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Key to this ability must be definitions and the definitions adopted by the SCO are those of the asymmetric competition. NATO by contrast is still defined by a need to frustrate dictatorship within its boundaries and along its borders and for the fighting of major conventional warfare. Indeed Afghanistan is showing how NATO is struggling woefully to operate in an ideal SCO environment, as the organisation has so little mandate or indeed infrastructure to operate in a civil capacity. Instead it has to rely on third parties, primarily the UN and various NGO's to try and deliver the peace, stability and development parts of the package. All these different organisations are however entrenched and with predilection for turf wars which create a serious lack of cohesion, clarity and which grates howlingly on the nerves of the Afghan Government, especially when its sovereignty is rode over in a rough shod way.

The SCO would not have these problems as it is designed to operate in such conditions, with the military elements servant to the civil. Undoubtedly it would have problems, but these are more likely to be of the teething kind, rather than the serious structural rifts that are opening inside NATO.

If the SCO were to take over the Afghanistan operation, it would benefit from the following advantages:

(a) Being a primarily civil Organisation with a Military Component via RATS (Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure) rather than a Military Task force that allows civil organizations to enter the country and operate.

(b) Being a Regional Security Organisation rather than an Occupying force or Power, integrating the country into the surrounding region rather than trying to isolate it

(c) Being composed of forces and individuals from the region and familiar with the customs, culture and language of Afghanistan rather than interlopers from elsewhere

(d) Being able to offer the Government and people of Afghanistan a real prospect of participation in the SCO as equals rather than simply living subject to it.

The fissures opening in NATO are not arbitrary however and are cracking along Eurozone and none Eurozone lines. Possibly this is because senior members of the EU do recognise the weaknesses and limitations of NATO and wish to resurrect the notional EDF (European Defence Force) which more closely follows the SCO model.

There is a dilemma, however, for NATO members. Most must realise that as an organisation, it has outlived its real usefulness and simply cannot operate effectively in the kind of environments where it must go and "win" to prevent local situations from spreading and escalating into the very kind of major wars that NATO is designed to fight. Thus NATO is being paradoxically charged with preventing its own justification for further existence.

To admit that the alliance cannot work any longer and needs to be replaced is something that seems impossible for anyone to say and so locks the alliance into an evolutionary dead end that can only lead to extinction. The SCO, by contrast, demonstrates an ability to maintain its maximum flexibility and hopefully avoid the trap of adopting fixed and inflexible infrastructure that will lead it to the same fate in the world of the mid 21st century.

The signs to date seem encouraging, with the immediate goal of ensuring the potential for growth through local energy security and expanding that ever further a field, being met and possibly exceeded beyond reasonable expectation.

The Situation Today

The SCO enters 2008 in a position of strength having won the argument in its back yard. The message is simple; The Continent of Asia is transforming itself into a vibrant Common Market and the heart of both the manufacture of finished goods and of energy for export. This in turn is giving internal demand a massive boost and that this demand is able to pick and choose the nations it will allow to feed it.

From a security perspective, the SCO has shown that it has the wits to dispel a serious challenge from the worlds great powers and to do so with impunity, via methods that

a} allow no viable excuse for military repercussions

b} that shows itself militarily strong enough to be able to defeat such attempted repercussions

This is being noticed around the world especially in the Far East region, where countries formally, firmly in the western sphere are having to acknowledge that China, within the SCO context, is the rising power and replacing the US as the best guarantor of prosperity and stability. This is witnessed by the new relationship between Japan and China, the overwhelming endorsement of a resurgent Kuomintang on Taiwan, which seems likely to add the Presidency to its recent landslide election victory in the legislature, and even doubts amongst America’s newest friend India as to the wisdom of the choice it has made

Relations with Japan are improving. It faces landwards to both Russia and China and must realize just how isolated it will be if it fails to recognize and engage with both Asian giants. Japan is now cooperating with the SCO to ensure the purchase and transmission of Kazakhstan and Russian oil, via pipelines through China. This is reflecting in a new pragmatism in its dealings with China in respect of the contested oil fields in the East China Seas.

Likewise, in the South China Seas disputes with Vietnam are also slowly turning around from actual hostilities to measured acceptance of the need to come to terms and accommodation. This is part of an extension of the stabilising influence of the SCO on other regional disputes which is operating as both a carrot and stick. The carrot being the significant economic benefits from dealing with China and its SCO partners and the stick being having to face China alone if dispute flared into conflict.

Further afield, Iran finds itself a growing regional power courtesy of the SCO umbrella which has and continues to shield it. The Islamic state is itself a prime candidate for SCO membership, a move which would then provide a real challenge of conscience for EU candidate and long time NATO member Turkey, as to where they feel that their best opportunities (and most fair treatment really lies).