Thursday, April 09, 2009

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO): A Contender to Nato, A Substitute to SAARC?

Any discussion on regional integration in Central Asia will inevitably prompt a discussion of key actors like SAARC; ASEAN and SCO.

These days, I don't mince my words on SAARC; I humbly suggest that the 8-member regional group that was established in December 1985 better get its act together or, like Nato, dwindle into irrelevance.

I spent the better part of the weekend reading through wikipedia's rendering of the Shangai Cooperation Organisation, and have to say I was pretty impressed. I couldn't for the life of me understand how an organisation that was established in 2001 had, eight years down the line, a Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS), yet SAARC that has been 23.5 years in existence had no such structure to fight terrorism when Pakistan, a member, had since 2001 been the bane of the organisation's development insofar as security of the region was concerned!

Remember that discussion on sub-regional imperatives that I've been banging on about? Looks like the gutsy SCO has plenty of that!

Some observers claim that SCO is everything and nothing in the sense that it is a security/political/cultural organisation that comprises non-democracies. Security and political aspects are important because Russia and China are key members, along with some members of what I call the "Stan Family", comprising--Kazakhstan; Kyrgyzstan; Tajikistan; and Uzbekistan. You might have guessed that there are no anglophone countries--unlike the ASEAN Regional Forum, which comprises the USA and Australia.

To top off the fear and loathing of SCO, Iran and India are observers.

I cannot help but wonder why India does not also put some of its efforts into re-dynamising SAARC, as it remains the putative hegemon of that part of Asia. I guess to each his own?

In the specific context of regional integration in Central Asia, observers writing about SCO believe it to be a great contender to Nato. One Michael Bendetson, writing in The Tufts Daily is one of them:

After analyzing NATO’s past actions and future plans in Afghanistan, it appears that only the United States is living up to the lofty expectations established by the

organization. European members are pledging their moral support; however, the future of NATO will depend on the alliance backing up their word with strength. If the majority of members continue to project an image of weakness, the alliance will falter.

He goes on:

In addition to the pressure of internal fragmentation, the power of NATO is being challenged in all areas of the globe. When the Cold War concluded in 1991, NATO was the strongest alliance in the international arena. The Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact had been dissolved, and NATO had been left unchallenged. Unfortunately, a lot has changed in two decades. The most significant of these changes pertains to the establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

The question of Nato is relevant here because as observers have been writing, the elements of Russia and China as powerful members within SCO are equally united in ensuring that Nato does not expand to that part of the world. With the SCO firmly ensconced in Central Asia, desires by Nato to expand eastwards further will be seriously inhibited.

As for Afghanistan, the less said about it the better! It joined SAARC in April 2007, with SAARC playing no central role in its development. However, in November 2005, the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group was established as a platform to help Afghanistan for reconstruction.

Latest news indicate that the SCO can continue to play a role in Afghanistan, and it makes sense as a stable Afghanistan can only augur well for the rest of the SCO members.

Whatever the case may be; and whatever Western leaders will propound, it is clear that any progressive and critical look at regional integration in Central Asia will continue to encompass a greater role of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Much Ado About Nato

I lost interest in the alliance the every day Nato decided to transgress the UN Security Council in 1999 and invade Kosovo. I was far from chuffed: here was an alliance that was seeking to re-establish its raison d'etre against the face of what was an explicit illegality. It was just not on.

Suffice-to-say, ten years on, my attitude about Nato has far from changed: Nato, in my view, remains a relic of the Cold War--caught between a rock and a hard place of providing humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan (and even the African Union!!) and needing to expand to perpetuate the fallacy that it still has a reason to exist.

Let me be clear: the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation will celebrate a far from happy sixtieth birthday this month. Three articles have conspired to remind me that I am not far from the mark of wishing it as dead as a dodo.

The first is that of Mitchell A. Belfer, of The Prague Post, who writes:

It is interesting to note that since the Afghanistan episode NATO's priorities have shifted. At a time of growing geopolitical threats, it is remarkable to watch NATO squabble about maintaining troop levels capable of delivering humanitarian aid to the far reaches of Afghanistan, and deploy state-of-the-art equipment as part of a "hearts and minds" strategy, but not do what NATO is meant to do: namely, win wars and provide security for its members.

In the writer's view, Nato should have been focussing on ensuring security for its alliance members instead of seeking to reward what he calls Russian "belligerence". That Nato has adopted a rather lukewarm attitude towards Russia, in his view, only provides a fertile view that Nato has lost the plot.

The two other articles are more explicit about what they feel about Nato.

The second is by Andrew J. Bacevich of the LA Times which title of the article is sufficiently explicit: The US must simply quit the alliance.

Ofcourse, coming from where it's coming, it was always going to be normal that the United States would consider it a kind of albatross, what with the global recession and all.

His article is an insightful one, providing one with a survey of Nato from 1949 to 2009. He mentions implosion, which really is about Nato needing to resist from going further Eastward. That this is already happening--as the BBC has reported today--with Albania and Croatia joining to becoome the 27th and 28th member respectively, you cannot help but wonder whether any putative implosion will not come any time soon!

The La Times avers that the EU is more than capable of managing its own defence matters:

The difference between 1949 and 2009 is that present-day Europe is more than capable of addressing today's threat, without American assistance or supervision. Collectively, the Europeans don't need U.S. troops or dollars, both of which are in short supply anyway and needed elsewhere. Yet as long as the United States sustains the pretense that Europe cannot manage its own affairs, the Europeans will endorse that proposition, letting Americans foot most of the bill. Only if Washington makes it clear that the era of free-riding has ended will Europe grow up.

I believe that's a fair point, but I believe that the mess that Nato is transcends the paternalistic role of the US in EU defence matters; it has a lot more to do with failing to re-evaluate and re-formualte a vision of where Nato needs to go in 2009 and beyond!

Finally, there is Mark Medish's article in the New York Times, which actually mentions regional integration in the following context:

"Since the Soviet collapse, NATO has been a useful tool of regional integration, although it has done little in this regard that the European Union could not do better."

Regional integration? Come on, now. I would never go so far as saying that Nato has been a tool of regional integration in the sense that we have expressed it here on t his blog; I don't even know whether an alliance can foster or facilitate regional integration by simply expanding, without deepening, which if we are frank with ourselves, the EU does not do. It has always expanded very well, and deepened its regional inegration process rather well.

In the specific context of Nato, though, the writer uses the words "iconoclast"; " institutional fetishism"; and "radical re-branding". What he means in using these words is to explain that the iconoclasts "view [Nato] as a hollow alliance that has plainly outlived its usefulness and represents a misallocation of scarce reosurces."

As regards "institutional fetishism", the writer suggests that there will always be proponents of Nato; he believes that these proponents practice "institutional fetishism", which he thinks they should go beyond, adding "Nato should not be considered too big to fail."

Finally, on "radical re-branding", Medish offers a humorous rendering:

Instead of disbanding or expanding, a better option would be radical re-branding. It is not necessarily too late for this. Re-branding could start with a new name, such as POTATO, which would be far less neuralgic, at least in Moscow.

In short, Nato needs not just a re-think, but a very sober one if it choses to go forward. If it were for me, I think Brussels could do with a nice park at its headquarters in Evere!