Russia may try to use SCO as counterweight against NATO: Shireen Hunter

June 10, 2015 - 0:0

TEHRAN - A professor of political science at Georgetown University says the transformation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization into a “more viable security organization is unlikely” in the near future.

Shireen Tahmaasb Hunter also says a full membership of Iran in the SCO “is unlikely to enhance Iran’s security.”

The reason for this is that most security challenges that Iran faces “emanate from its Arab neighbors and the shifting dynamics of Middle East politics, plus developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Hunter says in an exclusive interview with the Tehran Times.

The SCO group, formed in 2001, includes Russia and China and the central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Iran, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Pakistan and India are observer members.

Following is the full text of the interview:

In the recent SCO meeting in Moscow Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said all SCO members have a consensus that Iran becomes a full member of the organization once a nuclear deal is signed between Iran and the major powers. What is the significance of an Iranian membership in the bloc?

A: The greatest significance of Iran’s full membership in SCO is symbolic. It serves to ratify Iran’s position as a legitimate and important player in central Asian politics. Moreover, in view of Iran’s somewhat troubled relations with some of its neighbors and the Western countries, full membership in SCO could help alleviate its international isolation. It also allows it to have a multilateral channel for dealing with both China and Russia, in addition to the existing bilateral links. However, at least at this stage, full membership in SCO is unlikely to enhance Iran’s security, because most challenges to Iran’s security emanate from its Arab neighbors and the shifting dynamics of Middle East politics, plus developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Q: Previously Russia was not interested in Tehran’s membership in the SCO but now it is supporting membership. Why?

A: Two factors are behind Moscow’s greater willingness to support Iran’s full membership in SCO. One is Moscow concern that, after the signing of a nuclear deal Iran’s relations with European countries, and later may be even with America, will expand. This development in turn would reduce Russia’s attraction as an economic and security partner for Iran, especially that in the past, Russia has treated Iran badly and has used it for its own purposes, including gaining concessions from the West. Now, Russia wants to make sure that it can still keep Iran under its influence by including it in the SCO. The other reason is Russia’s problems with the West. So maybe it is trying to turn SCO into a more viable regional security organization and in this way compete with NATO. If so, having Iran which links Central Asia to the Middle East would be a good gain for Russia.

Q: Can SCO establish closer relationship between members which would also include collective security cooperation?

A: Because of vast difference in the geography of SCO members, its turning into a more effective collective security system will not be easy. Moreover, such organizations require the existence of an identifiable and common enemy which currently does not exist. In addition, SCO’s current members have significant disputes among themselves. For example Uzbekistan has tense relations both with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Russia and China, too, are rivals for influence in Central Asia. So, the transformation of SCO into a more viable security organization is unlikely, at least in the near future.