The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on Sept. 12-13 may have been one of the organization’s most important. After years of stasis, the group’s heads-of-state summit finally agreed to consider expanding the organization’s membership, which has remained fixed since its foundation in 2001. They also adopted several other important measures promoting regional development, as well as a political declaration that lent support to Russian and Chinese positions in those countries’ disagreements with the U.S. and the West more broadly. But the SCO still faces several obstacles to expanding its role in Eurasia.
After the instability engendered by the Arab Spring and the ongoing NATO military drawdown in Afghanistan, two developments in particular apparently generated sufficient alarm to propel China and Russia to reverse longstanding crosscutting positions and permit expanding the organization’s membership and functions: the Russia-Western tensions over Ukraine and the recent upsurge of terrorism inside China.
For example, Russia had long used the SCO’s requirement for consensus decision-making to limit Chinese economic penetration of Central Asia. In addition, Moscow had focused in recent years on building its regional military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and the Eurasian Union in order to bolster its influence in the former Soviet republics. But at Dushanbe, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for renewing the SCO Trade and Economic Cooperation Program and building a SCO transportation system, which would support Beijing’s New Silk Road concept. He also declared that Russia would use its chairmanship of the SCO, which began at the summit, to hold SCO-related events aimed at “strengthening the organization’s role as an effective mechanism for regional security, launching big multilateral economic projects, deepening cultural and humanitarian ties, and developing new approaches to current regional and global problems.”