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Iran and Turkey Set to Join Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Raising Its Visibility

Held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, from September 15-16, the 2022 summit of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) demonstrated that the SCO continues to evolve into an international political congregation. viable independent of the West.

From the early 1800s, International Organizations (IOs) began to emerge as lowly arbiters of European affairs. But during and after the Second World War, new IOs emerged as far more important global players. The United Nations (UN), the Arab League, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and several other IOs have been created to manage the affairs of their member states.

After the Soviet collapse, more IOs were created to manage the independence of new states, globalization and regional cooperation. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), established in 1991, attempted to coordinate military, economic, and political policies among post-Soviet states. The European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU), created in 1993 and 2002 respectively, have bound member states more firmly to common economic and political standards. Other IOs, such as the Arctic Council (1996) and the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (2002), aimed to foster broader regional cooperation.

Most of the new international organizations fit neatly into the Western-led liberal world order. But in 2001, the formation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was officially announced, and it stood out as an exclusionary outlier. Originally known as the Shanghai Five when it was formed in 1996, it included China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, with Uzbekistan later joining when it became the SCO in 2001.

The SCO was created in part to help coordinate a new era of peaceful relations between Moscow and Beijing and to manage their coalescing interests in Central Asian states. In addition, the fight against the “three evils” of extremism, separatism and terrorism were major priorities for the organization, which included data and intelligence sharing and joint military exercises among its member states.

Over time, the SCO began to embrace greater political and economic integration. Support for autocratic rule and limiting criticism of human rights abuses sets it apart from other Western-aligned IOs, with the SCO also overseeing the growth of joint energy projects, the promotion of trade deals and the introduction of the SCO Interbank Consortium in 2005 “to organize a mechanism for financing and banking services in investment projects supported by the governments of SCO member states.

But the organization’s most pressing vocation was to facilitate a multipolar world order. Investing in an independent forum for economic, political and military affairs outside of Western influence has become a key part of Russian and Chinese attempts to reduce Western power in global affairs.

Russia and China have also developed complementary mechanisms to the SCO, which have helped to decentralize its mission. Following the blacklisting of several Russian banks from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) in 2014, for example, the Kremlin approved the creation of the Financial Message Transfer System (SPFS) to replicate SWIFT and introduced the National Payment Card System (now known as Mir), while China created the Cross-Border Interbank Payment System (CIPS).

These initiatives have even proven attractive to states more aligned with the Western-led world order. India and Pakistan began SCO membership talks in 2015 and formally joined the organization in 2017. Despite relatively positive relations with the West, both India and Pakistan have coped to Western criticism of human rights and democratic backsliding in recent years. India’s introduction of platforms such as RuPay in 2012 and Unified Payments Interface, which eroded the traditional dominance of Visa and Mastercard in the country, also complemented SCO’s attempts to reduce Western economic dominance in the world.

At the 2022 SCO Council of Heads of State summit, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev reiterated that the SCO is not an anti-US or anti-NATO alliance. But the organization’s original motive to create a multipolar world was echoed in its Samarkand Declaration, the final statement of that meeting, and continues to clash with Washington’s attempts to maintain the world order led by the United States. According to the statement, member states “confirm[ed] their commitment to [the] formation of a more representative, democratic, just and multipolar world order.

This basic scheme continues to attract countries around the world. Along with the leaders of its eight member states, the SCO invited the presidents of Belarus, Mongolia and Iran as official observers to the recent summit. Having started its membership process in 2021, Iran signed a memorandum of understanding with the SCO to join the institution by April 2023.

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The SCO would likely alleviate Iran’s sense of economic isolation resulting from Western sanctions, a sentiment shared by Iranian officials at the summit and something that was also noted in 2007. Belarus also found itself under increasing sanctions in recent years and has strengthened its accession procedures. join the SCO in Samarkand.

The presidents of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Turkey were also invited to the SCO summit as special guests, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announcing that his country would apply for full membership of the SCO. OCS. In 2012, Erdoğan joked with Russian President Vladimir Putin about abandoning Turkey’s European aspirations if Russia allowed them into the SCO. Turkey’s new attempt comes at a time when its ties with the rest of the Western world are increasingly strained and could spur other NATO states, and potentially EU states, to join as well. ‘SCO.

The SCO has also established strong relationships with other IOs. Representatives from ASEAN, the UN, the Russian-dominated CIS, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) have been invited to the 2022 summit. In particular the absence of representatives of the EU or NATO. Meanwhile, in 2005, the US was denied observer status, bolstering the SCO’s status as a bulwark against US influence in Eurasia.

Like all major international organizations, the SCO faces systemic obstacles that impede its effectiveness and long-term viability. During the recent summit in Uzbekistan, China’s Xi Jinping was welcomed to the country by his Uzbek counterpart, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Putin, however, was greeted by Uzbek Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov, pointing to Russia’s strained relations with many former Soviet states and Beijing’s growing strength over Moscow. Unlike the CSTO and the EAEU, Russia is not the dominant player in the SCO and will increasingly have to contend with the predominant authority of China.

Disputes also remain among SCO member states. India and Pakistan, for example, are beset by an ongoing struggle over Kashmir. China and India have their own territorial disputes and have engaged in minor violent skirmishes since India joined the SCO. Moreover, deadly clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan erupted during the recent summit, while the admission of Armenia and Azerbaijan, which are both SCO dialogue partners, will only further increase the number of members currently locked in their own territorial disputes.

But the SCO has always presented itself as a vehicle to oversee these issues. The leaders of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan met for talks at the summit to ease tensions. And since 2002, the Regional Counter-Terrorism Structure (RATS) has encouraged military coordination among member states, with Indian and Pakistani militaries conducting RATS exercises in 2021. More exercises between them are scheduled for October, and although they are aimed primarily to counter unrest in Afghanistan, they are also part of the SCO’s attempts to manage member states’ relations.

China and Russia also agreed to “synergize” the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the EAEU to help ease possible tensions between them, with Xi and Putin meeting on the sidelines of the summit. the SCO of 2022 and committing to respecting each other’s core interests.

SCO member states clearly believe that the organization can and has greater potential to effectively manage their concerns and regional affairs, and its appeal continues to grow. Besides the other SCO dialogue partners (Cambodia, Nepal and Sri Lanka), Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Egypt were granted the status of SCO dialogue partners at the SCO summit in 2022. Myanmar, Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Maldives have also been granted dialogue partner status.

Russian and Chinese influence will diminish as more members join, which will also dilute the consensus within the organization. But it remains an initiative led by Beijing and Moscow to manage world affairs and demonstrate that the “international community” is not just the West. With almost half of the world’s population and a quarter of the world’s GDP, the SCO is increasingly becoming a representative of the countries of the South.

By bringing other IOs together in an umbrella forum, the SCO can pursue its goal of challenging the larger Western-dominated IO ecosystem and preventing Washington from setting the global agenda. This will require constructive management of Russian and Chinese ambitions and the increasingly complex needs of more member states.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.