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  • Author: Stephen Blank
  • Publication Date: 11-2013
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Institution: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The SCO grew out of a Chinese initiative (hence its name) from the late 1990s that brought together all the states that had emerged from the Soviet Union in 1991 and signed bilateral border-delimiting treaties with China: Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. In 2001, these states and Uzbekistan formally created the SCO. Since then it has added observer states—Mongolia, Afghanistan, India, Iran, and Pakistan—and dialogue partners—Turkey, Belarus, and Sri Lanka. The SCO's original mandate seemingly formulated it as a collective security organization pledged to the defense of any member threatened by secession, terrorism, or extremism—for example, from Islamic militancy. This pre-9/11 threat listing reflected the fact that each member confronted restive Muslim minorities within its own borders. That threat may indeed be what brought them together since China's concern for its territorial integrity in Xinjiang drives its overall Central Asian policy. Thus, the SCO's original charter and mandate formally debarred Central Asian states from helping Uyghur Muslim citizens fight the repression of their Uyghur kinsmen in China. Likewise, the charter formally precludes Russian or Chinese assistance to disaffected minorities in one or more Central Asian states should they launch an insurgency. In practice the SCO has refrained from defense activities and followed an idiosyncratic, even elusive, path; it is an organization that is supposed to be promoting its members' security, yet it is difficult to see what, if anything, it actually does. Officially published accounts are of little help in assessing the SCO since they confine themselves to high-flown, vague language and are short on specifics. We see from members' actual behavior that they primarily rely on bilateral ties with Washington, Beijing, or Moscow, or on other multilateral formations like the Russian-organized Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), itself an organization of questionable effectiveness. Therefore, this essay argues that the SCO is not primarily a security organization. Rather, it provides a platform and regulatory framework for Central Asian nations to engage and cope with China's rise and with Sino-Russian efforts to dominate the area. As such, it is attractive to small nations and neighboring powers but problematic for Russia and the United States. Analyzing the SCO's lack of genuine security provision, its membership expansion considerations, and Russia's decline in power will help clarify the organization's current and future roles.
  • Topic: Security
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, United States, China, Iran, Washington, Central Asia, India, Shanghai, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Beijing, Tajikistan, Soviet Union, Moscow