The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)--composed of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan--was formed as a confidence-building mechanism to resolve border disputes. It has risen in stature since then, making headlines in 2005 when it called for Washington to set a timeline for withdrawing from military bases in Central Asia. Over the past few years, the organization's activities have expanded to include increased military cooperation, intelligence sharing, and counterterrorism drills. The SCO has also intensified its focus on Afghanistan, and may play a greater role in international efforts there in the near future. While some experts say the organization has emerged as a powerful anti-U.S. bulwark in Central Asia, others believe frictions between its two largest members, Russia and China, effectively preclude a strong, unified SCO.
Regional Role and History of the SCO
The organization, originally called the Shanghai Five, formed in 1996 largely to demilitarize the border between China and the former Soviet Union. In 2001, the organization added Uzbekistan and renamed itself the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Mongolia received observer status in 2004; Iran, Pakistan, and India became observers the following year. The SCO signed memoranda of understanding with ASEAN and the Commonwealth of Independent States in 2005.
Though the SCO's presence in the region is growing, it is still not very strong, most experts say. As opposed to a fully developed counterpoint to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the SCO serves more as a forum to discuss trade and security issues, including counterterrorism and drug trafficking. The range of goals listed in the SCO charter is "ambitious," said former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Evan A. Feigenbaum in a September 2007 speech at the Nixon Center. But Feigenbaum, now a CFR senior fellow, said: "it is hard...