Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Asian Summit To Focus on Energy, Terrorism

Defense News


Asian Summit To Focus on Energy, Terrorism


Energy and security issues, along with the possible acceptance of Iran and Pakistan as members, will be dominant topics at the fifth annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) beginning June 15.

Founded in 2001, the SCO consists of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, with India, Iran, Mongolia and Pakistan as observer nations.

Officially, the summit is expected to involve the signing of agreements on development, energy, security and terrorism, with the possibility that Pakistan and Iran will request full membership. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao will attend.

The primary focuses for many will be energy and security issues.

India, for instance, instead of sending Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the summit, will send Petroleum Minister Murli Deora as Singh’s special envoy.

China is particularly interested in energy resources. An oil pipeline connecting SCO member Kazakhstan with Alataw, in western China, went into full operation last month and KazMunaiGaz, the state-owned Kazakh gas monopoly, recently revealed that it would begin building a natural gas pipeline to China in 2009.

“You can see clearly that they are seeking to develop a strong and secure overland energy infrastructure,” said Christopher Brown, director of the Menges Hemispheric Security Program at the Center for Security Policy.

Energy Silk Road

“This eventually, it has been reported, will also connect to Iran as well. This is especially important for them given the issues of sea lanes, which they see as their biggest potential vulnerability vis-à-vis the U.S. This is often called the ‘new silk road’ or the ‘energy silk road.’

“Energy is also one of the dominant features of the China-Russia relationship, which has implications not just for the U.S. but Japan — the issues over the Japanese-financed Siberia-Nakhodka pipeline, which China is still trying to get a spur off of into northern China,” Brown said. “Not to mention Europe, which is very dependent on Russia for energy, as we saw this last winter, and even got the U.S. to speak up over the use of energy as a weapon. ... It comes down to who will Russia prioritize in their energy relationships.”

SCO has received harsh comparisons in the Western media. On June 6, the London-based Guardian newspaper called it the “Dictators’ Club.” Political pundits suggest the SCO will become an “eastern NATO” that will threaten the West and disrupt energy supplies.

Iran’s bid to join SCO has unnerved many in Washington. “It strikes me as strange that one would want to bring into an organization that says it is against terrorism, the leading terrorist nation in the world, Iran,” said U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during a regional security conference in Singapore June 3.

Rumsfeld is not alone.

“It’s amazing to me that Iran, the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism, would be asked to join an organization supposedly dedicated to anti-terrorism,” said Peter Brookes, author of “A Devil’s Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States.”

Dartmouth College professor William Wohlforth puts the Iran question in perspective.

“If it happens, it will be notable for its political effect,” he said. “Its implications for the SCO’s real capabilities are another matter, given that Iran’s regional interests do not always line up with those of other member states, including Russia and Kazakhstan.”

China appears to be defending and downplaying the Iran equation at SCO. “We can’t abide by other countries calling our observer nations sponsors of terror. We would not have invited them if we believed they sponsored terror,” SCO Secretary-General Zhang Deguang told reporters June 6.

“The issue of Iran’s nuclear program is discussed within a generally established framework,” Zhang said. “Let them work. We did not select this issue as a topic for separate discussions within the SCO framework. … I think that all SCO member states are in favor of a peaceful solution to this issue and advocate non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.”

Brown argues that Iran’s admission hinges on the whims of China and Russia. “It could go either way, and they could even split the difference by announcing some kind of formal process that Iran will be invited to begin which will lead to formal admittance within, say, a year, by which time American and European patience for Iran and the China-Russia delaying efforts will have possibly ran out.”

Ivan Safranchuk, of the Moscow office of the U.S.-based Center for Defense Information, agrees. “I do not think Iran will be accepted as full member in the near future,” he said. “Theoretically, Iran can provide SOC access to the gulf. This must be interesting for SOC in the future, but not practical now. So SOC probably wants to engage Iran in cooperation and keep in reserve for the future.”

Pakistan is widely reported to have an interest in becoming a member, but political problems would throw up roadblocks.

“I doubt Pakistan will be accepted as full member,” Safranchuk said. “Kazakhstan is strongly against any enlargement in the near future. In particular, Kazakhstan must not welcome Pakistan as a country with a close relationship with China. Astana is carefully watching with a lot of concern [about] China promoting an economic agenda within SOC. A Chinese ally should hardly be welcome in this regard. Also, if Pakistan is taken, the door for India must be open. Such enlargement will erode Russian influence.”

Pakistan-India Balance

Brown agrees. “Pakistan will likely not be admitted unless India is admitted as well, and currently India has been less enthusiastic about it than either Pakistan or Iran. Don’t get me wrong; they say they want to be a full-fledged member, but they are not lobbying as hard for immediate membership.”

Brown said there would be advantages to Pakistan’s membership. First, Pakistan would be a major non-NATO U.S. ally and a member of SCO. “The Pakistanis love to play both sides off each other, which is something that America seems to ignore or forget.”

Second, membership has a range of implications for the character of Pakistan’s future political, diplomatic, security and economic outlook. “They also just need SCO membership because they can’t be the only kids in the neighborhood not playing on the team,” Brown said.

Brown warns that Pakistani membership could have significant implications for American and other Western interests in the region.

“In simple terms, Afghanistan is then surrounded other than by Iran [unless it joined] and Turkmenistan by SCO member states,” he said. “What then happens if the SCO, just like they did with the basing issue, [on] which we ignored and lost Uzbekistan, announces the end of over-flight rights? Our only potential option then is through a corridor over Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Otherwise, we would be physically cut off from Afghanistan and Central Asia, which is not a bad thing from the Russian or Chinese standpoint.”

Part of the SCO charter is fighting terrorism. The Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) is one of only two permanent bodies of the SCO, the other being the Secretariat in Beijing. RATS, located in Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent, is aimed at fighting what it calls “the three evils”: terrorism, separatism and extremism. Many say that is an excuse for China and Russia to justify oppressive methods used against Muslim separatists in western China, and Moscow’s ongoing fight with Chechen separatists.

A joint anti-terrorism exercise is scheduled to be held in Russia in 2007, Zhang told the June 6 press conference. He stressed that it would not be a “military exercise,” and that the SCO intended to strengthen the role of both the Secretariat and RATS during the upcoming summit.

SCO also is making efforts to strengthen relations with Afghanistan with the creation of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been invited to the summit.