MOSCOW—After a decade as a largely unknown body bringing together Russia, China and a number of Central Asian states, the Shanghai Co-operation Organization is evolving into a security and political bloc that could become a key global player with the clout to challenge NATO, experts say.Now there's an obvious flash point that has some pretty nasty potential: An attack on Iran (as a member of some proto-alliance) that suddenly involves Russia, the 'stans, and China for good measure.
Russian and Chinese leaders praised the organization this week as parliamentary leaders from its six member states met in Moscow ahead of a major SCO summit on June 15 in Shanghai. Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan founded the group as the "Shanghai Five" in 1996 and it was expanded to include Uzbekistan, renamed the SCO and given a written charter in 2001....
At the same time, however, the SCO has increasingly formed the basis for military co-operation between its member states. Last year, more than 10,000 troops from SCO member countries participated in the group's first joint military exercises and another set of war games are planned for next year....
In the run-up to the June summit, SCO members have laid out ambitious plans to increase the group's political role and to consider expanding its membership to more countries, including Iran. Russia and China have blocked efforts to impose sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program and Tehran has said it would welcome membership in the SCO. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected to attend the June summit.
That said, hold your horses. First off, Mainville (the author of this piece) is pretty frequently printed in the Washington (Moonie) Times and the Free Republic. Moreover, one of the quotes cited is the Heritage Foundation. None of the above are credible sources where international security issues are concerned. The Moonie Times in particular has a record of trying to beat the China drum pretty shamelessly. I'm not dismissing this outright - Putin is pretty clearly in favour of expanding Russia's sphere of interest in to Central Asia - but have a sense of perspective, please.
Neither Russia or China wants to give Iran a security guarantee that would put them in direct conflict with the US, for obvious reasons: despite recent improvements, the Americans almost certainly still have the upper hand on China or Russia (though perhaps not China AND Russia.) Moreover, the Russians and Chinese have to be aware of US nuclear superiority.
Outside of the Iranian context, SCO has a number of fascinating possibilities. Much is made of the Chinese-Russian alliance, probably more due to unreconstructed red-baiters in the Pentagon than anything else. More interestingly is that India and Pakistan are also "observer" members - not full members, but interested. Russia has said that India and Pakistan should join simultaneously, much the same way Greece and Turkey joined NATO. This would be an interesting development in South Asia. Of course, as we saw recently, joining a mutual alliance doesn't mean you don't occasionally kill people.
In the medium-term, I honestly can't imagine the SCO posing any kind of rivalry to NATO - the combined members of NATO are richer and better-armed than the combined members of the SCO. Of course, by 2030 both India and China are expected to have economies at least as large as the US. An SCO that contained Pakistan, India, and China would have something like 1/3 of the Earth's people, and a huge geographical size - though much of that would be Russia alone. The SCO also includes 4 nuclear powers at the moment (vs. NATO's 3.) Russia stands to gain hugely as Chinese and Indian economic growth increases demand for Russian resources. Of course, the inclusion of India would also be a blow to the stated US desire to contain China.
Finally, in the furthest realms of speculation, what happens if Turkey decides that siding with Europe and the west is a losing proposition (the EU seems to be unwilling to let brown countries in, after 30 years of pleading by the Turks) and Turkey's government decides to leave NATO and join the SCO? Turkey is already sick of having the EU door slammed in its face, and the slower European growth will make EU membership less interesting than the SCO's economic arrangements. Of course, Turkey would carry over whatever American weaponry they had, dealing a blow to NATO and a godsend to the SCO.
So many interesting possibilities. Assuming it doesn't end in nuclear war.