Fyodor Lukyanov: Is Eurasia about to get its own NATO?

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The Shanghai Cooperation Organization could play an important role in a nascent security system that emphasizes total development

Both of the world’s current major conflicts – Ukraine and Palestine – are continuing with no end in sight. In the leading countries of the West, there are internal cataclysms that may significantly influence future behavior. Across the world, from Latin America and Africa to the Pacific, we see very lively processes signaling major shifts. No one doubts that the world is undergoing systemic restructuring. The question is whether the contours of a future order that will ensure a sufficient level of international sustainability are already emerging. In this context, this week’s meeting of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) leaders is of particular interest.

In particular, talk of an Eurasian security system, so to speak, is in the air.

The SCO is unique. It is a full-fledged institution, i.e. a fairly formalized structure with its own bodies and rules (unlike, for example, the BRICS, the nature of which has not yet been clearly clarified). However, it is an institution that has emerged in an era when such associations have generally either not been formed or have proved to be opportunistic and short-lived (it is enough to recall the mass of acronyms that appeared and disappeared in the former USSR). The system of governance based on international organizations is a feature of the second half of the twentieth century, when a solid international framework was built. It was preserved after the Cold War, but its internal content changed. It quickly became apparent that the established institutions were not working in the same (relatively effective) way as before, because the global situation had changed.

Does this mean that old organizations need to be replaced by new ones, or has this type of ordering of the international system simply lost its relevance? At the beginning of this century, many people tended to think the former. Yes, the old institutions had served their time, and new ones would emerge to perform different tasks, but organized in a similar way to the old ones. Over time, however, the approach began to shift towards the second. The world is so complex and diverse that it is simply impossible to fit it into stable and fixed forms. The interests of states are not necessarily contradictory but are rather very different, and their fulfillment requires flexible approaches. And flexibility does not mix well with the rigidity of classical institutions, especially when it comes to bloc structures bound by commitments and discipline. At some point, the optimal form of interstate organization began to appear as ad hoc groups of states that needed to solve a specific problem together.

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This was the beginning of the SCO. After the collapse of the USSR, the new Central Asian states and Russia had to resolve border issues with China. Thus was born the Shanghai Five. The problem was solved so successfully that it was decided to preserve and develop this successful format. Over the years, the forum has grown to include India, Pakistan and Iran, while Belarus will be attending this year’s event. The summits are usually attended by the leaders of other powers important to the Eurasian region, such as Turkey and the Persian Gulf monarchies.

Enlargement adds solidity to an organization, but whether it increases efficiency is debatable. And not just because, for example, relations between China and India and between India and Pakistan are, to put it mildly, complicated. This is an obstacle, of course, but not the only one: the main thing is to find an agenda that requires a real joint effort and is of interest to all participants in an applied sense. This is difficult, given the diversity of SCO members.

We should probably start by understanding Eurasia’s role in the world. The major Eurasian powers are now emerging as leaders in international economics and politics. But the natural summation of potential that is often made when talking about the SCO or BRICS is of little use. What is more important is that this vast area cannot be bypassed or ignored; all the processes taking place around the globe depend on it or are linked to it. It is not by chance that Eurasia is traditionally called ‘the core’. And belonging to it unites all the states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which determines both the opportunities and the risks. They are linked to the increased attention paid to Eurasia by powerful extra-regional players, which is not always for the good, to say the least.

The idea of a Eurasian security system is in the air. China, the Central Asian countries, and India have approached it from different sides. Recently, the Russian president launched such an initiative. Eurasian security, unlike European security, is not a military-political phenomenon, but a model for the comprehensive development of the space and the realization of its enormous potential. The SCO has its shortcomings, but it is an ideal platform for formulating the principles of this great project.

This article was first published by Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper, translated and edited by the RT team

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