On Monday, June 25 Iran, Mongolia, and Turkmenistan confirmed their participation at the upcoming Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit scheduled for August 16 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The presidents of all three countries – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Nambaryn Enkhbayar, and Gurbanguly Berdimukhamedov – will attend as distinguished guests. The Kyrgyz government is currently awaiting confirmations from Afghan President Hamid Karzai and UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon (Akipress, June 26).
In total, the Bishkek summit will assemble the presidents of nine: China, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Russia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan will send their ministers of foreign affairs. This marks the largest international gathering for either the SCO or Central Asian security organizations in general. Clearly, Iran’s decision to attend the SCO summit hints at the strengthening of a counter-Western alliance in Eurasia, let alone an emerging club of authoritarian states.
Bringing Iran and Turkmenistan to the SCO summit suggests the organization’s intention to expand further and while also increasing internal consolidation. The SCO has always provided a useful platform for its member states to promote unilateral interests and develop bilateral and trilateral relations within the organization. Turkmenistan’s participation at a status equal to that of Russia, Iran, and China will significantly increase the SCO’s international weight, as it is turning into an alliance that facilitates arms and energy trade among these states. Kyrgyzstan, with its current weak government and controversial U.S. military base on its territory, provides a convenient platform for staging such a controversial and visible international gathering.
It still remains doubtful whether both Iran and Turkmenistan will eventually join the SCO as full members. Their decision to attend the SCO summit comes on the heels of recent improvement in both states’ cooperation in security issues and their increasingly stable relations with Russia (see EDM, June 26). The SCO may attract vast international criticism for inviting Iran, especially as a potential member. The status of India and Pakistan are controversial issues as well. One of the incentives for Iran and Turkmenistan to increase contacts with the SCO is to assume protection from international interference in their domestic affairs, as the organization claims greater influence on its territories to prevent possible external intervention in case of terrorist incidents.
As the SCO summit approaches, various member states have announced their expectations for the event. On June 26-27, Bishkek hosted a meeting of SCO defense ministers and the summit’s agenda should be finalized within the next two weeks. All ministers agreed that the SCO must increase regional and international security cooperation. In particular, the SCO must address the problems of separatism, terrorism and extremism, drug and arms trafficking, illegal migration, and other forms of transnational crime (Akipress, June 27).
However, to date, the SCO and its competing Russian-led counterpart, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, have been more effective in raising the loyalty of their members and attracting new ones, rather than responding to regional security problems. Both organizations are centered on the desires of their main leaders, Russia and China, to dominate Eurasia and the smaller members’ search for protection from international criticism for their authoritarian politics. At the same time, any success in transnational trade among the SCO countries is hailed as the organization’s achievement.
At the June 26-27 meeting, Russia insisted that the SCO should concentrate on military cooperation issues, with Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov suggesting that a special document should be produced before the next summit in 2008. The meeting also finalized details for conducting the SCO’s Peace Mission-2007 military exercises in Russia this August, which will involve 4,000 military personnel. Russia and China are the main contributors to the military exercises. In the past two years Moscow and Beijing have intensified their cooperation within the organization’s framework by staging joint military exercises. In 2006 both states conducted joint exercises on China’s Shandong peninsula, involving roughly 10,000 military personnel.
With only a few weeks left until the SCO summit, Russia has visibly increased its campaign in Kyrgyzstan, sending military and security officials to Bishkek, providing financial and technical assistance to the Kyrgyz army, and mooting the possibility of privatizing the country’s two main hydropower plants, Kambarata-1 and Kambarata-2. China, for its part, is providing financial support for the summit’s logistical demands.
Meanwhile, Bishkek residents complain about the government’s harsh enforcement of city renovation projects ahead the SCO summit (24.kg, June 27). Residents along Bishkek’s central streets have been threatened with punishment if they refuse to renovate their houses and yards. A number of residents have complained about the aggressive behavior that local government officials have exhibited toward them.