13 March 2013
Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) stands against Western values and NATO by its nature. In contrast to its constructive and pro-stability policies of combating terrorism, religious extremism and separatism; the organization has developed an explicit stance against the spread of universal democratic values throughout its “domain”.
Today, it has become a major problem for many authoritarian regimes that the EU and the US are demanding reforms regarding human rights issues and the establishment of a democratic order in developing countries which they encounter and relate with. On the other hand, it has been observed especially for the last decade that two principal members of SCO (China and Russia) offer an alternative model of partnership without “interference in domestic affairs”, with such regimes.Therefore in case of various Middle Eastern, African and Central Asian countries governed by authoritarian regimes; the “no strings attached” attitude of China and Moscow is mostly favored over the former which comes to the picture with loaded “side-effects”.
Government circles in Central Asia, which are rather identified with authoritarianism and nepotism, are in particular attracted to China’s and Russia’s charm in offering partnerships. In addition to belonging to the immediate neighborhood of their gigantic neighbors, Central Asian countries have found themselves in the midst of non-traditional contingencies and destabilizing forces right after their gaining independence from the USSR. Shanghai Cooperation Organization emerged under such circumstances with the implicit promise of maintaining authoritarian rule and combating destructive forces at the same time in the eyes of regional leaderships, as if the two promises were expected to be inevitably nurturing each other. Western perspective prompts us to believe in the opposite though, that the two-sided coin of authoritarianism and combating non-traditional contingencies is an inimical model for sustaining stability in the long run; since the former actually hampers the endeavors for the sake of the latter.
As per Article 2 (“Principles” part) of the SCO Charter; the principles of maintaining state sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-intervention in the domestic affairs of others are firmly seized upon. Embarking on this very article, the United States and pro-democracy discourse of the West were gradually excluded from Eurasia via the official declarations of 2006 and 2007 by SCO. Moreover, the “Beijing Consensus” was emerging as a response to the West, which became the cornerstone of an official discourse, emphasized by the organization and its members rigidly.
Following the brutal suppression of the riots staged in Andijan (Uzbekistan) and the so-called Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, both of which took place in 2005; an SCO summit was assembled in Astana (Kazakhstan) in the summer of the same year. The final declaration put forward by the Astana Summit of 2005 was bitter, criticizing the U.S. and Western attitudes regarding both events, even though implicitly. Washington was condemned with trying to superimpose its hegemony over the whole world and Eurasia in particular. In the immediate aftermath of the summit, an extensive military exercise was conducted under the umbrella of SCO in August 2005. With the exercise and the subsequent declaration, it was demanded from the U.S. to retreat from its military bases in Central Asia as soon as possible. Furthermore, it became more evident that one of the major goals of SCO was (and still is) to minimize the political and military influence of Western countries within the region. As one may remember, the organization had also denied granting observer status to the U.S. and the EUover its activities in the past.
Briefly, the major reasons beneath political instability and security threats within contemporary global context are some cross-border groups which shared radical and aggressive ideologies which are insistently stimulated by Western countries’ imperialist policies; according to the system of thought shaped by SCO via the so-called “Beijing Consensus”. On the other hand; “Beijing Consensus” implies that oppressive domestic policy lines which have been pursued in various countries, one man and one party rules, oligarchic interest groups’ dominance and common human rights violations are irrelevant and to some extent necessary in order to sustain stability and peace. Even an untrained eye can easily suspect the dichotomy between the notions of so-called “interstate democracy” and “local divergences” emphasized by the “Beijing Consensus”, and Western democratic values such as individual liberty, humanitarian intervention and norms brought about by globalization.
What can Turkey expect from SCO?
SCO accommodates some contradictory discourses and practices simultaneously. It aims to transform itself into one of the most important global organizations, but it refrains from expansion. It advocates inter-state democracy but its members occasionally interfere in other countries’ relevant domestic issues. Besides, the discrepancy of the level of development between its member states cause Central Asian states to become pacified. Also, Russia and China are competing with each other fiercely, even though under-handedly. SCO also aims to transform itself into a global energy club, but the organization is still incapable of resolving the irreconcilable rivalryand occasional frictions between the “buyers” and the “sellers” under its roof.
Despite all the shortcomings on the part of SCO, the “three evils” of terrorism, religious extremism and separatism stand forth as concrete and problematic issues concerning Turkey as well. The situation is the same with respect to the issue of border security; since illegal immigrants and narcotics originating in Asia, Africa and the Middle East which are entering European borderlands pass through Turkey. With regard to the current context of overwhelming instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan; Turkey and SCO have common grounds in combating the threats of illegal immigration (including militant incursions), border insecurity, and illicit trade of arms and narcotics.
In today’s world where international cooperation and solidary gained significance in combating world-wide terrorist networks, SCO is expected to become more active against non-traditional security challenges especially after NATO leaves Afghanistan by the end of 2014.The dynamism of Turkish economy can also contribute considerably to the rising market of SCO as much as to its own path of maturation in case of economic cooperation between Turkey and SCO. The New Silk Road project can also gain priority in the long run in order to unite Europe and Asia via Turkey, with an alternative route to Trans-Siberian railways, roads and pipelines. Moreover; mutual cooperation in infrastructure construction, transportation networks, high technology sharing, energy and raw materials has reached incredible levels between Turkey on one side and Russia, Kazakhstan and China (the three major members of SCO) on the other.
However, Turkey will not be capable of contributing significantly to the multilateral military partnerships and common funds to be established or further enlarged by SCO. Besides, to what extent Turkey would benefit by siding with SCO in such fields is also a controversial issue. Because the organization may probably not be able to reach until Turkey with its current capabilities, and even if it does reach, we end up with the argument that bilateral and pragmatic relations with SCO countries are probably much more profitable both politically and economically.
Afghanistan, Turkey and SCO
ISAF coalition will leave Afghanistan by 2014, although the country still stands forth as the “open wound” of Central Asia with regards to China and regional countries. In this framework, considerable responsibilities will fall to SCO in maintaining security and peace throughout Afghanistan in the post-2014 period. The question of to what extent can Turkey become influential in Afghanistan despite Iran via the SCO naturally comes to the mind, taking into account Iran’s growing visibility in its direct neighbor Afghanistan and Tehran’s close ties with a rising Moscow-Beijing axis. Still, the only partner for Turkey which can help it access the region seems to be Pakistan.
The sudden inclusion of the U.S., in the immediate aftermath of September 11 in particular, within regional equations narrowed SCO’s elbow room. Because counter-terrorism and Central Asian stability issues were to be handled by a U.S.-led coalition from then on.In response to the U.S. and NATO initiative, the Bishkek Summit of SCO which took place in 2007 officially declared that a multipolar world order should be established against U.S. unipolarity. In this context, the claim that not the U.S. and other extra-regional forces “bandwagoning” with it (therefore not NATO and not Turkey), but SCO and other regional countries/organizations instead would be able to sustain stability in Central Asia and Afghanistan was again articulated.
Why dialogue partnership?
On 7 June 2012, the decision to grant Turkey “dialogue partner” status under the umbrella of SCO was confirmed. Today, Belarus and Sri Lanka are the other dialogue partners of SCO. One month before the presidential summit of SCO on 7 June 2012, member countries’ foreign ministers came together again in Beijing. And in the previous month to the foreign ministers’ meeting (8-11 April 2012), Prime Minister Erdođan held official talks in China while accompanied by two other ministers and a special delegation including 300 businessmen. As part of this very visit paid by Erdođan and his team, a final decision was made on the process or stage of dialogue partnership.
Countries to be subjected to the dialogue partnership process in line with Article 14 of the SCO Charter, officially stipulate that they internalize SCO’s principles and goals. This is also true in case of Turkey’s dialogue partnership decision. As a matter of fact, Belarus and Sri Lanka which were granted the same status with Turkey in the past actually aim to take part within the organization as member countries in the future, or at least as observers.
In contrast to the abovementioned countries, Turkey is a member of NATO and it officially embarks on democratic values. It has borders neither with Afghanistan nor with any other regional entity which falls into SCO’s direct “sphere of influence”. It is a strategic rival with Iran, moreover; SCO may not have the organizational capability to reach out to Turkey since even Iran is controversial and barely relevant for SCO’s major activities. Besides, China was never in favor of Turkey’s SCO adventure despite Russian support behind Turkey’s bid. All these factors demonstrate that Turkey will probably not be able to go beyond a superficial status of dialogue partnership with this organization. From a realistic perspective, the question of what sort of political and economic benefits or loses will follow Turkey’s further integration with SCO is in itself a truly controversial subject.
By Emre Tunç Sakaoglu
*This piece was initially published in Turkish, in monthly Analist Journal issued for March 2013.