The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) which is considered as one of the regional mechanisms of Eurasia is in a very sensitive situation. Over the past twenty years the organization has experienced a significant horizontal expansion (acceptance of members) and vertical expansion (goals and tasks). The formation of the Shanghai Five Group (1996), the observer membership of Uzbekistan (2000), the conversion of Uzbekistan from the observer to the main member and formal formation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (2001), Mongolian observer membership (2004), observer membership of Iran, India and Pakistan (2005). ), definition of a new mechanism called "Dialogue Partners" (2008), followed by that admission of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey as dialogue partners of Organization, the Observer membership of Afghanistan (2012), the transformation of the Belarusian status from dialogue partner level to observer (2015) and conversion of India and Pakistan from observer membership of the main membership (2017) are from the most important developments in developments of Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the last twenty years in the horizontal level ( acceptance of members and geographic expansion). As a result this regional organization currently has three levels of membership, main member which has voting right, non-voting observer member, and a dialogue partner. At the vertical level (objectives and tasks) the SCO with concentrating on its core mission which are security and defense has also tried to enter in other areas of economic, commercial, transit, energy cooperation, and even cultural and social affairs. Nevertheless, the relative achievements that the organization has had over two decades of operation have been mainly in defense and security matters. According to mentioned experiences and current developments at the regional and international levels SCO faces major challenges in the internal and external arena that some of them are:
1- First major challenge of the organization is the significant horizontal expansion (acceptance of members) and vertical expansion (goals and tasks) over the past two decades that in the comparison to other regional mechanisms such as NATO, the EU and the ASEAN is very significant. This has diminished the mobility, agility and coherence of the SCO. If the management and control is not proper and clear standards and criteria are not defined a vast organization with the presence of numerous countries from multiple geographical environments and different political, economic, social and security-defense objectives will be formed and to that extent the efficiency and effectiveness of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization will be diminished.
2- One of the most challenging topics in the horizontal development process of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (membership of the Organization and the expansion of the geographical area) has been the process of conversion from observer to main member. While the conversion of the Republic of Uzbekistan from observer to main member didn’t took more than one year (2000-2001) but the process of conversion the for India and Pakistan lasted 12 years (2005-2017), and the situation for Iran despite the membership of it as the observer from 2005 and country's withdrawal from UN Security Council sanctions it’s status has not yet been clarified yet. This situation is likely to be probable for other observer states like Mongolia, Belarus and Afghanistan in the future. Therefore, evaluating and reviewing the Membership Adoption (approved by the Tashkent Summit 2010), as well as the two "Applicant Commitments" and "Membership Regulations" (approved by the Dushanbe-2014 summit) to establish a more effective and coordinated approach in the context of the conversion of observer membership to main member seems to be essential.
3- With the membership of India and Pakistan in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the number of main members of the organization increased to eight countries (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China and India) and the geographical space and geopolitics of the organization, the population size, economic and defense-military capabilities (the presence of the four nuclear powers of Russia, China, India and Pakistan) has enjoyed significant expansion which is a significant and positive development. Nevertheless, the traditional, long and extensive challenges of India and Pakistan have led to many concerns about the negative impact of the Kashmir conflict between the two main members of the organization (India and Pakistan) and the border disputes on the Durand Line between a main member and an observer member (India and Pakistan) of organization. Different understandings of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan of terrorism and extremism which has always been alongside with proposing different accusation and different tensions that has made serious doubts about main membership of India and Pakistan in efficiency and internal coherence of SCO and experiences of South Asian Association For Regional Cooperation (SAARC) can repeat in Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
4- Defining the mechanism of the dialogue partner is one of the key initiatives of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and in this framework; Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey have been accepted as partners in the organization's dialogue. Due to vast geographic extent of these countries which covers from South-East Asia to the Caucasus and to the Middle East, the SCO has departed from the Eurasian geographical concentration.Meanwhile, this ambiguity should be answered that the dialogue partner’s mechanism is a mechanism and a stage for members to promote to observer and main membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization or not? Does the mechanism of the partner’s dialogue want to play a role similar to the Partnership for Peace or the individual partnership of the countries for the NATO pact which is an introduction to the membership of the candidate countries in the membership of this defense-military alliance?
5- One of the most important issues about the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is the existence of different perspectives on the practical and realistic approach of the organization in the field of regional and international developments. The key question and ambiguity is whether the SCO is an intergovernmental organization that deals only with the political and security issues of Central Asian region and its surrounding regions, or as the organization as a "New Warsaw" or “Eastern NATO " is an outward looking organization, and as an anti-hegemonic coalition seeks to play an international role and oppose the goals and interests of transnational actors such as NATO and the United States. The study of the documents and final statements of the organization's meetings suggests that the organization at the announcement level has special views and points in criticizing the unipolar world, the process of unilateralism, neglecting the spirit of charter of the United Nations and the rules of international law and ultimately criticizing the policies and approaches of the west, NATO and the United States in penetrating the region, changing political regimes and abuse of instruments of human rights, terrorism and democracy. Therefore, at the declaration level the SCO should be considered an outward looking organization. But on at the practical level the SCO has demonstrated an inward looking organization. The passive position and even the silence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization with regard to developments such as the Georgia crisis in 2008, the Ukrainian crisis and many Middle East crises such as Syria, Libya and Yemen, especially the direct military intervention of Russia as a major member and founder of the organization in Ukraine and Syria is a clear example of this organizations inward looing approach. In the mentioned crisis each of the member states of the SCO has responded differently according to their national and domestic capacities and within the framework of their defined foreign and defense policy. While it is expected that a regional defensive-security organization take more coordinated and effective approach to regional and international developments and stop its current contradictory situation.
NB: This article is first presented at Second Sochi Eurasian Integration Forum "Prospects for the development and strengthening of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization", Sochi, the Russian Federation, April 17, 2018.
Vali Kaleji, an expert at Iran's Expediency Council, is the senior fellow at IRAS.
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