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Challenges to Eurasian Security in the Coming Decade

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Confrontation between Russia and the USA/NATO

There is no reason to believe that the worsening relations between Russia and the West, a process that began six years ago following the Ukrainian crisis, will be rectified in the near future. The current conflict is largely due to the fact that, since Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential victory, Russia has become the bogeyman of the US domestic political agenda and is believed by the president’s opponents to be a partial factor in his election. Irrespective of who wins the 2020 US presidential election, the new president will continue to feel the inertial anti-Russian pressure from the establishment and the media. The most we can hope for is a cessation of further confrontation and any actual improvement in bilateral relations should not be expected until the mid-2020s.

The US position influences that of European countries, which have been so far mainly following in the footsteps of Washington’s policy, despite individual initiatives to improve relations with Russia (for example, by French President Emanuel Macron). In terms of security, this trend is manifested in European remilitarization, for the first time since the end of the Cold War. What is particularly inconvenient for Russia is that this process involves a return to Europe by US troops, which had all but left the continent by the mid-2010s. This time, US forces are being deployed not in Western Europe but right on the border with Russia, in the Baltics and Poland, the new NATO members that need protection from Moscow’s “revanchist aspirations”. These developments naturally find strong support among local politicians that have been exploiting anti-Russian rhetoric for decades.

It would be fair to say that Moscow’s worst fears about the consequences of NATO’s eastward expansion have materialized and that the previous agreements, including the promise enshrined in the NATO-Russia Founding Act that the Alliance would not deploy significant forces on the territories of new member states, are turning into a farce. Even though US troops are rotated seamlessly, without any intervals, Washington explains this away as temporary deployment of individual units, implying no violation of the standing agreements. This effective long-term deployment allows the US military to explore the hypothetical war theatre and conduct joint exercises with allies; long-term depots are being set up for weaponry and military equipment that would only require personnel for combat deployment.

Fortunately, despite all the belligerent rhetoric, it is difficult to imagine, even in the distant future, an intentional military confrontation that would be consciously approved by the two countries’ leaders: the price of the conflict escalating would be too high. Yet, in a crisis, the high level of militarization in the contact zones between the two blocs, especially involving a large number of actors representing other countries, could result in accidental skirmishes fraught with severe consequences.

Regular meetings between Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (who doubles as the commander of the US European Command) serve as very positive signals. These events are rarely covered by the general media and the topics discussed are not publicized, but both sides regularly emphasize the importance of this dialogue. It would be no exaggeration to say that the two officers are perhaps the most senior representatives of the Russian and US military-political leadership who meet in person and on a regular basis. It appears extremely important not only to preserve this channel of communication (in fact, it would probably be best for such contacts to be as low-profile as possible, pointedly professional and distanced from politics) but also to develop its potential to include a dialogue between military experts at the regional level or a permanent hotline for resolving potential conflict situations in the Baltic region. Similarly, conducive to resolving crises would be the preservation of the Treaty on Open Skies and other transparency measures (observer missions during exercises and mutual notifications about planned drills and missile launches).

Belarus as an island of stability

Belarus has long remained an island of stability and security on the post-Soviet territory. It happily avoided the numerous nationalist and separatist conflicts that erupted following the USSR’s collapse. In fact, Belarus strives to pose as an honest broker in regional conflicts: the Minsk format and the Minsk agreements have become world-class brands (Minsk is not to blame for the hiccoughs in implementing them). It would be highly desirable for this state of affairs to continue into the next decade.

Yet one cannot be entirely certain that this will, indeed, happen. The Russian-US confrontation is stimulating Washington’s interest in the situation in Belarus and reducing Moscow’s tolerance for Minsk’s multi-vector foreign policy. The upcoming changes in the country are also a factor adding unpredictability: the political reforms currently being discussed imply a greater role for parliament and political parties.

With these processes afoot, it is not surprising that the US Congress holds conferences on how best to educate Belarusian youth, who are supposed, in the future, to choose Western values, and how to indoctrinate them with detailed talks about the threat Russia poses to their country’s sovereignty. Equally unsurprisingly, authoritative analytical centres, such as the RAND Corporation, publish reports on the possibility of providing international security guarantees to Belarus, which, following a hypothetical regime change, is expected to leave the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and thus face the threat of Russian intervention.

The only hope that Belarus will not become the next battlefield for internal and external actors stems from the fact that, at least in this sense, the country has successfully survived the previous several decades. It is, however, evident that Russia will perceive the potential threats associated with Belarus very painfully and certain forces might attempt to take advantage of this.

Moldova and Transnistria: continuing freeze

Transnistria can be described as a textbook post-Soviet example of a frozen, unresolved conflict. The territory is entering the new decade with its status still unrecognized, which complicates economic and social development; it is in a diplomatic dispute with Moldova over the presence of a small Russian peacekeeping force on its soil and its relations with Ukraine have worsened owing to the latter’s contradictions with Russia.

Unlike the other long-standing conflicts, however, the probability of the Transnistria situation escalating into an open confrontation remains extremely small. On the contrary, Moldovan President Igor Dodon’s Socialist Party, which concentrated power in its hands after the grey cardinal Vladimir Plahotniuc was overthrown, intends to resolve the Transnistrian problem by reintegrating the territory as an autonomous region within the federal state.

This scenario is supported by Russia and might be of interest to the EU, on which Moldova depends economically. On the other hand, it has many opponents, including unionists, who support unification with Romania. Given that Romania is actively developing its military might and gradually becoming a key NATO member in the south of the Alliance’s “eastern flank”, the prospects of that country integrating Moldova are worrying Moscow.

So far, the unionists’ chances of making Moldova part of Romania appear even less realistic than the prospects of the Transnistrian conflict being resolved through federalization of Moldova. Yet the confrontation might aggravate the situation, if not to the level of the tragic 1992 events.

Ukraine: a tangle of contradictions

Ukraine is likely to remain the key area of conflict in the post-Soviet space in the coming decade owing to the huge associated tangle of contradictions, including the political confrontation between Russia and the USA, the economic standoff between the EU and the EAEU, unresolved Soviet-era issues and even more ancient ideological constructs.

The key security challenges for Russia concerning Ukraine will be posed by the need to secure freezing the conflict in the east of that country, provide for Crimea’s security, facilitate reliable navigation in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, maintain control over the Kerch Strait, and prevent deployment of NATO troops in Ukraine. Even in the best-case scenario (which we may be observing at the moment, because the situation could certainly be much worse), these issues cannot be entirely resolved in the foreseeable future; they will continue to demand Russia’s attention and resources.

Georgia on the periphery of focus

Abkhazia and South Ossetia, partially recognized Transcaucasian territories, are somewhat in between Donbass and Transnistria in terms of the situation there. On the one hand, the likelihood of direct military conflict over those territories is extremely small thanks to the presence of Russian troops. On the other hand, their status still poses a problem. Considering the way the status issue was exploited during the Russian-Georgian political confrontation in the summer of 2019, one would have thought that the August 2008 war had taken place merely a few months previously, and the information that Russia had “occupied 20% of Georgian territory” was being presented as fresh and shocking news.

It is possible that, in the coming decade, as internal problems in Georgia intensify or if the international situation takes a favourable turn, the Georgian authorities and media (not necessarily those currently in power: Georgia is known for its frequent changes of power with subsequent reprisals of predecessors) will once again exploit the “Russian aggression” narrative.

The USA will continue to view Georgia as part of the notional defensive perimeter, and joint military exercises will be held there regularly. In reality, however, Georgia, which is separated from the closest NATO member nations by the Black Sea, will remain on the periphery of the focus. One good example here is Exercise DEFENDER Europe 20, planned for the spring of 2020, which will practice new, more Cold War-like scenarios involving the defence of NATO’s eastern flank. Georgia, although formally a participant in the drill of nearly 40,000 NATO troops mainly deployed in Poland and the Baltic states, will only be involved in airdropping a small multinational force.

Armenia and Azerbaijan: a powder keg

Another hotspot in Transcaucasia is the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Unlike other territorial disputes that sprouted up as the Soviet Union was collapsing, this one cannot possibly be frozen: clashes between special forces and exchanges of fire between border guards on the frontier between the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) and Azerbaijan take place several times a year. The April 2016 major aggravation, known as the four-day war, resulted in heavy losses (without delving into the parties’ diametrically opposed accounts of the losses incurred by themselves and the adversary, it can be stated with certainty that there were more than 100 fatalities) and the border getting reshaped to the benefit of Azerbaijan.

The parties to this conflict continue to militarize actively. Moreover, owing to the serious differences in economic potentials, Azerbaijan’s capabilities are much greater: the country is procuring significant quantities of advanced UAVs, armoured vehicles, multiple-launch rocket systems and even theatre missiles. Azerbaijan mainly buys its weaponry and military equipment from Israel, Turkey, Belarus and Russia. Armenia often criticizes Russia and Belarus for their active military cooperation with Azerbaijan, presenting it as nothing short of betrayal on the part of fellow CSTO members. There is, however, no doubt that Azerbaijan would find alternative ways to acquire such weapons and friendly relations with Russia are among the key factors in containing the conflict.

The same applies to the presence of a Russian military base in Armenia and deliveries of Russia-made weapons to that country at internal Russian prices and with use of preferential loans. In particular, Armenia has taken delivery of Russian Iskander missile systems (obviously to balance the procurement by Azerbaijan of Israeli site defence missile systems, which could prove effective against the Armenian Scuds) and will soon receive a small batch of Su-30SM fighters, which, given the specifics of the local theatre of operations, cannot be described as anything but a status purchase.

The domestic political agenda in both Armenia and Azerbaijan, their irreconcilable positions, regular clashes and the militarization of the parties to the conflict leave no hope of any speedy settlement. An optimistic scenario, and Russia’s objective, would be to maintain a balance and good relations with both parties and make sure that no significant conflicts break out in the coming decade.

Central Asia: Region X

Central Asia does not attract as much media attention as Ukraine or the Baltic states, which is a fundamental mistake. Russia’s “soft underbelly” may well become a source of bad news in the coming decade.

The future of Afghanistan presents the greatest challenge in the region. US troops will leave the country sooner or later, whether commanded out by President Trump or his successor. The USA is already too tired of this war, which will inevitably end with the Taliban staying and Washington leaving. The conflict continues exclusively for the sake of bargaining over withdrawal terms that would help the Americans save face. The process will not necessarily have catastrophic consequences: the Taliban may yet integrate successfully into the existing Afghan state and, as the Americans would like it to, join the fight against groups loyal to the Islamic State (which is banned in Russia). Most likely, however, the civil war will continue between different groups.

This creates additional risks for the post-Soviet states. The Taliban may have so far stayed mostly within the borders of Afghanistan. Still, the same cannot be said of other radical Islamist groups, which might either step up their activity against the background of the chaos in the country or seek new areas of operation, should they be squeezed out of Afghanistan. Central Asian countries, which cannot boast consistent stability, might become their new targets.

This instability, which stems from internal economic and religious problems, the difficult transition of power and generational change within the local elites, could, in and of itself, foster civil and even inter-state wars. For this reason, Central Asia, where outbreaks of violence are virtually inevitable, will become the main field of activity, perhaps even a battlefield, for the CSTO.

From our partner RIAC

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What is behind the Recalibration of Japanese Security Policy?

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image source: Lockheed Martin

On December 16th, 2022, the Japanese cabinet approved three crucial national security documents: 1) National Security Strategy, 2) National Defense Strategy, and 3) Defense Buildup Program. The documents collectively identify challenges and threats to Japan’s security and propose counteractive measures to be undertaken during the next five years, essentially marking a paradigm shift in Japan’s security policy and military posture.

The transformation: according to new policy documents, Japan would increase its defense spending to meet NATO’s standard of 2% of GDP by 2027 meanwhile spending a sum of $314 billion during the period on defense buildup. For the first time in decades, Japan would acquire long-range “counterstrike” capability to deter attacks besides pledging grand investments in developing cyber and space capabilities. To bolster counterstrike capability, Japan would acquire more F-35 aircraft capable of vertical landing and would invest in developing hypersonic weapons, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and 6th generation fighter jets — last in collaboration with Britain and Italy.

From its humiliating defeat in World War II until the 1970s, Japan maintained a low military profile and relied on the USA’s security umbrella for its defense. During the 1970s, Soviet military buildup in the Pacific and the USA’s growing engagements elsewhere compelled Japan to increase its military spending and by the end of the Cold War, Japan has transformed itself into the “world’s foremost military powers”. The steady buildup of military capabilities continued through the unipolar era given the regional threats — especially those emanating from North Korea and to some extent China — did not subside in all respects. 

Changing Japan’s security outlook via revising Article 9 of the Japanese constitution has long been a goal of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which considers Japan’s constitution as reminiscent of WWII defeat and subsequent occupation by the USA. Nevertheless, the memories of Japan’s militaristic past and its aftermath long haunted the Japanese public, which remained vociferously averse to any such emendation. Therefore, despite having a two-thirds majority at one time, Liberal Democratic Party under the late Shinzo Abe as prime minister fell short of introducing any changes to Japan’s constitution.

The Abe government, however, did reinterpret the constitution and initiated a makeover of Japan’s security posture during its eight years reign (2012-2020). As James Stavridis puts it, “Shinzo Abe’s real legacy is military, not economic”. In 2014, the Abe government authorized Japanese troops to act in aid of an under-attack ally. The same year, Abe relaxed the ban on the export of arms, however with the caveat that the exports would only be allowed if they “contributed to the global peace”.

In 2018, the Abe government created National Security Council, which significantly enhanced Prime Minister’s authority in security affairs. Besides making institutional and organizational changes, Abe’s era saw a steady increase in Japanese defense spending by leveraging the country’s economy, which remains third biggest in the world. Tokyo acquired cutting-edge weaponry including missile defense systems, new-generation radars capable of detecting targets at a long-range, and fifth-generation F-35 fighters, mostly from the USA.

The recent policy documents mark the culmination of Shinzo Abe’s nearly decade-long efforts and essentially purpose to transform Japanese security posture from pacifist to more assertive. Propitiously for the Liberal Democratic Party, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, public opinion in Japan has reportedly shifted in favor of changes in security policy.

On the top of the internal predisposition to get away with the memories of WWII humiliation, the external security environment of Japan is also undergoing unprecedented changes, which made the aforementioned modifications inevitable.

China — categorized as the “greatest strategic challenge” in the Japanese National Security Strategy — now wields the world’s largest navy by the number of vessels and is speedily expanding to its military footprint in the Western Pacific. Likewise, nuclear-armed North Korea — classified as a threat in the NSS — has grown in belligerence as well as the capabilities. The communist aloof country conducted the highest number of ballistic missile tests during 2022 — one of which flew over Japan last October. Moreover, Russia has recently added Japan to the list of unfriendly countries after Tokyo joined Western sanctions against Russia. Moscow is not only increasing its military presence in the Pacific but is carrying out joint naval drills and air patrols with Beijing evoking anxieties in Tokyo. It goes without saying that the security environment for Japan has become more challenging and complicated than 1970s.

Although the USA has been trying to reorient itself towards the primary theater of Great Power rivalry i.e. Western Pacific, the transformed European security environment owing to war in Ukraine would likely inhibit the Washington’s unqualified reorientation towards the Pacific. Moreover, despite Japan under Abe smartly weathered the Trump assault against the US allies, the eccentric real estate tycoon did galvanize Japanese leadership to be prepared for another isolationist inhabiting the Oval Office. Hence the intent to share more burden in the alliance besides taking an assertive role in the regional security matters.

In essence, Japan now seeks to assume primary responsibility for its security meanwhile enjoying the shelter of the USA’s security umbrella and extended deterrence. At the same time, Japan is exploring options beyond the alliance with USA by expanding military partnerships and collaboration with other likeminded countries. The project to develop 6th generation fighter jet in collaboration with Britain and Italy, and the recent military drills with India underscore Japan’s inclination to expand its military partnerships beyond Washington.  

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The US tanks deal to Ukraine and the Sino-Russian military alliance

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Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, image by the Presidential Press and Information Office, the Kremlin, via Wikipedia

After the warnings of the Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council, “Medvedev”, of the possibility of establishing a Russian-Chinese military alliance against Washington, the most important questions and analyzes that arise in this regard revolve in their entirety around:

Will Russia implement its threats to establish that alliance?

What are the countries likely to ally with Russia to confront America?

And in the event that Russia implements its threats against the United States of America by establishing that joint military alliance with China, does this mean a weakening of American hegemony in world politics?

Then, what is the relationship of the tank deal that the United States and Germany intend to send to Ukraine with the order of that joint military alliance between China and Russia, and does China really accept a solid and joint military alliance in confronting Washington militarily?

  In order to answer these questions, we will find that there is already an existing and joint strengthening of military cooperation between the Chinese and Russian sides, through Russian President “Putin” stressing to his Chinese counterpart “Xi Jinping” the importance of geo-strategic cooperation and technical-military cooperation between the two countries in the wake of the “interaction joint maneuvers” in 2022 between the two countries, which took place in the East China Sea in December 2022, with the assertion of the commander of the Russian forces participating in the joint military exercises with China, that it comes as a response to the violent increase in the number of US forces present in the Indo-Pacific region in the American concept or the Asia-Pacific region in the Chinese and Russian concept. This means that Russia is ready to cooperate closely with Beijing, in response to the American efforts to surround China, through the establishment of American military and technological alliances to confront China, such as the American quadruple alliance with India, Japan and Australia, or through the US nuclear defense Okus alliance with Australia and Britain, or from  Through Washington’s military support for Taiwan in the face of Beijing and the increase in US arms and military equipment sales to the Taiwanese side, which arouses China’s ire.

   In recent years, China has also taken the initiative to enhance cooperation between the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the Russian Armed Forces by conducting joint exercises and coordinated patrols in the area around Japan.  As for the Chinese army, its cooperation with the Russian army and the Russian armed forces would contribute significantly to the implementation of the military, security and defense reforms that Chinese President “Xi Jinping” seeks to achieve, which aims to transform the Chinese People’s Liberation Army into one of the largest fighting forces in the world to be comparable in strength to the US Army.

 We find that there is already existing and joint military cooperation between the Chinese and Russian parties in the field of joint military exercises, which has witnessed a clear increase in the recent period, and this cooperation in the security and defense field between China and Russia has acquired clear geopolitical connotations. In May 2022, China and Russia conducted joint sorties and air maneuvers over the Sea of ​​Japan and the East China Sea, which coincided with the summit of the leaders of the Quadruple Strategic Dialogue, known as “Quad” in Japan, which is a forum for political cooperation through which Washington seeks to turn it into a military alliance against China.  Therefore, the joint maneuvers of Moscow and Beijing came to confirm that the two countries are cooperating militarily in the face of Washington’s attempt to establish military alliances against them, on top of which is the US Aukus nuclear defense alliance with Australia and Britain in the face of China.

 Also, all the recent summits that took place between Beijing and Moscow focused, in their entirety, on Russian military cooperation with Beijing, as well as the two parties meeting to strengthen their strategic partnerships in the face of Western threats, and on their intention and desire to establish a multipolar international system, with what that means in the end. The US-dominated world order, which Washington seeks to respond to by pushing the NATO military alliance to adopt policies to besiege the Chinese and Russian countries.

 China and Russia have conducted several joint military exercises in the Chinese Shandong Peninsula, and they were mainly focused on anti-terrorism exercises, and it was agreed after that to conduct peace mission exercises annually under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which consists of (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan).

 Then this was followed by several joint naval exercises that took place on a permanent basis, and it was called joint seas exercises and maneuvers (or a joint Russian-Chinese naval interaction, as the Russians called it), and it was mainly concentrated in the Yellow Sea region off the Chinese Shandong Peninsula, with the participation of many  Warships from both countries, in exercises simulating joint air defense, anti-submarine warfare, and search and rescue missions.  Since then, joint seas exercises have been held annually between the Chinese and Russian sides (except for 2020), and their content is constantly changing.  Since 2013, the geographical scope of the Russian-Chinese exercises has expanded, to include areas outside the immediate periphery of China, including Europe, and in chronological order those locations were:

  (Sea of ​​Japan in 2013, East China Sea exercises in 2014, Mediterranean and Sea of ​​Japan in 2015, South China Sea in 2016, Baltic Sea and Sea of ​​Japan in 2017, South China Sea in 2018, Yellow Sea in 2019, Sea of ​​Japan in 2021)       

 China also participated in the “Russian Vostok joint military exercises” in 2018, which were held in the Eastern Military District of Russia and about 3,200 Chinese soldiers from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army participated.  The Chinese and Russian militaries also carry out coordinated and periodic military missions in the geographical and territorial area surrounding the seas and in the airspace around Japan.  Most of the joint military exercises and missions between China and Russia take place in the eastern part of the Sea of ​​Japan, through the northern Tsugaru Strait (between Honshu and Hokkaido regions), along the Pacific coast of Japan, and then west through the Osumi Strait in southern Kagoshima Prefecture.

 The main objective of conducting such military maneuvers between China and Russia, as declared by both parties, remains to unite forces against the United States of America and its allies, especially after its strained relations with both countries.  In addition to Russia’s dispute with the United States of America and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.  Recently, US tensions with Russia have exacerbated, due to the latter’s invasion of Ukraine.

 Bearing in mind that Chinese President Xi Jinping did not respond directly to Russia’s desire for joint military cooperation, but merely referred to Beijing’s willingness to increase strategic cooperation with Russia.  At the same time, there are US assurances that Washington has not monitored any indications of Chinese support for Russia in its war against Ukraine, unlike the case with North Korea and Iran, which Washington has accused of providing Moscow with ammunition and drones.

  Here the message of the Russian President “Putin” to his Chinese counterpart “Xi Jinping” by expressing Russia’s desire for a military rapprochement between the two countries to confront what he called unprecedented Western pressure, with President Putin affirming the right of the two countries to preserve their positions, principles, and aspirations to build a just international order, in a Russian reference to the multipolar system, which will mark the end of American unipolarity, the Russian side assured its Chinese counterpart that military cooperation between the Chinese and Russian sides will support international peace and security.

 Here, Washington expresses its concern about such cooperation, which may cover any shortage of military supplies that Russia needs to continue its war against Ukraine. It was remarkable that Western officials ignored this time threatening China if it sought military cooperation with Russia.

  There is an official Chinese assertion through the official Chinese government media affiliated with the ruling Communist Party, that Beijing will continue to adhere to its objective and fair position on the war in Ukraine, which is based on the fact that the West caused this conflict by insisting on spreading NATO bases to countries located in the immediate vicinity from the Russian borders, which is in line with and confirms the Russian point of view, and contradicts its Western counterpart, which views the Russian-Ukrainian war as an assault by Moscow on a sovereign country.

 We will find that after the summit talks between President Xi Jinping and Putin (shortly before Russia started its invasion of Ukraine), both the Chinese and Russian sides oppose further NATO expansion, and stand against the formation of closed blocs and opposing camps in the Asia-Pacific region.  In this way, China signaled its support for Russia in its power struggle with NATO against Washington and the West.

 On the other side, the economic and military cooperation between China and Russia has also been increased, since the start of the Russian military operation against Ukraine in February 2022, despite the United States’ threat to Beijing at the beginning of the war, to work to help the Russian economy find alternatives that help it avoid the repercussions of Western sanctions,  However, it became clear that Beijing did not heed these American threats.

 Here, China and Russia succeeded in arousing Washington’s military wrath, through Moscow conducting several multilateral maneuvers with the participation of China and India at the end of 2022, in order to confirm that Washington’s attempts to militarily weaken the relationship between Moscow, New Delhi, and Beijing will not succeed.

 Hence, we can say that the relations between Russia and China have witnessed a remarkable growth in the military aspects in recent times, exceeding the limit of statements to the level of action and practical moves in the Indo-Pacific region or the Pacific and Indian oceans, as a joint Russian-Chinese response to confront the US alliances with its regional allies.  In that region, accusing the American side of seeking and targeting the strangulation of the two countries in the first place.  Especially after the series of security, political, economic and military alliances that the United States of America established against China and Russia in their regional region, led by the Aukus-Quad alliances against the interests of China and Russia mainly, coinciding with the escalation of the American provocations in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, with the policy of continuous American mobilization of its allies in Europe, and the imposition of several packages of sanctions against Moscow to paralyze the Russian economy after the Ukraine war.

  Therefore, the Chinese-Russian response, on the other hand, was to strengthen their network of military and diplomatic relations in light of their tense relations with the US side and its allies, through political and economic partnerships and joint and extensive military exercises, and Moscow and Beijing’s keenness to conduct regular naval maneuvers between the two sides as threatening messages directed mainly at Washington.

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SCO in an Era of New-Regionalism

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The growth of SCO may have emerged as the most victorious Eurasian Organization but it still has a long way to go. Since the day of its inception, SCO has been struggling to address some of the organization’s major concerns such as maintaining cohesion among member states and addressing economic issues besides strengthening its institutional basis. However, it has expanded its regional profile and managed to portend in an era of New Regionalism.

The recent summit of the Eurasian Economic, Political, and Security Forum (on 15-16th September 2022) is of utmost importance considering the current serious political, and economic transformations happenings across the Eurasian Continent. This summit has marked new aspects of Regional Cooperation, and Economic Potential for SCO in the Changing International Environment.

The key takeaways of the recent summit: –

  • Inclusion of Iran as a permanent member of SCO
  • Turkey to pursue permanent membership of SCO
  • Gulf states to gain the status of SCO Dialogue Partner

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei said, “One of our priorities today in foreign policy is preferring East to West, neighbors to remote countries”. As the world’s biggest regional organization, SCO may use its institutional capacity and political power to counter economic sanctions and assist with financial instability in countries like Iran. Also, Iran has the potential to be a ‘Hub Country’ playing a key role in East-West and North-South transportation routes. The inclusion of Iran as a permanent member of the SCO demonstrates the rise of anti-Western narratives. Iran and Russia have expanded their connections in recent decades, including non-energy links, defense collaboration, and weapons sales. Therefore, Iran’s willingness to pursue better ties with China and Russia (the SCO’s two major countries) opens up a new wave of ‘Multi-literalism’ in the Eurasian Region. The energy crisis caused by the Ukraine war can be met by Iran (which has the world’s fourth biggest oil and natural gas reserves) as Iran’s commerce with SCO member states has risen to $37 billion by 2021. Iran’s inclusion in SCO has strengthened China’s policy of “Asia people to uphold Asian security” in changing geopolitical climate. It will enhance International North-South Transport Corridor- a shifting gear in Eurasian connectivity. Besides these positive aspects, there are other prospects for Iran’s inclusion in SCO. Above all,  SCO members have to deal strictly with three evils “Terrorism, Extremism, and Separatism” where Iran has been blamed for providing nuclear support for terrorism, and cross-border violence support by the West. Hence, Iran may face staunch opposition from the west to perform dexterously in the region. Although SCO has accomplished much in terms of multilateral growth, it does not appear to be capable of taking strong moves in the face of US-Iran antagonism, given the organization’s structure, powers, and aims. Still, SCO does accrue economic and geopolitical benefits for Iran, allowing it to maintain its position in the Middle East.

Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan said, “Our relations with these countries will be moved to a much better position with this step. Of course [membership], that’s the target”.

Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, indicates a distant possibility of becoming a permanent SCO member. However, its relations with the United States will determine its standing in the SCO. The recent SCO summit has shown Turkey’s bid to get permanent membership of SCO. which might be because Turkey has grown closer to Moscow, both politically and commercially, in recent years, including acquiring an S-400 defense system. Ankara has also become economically dependent on Moscow to avoid a balance-of-payments catastrophe before the 2023 elections. However, in the SCO, Turkey will serve as an “Energy Hub” connecting Caspian and Central Asian producers with European customers.

China, SCO major power, is open to Turkey’s accession besides Turkey’s standing on the Uyghur issue (that might strain the future of China-Turkey relations). On the Syrian upheaval, clashes between Turkey and two SCO leading states Russia and China are possible. Turkey opposes Assad’s dictatorship (and even supports humanitarian action), whilst Russia and China encourage non-interference. Membership in the SCO may enhance Islamist imperatives in Turkish internal politics, affecting its path to democracy. Turkey in SCO will have an influence on India’s, Pakistan’s, and Iran’s policies in Central Asia. Furthermore, Turkey has the second biggest military force among NATO countries, after the United States, with around 445,000 troops. Turkey is home to five NATO headquarters in Izmir, as well as a US military-led airport. It also acts as an American security policy in the Middle East and the Balkans due to its key geographical position. Consequently, Turkey’s departure does not appear to be a possibility so far. In “The Clash of Civilizations, and the Remaking of the World Order,” Samuel Huntington described Turkey as a “torn country” because “its leaders typically wish to pursue a bandwagon strategy and to make their country a member of the West, but the country’s history, culture, and traditions are non-western.” All of this would impede the SCO’s ability to achieve its fundamental aims, which have already been hampered by tensions among SCO member nations

For Gulf nations, the SCO has increased its need considering China as the global economic powerhouse, Russia as the world’s second-biggest producer of natural gas, and Central Asian states with virtually unexplored oil and natural gas potential. Gulf States analyst, Ali Ahmad said “All of the countries involved do see china as a rising power and country that is potentially going to have a rising power in the region, and elsewhere” The SCO’s recent success in the Arab world is due to China’s expanding economic impact in the area. According to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international commerce, China’s exports to Saudi Arabia are over US$30.32 billion. The safe access to its essential energy resources and marine trade routes, in addition to major seaports like Dubai, through which 60% of its traffic heading for Europe and East Africa flows, is a crucial driver of China’s interest in the Gulf.

Also, US policy toward Gulf states, particularly after 9/11, has made these countries concerned for their future.  The many Gulf States now wish to price some oil contracts in non-dollar-dominant countries. Where SCO, states reiterated their commitment to promoting national currencies in bilateral commerce in a recent summit, as China and Russia have boosted trading in rubles and renminbi since 2014. There has been a GCC-China free trade deal; if this agreement comes to fruition, it will undoubtedly benefit tarns-regional connectivity. Hence, Gulf states in SCO will catalyze Eurasian connectivity.

However, Institutional, infrastructural, and trade issues remain unresolved for SCO. Another critical question is SCO’s expansion: should it be a regional or global organization? Is it to be a global future, as Russia wants, or a regional future, as China desires? Concrete policies and closer coordination are required, depending on the extent to which domestic and member state impacts converge, as well as their significance in addressing future security and economic concerns for the furtherance of SCO.

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