Established in 2001, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) formed as a means to enhance security cooperation among the great powers of Asia. Today, the SCO membership roll includes, China, Russia, Pakistan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Currently, Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia are SCO observers whilst Armenia, Azerbaijan, Nepal, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Turkey are dialogue partners.
The SCO’s mandate is centred on cooperation against common threats including non-state terrorism and the trafficking of narcotics. However, in recent years, the SCO has also discussed mutual development goals with an emphasis on cooperating over areas including medical care, education and cultural exchange.
Not only was the SCO’s initial mandate incredibly different than the military alliance NATO, but as the SCO expanded, so too did its mandate become less centred on security and more broadly focused on measures to build peace through prosperity. Because of this, it is not only misleading but wholly irresponsible to call the SCO “an Asian NATO” as some in international media have done.
But beyond clearly being anything but an ironclad military alliance like NATO, the SCO would effectively transform from a constructive body into a dangerous one if it desired to become more like NATO. While some cultures are historically more inclined to use war as a means of conflict resolution than others, the fact of the matter is that any entangling military alliance pushes the world closer to war rather than peace. The only reason that NATO or the Warsaw Pact did not start the third world war in the second half of the 20th century is due to the fact that de-facto NATO leader America and de-facto Warsaw Pact leader the USSR both had nuclear weapons capable of destroying all of humanity. Without this mutually assured destruction, it would have been highly likely that NATO and the Warsaw Pact would have done what the entangling military alliances of the early 20th century did when they allowed a local Balkan conflict to spiral into the First World War.
If there are any lessons to be learned from the world’s most blood-soaked century, the 20th, it is that military alliances are not the solution to the world’s problems – military alliances are the problem. Ironically, beyond the continued threat of mutually assured destruction, one of the reasons that in the late 20th and 21st centuries, NATO typically attacked and continues to attack small and virtually defenceless countries is because there is no longer a military bloc in existence to rival NATO. If such a bloc existed, it would only serve to further endanger world peace. There is nothing that would revitalise NATO more than the SCO transforming itself into a military alliance as this would be used as an excuse by the US and the more militant European powers to argue for more spending on further rearmament, while the current French President’s enthusiasm for a conscripted Army means that there would be a substantial push towards militancy on both sides of the Atlantic if the NATO powers felt “threatened” by the emergence of a new Asian military alliance.
While the western military-industrial complex needs customers, among the Asian partners of the SCO, trade is the foundation of relations rather than the outdated concept of forced unity on a military level. The fact that Pakistan and India both share membership in the SCO is a firm indication that such a group aims to de-escalate tensions throughout Asia rather than act as a childish “all for one and one for all” military alliance.
Ultimately, trade and cooperation that helps nations to improve their own material condition is the model favoured by Asia’s major powers. This is also a model that should be favoured by those throughout the world inclined towards peace rather than violence. This should particularly be the case for those who realise that most so-called security threats are little more than fantasy designed to increase the power of governments at the expense of genuine human freedom.
Because it is difficult to close Pandora’s Box once it has been flung open, it is unlikely that NATO will voluntarily transform itself into an organisation concerned with trade, development and fighting drugs anytime soon. The same would be true if the SCO was on course to become an Asian NATO. This is why not only should the SCO model of peace through cooperation and development be accurately portrayed, but it ought to be praised. Asia does not need to fall into the same trap as North America and Europe. It is irresponsible to suggest otherwise.