The spread of SCO influence into Southern Asia is having profound consequences for the region as Pakistan, another candidate and observer nation is drawn ever further into the SCO orbit, principally through China, but also adding further impetus to extend the organisations influence into Afghanistan in a hope of settling problems in Pakistanís own Pashtun border regions.
The influence is also affecting India which is having to come to terms with a rapidly changing security environment. India has recently entered into a strategic alignment with the USA and Israel, principally aimed at containing the growth of the PRC. It would appear that India was seduced by flattery in regard of its democratic credentials and a definition of the world that divided along the lines of political system. Such a perception may be adequate in North America and Europe where all nations roughly adhere to the same democratic principles, but leave India intensely isolated from its region, when it blindly follows suit.
The consequence of this misalignment has been the loss of previous influence in Iran and Central Asia and the denial of access to vital communications and raw materials, energy supplies etc, that it would consider normal to obtain from its near neighbours. It also leaves India in the uncomfortable position of having a very long border with SCO and SCO associated countries all of which are necessarily designated as actually or potentially hostile.
There appear to be moves to bring both Pakistan and India into the orbit of the SCO and thereby through its offices, resolve the last major border disputes left on the continent. The work however seems very slow and any significant shift a very long way off.
The Immediate Future
Whilst the most important goal for China is to secure cheap and reliable energy supplies, both from within the SCO region and from beyond, Russia is most keen to see progress, in the Caucuses and Black Sea regions, where it has lost so much influence since the 1990ís.
The real challenge for the SCO as a political entity is where it approaches directly towards the EU and NATO and effectively goes head to head with these organizations. This will be an intense and fascinating struggle which will seek to capitalise on the notion of the EU as a rich mans club and use it to win over recent and prospective accession countries that the SCO as a developing nations club, has a fairer deal and far more generally to offer. This attitude will benefit by the largely disdainful manner in which Western European countries tend to regard the former Soviet nations of Eastern Europe. Recent events in Serbia will have done nothing to dispel this notion and should make the Serb state itself a future candidate for SCO membership.
The return of former Soviet countries such as Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Ukraine would restore much of Russiaís national pride and greater sense of security. It would also electrify the borders of the EU and SCO and enter into a highly dynamic tussle for the heart and souls of the accession countries and combines by the realities of energy dependency pose the prospect of major realignments through large parts of the continent.
An expanded SCO territory in Southern Asia would provide significant opportunities for China to secure access to resources in the Middle East and Africa and for the SCO to extend its security role through various bases on the extremities of that territory, i.e. The EU Borders, Pakistan and Iran etc. The bringing of Iran into the organisation would also integrate the Kish Island Oil Bourse into the infrastructure of the SCO and significantly boost the dynamics of oil and gas trading between Central Asia and the Middle East and to consumers.
The Skyís the Limit!
There are many areas of potential cooperation between the member States of the SCO, but none is as appealing or inspiring as the prospect of joint space exploration. Both China and Russia have manned space programs and it would seem quite natural for the two to merge both these and the unmanned space programs into a single SCO identity inclusive of the other member states.
Every political entity needs a defining project to rise above the pragmatic and everyday and this would be the perfect vehicle for the SCO to establish its identity.
There is no doubt that the SCO has achieved some simply amazing results in only a few short years, all the more amazing for the fact that hardly anybody has noticed any of it or managed to tie the few odds and ends that reached public awareness together in order to be able to visualize and appreciate the whole. Indeed most observers are still looking in vain for tank divisions that never seem to arrive!
This is the inaugural article by the New Century Chine Institute for Global Strategy and is published as an introduction to the Institute and its areas of specific interest.
© 2008 The New Century China Institute for Global Strategy please contact us for use, reprinting or other forms of publication.