Authors: Meena Singh Roy &Rajorshi Roy*
“As the political landscape of the region changed at the turn of this century, India restored its historical ties of natural affinity with the Central Asian countries….. Our membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is a natural extension of these relationships and mirrors the region’s place in India’s future. Together with other countries present here, SCO could be a springboard for an integrated and connected Eurasia to become one of the most dynamic regions in the world” — statement by Prime Minister Modi at the 2015 SCO Ufa Summit that highlights the scope and importance of SCO in India’s Eurasian geostrategic calculus.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) has emerged as a key regional organisation in the Eurasian space. Accounting for over 60 per cent of Eurasia’s territory and more than 40 per cent of the world’s population, the Eurasian members produce almost a quarter of the world’s GDP. The introduction of new states, both as permanent and observer members, has not only expanded the frontiers of the organisation but also helped unshackle the image of an organisation limited in its scope and effectiveness. The renewed momentum at building regional synergies is reflected in addressing common security challenges and building long-term economic and energy linkages. While still a work in progress, there inherently appears to be a strong desire among SCO stakeholders to strengthen the bonds of regional cooperation. This is, arguably, reflected in co-opting Afghanistan as an Observer State with a view to transform a potential arc of Eurasian instability into an oasis of regional stability.
India’s interests, against this backdrop, align with that of the SCO. New Delhi, which acquired the Observer status of the organisation in 2005, has constructively participated in all SCO summit meetings. This culminated in it being accorded the full member status in 2017. More than a decade’s participation in the organisation highlights India’s willingness to play a more meaningful role in this regional grouping. This stems from India’s strategy of rebuilding Eurasian partnerships that once made the confluence of South and Central Asia the magnetic centre of the known world. The SCO, thus, provides India with a platform to strengthen its outreach to Inner Asia.
The present paper seeks to examine India’s growing interest and role in this Eurasian organisation. More importantly, it aims to answer two key questions – what it means for India to be a full member of the SCO? And what are the likely opportunities for cooperation and challenges that New Delhi can encounter in the future?
It is argued that given India’s benign strategic image, growing economic potential, and vast experience and expertise in building institutional capabilities, it can add greater value to SCO’s ongoing projects and share best practices in newer areas to forge a common vision for the region. India’s foundational pillars in the SCO appear at expanding synergies of cooperation in connectivity, counter-terrorism, energy and economic arenas.
However, the key challenge for India will be to adapt to Eurasia’s emerging geopolitical reality. Shifting great power rivalries, inherent tides of dominance, undercurrents of both geostrategic and geo-economic cooperation and competition, and desire of Central Asian states for greater strategic manoeuvre highlight the Eurasian churnings that New Delhi will need to navigate. This is, arguably, reflected in the geopolitics of the multiple ambitious integration projects being pursued by China, Russia, U.S. and even India. While integration is viewed as an antidote to Central Asia’s underdevelopment, which in turn contributes to the region’s political volatility and instability, yet their underlying agendas can have far-reaching strategic implications.
This paper is divided into four sections – the first deals with the evolution of SCO and the emerging regional dynamics, the second highlights the importance of SCO for India, the third delves into the opportunities for expanding New Delhi’s engagement with the organisation, and the final section crystal grazes into the future relevance of SCO and the challenges that India is likely to encounter.
I. Evolution of the SCO: An Expanded Regional Agenda
The profile of SCO, right from its nomenclature to its scope, has grown since its inception in 1996. Established as Shanghai Five by Russia, China and the newly independent Central Asian Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the organisation aimed to resolve longstanding Eurasian border disputes. With its foundation being based on the Treaty of Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions, the institution was looked through the prism of “promoting and deepening good neighbour relations, mutual confidence and friendship among the member-states”.
The organisation in its current avatar emerged in 2001 when the Shanghai Five was elevated to SCO by broadening its limited scope of resolving border issues to inculcating cooperation in the security, economic and cultural domains. Uzbekistan now joined the five founding members of Shanghai Five. The Founding Declaration of SCO outlined its defining goal as:
“strengthening mutual confidence, friendship and good neighbourly relations between the participating states; encouraging effective cooperation between them in the political, trade-economic, scientific-technical, cultural, educational, energy, transportation, ecological and other areas; joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region; and to build a new democratic, just and rational political and economic international order.”
The SCO also imbued elements of the 1996 Shanghai Spirit, with the organisation’s founding declaration aiming to “pursue its internal policy based on the principles of mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, mutual consultations, respect for cultural diversity, and a desire for common development, while its external policy is conducted in accordance with the principles of non-alignment, non-targeting any third country, and openness.”
With almost two decades behind it, the SCO, through an expanded agenda, has now evolved into a key pillar of Eurasian political and security architecture. It has morphed to focus on both traditional and non-traditional security threats, set up a fully functional Regional Anti-terrorist Structure (RATS) to tackle the three ‘evils’ of terrorism, separatism and extremism, conducted anti-terror exercises, prioritised Afghanistan’s reconstruction and stability, dwelt on building long-term economic, connectivity and energy linkages, and articulated the need for strengthening cultural foundations and people to people contacts.
The inclusion of India and Pakistan as full members in 2017, co-opting Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia as the Observer States, and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey as Dialogue Partners have not only added a new vibrancy to the organisation but also reflected its pan-Asian geographical spread – straddling Central, South, South-East and West Asian regions. It’s guest attendees include ASEAN, UN, CIS and Turkmenistan. SCO, arguably, has emerged as a key platform for regional cooperation and engagement.
Nevertheless, given the inherent strategic importance of Eurasia, the organisation is not immune to great power rivalries, inherent tides of dominance, the balance of power politics, and undercurrents of geostrategic and geo-economic competition.
Evolving Regional Dynamics
The SCO remains rooted in Eurasian geopolitics. The organisation’s scope and importance have, therefore, evolved in sync with the regional geopolitical churnings. This stems primarily from the SCO being a vital instrument of China’s and Russia’s foreign policy towards Central Asian Republics (CARs), as well as a reflection of CARs strategy of balancing their relations with two big neighbours — Russia and China and maintaining their scope for strategic manoeuvre. In between, the U.S. has continued to remain a key tangent, oscillating between being a partner to becoming a rival and an adversary based on regional strategic calculations.
This trend continues, with Russia’s ongoing standoff with the West being the key driver shaping Eurasia’s strategic landscape. Moscow has sought to push-back the ‘Western’ attempts to isolate it by reasserting its influence in Central Asia — an area which has traditionally been the Kremlin’s sphere of influence or it’s near abroad’. Apart from being the predominant security provider of the region, Russia retains civilizational, cultural and ethnic linkages with CARs.
Meanwhile, China has emerged as Eurasia’s dominant trade and investment partner. Its modus operandi in SCO has been to utilise the organisation as a platform to cultivate stronger bilateral synergies with CARs. It has now increasingly sought to leverage its formidable economic prowess by making Central Asia the fulcrum of its Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB). This route, expected to connect Beijing with Europe via CARs, can fundamentally realign Eurasian geopolitics, with China edging out Russia at its forefront.
This undercurrent of clash of interests between Russia and China seemingly highlight their inherent shades of competition in Eurasia — with Moscow trying to reassert its fading influence while Beijing was attempting to expand its footprint. However, given Russia’s vulnerable position in its evolving confrontation with the West, Moscow has been compelled to build an entente with China to tap Beijing’s potential to be a bulwark against the Western geopolitical pressure. This Sino-Russian rapprochement has seen the Kremlin accommodate China even in Central Asia. Russian concessions involve acquiescing to a quantitative and qualitative improvement in Chinese military exchanges with regional countries and aligning the Moscow led Eurasian Economic Union’s (EEU) policies with SREB.
Russia and China also have a shared Eurasian interest — to counterbalance America’s Eurasian policy, which has been disruptive to their interests in the past — the ostensible regime changes through colour revolutions, in particular, and the U.S role and influence in global politics in general. Notably, they both face Western geopolitical pressure in their peripheries. As such, a Sino-Russian common vision for the region aims to ring-fence Eurasia from Western influence and project the image of an emerging geopolitical construct which is not only non-West but also bigger than the West. This convergence of interests is further highlighted in their need to insulate CARs from an Arab-Spring like situation, given the evolving politico-economic faultlines in Central Asia.
Nevertheless, hidden behind the Russian accommodative stand exists a more nuanced strategy aimed at subtly balancing Beijing in an attempt to maintain an equilibrium in their ties whose symmetry, otherwise, appears to be tilting towards Beijing. This is reflected in the Kremlin’s efforts to revive the EEU which inherently pulls Central Asian members into Moscow’s strategic embrace by offering exclusive preferential duties, a single currency and free movement of labour for the Eurasian economies. Needless to say, China is not a member of the EEU.
In the meantime, the U.S. too appears to be recalibrating its Eurasian strategy. While its 2015 C5+1 diplomatic platform had enabled Washington to establish a framework of high-level engagement with CARs, yet, if President Trump’s track record of being fixated on ‘America First’ policy is an indication, U.S. influence in Eurasia is likely to diminish, particularly at a time when Washington appears imminently poised to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan. A 36 per cent reduction in the U.S. aid to Central Asia in 2018 is an indication that wheels of U.S. disengagement have already been set in motion. Viewed through the lens of Russia and China, while an American withdrawal from Kabul is likely to exacerbate the worsening security situation in the country with a potential spillover of violence into Eurasia, U.S. disengagement will also leave Eurasia to regional powers to carve out a regional cooperative mechanism. These developments are in marked contrast to the 2017 testimony of Daniel Rosenblum, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, who stated that the America’s Central Asia policy aimed to improve the ‘ability of the Central Asian states to resist economic and political pressures from the powerful countries that border the region’, and that the engagement sought to ‘promote greater cooperation and connectivity in a region that has one of the lowest levels of intra-regional trade in the world’.
At a regional level, new developments in the Af-Pak region, renewed American sanctions on Iran and Turkey’s fissures with the West have created a situation of strategic alignments and realignments. In this emerging situation, regional actors like India, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan have been re-engaging CARs by developing ties, both at bilateral and regional levels. Notably, all these regional powers are partners of SCO, highlighting the centrality of the organisation in the regional integration process.
In this Eurasian geopolitical chessboard, the Central Asian countries have sought to strike a balance in maximising their political and economic gains from each actor while trying to preserve their strategic autonomy. Notably, CARs remain inherently suspicious of Beijing’s overall economic motives and apprehensive of a greater strategic embrace by Moscow. Broadening their regional relationships, thereby, provides them with a platform to increase their scope for strategic manoeuvre. Arguably, the political dynamics among CARs now appear inclined towards intra-regional cooperation. This is reflected in the new Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s conciliatory outreach to other Central Asian countries to resolve contentious regional issues, including those on the delimitation of borders and sharing river waters.
Consequently, while the spectre of great power rivalries and competition continue to cast its shadow on Eurasia, yet the ongoing regional dynamics highlight a shift towards the greater regional cooperative approach.
II. India and the SCO: From an Observer State to a Full Member
From an Observer State in 2005 to a full member in 2017, the evolution of India’s more than a decade long exposure and engagement with SCO highlight the growing relevance of the organisation in India’s Eurasian strategic calculus. As a full member of the SCO, India is now not just an observer, where it would earlier be compelled to react and recalibrate its position based on its Eurasian observations, but a key stakeholder in shaping the dynamics of Central Asia. Given the geopolitical realignments, the stakes are high, responsibilities higher and immense opportunities to expand its engagement.
In this context, India’s ongoing engagement with SCO can be seen through the prism of reconnecting and re-energising ties with a region with which India has shared civilizational linkages, and is considered the country’s extended neighbourhood. Significantly, India views the SCO as an Asian body and not a military bloc. From New Delhi’s perspective, SCO as a forum provides a unique opportunity to discuss and expand new areas of cooperation in the economic, energy, developmental, connectivity, and traditional and non-traditional security arenas. It is also an alternative regional platform to delve into the rapidly changing situation in Afghanistan and the centrifugal forces arising from religious extremism and terrorism in the region which threaten India’s security and development. These nuances were aptly reflected in Prime Minister Modi’s statement at the 2017 Astana SCO Summit, wherein he articulated the ‘many dimensions of India’s involvement with SCO countries, with energy, education, agriculture, security, minerals, capacity building, development partnership, trade and investment as its major drivers.’ The forum also provides India greater visibility in the affairs of the Eurasian region and enables it to renew bilateral ties with regional countries on an annual basis.
Similarly, from SCO’s perspective, India’s growing global economic and political heft adds weight and credence to the organisation’s own profile, and, perhaps, dispels the Western notion of its existence being solely limited to counter-balance American influence in the region and it being an exclusive anti-U.S. talk shop. In this context, New Delhi’s calibration of a new regional cooperation approach which prioritises connectivity and development projects, its achievements in nation-building, and positive economic outlook in an era of slowing global growth carries a significant resonance in the region.
More importantly, India retains the inherent potential to balance competing strategic interests. Its benign image, positive historical connections and expertise in developmental partnerships place India as a credible partner for CARs in their calculus to strengthen their strategic autonomy vis-à-vis Russia and China. Similarly, given the existing Russian vulnerability in the face of the balance of Sino-Russian ties tilting towards Beijing, a more prominent Indian presence in Central Asia, leveraged by the traditional Indo-Russian partnership, fits well within Moscow’s strategic calculus of subtly balancing Beijing. From New Delhi’s perspective, Moscow can facilitate an enduring Indian-Eurasian partnership, given the substantial linkages the Kremlin retains with CARs. A calibrated Indian-Russian coordination in Central Asia can also help overcome the latent dissonance that has lately crept in their strategic outlook.
Meanwhile, given the Wuhan Spirit-led ongoing positive momentum in India-China ties, the SCO can be a platform for India to reset ties with China. Beijing’s ongoing and unpredictable standoff with the U.S. can be leveraged to build greater Chinese sensitivity to India’ core concerns since a confrontation with New Delhi can further muddy China’s external strategic environment. In this context, it is in Beijing’s interest to prevent India from aligning its strategic priorities with that of the U.S., particularly in India being an inherent partner of the American policy to balance China. Therefore, the recent India-China joint programme to train Afghan diplomats is a reflection of not only their convergence of interests to stabilise the region but also the benefits of a détente in their strategic outlook towards each other. China’s Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui has stated, “India and China shared similar views on the war-torn country, including the need to support an Afghan-led and owned peace and reconciliation process and fight terrorism.” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was also quoted as saying, “the launch of this programme marks an important step forward. It reflects the closer coordination and cooperation between our two countries on regional affairs and represents a positive development in China-India relations.” While it is likely that India’s cooperation and contestation with China will go hand in hand, it is, nevertheless, in both their interest to comprehensively engage each other. With India seeking sustained high growth, and China transforming its economy to avoid the middle-income trap, both will gain by preserving strategic peace and forging increased mutual dependence between them. It is imperative that India and China set up a modus vivendi for the 21st century to be viewed through the lens of an Asia century. This sentiment was aptly reflected in Prime Minister Modi’s statement at the 2018 Shangri La Dialogue wherein he stated: “Asia of rivalry will hold us all back. Asia of cooperation will shape this century.”
In the same vein, SCO provides New Delhi with an opportunity to constructively engage Pakistan regionally while at the same time neutralise Islamabad’s negative moves in the region. A major impediment in India’s expanded engagement with Eurasia remains the strategic denial of direct land connectivity between India and Afghanistan and beyond by Islamabad. SCO’s emphasis on promoting economic cooperation, trade, energy and regional connectivity can, perhaps, unblock India’s access to Eurasia, and provide a fillip to projects like TAPI and CASAREM which seek to bridge the gap between an energy-rich and energy deficit region. Notably, India imports close to 80 per cent of its hydrocarbon requirements, the majority of it from the volatile West Asian region. This has led India to seek energy security in the resource-rich Central Asian region, and build its trade and transport linkages through bilateral and regional mechanisms. With Afghanistan’s membership of SAARC and an Observer State in SCO, it is theoretically possible to envision an arc of advantage — a new Silk Route of energy and economic stakes connecting the Ferghana Valley to the Mekong Delta — should peace and stability return to the region.
In this context, India has expressed its commitment to connectivity projects that are open, transparent, economically sustainable and fiscally responsible. It has also articulated the view that developmental finance for connectivity projects must respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity as well as the environment. And, connectivity projects should highlight the priorities of the host nations. India’s participation in the International North-South Transport Corridor and Ashgabat Agreement, and development of Chabahar Port appear to be guided by these principles.
Overall, India’s presence in SCO can provide better triangular relations between India, Russia and China to address new security challenges meaningfully, enhance infrastructural development projects, and create a network of regional oil and gas pipelines for the larger benefit of Central and South Asian region. This also blends in with PM Modi’s agenda of sustainable development of the region. Notably, at the 2018 SCO summit, the Indian Prime Minister had articulated the foundational dimension of Eurasia being ‘SECURE’. The letters in the word SECURE are:
S for Security of our citizens,
E for Economic development for all,
C for Connecting the region,
U for Unite our people,
R for Respect for Sovereignty and Integrity, and
E for Environment protection.
III. Opportunities for Expanding India’s Engagement with SCO: Forging a Common Vision
As a new full-time member, the onus is on New Delhi to carve out a meaningful role for itself and contribute constructively to the SCO’s expanded agenda. In its attempt to forge a common vision for the future, India does have a head start in the form of a benign and friendly image, growing economic profile, vast experience and expertise in building institutional capabilities, and more importantly, the desire to qualitatively and quantitatively increase its engagement with the region. However, it will still need to adapt and adopt innovative ways of interaction in sync with the ongoing regional strategic realignments. In this context, a critique of India’s Central Asian outreach in the past has been the episodic nature of its engagement. Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the region in 2015 and the robust political, strategic and economic interaction thereafter, however, do indicate a quantum shift in India’s commitment to play a bigger role in building regional synergies.
The Indian Prime Minister did lay out the scope of India’s contribution to SCO at the 2015 Ufa summit – “we will work together with SCO for sustainable development and combating climate change……. combat terrorism and extremism that is a rising threat to the entire region….. support efforts to create an environment that eases barriers and facilitates trade and investments in the region….. and would lend our support to improving transportation and communication networks in the region.” India’s focus, therefore, appears to be on expanding synergies of cooperation in connectivity, counter-terrorism, energy and economic arenas.
In this context, India is uniquely positioned to contribute towards these mutually beneficial projects — a fact acknowledged by the majority of SCO states. Notably, India is expected to maintain an annual growth rate over 6 per cent for the foreseeable future, and a recent Pricewaterhouse Coopers report projects India to be the 3rd largest global economy in PPP terms by 2030. These economic indicators increase the attractiveness of India being a stable economic partner for SCO countries to fast-track Eurasia’s regional economic development.
A. Combining Strengths to Tackle Emerging Regional Security Threats
Today, terrorism is not limited to one particular area, having spread its tentacles to South, Central and the West Asian region. It has also morphed — new actors and forces connect more easily through terror networks, and use social media to recruit, train and finance their extremist activities.
In this context, the drawdown of Western forces from Afghanistan and the rise of Islamic State (IS) with its stated intention to create ‘Khorasan’ have added a new explosive dimension to the region’s security landscape. In many ways, security and stability of Eurasia are linked to peace in Afghanistan. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) has shown signs of revival while the Taliban and IS have expanded their presence in northern parts of the country bordering CARs.  Similarly, the Al-Qaeda linked Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), comprising largely of Uighur jihadist members, has indicated its willingness to join the Afghan Taliban, apart from being active in Syria. This raises the prospect of spillover of violence into the Eurasian heartland, given the regional terror groups linkages. Central Asia also remains vulnerable due to the many drug trafficking routes that traverse through the region. This assumes even greater significance given the ties between drug trafficking, terrorism and organised crime. Notably, the largely secular CARs have witnessed a growing shift towards Political Islam. Several fault lines, ranging from weakened socio-economic state structures to inter-ethnic discords, have led to increased radicalisation, particularly among the regional youth. This is has seen more than 2,000 Central Asians joining the IS. The Ferghana Valley remains a hotbed of religious extremism.
Similarly, the potential base of Khorasan in the Af-Pak area can be the pivot to spread IS influence in Kashmir. IS has already threatened to attack India, kidnapped Indians in the Middle East and indoctrinated a few. As such, the prospect of IMU, IS, Taliban, TIP and other extremist outfits coordinating their militant activities in Eurasia raise the spectre of an arc of regional instability. It is, therefore, in India and SCO’s interest that Afghanistan does not regress into a hub of terrorism.
India, as a victim of terrorism, has been developing its skills at the national and state level and cooperating with other countries at the regional and international level to fight this menace. It has articulated the belief that no country can fight terrorism alone, and that only a well-coordinated, multilateral and integrated effort can tackle this problem. To counter these threats and challenges, India can share its experience with the region. In the post 26/11 phase, India’s counter-terrorism infrastructure has been strengthened. India can offer expertise on policy aspects, train people and provide technological solutions. India has niche capabilities in satellite, bio and information technologies which can help in collecting and analysing intelligence that can, in turn, be employed for counter-terrorism and human development. Thus, India can offer customised solutions if required.
India’s desire to strengthen its security cooperation with SCO was noted by its External Affairs Minister during the 2014 SC summit meeting, where she said, “we are keen to deepen our security-related cooperation with the SCO in general and with the Regional Counter-Terrorism Structure, in particular.” In this context, India has actively supported the SCO Qingdao Summit Leaders’ ‘Appeal to Youth’ against radicalisation of youth, participated in the SCO Peace Mission 2018 counter-terrorism exercises and attempted to strengthen its coordination with RATS. It is also likely to co-host the next meeting of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group along with Afghanistan.
B. Strengthen Connectivity, Trade, Economic and Energy Linkages
The foundation of India’s economic outreach to Inner Asia is based on its 2012 Connect Central Asia Policy with its focus on the 4 C’s – Commerce, Connectivity, Consular and Community. These are aimed at building long-term partnerships, both bilaterally and collectively. India’s willingness to share its unique experience in banking, finance, Information Technology (IT), education, telecommunications, health and agriculture with CARs can be leveraged to build mutually beneficial development partnerships. Given the regional economic slowdown, brought on by the devaluation of the rouble, India, with its long-term positive economic outlook, can help stabilise the region. India has implemented several projects involving IT excellence, entrepreneurship development and industrial training centres in Central Asia. Some of India’s core strengths that can be leveraged to expand India’s engagement with SCO involve:
Pharmaceutical and Health Care: One of India’s biggest strength is its niche capabilities in the pharma, health care and hospitality sectors. It’s pharmaceutical companies have much to offer to the Eurasian region, including affordable medicines. Other areas of collaboration can include telemedicine and medical tourism. Notably, India has emerged as an attractive destination for medical tourism for regional countries.
Green Technology and Bio-Fuels: Green technology is an area where India is investing heavily, particularly in solar, bio and wind energy. India is a founding member of the International Solar Alliance with its secretariat based in the outskirts of New Delhi. India can contribute, collaborate and share its experience with the regional countries on adopting clean, renewable energy. These capabilities can gain traction on account of environmental issues being a serious cause of concern for the entire region. Given the successful India-Russia cooperation on ash damps, it has been suggested that this project could become one of the pilot projects for India to cooperate with SCO.
Education: India has a robust education and training curriculum that can be offered to the SCO member states. Its technology institutes, business schools, and banking and financial institutions can be of relevance for the region. In this context, India’s successful tele-education and telemedicine initiatives in Africa can be a model for the Eurasian region as well. Similarly, New Delhi’s Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme (ITEC) programme with the Central Asian countries, which seeks to build capacity in the region, can be further expanded.
Culture: Given India’s historical and civilizational linkages with the Eurasian countries, culture can be a vital area where India can contribute to the SCO processes. Old regional links can be revived in order to frame confidence-building measures. Cultural exchange programmes, in the mould of ‘SCO Our Common Home’, ‘Days of Open Doors’, SCO Film Festival and SCO World Heritage Exhibition, that foster greeter people to people contacts and exchange of ideas can be expanded. Indian art, music, dance and movies continue to be popular in the region. India’s proposal to host the SCO exhibition on ‘Shared Buddhist Heritage’ in 2019 is a step in the right direction. Notably, Buddhism had spread from India to Central Asia with Buddhist stupas being discovered at Dalvarzintepe near Bukhara and Tashkent being named after a local Buddha altar.
Infrastructure and Energy: India and SCO members share a similar objective of developing multi-modal transport and transit routes, effectively linking markets of Central Asia to South Asia, South East Asia and Europe, to boost intra and inter-regional trade and investment. The need of the hour, therefore, is to build pan-Asian cooperation. India is already working to enhance its connectivity with the region through the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). The present government has recently outlined its vision for unified connectivity among the South Asian countries. In this context, cooperation between SARCC and SCO to enhance connectivity and build energy pipelines will go a long way in bridging distances. The first meeting of the Heads of Railways of the SCO Member States held in September 2018 highlights the endless possibilities of shortening the prevailing distances. Indian companies have, meanwhile, built considerable expertise in building refineries. Indian infrastructure and oil companies can cooperate with CARs, China, Russia, Iran, Mongolia and other member states to boost ties in the regional framework. The SCO’s deliberations on forming an Energy Club, in order to bring together the regional producers and consumers, hold strategic relevance for an energy deficit India.
Disaster Management: Given the multiple disasters, both natural and man-made, that India has faced, the country has developed robust disaster management practices covering a broad spectrum of worst-case scenarios. These are being further augmented by niche Indian advancements in space with satellite mapping and weather forecasting helping prevent and mitigate disasters. India’s skills can be of relevance for SCO members who have had to tackle critical environmental challenges in the past.
IV. Future of SCO
In less than two decades, SCO has emerged as an eminent Eurasian construct. Its geostrategic pillar, which prioritises tackling security threats, remains the most enduring fulcrum of its membership. While the organisation’s focus has expanded to build economic, connectivity and energy synergies, yet the results have been mixed. An evolving objective of SCO now appears to increase not just its regional but also its global strategic and economic profile. The inclusion of new members reflects a growing pan-Asian acceptance of the organisation beyond Eurasia. Against the backdrop of shifting sands of global economic and political heft from the West to the East, the SCO has morphed into a relevant pillar of this change. However, for the 21st century to be truly recognised as an Asian century, an effective regional cooperative mechanism would need to be one of its key pivots, and, arguably, the SCO can be a key organisation by the Asians, of the Asians and for the Asians.
The key challenge for SCO will be to navigate the evolving regional and global strategic landscape, marked by unpredictability and turbulence, in order to unlock its true regional potential. Recalibration of traditional alliances, the formation of new partnerships, and undermining 21st century’s foundational pillars, including globalisation which has acquired a pejorative connotation, are being played out at multiple spaces, including in Eurasia.
Given their dominant position in the SCO, their existential stakes in the region and ongoing rapprochement, it is likely that Russia and China will seek to consolidate continental Eurasia. However, the organisation’s inter and intra-regional contradictions, including the evolving asymmetric Moscow-China ties, can inherently limit the Sino-Russian calculus. A key vector of SCO’s future will, therefore, depend upon the equilibrium in Russia-China ties. Notably, this equilibrium or asymmetry, competition or cooperation, and being a partner or rival is linked to a large extent on the triangular Russia-China-U.S. relationship. For both Moscow and Beijing, their ongoing standoff with Washington has compelled them to seek greater synergies not just among themselves but also with others to navigate the Western pressure. This may lead to a more Sino-Russian accommodative approach towards regional players.
In this context, the manner in which the SCO will accommodate the concerns and interests of smaller CARs will be vital in shaping the organisation’s future. The Central Asian Republics remain fearful of a closer strategic embrace by Russia and apprehensive of China’s growing economic pre-eminence which has cast a shadow on their local economies. Their focus on intra-regional cooperation and exploration of new partnerships to increase their space for strategic manoeuvre highlight the centrifugal dynamics in play. Similarly, SCO members have, in the past, expressed fears of the organisation being held hostage to India’s and Pakistan’s adversarial relationship, and their fears would likely have worsened in recent times.
In the meantime, the organisation’s goals to create a web of trade, economic, connectivity and energy arteries may hit a brick wall in the face of the region’s evolving economic dynamics which is being increasingly dominated by and dependent on a singular power with all roads leading to and from Beijing. This raises long term questions on whether these linkages are transparent, economically sustainable, and fiscally responsible, and reflect the priorities of the host nations. In the 18th Qingdao SCO meeting, India did not endorse the grouping’s declaration on the Belt and the Road Initiative (BRI) since the BRI is centred on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which goes through areas of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). In order to build a cooperative spirit, the SCO would need to accommodate the concerns of all members who interest may not always converge although, in principle, ‘better connectivity can help nations overcome political differences by conceiving of their borders as bridges, not barriers, by better leveraging their geographic proximity for mutual benefit, by optimally utilising the vast resources of the region, and enhancing their capacities and competitiveness to more effectively engage with the international system’. The key challenge for SCO, given the enormous stakes, therefore, will be to find the proverbial sweet spot of regional cooperation.
It is likely that the immediate priority for cooperation will be in areas where the majority of SCO member states interests converge, and they can pool their strengths. These involve fighting terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking. Even then, the vital question is will SCO, which is not a military organisation, find common ground to intervene militarily in Afghanistan if the country is on the verge of collapse?
Consequently, while the jury on SCO is still out yet its potential remains immense. The organisation will likely continue to remain a principal vector of Eurasia strategic architecture.
Meanwhile, India, as a new member, will need to formulate an appropriate Eurasian strategy. India’s regional interests stem from its goals to partner the CARs in sustainable nation-building through development partnerships, maintaining their sovereignty, preventing the region from being a hub of terrorism and extremism, and retaining Central Asia’s vector of being a bridge between Asia and Europe for building trade, transport, connectivity, and economic linkages. At the same time, it is also in India’s interest that this region does not evolve into a geopolitical chessboard of great game rivalries.
In this context, several of SCO’s initiatives have the potential to address these issues. Given the fact that decisions in SCO are made on the basis of consensus, India is now in a better position to advance its interests in its extended neighbourhood which, as an observer, it was unable to do so.
Today, India is also in a unique position to leverage the contradictions in great power rivalry. It is the only country within the Russia-India-China triangle which has a fairly positive relationship with the U.S. While this could be a challenge for New Delhi in SCO, particularly if the organisation morphs into an anti-U.S. grouping, yet the opportunity could be to leverage better ties with each big power to improve ties with others in this illustrative quadrilateral. Notably, India has improved its links will all SCO members, with the exception of Pakistan, in the last two years. This highlights the potential to reset great power relations with both Russia and China, with cooperation and not confrontation being the pivot of regional strategic orientation. Notably, the Wuhan spirit of cooperative engagement has seen even China adopt a fairly neutral position on India’s retaliation against Pakistan in response to Pulwama terror attacks.
Therefore, within the framework of SCO, India will have to make every possible effort to not only strengthen regional cooperation but also utilise SCO summit meetings to cement bilateral engagements with SCO member states.
Nevertheless, the challenges that need to be navigated, including the new equation of growing Russia-China-Pakistan triangular convergence of interests, remain on the horizon. This has seen even Russia — India’s traditional partner — adopt a more nuanced position on New Delhi’s key strategic concerns.
With the stakes being high, deft diplomacy in an increasingly uncertain and unpredictable yet opportunistic world would be called upon to preserve and promote India’s vital interests. Looking North is now more imperative than ever before.
*Rajorshi Roy Research Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses
From our partner RIAC
Discussion of the authors on this theme with Amb Jayant Prasad, former Director-General, IDSA.
The two energy projects – the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, and the Central Asia South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project (CASA-1000) which is expected to bring Tajik and Kyrgyz hydropower to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and evolve into the Central Asia-South Asia Regional Energy Market (CASAREM), once the planned Central Asian hydro potential comes on stream, can facilitate a region-wide energy exchange.
 Ibid (14)
 Meena Singh Roy and Rajorshi Roy, “Managing Threats and Challenges of Terrorism in the Eurasian Region”, in Asian Strategic Review 2016 – Terrorism: Emerging Trends, (ed) S.D. Muni and Vivek Chadha, Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2016.
This quote, attributed to Amb Jayant Prasad, Director General of IDSA, was made during his interaction with the authors.
U.S Vs China view on the Iranian nuclear proliferation risks
The Chinese view and philosophy on Iranian nuclear proliferation can be understood through (the Chinese emphasis on the current global security situation and its passing through complex and profound changes, and the challenges of curbing and exacerbating proliferation and nuclear security are exacerbating, while the threat of nuclear terrorism cannot be ignored), which it overlooked and ignored the Western powers and American policies themselves, contrary to the Chinese vision.
The Chinese understanding regarding confronting the US pressure on Iran over its nuclear program is characterized by the mechanism of Iran’s regional positioning in the Middle East and making it a major regional power, especially after the “strategic partnership agreement with Iran for 25 years in March 2021”, with China intensifying its partnership efforts with other powers to mobilize them and recruit them to the Chinese side to exert collective pressures on the United States of America regarding forcing it to accept the Iranian conditions on negotiating the nuclear proliferation file, and the importance of Washington making concessions in favor of Tehran, especially related to lifting and easing US sanctions imposed on Iran.
And what can be emphasized here, that it seems important here, in light of the growing competition between the United States and China, that (the countries of the region pay attention to bridging the gaps, liquidating regional conflicts, rebuilding strategic alliances and security initiatives), which makes the region a difficult figure in the face of (all Attempts to employ it in the context of the conflict between the major powers). The countries of the region should also deepen their relations with the countries and partners of the middle and influential powers in the international system, especially those countries that have permanent membership in the UN Security Council, as well as the European Union, so that there are (alternatives and front lines of defense on the part of these powers to defend their interests in the region And to impose a balanced equation that prevents exposure to the effects of any new cold war that may affect the region, due to the policies of US-Chinese competition).
In my personal opinion, that (the Iranians may have another opportunity to negotiate about it by turning back the movement of history), and what I mean here is (Iran’s presentation during the rule of former President “Mohammed Khatami” and after the United States invaded Iraq after 2003, a generous offer to the West from During what is known, as (Swiss diplomacy), where that show was known at the time, as the “Grand Bargain Deal”).
By that (Swiss diplomacy) means the (Iranian pledge to be fully transparent about its nuclear file, and to prove stopping its support for Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon, in return for full security guarantees from the United States of America, and full normalization of relations with it), and I believe that Iran according to that Swiss diplomacy will win the ranks of the international community, including (Israel and the Arab Gulf states as Iran’s staunch enemies in the Middle East).
China also wants, with the Iranian side, to stick to the 2015 negotiations, known as the “5+1” Group”, which includes: (USA, France, Britain, Russia, China, in addition to Germany with Iran). But, the US withdrawal came unilaterally during Trump’s term in 2018, which formed a series of tensions about the reasons for this American withdrawal in the media and diplomacy, and China’s constant question about (the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency in confronting Washington and its unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear agreement that the USA has signed with Iran in 2015).
I can also stop here on a serious issue that is rarely touched upon, regarding (the role of the Western, American and even the Israeli media itself towards Iran and mobilizing the whole world against it, by accusing Iran that it is months away from manufacturing the first nuclear weapon, which represents real pressure on the work of the Agency). In my personal opinion, Iran still needs long-term years to complete its nuclear project, especially in light of the severe economic crisis that the Islamic Republic of Iran is suffering from, which lacks sufficient financial, technical and psychological resources and the final decision to possess this nuclear weapon in its final form.
China is seeking to reach an agreement on a tight and comprehensive framework on the Iranian nuclear program, which guarantees (complete and free international control without US, Israeli or international pressures on uranium enrichment and plutonium residues), which may block any endeavor to manufacture a nuclear weapon, according to the assurances of the American experts themselves in the nuclear technicians file.
Here, China insists on a number of terms and conditions in advance, regarding the new mechanism relating to (the renegotiation of the Iranian nuclear file against the United States of America), which are:
Calling on China to (lift the economic sanctions imposed by Europe and the United States on Iran), as a prerequisite for goodwill towards Iran.
China understands the International Atomic Energy Agency’s long-term restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, but China supports the (continuation of uranium enrichment in small, identifiable proportions, for the purpose of Iran’s peaceful nuclear uses in legitimate work such as electricity generation), and so on.
China’s support for the efforts of (reducing the number of Iranian centrifuges by two-thirds, while keeping the rest and monitoring the nature of its peaceful uses).
China’s monitoring and supervision of the activities (disposal of enriched Iranian uranium under the supervision of the supervisors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, without American pressures), which may be exercised on them to random level of accusations against Iran.
China agrees with the Iranians not to export nuclear fuel in the coming years, and support (the strategy of not building Iranian reactors that may operate with heavy water generating dangerous nuclear uses, and China’s support for the IAEA’s scarcity of not transferring Iranian equipment from one nuclear facility to another in Tehran for a period of approximately 15 years, in order to ensure integrity and transparency).
The Iranian allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to enter all suspected sites, including: the Iranian military sites, but this is done after “consulting with Tehran itself out of respect for its internal affairs and sovereignty”.
The necessity of maintaining (the ban on the import of Iranian weapons for an additional five years, and eight years for ballistic missiles).
China’s requesting from the US and the international community to (release of Iran’s frozen assets, which are estimated at billions of dollars), in order to restore the wheel of development and economic growth for the benefit of the Iranian people themselves.
China is demanding to (lift the ban on Iranian aviation, as well as on the Central Bank and Iranian companies).
China’s call to the International Atomic Energy Agency to cooperate with Iran internationally in (the areas of its superiority in energy and technology to benefit from it on the one hand and to integrate and qualify Iran to win the affection of the international community on the other hand).
Here, we find China’s keenness to (the success of the negotiations of the Iranian nuclear agreement, as a Chinese diplomatic success and victory in the face of Washington), and this was demonstrated through the previous Chinese proposals, which (included a negotiating framework based on mutual concession step by step to make it a success, meaning Iran’s concession in exchange for the concession of the United States of America and IAEA negotiators).
The Chinese long-term vision is represented in proposing and negotiating all endeavors, proposals, and solutions regarding the Iranian nuclear file, in order to (gain a double international political weight for Beijing as a superpower in the face of American and Western policies, and in support of the Chinese position calling for international pluralism and the existence of a multilateral system that is active in it). If this is achieved, Beijing will be the (first and most international beneficiary of the completion of the Iranian nuclear agreement on conditions satisfactory to all), whether on the political or economic level, and without leaving any clear negative repercussions on the Chinese side itself in the future.
During the various stages of the negotiations, China also made unremitting efforts to resolve the differences between Washington and Tehran, especially (encouraging Beijing to adhere to the international joint plan of action, which China proposed as a solution to the problem of the Iranian nuclear file), known as: “JPOA”
The most prominent (proposals for the formulation of the Chinese negotiating framework towards Iran and the international community) to reach a comprehensive solution are the development of Chinese proposals, based on five points, as follows:
- Ensuring commitment to dialogue between the (5+1) group and Iran.
- Seeking a comprehensive, fair, appropriate and long-term solution.
- Follow the principle of solution step by step and alternately.
- Creating a suitable atmosphere for dialogue and negotiation.
- Ensuring a comprehensive approach to address the symptoms and root causes of the crisis.
The “Chinese comprehensive solution strategy towards the Iranian nuclear crisis”, is also based on China’s proposal for a comprehensive solution based on four points, the most prominent of which, represented in:
It is necessary to activate political decisions with Iran, and not just rely solely on technical solutions, given that the (Iranian nuclear file has a political-security character).
All international parties must meet and move with each other in the middle of the road to achieve the necessary flexibility, and this requires (accepting settlements from all international parties, including Iran).
Follow the principle of “step-by-step and reciprocal solution”, which is the common item in all the internationally proposed Chinese proposals.
Thinking outside the box to find a comprehensive solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis, meaning: reaching solutions that may be (new, innovative, technical and technical), as steps in achieving negotiations with Iran.
The most prominent of these innovative, new and unconventional Chinese solutions for the step of resolving the nuclear crisis with Tehran, is (China’s proposal for a solution that includes redesigning the core of the “Arak Heavy Water Facility” reactor, which will distance it from the nuclear problem by reducing its consumption and reducing the efficiency and degree of its work to the maximum extent), and here, we can note that the Iranian Arak nuclear facility is capable of producing plutonium, a dangerous substance that is usually used to make a nuclear bomb, that is, for military uses. The (Iranian Arak reactor) was a serious obstacle to the progress of negotiations with Iran, until China proposed an innovative solution outside the box, it is (the idea of redesigning the Iranian reactor core so that it is unable to produce plutonium for military purposes).
China adheres here, in accordance with the text of the previous nuclear agreement with Tehran in 2015, to establish (a mechanism that guarantees common responsibilities among all, especially the group of negotiating countries (5+1), which are the countries that participated in the negotiations with Iran for the purpose of reaching the nuclear agreement), especially at the invitation of China towards a step of the (international integration of Iran in the fields of peaceful nuclear cooperation, as well as providing technical and technical assistance to Iran for peaceful purposes). Hence, China will have a leading role in achieving the future negotiation plan with Iran.
According to the official Chinese vision, (setting a condition for lifting the sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations, in exchange for Iran imposing long-term restrictions on its nuclear program), that the West suspects is aimed at making an Iranian nuclear bomb in the long run, with China constantly launching a major diplomatic offensive to counter all the unilateral sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and Europe.
An official Chinese assertion came, through (a major report issued by the “Chinese People’s Daily”, which is the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party of China, which confirmed that “China’s leadership of talks with Iran has sent a message of hope to the world about the success of Chinese diplomatic efforts towards the solution step”. The Chinese newspaper emphasized the result, by emphasizing of “The facts are now showing that dialogue and negotiations were the only correct and effective path to an appropriate solution to the Iranian nuclear issue, and that a particular country’s threat to use force against Iran and impose unilateral sanctions is unacceptable”. The Chinese People’s Daily concluded its directed primarily speech to the international community, by emphasizing that: “China is one of the main advocates of the principle of searching for political solutions regarding Iran, and that Iranian talks, according to Beijing’s vision and philosophy have always demonstrated the importance of this philosophy”.
The confirmation made by the current Chinese Foreign Minister, (Wang Yi) who has assured that: “China and the United States of America bear great responsibilities in protecting the international regime for nuclear non-proliferation, so they should remain in good contact during the negotiations, and trying to instill positive energy towards the negotiation file with Iran”.
China is trying (to prove its ability before the International Atomic Energy Agency and the international community to convince the Iranians of appropriate solutions, through China’s supervision of the formulation of a neutral agreement that satisfies all parties, through China’s continued close coordination with all relevant parties, including the United States of America itself), and the Chinese attempt to supervise on all arrangements and play a constructive role during this process. This is despite the differences between China and the United States of America on everything, starting with (the United States of America signing the AUKUS Defense agreements and the Quad agreement to confront China, electronic security differences between the two parties, the dispute over the value of the Chinese currency, trade differences, and the United States’ ban on dealing with the Chinese company of “Huawei” to introduce the fifth generation of the networks)….etc.
War Between Russia and Ukraine: A Basic Scenario?
Concern is growing in the Western media over Russian military activity in the southwestern theatre. There are opinions that Russia is preparing a military campaign against Ukraine. The supposed goal is to break the deadlock of the Minsk Agreements, to impose further coexistence conditions on Kiev and its Western partners, to prevent the US and NATO from “developing” the territory of Ukraine for military purposes, and also to reformat the country’s political system and its state structure. Such rumours are spreading quickly, causing alarm among the political leaders of foreign countries as well as latent, albeit tangible fears in the business community. However, it is still premature to consider such a development as a baseline scenario.
Several circumstances speak in favour of the military scenario outlined by foreign commentators. The first is the recent experience of the Russian armed forces and the political consequences of their use. Moscow intervened in Georgia’s conflict with Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008, quickly changing the situation and recognising the two autonomies as independent states. In 2014, Russia carried out a lightning-fast operation in Crimea, creating conditions for the subsequent referendum on reunification. Later, the Ukrainian army was defeated in Donbass, and the political consequence was the formation of the LPR and DPR. In 2015, Moscow radically changed the military situation in Syria by deploying a compact but highly effective air group. The political result has been the preservation of power in the hands of the Assad government and the defeat of a number of terrorist groups. All these events indicate that Russia is ready to use force suddenly, in a concentrated manner and at the same time to seek concrete political changes.
The second circumstance is that the international political consequences for Russia which resulted from the military campaigns were relatively insufficient. No foreign state has intervened openly in these conflicts. Foreign military aid does not radically alter the balance of power. Economic sanctions in their current form harm the Russian economy, but they are still not the main factor contributing to existing problems. The economy itself is stable. In short, there are no major checks and balances on a new military campaign.
The third circumstance is that Russia is not ready to bear with the existing status quo in relations with Ukraine. Kiev is almost openly talking about sabotaging the Minsk agreements, and is not ready to implement them. The US and the EU cannot or do not want to change this; while at the same time they are verbally calling on Russia to abide by the agreements. Ukraine itself, after 2014, for obvious reasons, has been pursuing an anti-Russian line. The events of 2014 significantly strengthened the position of the nationalists. Any attempt to pursue a political dialogue with Russia is deemed unacceptable. A “mopping-up” of politicians who are in any way loyal to Russia is under way. Militarily weak and fearful of further complications with Moscow, Ukraine is seeking to deepen its defence ties with the United States and its allies, as well as trying to expand military aid and supplies. In Moscow, this is perceived as the “utilisation” of the territory of Ukraine by Western countries and is accompanied with subsequent threats to the strategic interests of Russia. Moscow considers the emergence of Western military infrastructure in Ukraine only a matter of time.
Taking into account these circumstances, a scenario where Russia takes action can be hypothetically considered in the West and in Ukraine in the following vein. With a sudden and decisive blow in several directions at once, Russian troops dismember the armed forces of Ukraine in the East of the country, surround separate groups, or press them against the Dnieper river. The actions of tank and motorised units are accompanied by powerful air, missile and artillery strikes. The Russian Aerospace Forces seize air supremacy. The apotheosis of the operation should be the encirclement and the subsequent capture of Kiev, and the stabilisation of the front line along the Dnieper. The creation of a new Ukrainian state with the capital in Kiev would be announced and recognised by Russia. It would include the previously-independent DPR and LPR. Russia thereby resolves several historical problems at once. The immediate threat to the southwestern borders is removed. Full control over the Sea of Azov and a land corridor to the Republic of Crimea are ensured. Two Ukrainian states appear on the map, one of which should be “friendly and fraternal”.
Even if one fails to write off this scenario as a reflection of existing phobias and nationalist complexes, it still seems unlikely for a number of reasons.
First, such a military conflict is unlikely to culminate in any intelligible agreement. A victory over the armed forces of Ukraine will not by itself lead to a fast peace. The war could develop into a long and sluggish confrontation, especially if part of the territory (for example, Western Ukraine) remains under the control of the Ukrainian armed forces. Capturing the whole of Ukraine is technically possible. However, it will be more costly, and subsequent control would be much more difficult. The option of “two Ukrainian states” would allow Russia to squeeze nationalists out by sending them West. Under a “one Ukraine” scenario, this would be impossible, given all the ensuing consequences.
Second, the conflict would inevitably lead to a sharp change in the Western approach toward providing Ukraine with modern weapons and military equipment. In the United States and in the West as a whole, the new situation would be considered as an emergency and they would not limit funds to support the armed forces of Ukraine. Moreover, in this case, all possible types of conventional weapons will be supplied. Large-scale military aid from the West would prolong the conflict. Russia would not be able to block such supplies. The United States and its allies will not enter open military confrontation with Moscow. However, the level of support for the Ukrainian army will grow significantly.
Third, regarding the Ukrainian issue, Russia would find itself in diplomatic isolation. It is unlikely that any country would voice support for Moscow’s actions. Unlike Crimea and Donbass, we’re talking about a large-scale and open clash between the armed forces, that is, about a full-fledged war. Russia would certainly be on the offensive. This would allow its actions to be classified as aggression without any problems. While the situation in Crimea and Donbass arose against the backdrop of revolutionary events in Ukraine and could be construed as part of a civil conflict, then in this scenario, such conditions are not visible. At the moment, there is no obvious conflict between the East and West of Ukraine. The legitimacy of Moscow’s actions in this case would be extremely weak, if not entirely impossible. In addition, Russia would have to bear responsibility for the civilian casualties, which would be inevitable in a large-scale conflict.
Fourth, all key Western players would introduce qualitatively new sanctions and restrictions against Russia. These would harm a number of Western countries and cause temporary shocks in world markets. But in an emergency situation, the West would take such measures, despite their economic cost. Possible measures include blocking sanctions against all Russian banks, including the Bank of Russia. This would largely cut Russia off from the global financial system. Another possible measure is a ban on the purchase of Russian oil, and then gas. Such bans can be increased gradually in order to avoid crisis situations with fuel supplies in the West itself. But in the event of a war in Ukraine, the West would take these measures. Other, more focused restrictions would be applied to imports and exports of oil and gas. The cumulative damage to the Russian economy would be colossal in scale.
Fifth, controlling Ukraine, even its eastern part, could be problematic. Taking into account the Western sanctions blockade, any transactions with the territories of Ukraine under Russian control would be impossible. Russia would have to take on a huge territory. The big question is whether the Russian market, in the grip of new sanctions, would be able to compensate for the damage to the Ukrainian territories under Russian control. The seizure of territories wouldn’t solve any of the problems facing the Russian economy today.
Sixth, the loyalty of the population of Eastern Ukraine to Russia is not obvious. Despite all the internal disagreements, over the past 30 years Ukraine has developed its own civic identity. The population of the eastern regions may have a negative attitude towards excessive nationalism. However, this does not guarantee their loyalty to Russia. Moreover, the war could finally undermine sympathy for Russia, which has already dwindled over the past six years.
Finally, seventh, the war is fraught with destabilisation of the situation inside Russia itself. There is no demand in society for a war with a neighbour, even despite the odiousness of the anti-Russia discourse in Ukraine. It is quite possible that Russian troops would be able to inflict resounding defeats on the armed forces of Ukraine and push them to the West. The losses, however, would still amount to hundreds, and possibly thousands of fighters. In the event of a possible prolongation of the conflict, human losses would become a permanent factor. Combined with a possible economic crisis, these are not the best conditions for generating public support. While reunification with Crimea was accepted with enthusiasm in Russian society for many reasons, a big war is unlikely to find such support.
In other words, the costs of a possible war far outweigh the benefits. The war is fraught with significant risks to the economy, political stability and Russian foreign policy. It fails to solve key security problems, while it creates many new ones.
The question arises—to whom and under what conditions is this scenario beneficial? First of all, it is attractive precisely as a hypothetical rather than a real situation. In this form, it makes it possible to consolidate Ukraine on an anti-Russian basis, to seek the expansion of Western military aid, and to justify such aid to the West. The threat of war and an exercise of power can also be used by the Russian side. Moscow shows that it is technically ready for a radical scenario and will not allow its “red lines” to be crossed. These “red lines” include a military solution to the Donbass problem. In other words, the scenario has a practical meaning as a tool for information warfare and political signals.
From the point of view of the balance of benefits and losses, neither side is interested in a real war. Therefore, it is hardly worth considering the war scenario as a likely one. However, history knows many examples when rational calculations have failed to put an end to escalation. There is only the hope that this isn’t the case here.
From our partner RIAC
Contemporary World and the Era of Hybrid Warfare
From the start of time, mankind is involved in many wars and conflicts for different reasons. Not so far, in the 20th century World has witnessed two major Wars of Human History also known as the World Wars, where every country was fighting either directly or indirectly with its opponent to serve their self-interests. It is a matter of fact that only World War-I caused around 40 Million Civil and Military casualties around the globe out of which 20 Million deaths were reported and 21 Million wounded cases were reported.
Similarly, World War II caused the death of around 75 million people out of which 20 Million Military and 40 Million Civilian deaths were reported. Not only was that but there were also some 10-15 Million deaths that were caused by war-related disease and famine. But with the start of the 21st century, the new concept of hybrid warfare is introduced in the strategic community that not only covers the traditional means of warfare but also involves the non-traditional means such as proxies, exploitation of population, trade, and economy.
The point to understand is, traditional wars were based on only state-centric approaches, but the hybrid war is not only limited to the state-centric approach as it can also target the individuals of any country easily to serve its interests.
Considering the tools of Hybrid Warfare and Pakistan’s internal security, the importance of drugs and Narcoterrorism cannot be ignored. Pakistan is sharing a border with Afghanistan that is well known for its opium production. Unfortunately, Afghanistan soil was used against Pakistan during recent years under the influence of India and it was reported that several drug trafficking and narcoterrorism activities were conducted by Indian sponsored groups. However, The Taliban Government has announced that they will no longer support the opium production on their land.
But this confirmation from the Taliban Government is not enough to maintain the internal security of Pakistan. Pakistan needs to protect its young generation from this narcoterrorism as the young generation of Pakistan is also one of the most important assets of the country and to whom the future of Pakistan belongs. No doubt, Pakistani Law enforcement agencies are playing their vital role to control drug trafficking but there are numerous weak points in the system that are affecting the whole infrastructure.
According to recent reports, almost every educational institution in Islamabad is a haven for drug dealers and drug suppliers where they are easily targeting the young minds of Pakistan. It’s a matter of fact that authorities are not successfully getting hold of these drug dealers as easily as a young college-going student can easily find them. And in the end, these drugs and narcotics not only affect the mental and physical health of young students but also cost them financially, emotionally, and socially by lacking their confidence and competitiveness.
Authorities need to handle this security threat to the young minds of the nation by controlling the spread of drugs and narcotics in educational institutions. A drug test should be mandatory in educational institutes with strict compliance to be followed. Authorities should also need to engage youth in more extracurricular sports activities by encouraging them with rewards on the national level so that they may find the true reason to stay away from the company of drugs and narcotics. And on the least level, authorities with the contribution of Parents and Teachers, need to share the consequences of drugs on life and a healthy body as an awareness campaign on every platform so that we can make sure that we are protecting our young generation from the silent yet destructive tool of hybrid warfare in the contemporary world.
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