MOSCOW, (RIA Novosti military commentator Viktor Litovkin) -
"The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) will not turn into a new military-political alliance, at least, in the near future," said Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov during his latest trip to Beijing, where he attended a SCO meeting on a par with his SCO colleagues and spokesmen for the observer nations. The SCO consists of six countries - Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Another four states - Mongolia, Pakistan, India, and Iran - have an observer status. In other words, it includes major Eurasian powers with almost half of the world's population.
The SCO goal is to maintain stability and security on the territory within its jurisdiction, but it is sooner a political and economic alliance than a military- political bloc. The SCO does not conceal its military activities but they are rather limited. Unlike NATO, it does not have in its Charter a provision on the collective defense of its member by others in the event of an outside attack. The SCO military component stipulates for collective resistance to big armed gangs or international terrorists if they cross the border of a member country.
"Our task is to block them on both sides, and start to destroy them. To be able to do it quickly and effectively, we must conduct exercises," said Ivanov. Indeed, SCO military units regularly take part in bilateral and multilateral exercises. The military are bound to remember the Chinese-Russian war games on the Yellow Sea coast last fall. It had an anti-terrorist status but apart from paratroopers and special units, seamen and pilots, surface ships and submarines, bombers and military transports also took part. In scale and material resources involved, these maneuvers were comparable to a major offensive. Both Russian and Chinese generals gained experience of troop control during landing. SCO observers attended the war games.
Russia and Uzbekistan are planning to conduct smaller exercises in the mountains next fall. It is not ruled out that Uzbekistan will soon join the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which includes all SCO members except China. It would be useful for Tashkent to study coordination at anti-terrorist maneuvers, all the more so as similar exercises involving all six SCO members have been scheduled for next year. They will be held near the town of Chebarkul in the Urals, on the territory of the Volga-Urals military district.
SCO cooperation is not limited to tactical war games. It also covers MTC - trade in weapons and military hardware, construction of joint technical facilities for their servicing, conduct of joint R&D, and deployment of military facilities on the borders of a country threatened by an attack. It is no surprise that Sino-Russian MTC keeps growing every year, although it is not completely free of problems. The first Indian air force base with 20 MIG-29 fighters (Fulcrums) is being opened in Tajikistan. In cooperation with the Russian air force base in Kyrgyz Kant, it will help protect the Tajik border with Afghanistan, from which Central Asia, and subsequently Europe, is exposed to massive drug trafficking and radical terrorist groups. Although New Delhi is merely an SCO observer, its participation in the anti-terrorist effort is very important for all countries of the region.
Recently, Iran has also become interested in SCO activities. Tehran is increasingly leaning towards changing its observer status for full membership. Many experts attribute this to a direct threat of a strike at Iran by the U.S. and its allies, which are scared to death of Iran's peaceful atom, and are going all-out to prevent it from launching its own production of nuclear fuel.
SCO members Russia and China do not believe that Iran should necessarily develop a full nuclear cycle - enrich uranium and produce fuel clusters for nuclear reactors of power stations. A joint venture with Russia on Russian territory could be a good option for Tehran. But they are emphatically against any power games against Iran, not to mention the threat of U.S. hawks to deal a missile blow at its nuclear facilities.
Yet, as Sergei Ivanov said in Beijing, "Iran is an observer in the SCO, and nobody has any obligations to it. I will dismiss the idea of the SCO defending Iran out of hand." Nonetheless, as permanent members of the UN Security Council and SCO partners, Moscow and Beijing are doing all they can for Iran's nuclear problem to be resolved by diplomats in the framework of the IAEA and international cooperation.
In June, on the eve of the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, the SCO heads of state will meet to observe the firth anniversary of their cooperation. New countries will probably be admitted to the SCO. Presidents and prime ministers will review military issues, approve plans of exercises, as well as bilateral and multilateral MTC. They will also discuss global problems. This will help Russia to represent, in a sense, half of the world's population at the upcoming G8 summit. Its position cannot be ignored.