SCO's Chance to Redefine Regional Security
   2012-06-06 12:54:22    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Zhangjin

By Stuart Wiggin

Much of the emphasis surrounding the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit, taking place in Beijing on June 6 and 7 is centering on Russian President Vladimir Putin's presence. However, aside from Putin's symbolic presence at this year's summit and the focus on increasing Russian exports, several pressing issues will also be touched upon by SCO members as the organization is presented with a real opportunity to become an indispensable mechanism for regional peace and security.

This year's SCO summit will be attended by a number of notable government officials from member states, observer states and dialogue partners, as they intend to form a blueprint for the organization's future over the course of the next decade. Of those expected to be present, India's external affairs minister S. M. Krishna will be pushing New Delhi's request to play a larger role within the organization. India currently enjoys observer status but has long expressed an interest in increasing its presence within the fledgling regional security organization.

The SCO region is incredibly important for India's energy and security needs and there are many aspects of the SCO where India would like a greater presence. From a security perspective, India has expressed an interest in participating in counter-terrorism exercises, including both air and ground offensives, and wants to become closer to the Regional Counter-Terrorism Structure, situated in Tashkent, Uzbekistan; in the hope of preventing the spread of radical Islamist militants. Previously, Russia has backed the Indian request to become a full member state though Chinese officials have called for adherence to strict criteria amid an unclear mechanism for expanding membership; most likely influenced by a series of border issues between China and India alongside further issues related to the South China Sea.

Another factor influencing India's desire to expand their membership touches upon another major issue which will be discussed during this year's summit; namely that of Afghanistan. At the end of 2014, coalition forces will have been completely withdrawn from their military roles in Afghanistan. As a result, New Delhi is worried about a resurgence of the Taliban, which could ultimately destabilize the entire region. Accordingly, SCO members are also mindful of such a situation developing and as a result the SCO, and more importantly China, are looking to increase their role in the situation.

During the summit, a decision will be reached as to whether Afghanistan will be granted observer status and whether Turkey will become a dialogue partner. China's vice foreign minister Cheng Guoping has stated, "The security and stability of Afghanistan bordering the region of SCO states is closely related to the affairs of SCO members. And Turkey as an important country in this region has good ties with SCO members. The admission of the two countries will help them and SCO states to jointly counter terrorism, separatism and extremism as well as drug trafficking and cross-border crime".

With the U.S.-endorsed Afghan government and the Taliban set to share political power after the troop withdrawal from the country, there is a danger that without ethnic rapprochement the region could become destabilized. Ultimately, the SCO will have to develop accordingly in order to contain this threat and prove that it is not merely a symbolic summit for discussion without action. It is likely that China will play a nominal role in training Afghan security forces under SCO direction and there are plans to improve Afghanistan's economic structures. Whether these moves will prevent a radicalization of the Afghan state will only become apparent in time but there is much riding on the SCO's ability to deal with this situation; especially taking into account their muted response during the coalition-led offensive.

Another prominent issue which is likely to command a lot of international attention during this year's SCO summit is that of the Iranian nuclear crisis as U.S. and EU sanctions against Iran will become operational towards the end of June. China and Russia are both in favor of resolving the Iranian nuclear issue through dialogue and diplomacy and it has been suggested that SCO membership could be one of the methods available for containing the Iranian nuclear situation. However, this suggestion has been met with skepticism by many experts as it is believed that Iranian membership would not improve the operational functioning of the SCO and in fact hinder the progress that has so far been made.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad's presence at the summit provides China's and Russia's leaders with a good chance to increase the pressure on Iran and in doing so attempt to bring stability to the region; though it is unlikely that any clear developments will be made prior to the third round of talks on the Iranian nuclear issue set to take place in Moscow on June 18 and 19.

Since 2001, the SCO has developed from a toothless discussion panel into a regional organization that could have a real sway over international relations within the region. It has also been recognized as such by the U.S. after the assistant secretary of state for south and central Asia, Robert Blake, stated in 2011, "In Central Asia the SCO seeks to bolster security, economic and cultural cooperation between China, Russia and Central Asia. We see the potential for greater U.S.-China dialogue on areas of mutual interest such as counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism in support of the SCO's effort." So, while Putin may be on the front page of most newspapers over the next few days, the talks that will be going on behind closed doors could have a serious impact on the future of Asian/Eurasian regional security in the very near future.

These views do not reflect the views of CRI.

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