The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Tashkent, currently in progress, marks a potentially significant strategic shift in the development of security bodies with real capability to act and promote stability within Central Asia. The success of the summit, in large measure, will be a consequence of Uzbek diplomacy, which has sought a practical level of security cooperation through the SCO, since its traumatic experience with the failures of the Collective Security Treaty. That treaty did little to address security needs during 1999 and 2000, as the country faced the militant campaigns of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) (Interfax, Moscow, June 16).
During the Tashkent summit, the SCO will seek to achieve key goals, securing its evolution into a successful regional security organization. The group’s principal objectives are already known, and the SCO will be judged on success in achieving these objectives.
The summit will seek to establish practical cooperation in the areas of counter-terrorism, drug trafficking, combating extremism and separatism. These constantly re-stated objectives within SCO communiqués seem achievable in Tashkent and beyond. In order to combat the “three evils” of terrorism, extremism and separatism, the SCO is likely to agree on a systemic program of multilateral cooperation for 2004-06. Moreover, it will seek to secure an active political role in the reconstruction and stabilization of Afghanistan, attested to by inviting Afghani President Hamid Karzai to attend as a guest of Uzbek President Islam Karimov (RIA Novosti, June 1 2004). Observers will also attend representing the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), European Union (EU), Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations (UN). Chinese diplomats have dismissed suggestions that the SCO is poised for enlargement in the immediate future (Xinhua, Beijing, June 1).
Practical progress will be witnessed in the areas of economic cooperation, as the SCO seeks to realize the program approved on September 23, 2003. Further incentives will be agreed on regarding major transport and communications projects, including the “Andijan-Osh-Kashgar” rail corridor as well as constructing a motorway connecting China, Central Asia and Europe.
Security cooperation will most notably promote the Regional Antiterrorist Structure (RATS) in Tashkent, to which the SCO member states will contribute intelligence information on terrorists and drug traffickers throughout the region. This will mirror the CIS Antiterrorist Center (ATC) already functioning in Bishkek. A database will be created on known terrorists, extremists, separatists and drug traffickers, based on classified and unclassified sources. This body will rely on intelligence cooperation between SCO member states, which do not generally share information among intelligence agencies, much less neighboring countries. Additionally, the agency will have an official liaison with the ATC in Bishkek as well as access to its database. However, the critical test will come in two areas: the extent to which the Russian and Chinese intelligence services grant access to their materials, limited in the recent experience of the ATC, and whether the information is reliable and can be accessed in a timely manner.
Kazakhstan’s Security Council Secretary Bulat Utemuratov recently observed the rising coincidence of security interests among SCO members. He said, “An exchange of views on topical international issues showed that our approaches to tackling key modern problems coincide. Kazakhstan firmly and consistently fulfils commitments it has taken on within the framework of the SCO and pays special attention to its progressive development. This is why the meeting of the secretaries of the security councils of the SCO member states, as a new form of relations, may give a further impetus to the development of cooperation” (Kazinform, Astana, June 4). This analysis is shared in Tashkent, which has worked skillfully to promote the practical cooperation of the SCO, taking advantage of the interests of Russian and China in the region to further long-term security interests. As those Central Asian states most active in the war on terror, with the deployment of U.S. and coalition troops on their territory, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan await the outcome of the U.S. re-basing strategy, with its potentially significant implications for regional security. There is a growing impetus towards seeking alternative long-term security arrangements as an indemnity against future U.S. foreign policy failure.
Uzbekistan President Karimov has the most to lose from an unsuccessful summit, which he has ensured will not happen, despite growing international concern over Uzbekistan’s apparently closed approach since the “velvet” revolution in Georgia, and the March and April terrorist attacks in Tashkent and Bukhara. Karimov can boast success in the aftermath of the summit. But the real work to secure practical security cooperation among SCO members, building on the impetus to explore further possible integration, will begin after the summit. It appears to mark a turning point in the evolution of the body, spurred by the unilateral approach, which its key members China and Russia have vexed against in the war on terror, seeking to realign the geostrategic dynamics in Eurasia on the basis of international law and multilateral cooperation. In this context, it is only a question of time before the U.S. has to deal with the SCO, just as other countries are coming to realize.