Will the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Bring A New Era of Multilateralism?

This handout picture released by the Russian Foreign Minister on July 14, 2021 shows (L-R) Tajikistan’s Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Muhriddin, SCO Secretary General Vladimir Norov, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tleuberdi, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Kyrgyzstan’s deputy Foreign Minister Nuran Niyazaliyev and Director of the Executive Committee of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) of the SCO Jumakhon Giyosov posing for a picture during a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting in Dushanbe. (Photo by Handout / RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY CREDIT “AFP PHOTO / RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY” – NO MARKETING – NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS – DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is a Eurasian security bloc that consists of China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. In 2001, it started as a regional forum to combat terrorism, separatism, and extremism whose main actors are Russia and China. Moscow and Beijing have sought to use the security architecture of the SCO and develop it as a geopolitical bloc that can counter U.S hegemony and protect their spheres of regional influence. In order to build collective power against the U.S, the SCO is currently working to shape its role as mediator in international and regional conflicts. As Washington’s unipolar power continues to wane, Moscow and Beijing will use the growing power of the SCO to reshape the international system by using Western-backed principles and institutions like the United Nations to weaken the West’s power.

Iran’s recent acceptance into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization signals the explicit broadening of the political organization of Eurasia as the future global center of multilateral power. President Ebrahim Raisi is seeking to use the leverage of SCO membership in order to protect against U.S sanctions and the use of economic warfare to bind Tehran’s foreign policy. Tehran has been under harsh sanctions since former President Trump withdrew the U.S from the 2015 nuclear deal and views a policy looking East as a way to stabilize its economy. Under the Supreme Leader Khamenei’s direction, President Raisi will pursue policies that will reinforce trade deals with non-Western countries, especially Russia and China.

Tehran’s ascension into the SCO also has a political dimension, that being the goal of investing in new Eurasian alignments that go against Washington’s interests. Washington’s mismanaged pull-out from Afghanistan has emboldened Tehran to build a stronger alliance with Beijing in the hope that China will be the main counterweight against Western influence in the Middle East. But Iran’s membership doesn’t come without a cost and in order to build balance within the SCO, President Xi has allowed Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Qatar to become dialogue partners. This will likely lead to an interesting political chess game as Washington has entrenched security relations with each country, adding to the complexity of the SCO’s ability to build a strong security architecture to rival the Western security power of Atlanticism under NATO.

Tacikistan’ın başkenti Duşanbe’de Şangay İşbirliği Örgütü’nün (ŞİÖ) Devlet Başkanları Zirvesi düzenlendi. Zirve toplantısına katılan İran Cumhurbaşkanı İbrahim Reisi (solda), Tacikistan Cumhurbaşkanı İmamali Rahman (sağda) tarafından karışlandı. ( İran Cumhurbaşkanlığı – Anadolu Ajansı )

Iran may hope to build a Russia-China-Iran axis against the West, but the SCO does not have the institutional structure to use military power to challenge U.S hegemony. Since the SCO does not have the organization for direct military power, a Russia-China-Iran axis may seek to weaken the West through economic warfare, namely through weakening the West’s financial instruments for international financial transactions, like the usage of SWIFT which is Interbank Financial Telecommunication, and launching their own alternative services.

Can The Shanghai Cooperation Organization Become A Eurasian Powerhouse To Upend American Power?

The SCO may seek to use multilateralism in order to challenge U.S authority, but it does not have a comprehensive trade policy that can act as a vehicle to weaken American trade deals. Moscow and Beijing are the main beneficiaries and drivers of the SCO Central Asian economic and security policies and use its apparatus as a way to manage their periphery security environment and territorial integrity.

At the moment the SCO is not a concentrated political and economic organization like the European Union or a joint military alliance like NATO, but has the potential to develop a new geopolitical paradigm to create a multipolar world, where multiple centers of power can organize together to challenge U.S unipolar power.

America’s unipolar moment has been increasingly fading since the Great Recession of 2008 and two decades of costly preoccupation with counterterrorism in weak states. The lack of strategic depth and grand strategy in post-9/11 foreign policy exposes the failure in Washington’s ability to gauge where and how the most pressing security issues would develop, distracting the country to waste resources trying to nation build in fragile states instead of focusing on the growing power of nations like China.

American elites assumed that the chaos emanating from weak states would pose a challenge to Washington’s hegemony, believing that the ideology of radical Islamism would be the focal threat to American security interests. In the short-term terrorism was a threat, but not a critical challenge to Washington ability to project power on the world stage. The real threat to American power was not from the disconnectedness of non-state actors, but from the interconnectedness of China in world commerce and finance.

As America’s unipolar moment ebbs and a Beijing led multilateralism begins to grow, Washington will have to remake its international security policy for a post-ideological world, one where Communism and Islamism are not the main drivers for developing grand strategy. In a world where Washington’s leadership will be challenged and become relative to other centers of power, waging pragmatism over principles will become the only way to compete in a world where there will be no one arbiter in international affairs. In a way, a new form of chaos will grow not from non-state actors but from great power conflict.

A New Eurasian Century?

Whether it is a $400 billion-worth trade deal with Iran or initiating a diplomatic process with the Taliban, China will be at the forefront of building the path to Eurasian integration with the help of the Belt and Road Initiative and Eurasia Economic Union. With the U.S isolated from Central Asia and an integrated international commerce network controlled by Beijing and to an extent Moscow, the SCO can become a powerful tool to begin to cultivate and expand Beijing’s military prowess and confidence to challenge America’s dominance in both regional and international waters. If China can control its regional waters and as far out as the Indian Ocean, Beijing’s economic ability to further challenge America’s trade policy will be stronger as will its projection of military power.

Beijing and Moscow will be at the helm in creating a Eurasian powerhouse that will be integrated by the formation of new financial instruments, economic corridors, and security alliances. Unifying Europe and Asia as a supraregional entity will likely be able to challenge American maritime power and disrupt the current framework of our Western centric world economy. If this is to occur in the next 10 to 20 years, it would not be wrong to put partial blame on the internal fragmentation and downward spiral of the middle class, the polarization between ultra-nationalists and the far Left within Western society, and the excesses of globalization that has weakened the nation but enriched corporations. 

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