By Richard Weitz (05/08/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Now that the UN Security Council has blessed the Iranian nuclear deal, Tehran’s chances of becoming a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in coming years have improved, following a decade of rejection. Iranian leaders have long wanted to join the SCO to gain diplomatic, economic, and security advantages. Nonetheless, Iran will need to overcome several major obstacles on its path to full membership, even if nothing goes amiss with the implementation of its nuclear deal.
By Farkhod Tolipov (05/08/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held its annual summit on June 9-10, 2015, in the Russian town of Ufa, which was an historical turning point in the organization’s evolution. It adopted a Development Strategy towards 2025 and admitted India and Pakistan as full members. Uzbekistan has taken over the Chairmanship of the SCO from Russia for the next one year period. During the summit, Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov expressed concerns revealing Tashkent’s reluctant acknowledgement of the fact that from now on the SCO will be more than just a Central Asia-focused structure.
By George Voloshin (08/07/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On June 22-24, Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, hosted a third meeting of the Uzbek-Tajik intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation. Unlike the two previous sessions, which were organized in Dushanbe in August 2002 and February 2009, this year’s bilateral trade talks took place against the backdrop of an emerging détente between the two Central Asian neighbors. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are currently confronted with a host of shared challenges ranging from the threat of radical Islam to socioeconomic instability, while their bilateral relationship is still constrained by unsettled disputes from the past.
By Richard Weitz (10/01/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On August 24-29, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) held its largest multinational exercise in history, Peace Mission 2014. The declared objective of the joint drills is to help the SCO member governments deter and, if necessary, defeat potential terrorist threats. But the exercises also allow Russia and China to communicate to the SCO and other parties, especially the U.S., that Moscow and Beijing have a genuine security partnership and that it extends to cover Central Asia.
By Oleg Salimov (09/17/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe hosted the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit for two days on September 11-12. The summit concluded Tajikistan’s position in the organization’s rotating chairmanship and handed the duty over to the Russian Federation. The summit was attended by six member states, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, and the five observers Afghanistan, India, Iran, Mongolia, and Pakistan. Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov attended the summit as a distinguished guest. Economic cooperation and threats to regional security through political instability in Afghanistan, the Middle East, North Africa, and Ukraine were established as the summit’s agenda. The long awaited expansion of the organization by adding India, Pakistan, and possibly Iran as new members became one of the most important announcements of the summit, outlining the SCO’s projects for the upcoming year.
The expansion plans were revealed on the eve of the summit by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Russian media outlet Rossiyskaya Gazeta. The article referred to Pakistan, India, and Iran as new prospective members of the SCO. Iran has previously applied twice for SCO membership but the outcomes of Iran joining it are highly ambiguous considering the country’s frictions with Israel and the U.S. over its nuclear program. Russia’s recently intensified conflict with Western countries draws it closer to Iran and raises Iran’s hopes for full membership in the SCO. The question remains, however, whether the SCO will be able to manage the regional rivalry between China, India, and Pakistan if the prospective members are in fact accepted.
Lavrov also stressed the potential of using national currencies in financial operations among SCO’s members. The statement is a continuation of Russia’s political initiatives aimed at relinquishing euros and dollars in its financial operations in the wake of the U.S. and EU economic sanctions imposed on Russia for its role in Ukrainian crisis. Earlier, Russia and China, the two major players of SCO, have declared their intention of national currencies turnover in the recently started natural gas delivery project. It is only logical for Russia to employ the SCO’s chairmanship and natural resources leverage to expand the organization through India, Pakistan, and Iran and to denounce euros and dollars when refocusing from Europe to Asia.
The SCO’s memorandum declared several particular steps towards the promotion of national currencies in SCO’s financial system and, as a result, the alienation of euros and dollars. These include increasing members’ financial and banking cooperation in regional trade and economy, and an intensification of efforts in establishing their own Development Fund and Bank of Development. However, it should be noted that the idea of establishing financial institutions within the SCO, such as a Development Fund, was first proposed in 2011 by Kazakhstan and widely supported by Russia as a response to the global financial crisis. At the same time, China offered its own project in the SCO’s Bank of Development. Both were viewed as security measures for the SCO’s members. Russia’s current growing confrontation of with the West amplifies the likelihood that the proposed SCO financial institutions will be implemented.
The SCO’s own financial institutions are also in agreement with Russia’s intent to develop regional automobile transportation infrastructure which will connect Asia with Russia’s Siberia region. The infrastructure linking Asia and Siberia can serve to accelerate regional trade in addition to the Trans-Siberian railroad. Vladimir Putin announced the intent during the previous SCO summit in Bishkek in September 2013, and Lavrov also highlighted the transportation projects as a major SCO interest in his article on SCO expansion. In the Bishkek summit, the SCO’s Interbanking association was seen as the major prospective investor of the project. In light of the latest proposals, if realized, the SCO’s Bank of Development might become a subsequent proprietor of the Asia-Siberia transportation project.
The SCO summit in Dushanbe demonstrated a growing division between the developing and developed worlds in Eurasia. The signs of division can be seen in the summit’s official declaration, the statements of the officials, and the SCO’s narrowing scope of priorities. The SCO unifies a group of regimes that pursue various objectives through a common need for political and economic survival. For example, stated in the summit’s declaration, the determination to establish informational security and fend off informational-communication threats improve the survivability of authoritarian regimes like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. For Russia and Iran, the SCO is an engine for forging political alliances and economic partnerships. The emerging Asian countries are attracted to the SCO by the opportunity of obtaining cheap energy resources. The cumulative efforts of these countries can create a serious counterbalance to the West.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.