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When the formation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was announced on June 15th 2001, with its expressed aims of combating Separatism, Terrorism and Extremism, most commentators and observers were inclined to believe that they were witnessing the birth of a new proto military alliance, very much along the lines of NATO.

It has been then; both for supporters and detractors, a rather bemusing six and a half years. Although Military Exercises have been held between members every year since, they have been on a modest scale, using small formations or even adding a small formation of visiting forces to a larger scale domestic exercise. This has led detractors to decry the SCO as a Paper Tiger and even some of its supporters to express concerns of a similar type.

The contention of this article however, is to illustrate; whether by accident or design, that such assumptions have wholly misdirected even professional observers and allowed developments to occur almost undetected and largely un-remarked by the international media. The contention being made here is that the SCO is a rival not to NATO, but to the EU, more precisely an EU as originally envisaged by those signing the treaty of Rome as one with its own integral Security Alliance rather than having to rely on a separate and External Organisation.

It is contended in many quarters that Russia was the primary driver of the Inception of the SCO and that it did so looking for shadows of the Warsaw Pact but that, it was China's reluctance that prevented the organisation having any kind of obvious resemblance to anything of the weight on NATO. Many of the same commentators note that simply joining the SCO has been a huge leap for China which has always been wary of being involved in alliances, which in its view have simply been unstoppable European mechanisms which had led inexorably to two World Wars. It has also been cautious not to try to exceed the requirements of traditionally limited geopolitical aims and has always been concerned at the possibility of being unwillingly enrolled in others expansionist foreign policy.

China, however, was even then aware that the requirements of modern global development were taking direct Chinese interests out from its traditional spheres and into both the greater Asian region and beyond. Realising that a martial component would be necessary in its regional relations it seems to have been successful in structuring that component around pragmatic and discrete regional security elements rather than as a general military commitment.

Nascent in the last six years has been the need to reconfigure and harmonise various existing structures in the region, in particular the Commonwealth of Independent States and more specifically its key operating sub groupings such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization. These groupings although recognized on a domestic basis have never worked well internationally and were seriously compromised during the nineties by the overall weakness of the former Soviet region economy.

The SCO however is not prey to such problems as the vehicle is powered by the supercharged engine of the Peoples Republic of China, which connected to the vast territorial reach of Russia and the vast energy and mineral resources of the continent have energized and invigorated the entire region.

The SCO is indeed a security organisation, but an organisation that recognizes that true security comes via prosperity, contentment and availability of required resources, combined with the determination to protect the same, rather than a simple and vague notion of mutual defence. This has found a sound expression in the concentration in the economic development of the regions oil and gas resources is a series of moves which are highly reminiscent of the early EU concentrating its resources on rebuilding the coal and steel communities of the member countries, as industries then indispensable to onward growth and development.

It is Russia that has most at risk in the current international arena and which has the greatest immediate need for an effective counterbalance to European encroachment into its traditional and recent spheres of influence. The cold fact is that it is the EU that has led march of the west in to Eastern Europe and that NATO has been a follower up from the rear. The CIS structures proved wholly incapable of fending off EU enlargement and the subsequent expansion of NATO with the result of the current impasse re Missile Defence and Conventional Force Reduction.

Russia recognized that in order to hold the advance of the west it needed an effective mechanism to not only stop western expansionism in its tracks, but one that could have the potential to reverse the gains the west has already enjoyed and woo wavering states back towards Moscow and indeed even winkle nations previously unaligned or aligned with the EU/NATO into its camp.

This then set the stage for an effective SCO mechanism. China provided the raw economic might with its surging production and spending, but vulnerable to its needs for raw materials and energy. Russia needed a good customer for both (not to mention high end military equipment and technology), with which to re-energies its economy. Together the six members were able to eliminate aged border disputes and other associated tensions and lay the foundations of stability to enable the development of the region for the supply of commodities to China and for the freighting of Chinese finished goods to its export markets in Europe and Middle East etc.