Collective military cooperation

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) 

SCO was announced on June 15, 2001 and its charter was entered into force on September 19, 2003. The original members included: The People’s Republic of China, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Republic of Tajikistan, the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Russian Federation.  

In 2017, both India and Pakistan were granted status as full members.  There are also four observer states: Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia. There are six dialogue partners: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Cambodia, Nepal, Turkey and Sri Lanka. The member states of SCO account for 40 percent of the world’s total population, for over 60 percent of the Eurasian landmass and over 20 percent of global GDP.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization has the following goals:

1.) strengthening mutual trust and neighbourliness among the member states

 2.) promoting their effective cooperation in politics, trade, economy, research, technology and culture as well as in education, energy, transport, tourism, environmental protection and other areas

 3.) making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region

 4.) moving towards the establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new international political and economic order.

The supreme decision-making body in the organization is the Heads of State Council or HSC.  The HSC meets once a year and adopts decisions and guidelines on important matters of the organization. At the two-day meeting, the member nations signed a key political document, the Joint Communique of the Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on Simplifying Trade Procedures.  The SCO also seeks to cooperate with other international and regional organizations (CIS, ASEAN, EAEU and the UN among others).

A strategic partnership of China and Russia has enabled the two countries to facilitate and advance various measures within the SCO. The two leading countries as the twin engines of the SCO have led efforts to safeguard regional security and advance economic development within the framework of the SCO. In the context of SCO, the members have been conducted multilateral military exercises since 2005. These “Peace Mission Exercises” have concentrated mainly on anti-terrorism theme.

In April, 2018, China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe has called on Shanghai Cooperation Organization member countries to improve cooperation in defense and security. “Every day, in the strategy of the United States and other Western countries, there is an increasingly obvious tendency to contain and oust China and Russia. The strengthening of the military component of the SCO will be one of the main focal points of the organization under China’s chairmanship. President Xi Jinping placed high hopes on cooperation in the field of defense and security.

The Chinese proposal will strengthen the role of the SCO as a new global player by increasing the level of cooperation in the field of defense. It is very interesting and important that Pakistan and India support this initiative. Taking into account the accession of Pakistan and India to the SCO and the expansion of its areas of cooperation, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu noted that it is necessary to accelerate the establishment of a regulatory framework for military cooperation.

President Putin gave a press conference following the Summit of the SCO in June 2018. Commenting on the results, Putin noted the importance of the signed feasibility study for a broad Eurasian economic partnership. It is the first serious step towards establishing Eurasian Economic Partnership, which is Putin’s great idea in the same way as China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

President Xi Jinping has called on the members to push cooperation in all areas, especially in economic and security areas. Xi made the remark while meeting with senior diplomats of the members of the SCO as well as with defense ministers of those countries just before the Summit. It was the first formal meeting of SCO ministers since the organization accepted Pakistan and India as its new members last year.

Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)

The free association of sovereign states was formed in 1991 by Russia and 11 other republics that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. The CIS had its origins in early December 1991, when Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus signed an agreement forming a new association to replace the crumbling U.S.S.R. These three republics were subsequently joined by the Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, by the Transcaucasian republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, and by Moldova. The CIS formally came into being on December 21, 1991, and began operations the following month, with the city of Minsk in Belarus designated as its administrative centre.

The CIS’s functions are to coordinate its members’ policies regarding their economies, foreign relations, defense, immigration policies, environmental protection, and law enforcement. Its top governmental body is a council composed of the member republics’ heads of state (presidents) and of government (prime ministers), who are assisted by committees of republic cabinet ministers in key areas such as economics and defense. The CIS’s members pledged to keep both their armed forces and the former Soviet nuclear weapons stationed on their territories under a single unified command. In practice this proved difficult, however, as did the members’ efforts to coordinate the introduction of market-type mechanisms and private ownership into their respective economies.

In August 2008, following an escalation of hostilities between Russia and Georgia over the separatist region of South Ossetia, Georgia announced its intention to withdraw from the CIS. The withdrawal was finalized in August 2009. A similar proxy war broke out in eastern Ukraine in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian autonomous republic of Crimea. In May of that year, Ukraine officially withdrew from the CIS.

The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)

CSTOis an intergovernmental military alliance that was signed on 15 May 1992. In 1992, six post-Soviet states belonging to the CIS—Russia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan—signed the Collective Security Treaty (also referred to as the “Tashkent Pact” or “Tashkent Treaty”). Three other post-Soviet states—Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Georgia—signed the next year and the treaty took effect in 1994. Five years later, six of the nine—all but Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Uzbekistan—agreed to renew the treaty for five more years, and in 2002 those six agreed to create the Collective Security Treaty Organization as a military alliance. Uzbekistan rejoined the CSTO in 2006 but withdrew in 2012. The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) was established on May 14, 2002. The Charter of the Organization was adopted on October 7, 2002. The CSTO became an observer organization at the United Nations General Assembly on December 2, 2004.

The present members (the year of entry in parenthesis): Armenia (1994), Belarus (1994), Kazakhstan (1994), Kyrgyzstan (1994), Russia (1994), Tajikistan (1994). In addition, there are two non-member observer states: Afghanistan (2013) and Serbia (2013). Three former member states have been withdrawn from the treaty: Azerbaijan (1999), Georgia (1999) and Uzbekistan (2012).

Russia has many arenas for policy dialogue on defense and security cooperation in Asia among which the CSTO and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) with China and other Central Asian countries are preeminent.  The CSTO has formed groups of regional and interregional armies of up to 20,000 men. Exercises take place regularly trying to raise the standards to NATO – Allied Rapid Reaction Corps level.

An agreement to create a joint rapid-reaction force was signed by the leaders of all CSTO member states in 2009. The force reportedly includes an airborne division and an air assault brigade from Russia and an air assault brigade from Kazakhstan. The remaining members contribute a battalion-size force each, although Uzbekistan only agreed to “delegate” its detachments to take part in operations on an ad hoc basis. In line with the agreement, the force will be used “to repulse military aggression, conduct anti-terrorist operations, fight transnational crime and drug trafficking, and neutralize the effects of natural disasters.” Russia’s Armed Forces contributed, with a paratroop division and a paratroop brigade, to the creation of the Collective Rapid Response Forces, which will be acting in the interests of the member nations of the Collective Security Treaty Organization.

The SCO might develop into a more important organization for both China and Russia on security matters than CSTO. 

With the participation of Afghanistan in the SCO as an observer from 2012, attention is increasingly focused on joint measures against terrorism.  While pushing for a more focused role of SCO on security matters, Russia is attentive not to step into China’s own strategy. At the Moscow International Conference on Security on April 2016 Russian defense minister Shoigu made three points: (i) Russia’s military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are there to stay to fight terrorism as Russia is the guarantor of stability in the region; (ii) an institute of national military advisors at the SCO must be established and (iii) the SCO will not turn into a military political alliance. On the latter, both Russia and China have reservations.

Nonetheless, ties are slowly developing between CSTO and China. The issue of a possible merger between CSTO and SCO was raised at the Dushanbe meeting of SCO in June 2014. Military drills with China and other non-CSTO Asian countries were planned by CSTO in 2015. At the CSTO summit in September 2015 in Dushanbe, together with the approval of the CSTO’s budget, cooperation was agreed among members regarding the transit of military formations and military goods; readiness inspections for carrying out the Collective Rapid Reaction Forces’ objectives, their composition and deployment.  Measures to secure oil pipelines through the region are also being discussed. All these measures need participation and agreement by the EAEU and CSTO member countries and, obviously, financial commitment.