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August 20, 2007

A Counterweight,
or a Bloc of Foes?


by Sascha Matuszak

There is no question that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is growing into a counterweight to U.S. and NATO power in Asia. The SCO has been under close scrutiny by geopolitical analysts since its inception, and early predictions that the organization would eventually challenge U.S. hegemony have proven true.

The questions now are: How will the U.S. respond? Can the SCO and NATO cooperate, or will they descend into conflict?

Peace Mission 2007 ended on Friday. This is the most recent in a series of military exercises involving the countries of the SCO – Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan. The presidents of all the member nations were there, and they were joined by Mongolian President Nambaryn Enkhbayar, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri, and Indian Oil and Gas Minister Murli Deora.

Also present during the exercises were Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.

All of the non-member governments present wish they could be members. India has shied away from political or military engagements, hence the oil and gas minister. But Iran and Afghanistan stand to benefit the most from the mutual defense treaties that bind all members of the SCO to each other in time of war, hence the heads of state.

The member states of the SCO have pledged to fight "separatism, extremism, and terrorism" and to increase trade and exchange. During Peace Mission 2007, the parties signed a joint communiqué reiterating these themes as well as a "treaty of long-term friendship," as the Chinese put it, which focuses on the issues of "sovereignty, security and development."

In almost every statement released by the SCO, multilateral cooperation is stressed, as are assurances that the SCO is not aimed at any one country or group of countries. After the appeals to harmony and peace comes the inevitable dig against the U.S. and its war on terror.

Although Iran and Afghanistan have a slight chance of becoming members – neither China nor Russia want to be obligated to go to war – their attendance sends a message to the world at large, most of all to the U.S.-led NATO forces, that there are other perspectives on the war on terror and its victims/aggressors. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov of Turkmenistan also attended, and his nation is expected to become a member quite soon. The SCO wants to grow – or perhaps China and Russia want the SCO to grow.

If we suspend cynicism for a moment, the SCO presents exciting possibilities for peace.

The economic development of the "stans" should help stabilize those nations, and the suppression of terrorism will enable further investment, perhaps enough to eliminate the seeds of terrorism altogether.

If Pakistan and India can both be members of an organization free of American influence and money, then perhaps a dialogue between them can be constructed within a framework of their neighbors – all of whom tremble at the thought of nuclear war between the two nations.

The inclusion of Iran and Afghanistan in an organization that does not begin by branding them failed and miserable states in need of drastic political change may soften their attitude toward incremental change, in the form of reconstruction, facilitated by neighbors.

A dialogue with NATO on equal footing concerning terrorism and global security might carve out spheres of influence – beats for the international cops – that, if not ensuring freedom and democracy, would ensure sovereignty and security, the foundation for any democracy.

But in geopolitics, and especially in Central Asia, the Great Game usually involves much more immediate and self-serving goals than what is declared at grand events such as Peace Mission 2007.

The SCO will be an organization for the next U.S. president to deal with (thank the Lord). The SCO is a counterweight to U.S. power and will include more members as the years go on – all of the nations that attended Peace Mission 2007 are candidates, even Iran and Afghanistan.

If the next president views the SCO as a threat to U.S. national interests in Central Asian gas and oil, the war on terror, and the brewing struggle with China, then that is exactly what the SCO will be.

However, if the next president views the SCO as an alliance of nations with aspirations and dreams of the "good life" – prosperity, peace, and freedom from oppression and fear – then the bloody course the U.S. is on now may be averted.

And what some Americans might not realize is that working with other people does not mean the U.S. has "conceded" to a multipolar world at the expense of sole superpower status. There is room in a multipolar world for a superpower.

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  • Sascha Matuszak is a freelance writer living in Chengdu.

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