On June 15 members
of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will gather for
their annual meeting at the birthplace of this Eurasian
bloc-Shanghai. Since its modest economic beginnings in 2001, when
it facilitated China's return into its Central Asian backyard for
the first time in almost 1,000 years, the SCO has become a Eurasian
powerhouse with an increasingly strong military component. The
United States should watch for anti-American developments at the
SCO while exploring ways to establish a dialogue with it.
Guest of Honor:
and policymakers have pooh-poohed the power of the SCO-to their own
peril. At this year's summit, the guest of honor is Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who will be pushing for the Islamic
Republic's full membership in the increasingly anti-American
organization. Iran currently holds observer status, along with
India, Pakistan, and Mongolia. Belarussian president Alexander
Lukashenko is also knocking on the SCO's doors to gain leverage
against Russia, an SCO member.
Moscow sources are
saying that full membership may not be in the cards for either the
Slavic dictatorship or the Shi'a theocracy. Ahmadinejad, however,
will be rewarded with one-on-one meetings with SCO heads of state,
including Chairman Hu of China, Russian president Vladimir Putin,
and Kazakhstani president Nursultan Nazarbaev.
The U.S. should
keep a close watch on SCO-Iranian coziness, as it may indicate
growing coordination between Moscow, Beijing and Teheran. This may
prove especially salient if Iran rejects the latest incentive
package and refuses to cease uranium enrichment and open its
18-year-old nuclear program for invasive inspections by the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Giant Stakes for
Russia and China
giant stakes for Russia and China in bilateral relations with
Teheran, the U.S. may fail to convince Russia and China that
embracing Iran may not be consistent with their long-term
interests. Russia recently announced the sale to Iran of TOR-1-M
surface-to-air missiles for defense of its Bushehr nuclear reactor
and its sprawling nuclear industry from hypothetical American or
Israeli air attacks. Moscow's interest not only in conventional
arms sales but also in expanding nuclear reactor sales, as well as
Chinese deals to import natural gas to the tune of over 100 billion
dollars over 30 years, is common knowledge.
longer-term problems with a radical Iran should occupy the
attention of the SCO leaders in Shanghai. Specifically, a
nuclear-armed, religiously aggressive and truculent Iran may well
challenge Russia's support for the authoritarian and secular
post-Soviet rulers in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Iran was
behind a Sunni Islamist opposition in the Tajik civil war in the
early 1990s and is making inroads into Azerbaijan.
Setbacks for U.S.
At the Shanghai
summit, the U.S. should watch for other anti-American developments.
Last year the SCO, encouraged by Russia and China, passed a
resolution demanding U.S. withdrawal from an air base in Karshi
Khanabad, Uzbekistan. U.S. refusal to finalize payments for the
base and its harsh denunciation of President Islam Karimov for
civilian casualties in suppressing an Islamist rebellion in Andijan
in May 2005 also contributed to the Uzbek decision to expel U.S.
This year, Russia
has dictated to the Kyrgyz Republic terms and conditions for
hosting the only remaining major U.S. air base in Central Asia, at
the Manas airport in the capital Bishkek. Moscow has demanded
ceasing all reconnaissance flights and limiting use of the base to
resupply missions in Afghanistan. It has also encouraged Kyrgyz
President Kurmanbek Bakiev to demand $100 million dollars in aid
and to increase rent for the base sixfold.
Kazakhstan: The Pivot of U.S. policy in the
There is good news
regarding the SCO. The U.S. is expanding ties with Kazakhstan,
major oil producer with the region's most liberal economic policy.
It is also the nation most open to the West in the region. During
his May visit to the country, Vice President Dick Cheney praised
President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who runs this state sandwiched
between two giants with imperialist histories, Russia and
Central Asian SCO
members and observers-Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan,
Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan-are in dire need of political
modernization and economic development, and Kazakhstan can act as a
role model. Kazakhstan plans to move away from energy and raw
material foundations to machine building, construction and
services. Almaty, the business capital, is in the midst of a
construction boom and is now dotted with glittering shopping malls
and shiny new cars. High oil prices have more than quadrupled
Kazakhstan's per capita income over the last decade, and oil
production is scheduled to reach 3.5 million barrels a day by
Mr. Nazarbaev is
engaged in a balancing act among Russia, China and the U.S. He is
expanding an oil pipeline to the Russian port of Novorossiysk and
has built an oil pipeline to China. He has announced an agreement
to supply oil to the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline consortium led by British
Petroleum. He has also been responsive to U.S. demands not to build
a pipeline to Iran. Recently, Nazarbaev sent a letter to President
Ahmadinejad, calling him to abandon the Iranian military nuclear
program, just as Kazakhstan gave up its nuclear arsenal after the
collapse of the Soviet Union.
majority of the states in Central Asia has taken a different course
and remains largely under the influence of China and Russia. There
is no doubt as to China and Russia's intentions in Central Asia-to
gain control of natural resources and check U.S. influence in the
region. The growing power and influence of the SCO indicate that
they may be succeeding.
The U.S. can
counter the rise of the SCO. First, Washington should recognize
that China and Russia have a history, a present, and a future in
this strategic area. They are extremely sensitive to U.S.
proclaimed interests and do not welcome "the new kid on the block."
Washington's diplomatic messages to these two powers and all SCO
members and observers should remain tactful and nuanced.
The U.S. can
demonstrate to Beijing that Russia is dragging it into an
anti-American bloc, which is counter to China's long-term
interests. Russia is a high cost oil producer, and Middle Eastern
instability keeps its oil prices high and its budget revenues
higher. Аsenior Putin foreign policy advisor told me that
Russia will quietly cheer more Middle East instability as oil
prices may climb to $90 a barrel or higher. China, on the other
hand, is an energy-starved economic powerhouse dependent on cheap
Middle East oil. China has an interest in seeking peace in the Gulf
to ensure the security of its growing energy investments. If not
restrained and contained, Iran is likely to drive world oil prices
higher as it pursues its aggressive, terror-enhancing policy,
supporting jihadi Islamists and challenging moderate Sunni regimes
from the Gulf to Morocco.
focus Moscow's attention on the geopolitical repercussions of a
radical, nuclear-armed Iran, which is likely to throw its weight
around Russia's southern "soft underbelly".
The U.S. should
develop its relationship with Kazakhstan and warmly greet President
Nazarbaev when he visits in September. The U.S. should also
encourage democratization, property rights protection, and free
market economic policies in Kazakhstan and, as much as possible, in
other SCO countries, especially Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Regional
wealth creation will go a long way to stem the rise of radical
Islam. A dose of modern secular education and the encouragement of
more peaceful variants of Islam, such mystical Sufism, would also
During its long
war on Islamist terrorism and the political ideology that breeds
it, America can ill-afford a conflict with Russia and China in
Eurasia. Thus, Washington must explore ways to establish a dialogue
with the SCO on its fifth anniversary. It may otherwise risk yet
another humiliation at the hands of Moscow and Beijing.
Cohen, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow in Russian and Eurasian
Studies and International Energy Security at the Sarah and Douglas
Allison Center of the Davis Institute for International Studies at
the Heritage Foundation.