The 12th Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit took place in Beijing on June 6-7, 2012. The annual event brought together the heads of states to review and gauge the importance of the SCO in global affairs. China hosted the summit for the third time since its inception. The organization has crossed the threshold of the second decade of its existence. It was founded on 15 June 2001 in Shanghai by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan on the basis of the Shanghai Five active since 1996. Iran, India, Mongolia, Pakistan and now Afghanistan are the observer states. Belarus and Sri Lanka became SCO dialogue partners in 2010. The participation of officials representing the United Nations, the CIS, the Eurasian Economic Community and the Collective Security Treaty Organization gave the event a new dimension converting it into an international forum of global scale and importance. In the past 11 years the SCO has faced the challenges of our time, its very existence illustrating the multipolarity of the contemporary world.
The leaders exchanged views on current world events and discussed the goals and missions defining strategic planning and prospects for future. The signed Declaration on Building a Region with Lasting Peace and Common Prosperity defined the core policy guidelines. It stressed that “the member states support the building of a world free of nuclear weapons and in strict compliance with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The SCO calls on all nuclear weapon states to sign the relevant protocols to the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia and take real steps to move forward the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Central Asia”. In support of Russia’s stance on the issue the document said “unilateral and unrestricted build-up of missile defense by an individual country or a country bloc will endanger international security and strategic stability. The relevant issues must be resolved by all the countries concerned through political and diplomatic efforts. The member states firmly believe that one should not pursue its own security at the expense of other countries' security” – a clear message to the USA led NATO’s European missile defense component.
It was decided to revise the SCO Regulations on Political and Diplomatic Measures and Mechanisms of Response to Events Jeopardizing Regional Peace, Security and Stability in order to enhance joint early warning, crisis management, interaction and interoperability capability. The participants came up with the program of fighting terrorism, separatism and extremism for 2013-2015 that specified plans to counter the activities of these "three forces" in the region. With terrorism, separatism and extremism as well as other transnational crimes on the rise, the SCO member states agreed to make the organization an effective instrument of regional security. An agreement was also reached on mutual disaster relief assistance. The countries will communicate in a timely manner in case of emergency, send rescue teams, provide relief supplies and minimize the impact of disasters.
The establishment of the SCO development bank and special account to advance regional economic development was an important part of economic agenda. Gradual transition to national currencies settlements and financing joint projects is a great step forward on the way to gradual economic integration. The member states agreed to enhance cooperation in transportation, energy, telecommunications and agriculture. They also believe it is necessary to promote cultural and educational exchanges and expand people-to-people contacts and social interaction.
The Beijing summit outlined the “mid-term development strategy”. The main objective is to “build the SCO as a practical and highly effective platform for cooperation”. This is the first time that the SCO has come up with a comprehensive policy plan of long-term cooperation in tackling strategic issues. The strategy presupposes expanding the mandate of the SCO and its membership. Membership expansion will be done on a “consensual” basis and based on the results of road map fulfillment. In the immediate future the process is to be limited to bringing in a few observers and dialogue partners. The summit expanded the organization by granting Afghanistan an observer status and making Turkey a dialogue partner. Sri Lanka and Belarus were taken in as dialogue partners in 2010. The summit welcomed the proposed accession of India and Pakistan to the security grouping, but no timetable was set to grant them full membership. The SCO will strengthen cooperation with its observer states and dialogue partners, the United Nations and its affiliated organizations, as well as other international and regional actors. Expanding the SCO mandate is reflected in adoption of an ambitious action plan for Afghanistan. It was a key issue of the agenda. Kabul is hosting an international conference on Afghanistan on June 14. The participants stressed that the situation in Afghanistan has a direct impact on the entire region. Russia, for its part, views drug trafficking and extremism as main threats. The detailed plan envisages reconstructing that country and bringing stability to the region.
The Iranian President’s attendance at the summit was an important contribution. Defying the US and EU sanctions over Iran imposed to punish it for nuclear activities, the SCO asks for “negotiated solution” of the problem and is strongly opposed to unilateral actions in the Middle East. It finds the use of force against Iran "unacceptable". The summit’s statement on Syria also calls for a "peaceful resolution of the Syrian problem through political dialogue".
The intent of the SCO members to strengthen joint security policy had been displayed by real actions just before the summit. In April this year Russia and China conducted the joint naval exercise Sea Cooperation 2012 in the Yellow Sea, following four bilateral military exercises since 2005. The training team-up involved several simulated missions, including the rescue of a hijacked ship, the escort of a commercial vessel and the defense of a sea convoy against air and sea attacks. The exercise demonstrated the will of the two leading SCO members to strengthen the capability to jointly confront new regional threats. The event came after US President Barack Obama signaled a "return to Asia" following a decade of conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq last November. The timing of the Sea Cooperation by and large coincided with the joint exercises launched by the U.S. and Philippine military in the South China Sea.
During the President Putin’s two days state visit to Beijing preceding the SCO summit Russia and China stated they found common language in foreign affairs and undertook to cooperate to ensure security in the Asia Pacific region. “We believe our joint initiative to strengthen security in the Asia Pacific region is important,” Putin said. “In this context we will, of course, maintain relations between our defense ministries.” He added: “We are for the formation of an open and equal architecture of security and cooperation, based on the principles of international law in the region”. The Russian President emphasized burgeoning military ties with China. He noted Russia and China vowed to expand military exchanges setting the above mentioned Russian-Chinese naval exercises in the Yellow Sea as an example. Military exchanges between Moscow and Beijing have accelerated under the aegis of the SCO that hosts regular border protection and anti-terrorism drills. The both sides agreed to bolster strategic relationship in a corresponding statement.
Defense and security cooperation is a really an important part of the SCO agenda. The armed forces of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization members will hold the "Peace Mission 2012" drill in Tajikistan from June 8 to 14 involving more than 2,000 servicemen from China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The scenario envisages joining forces in an anti-terrorist operation in mountainous areas against the background of a regional crisis caused by terrorist activities. The SCO summit emphasized the organization holds regular meetings of defense chiefs. The member states have already held eight large-scale anti-terrorist drills, five security forums and have made personnel exchanges and joint training a routine matter. The SCO training activities have evolved from company-level tactical training events to large-scale joint combined exercises over the last decade.
Judging by the outcome of the summit the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is in for major changes. The crises in the Middle East triggered by the Arab Spring, the withdrawal of ISAF from Afghanistan, the growing number of hotbeds in different regions – it all calls for the intensification of the SCO efforts to strengthen regional security. The summit confirmed the intention to jointly counter the challenges. A new mechanism to do it will be launched as early as next month, right on the eve of an international conference on Afghanistan slated for June 14 in Kabul. The CSO has a very important role to play in managing the situation. Of course it would be wise to unite efforts with NATO to tackle the problem jointly, though until now the Alliance has stubbornly refused to act together with either the SCO or the CSTO.
The decisions on the CSO expansion is a momentous event. Now the organization has clearly grown beyond the scope of regional problems. The fact of mentioning the US missile defense outside the national territory in the declaration is a bright example. A consolidated SCO position on the issue may become a significant counterweight to NATO’s plans. Bringing in Turkey, a NATO member, is the confirmation of the rising global influence.
The main summit result is that the SCO has significantly varied and deepened the cooperation process in all fields and enhanced its international clout. It’s a win-win result for those who oppose a unipolar vision of the contemporary world.