August 19, 2008

HARRISONBURG— Today in a commentary for National Interest online, the web edition of the foreign policy journal The National Interest, on the occasion of the emergency meeting of the foreign ministers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on the conflict in Georgia, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, looks at a potential rival alliance, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which will convene its annual summit next week in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

The SCO was established in 2001 with the People’s Republic of China, the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan as full members. Mongolia, India, Iran, and Pakistan subsequently joined as observers. Iran and Pakistan are currently petitioning for full membership, although the status of the latter’s interest is unclear in wake of the resignation of President Pervez Musharraf.

The essay notes:

 Although originally founded with the modest goal of facilitating confidence-building measures along the members’ shared borders, the SCO’s activities increased significantly in 2004 with the establishment of a permanent secretariat in Beijing and a regional antiterrorism center in Uzbekistan, which serves as a liaison between the security services of member states. Despite occasional denials by senior officials, political and military coordination are becoming hallmarks of the organization.

Reviewing the shared principles, common interests, initiatives to date, and potential of the SCO, Dr. Pham concludes:

On Monday, Russia withdrew its request for an emergency meeting of the NATO-Russia Council. Whether that consultative body survives the current crisis remains to be seen, as will the extent to which the alliance actually penalizes Moscow for what NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has called “the excessive disproportionate use of force by the Russians.” The real question, however, is whether these diplomatic sanctions matter anymore. In just seven years, the SCO has transformed itself from a glorified border-security framework into a regional counterterrorism entity into an alternative international bloc, with an important security component and significant economic and political potential. While it still lacks many of the elements that would make a true rival to NATO, the SCO is already a factor altering the Eurasian geopolitical calculus.

The full text of Dr. Pham’s commentary, “NATO’s New Rival,” can be accessed by clicking here.