit: NATO

Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine undermines European security order, specifically the Nordic states. Growing security threats galvanised Sweden and Finland, historically nonaligned states to join NATO. Strong Defensive alliance is need of hour for both states. Therefore Finland and Sweden handed over their NATO applications on May 18 2022. Finland’s membership gets ratifies by member states of NATO where Sweden still waits in queue for its accession. This article will explore the reasons for putting Sweden on Stand-by at this belligerent stage.

Sweden had an official non alignment policy. Sweden’s non-alignment policy refers to its stance of neutrality in international conflicts and its refusal to align itself with any military alliance. The policy was officially adopted in 1953, during the Cold War, and has been a cornerstone of Swedish foreign policy ever since. Under this policy, Sweden has refused to join military alliances such as NATO, although it has cooperated with NATO on some issues. Instead, Sweden has sought to maintain good relations with all countries and to act as a mediator in international conflicts. Sweden’s non-alignment policy has allowed it to maintain a high degree of independence in its foreign policy, and has helped to establish the country’s reputation as a neutral and peaceful nation. It has also enabled Sweden to pursue an active role in international diplomacy and conflict resolution.

 But World political dynamics took a swift shift after Russia Ukraine war which increased security threat from Russian side towards. To strengthen itself militarily and on mass demand from nation Sweden ends 200 years of militarily neutrality and seeks to join NATO in May 2022.

Finland and Sweden applied for membership together and Finland gets accession on April 4 2023, becoming 31stmember of NATO. Where Sweden’s path to NATO remains blocked by Turkey and Hungary. Turkey has dragged its heel over Sweden claiming that Sweden doesn’t take turkey’s security concerns seriously. Moreover, Turkey also holds Stockholm responsible for harbouring militant group, The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), also known as Kongra Gel, is a militant Marxist-Leninist separatist group, exercising armed insurgency against Turkey for years. On Contrary, Sweden denies these allegations.

Moreover,  in recent weeks Turkey Objected on certain hate crimes in Stockholm. Most condemned incident was burning of Holy Quran near Turkish embassy in Sweden. This blasphemous act was done by Far-right politician and anti-Islam provocateur Rasmus Paludan, a Danish-Swedish national, with a reputation for carrying out similar acts. On this heinous incident, Turkish President Erdoğan responded,

Those who allow such blasphemy in front of our embassy can no longer expect our support for their Nato membership,” Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan,

Another incident which angered Turkey was hanged effigy of Erdoğan in protests across Sweden, which further fuelled the contention between Ankara and Stockholm. These events definitely deepened standoff with Turkey over Sweden’s bid to join NATO.

By providing strong military alliance NATO also expects a high economic and military contributions from its member states. As a NATO member, Sweden will be expected to provide staff to NATO’s political and military structures. Moreover, Sweden will be expected to contribute approximately SEK 600–700 million per year to NATO’s common budget. It is also the stated target that the organisation’s members commit a minimum of 2 per cent of GDP to defence spending, in accordance with NATO’s Defence Investment Pledge that was adopted at NATO’s Wales Summit in 2014. Sweden continues to invest in defence and will reach NATO’s current level of 2 per cent of GDP by 2026. NATO members also aim to allocate at least 20 per cent of defence spending for defence material and research and development.

Sweden’s accession to NATO can be worthwhile for NATO itself Because Sweden is important to NATO’S defence of Baltics. Swedish cooperation with the Alliance would make protecting the Baltics easier and thereby strengthen NATO’s security guarantee to its member countries. That, in turn, would improve NATO’s ability to deter Russian aggression in the region.

Analysts suggest that hurdles in Sweden’s path to Nato could have been lifted if Turkey general election could go in favour of opposition party.  Since president Erdoğan is considered a sole hurdle in Sweden’s ratification. If the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Kilicdaroglu had won, the new Turkish administration would have likely revised some of Erdogan’s more contentious and confrontational foreign policy positions. In that context, a smarter approach by Stockholm and more flexibility from Ankara could lead to Sweden becoming the 32nd member of NATO. Therefore  general elections of Turkey is not only shaping the future of Turks  but for NATO as well.

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Rising Powers in the Asia-Pacific: Implications for Global Stability

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For a long time, the Asia-Pacific region has been the epicentre of rising economic growth and strategic influence, gradually changing the dynamics of world power. Because of the rapid rise of China and India, the increasing influence of ASEAN, and the steady comebacks of Japan and South Korea, its significance has only increased in the twenty-first century. Given the ongoing challenges to the traditional dominance of Western powers, this shifting environment raises intriguing questions about the future of global stability.

The rise of China stands out as the most significant factor in this dynamic. China’s phenomenal economic growth, along with its more assertive foreign policy and military modernization, have propelled it to the forefront of the global stage since the economic reform policies of the late 1970s. The Belt and Road Initiative, companies like Alibaba, and military actions in the South China Sea are just a few of the ways it is increasingly challenging the US-led international order. Due to its second-largest economy, China’s actions and policies have a significant impact on the stability of the world.

Despite lagging behind China, India is another growing Asian power that has started on a path of significant economic expansion. It has the potential to play a significant role in the region due to its distinct demographic dividend, IT industry, and geostrategic location. However, it problems a insufficiency in infrastructure, social inequality, and enduring poverty hinder its potential and raise the level of complexity in the power dynamics of the area.

In the midst of this power shift, Japan and South Korea, two countries that are already major global players, have been rearranging their positions. The balance of power in the region is greatly influenced by their advanced economies, sizable military capabilities, and strategic alliances with the US. A crucial role in the region is also played by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). A seat at the table for shaping the future of the region has been secured for ASEAN despite its diversity and disparities thanks to its prominence in regional diplomatic structures like the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum.

Additionally crucial to this shifting dynamic are the Pacific powers, particularly the US and Australia. While the US remains the most powerful country on the planet, it must deal with these new regional forces, necessitating a reevaluation of its Asia-Pacific strategy. Australia’s position has changed as well as a result of its efforts to strike a balance between its regional economic interests and its long-standing alliances. The effects of these changing power dynamics on world stability are significant. First, there is a chance that a power vacuum in the area could cause unrest and possible conflict. This is amply demonstrated by the South China Sea dispute, in which numerous nations are asserting territorial claims and frequently supporting them with military showdowns.

Second, the spread of power might also create more significant opportunities for cooperation and multilateralism. However, much of this depends on these countries’ ability to manage disagreements and rivalries as well as build inclusive and effective regional institutions. Thirdly, these changes might result in new economic structures that reshape international economic relationships and structures. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a free trade agreement involving 15 countries in the Asia-Pacific, is a good illustration of this. Last but not least, the changes in power may significantly affect international institutions and norms. As Asia-Pacific nations gain power, they may try to change international institutions so that they better represent their interests.

The main worry, however, is that these changes could result in more tensions and conflicts as countries with various political ideologies and systems compete for influence. For instance, the rivalry between the US and China goes beyond merely a contest of political and economic power. Several things are essential to preserving global stability in the midst of these shifting power dynamics. First and foremost, it is essential to promote a cooperative regional order based on mutual respect and gain. Second, preventing the escalation of regional disputes into conflict requires ensuring that they are settled peacefully in accordance with international law. Third, safeguarding and bolstering regional and international institutions will be essential for preserving stability and offering forums for communication and cooperation.

In conclusion, it is undeniable that the power dynamics in the Asia-Pacific are shifting. For the stability of the world, this evolution poses both danger and promise. How well we navigate this shifting landscape, handle potential conflicts, and seize opportunities for cooperation will determine whether the world can continue to be peaceful and stable.

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Defense

Beyond the Battlefield

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Since the beginning of time, wars and conflicts have been an inextricable part of human history. As such, they have developed in lockstep with the complex interactions between social, political, and technological changes that have shaped our world. Warfare’s methods and goals have undergone a significant metamorphosis, moving from crude and simple engagements to ones that are sophisticated and complex. Armed conflicts have expanded to take on global proportions with the advent of destructive world wars, and are no longer restricted to simple tribal or regional skirmishes. In addition to transcending their religious roots, these conflicts are now driven by nationalistic imperatives, giving rise to wars with geopolitical goals.

However, in the fierce race to reach the pinnacle of technological achievement with the introduction of a revolutionary artificial intelligence-powered search engine, issues of veracity and the widespread dissemination of false information are the most crucial issues of our time. These worries are well-founded because the consequences of a poorly functioning search engine could distort reality, worsen the already virulent spread of false information, and cause irreparable harm to the fabric of truth.

Additionally, warfare has changed from being characterized by linear battles to being characterized by maneuver warfare, placing greater emphasis on flexibility, agility, and strategic maneuvering. Armed engagements have evolved from primitive first-generation manifestations to the complex dynamics of fourth-generation warfare. They now involve a variety of unconventional tactics such as asymmetric tactics, psychological operations, and information warfare. Thus, in order to successfully navigate the complexity of the modern battlefield, this evolution calls for both a thorough understanding of the many facets of modern warfare and the adoption of adaptive strategies.

Simultaneously, the concept of fifth-generation warfare, also known as hybrid warfare, denotes a paradigm shift in contemporary military tactics, where the importance of cultural warfare, information warfare, and unconventional methods surpasses the conventional use of brute force on the battlefield, as seen in third- and fourth-generation warfare. India is said to be using 5th-generation warfare strategies against Pakistan to sow seeds of enmity and spread false information in an effort to block Pakistan’s progress. Moreover, India is using all of its resources to undermine Pakistani society in a number of different domains. Pakistan to modernize its weaponry and armed forces given the strategic landscape of South Asia, which is becoming more complex and volatile, especially given India’s use of fifth-generation warfare against Pakistan.

Relatedly, information warfare has undeniably grown significantly important in the effort to effectively project Pakistan’s narrative both domestically and internationally. A well-calibrated national response reinforced by a clearly defined foreign policy is required in light of the double-edged nature of fifth-generation warfare. Modern times see a rapid spread of irregular wars across the spectrum of conflict, amid intensifying great power competition, as the nature of warfare changes continuously.

Modern warfare has undergone a sea change as a result of the advancement of information technology, which makes it easier for nontraditional actors like violent extremist groups to communicate. We find ourselves ensconced in a world permeated by high tension, accompanied by a flood of tweets, ranging from the tumultuous battlefields in Ukraine to a pernicious terrorist attack on mass transit inside the borders of the United States. Our insatiable appetite for knowledge is driven by a desire to protect our safety, show compassion for those who are suffering, or see wrongdoers brought to justice. Despite our desire for knowledge, we must maintain an appropriate level of skepticism toward the sources that provide it. After all, we are living in a time that is frequently referred to as the “golden age of fake news.

Today’s conflicts are largely not fought between nation-states and their armies; instead, they are increasingly fought with the mighty arsenal of words rather than with traditional weapons. In recent years, policy discussions, popular discourse, and academic analyses have given priority to a particular breed of weaponry: “fake news” and viral disinformation. In reality, disinformation used in warfare in the digital age may not differ much from other forms of warfare; after all, wars are fought to establish power, with some reaping financial rewards while the most vulnerable suffer the most.

The problem of fake news has gotten worse since the Internet and social networks were invented. The conventional news model, which involved a small number of media outlets run by experienced journalists who interviewed reliable sources and meticulously verified the information before it was published, has been overturned by the current media environment. Today, there are numerous channels, a never-ending stream of messages, and an environment where contradictory information is frequently overlooked that all contribute to the relative ease with which conspiracy theories and rumors can spread. The temptation to cling to a simpler fiction rather than taking on the laborious task of dissecting a more complex reality grows as we are frequently presented with contradictory messages.

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