Last month, members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) met to discuss new rules for admission to the regional security group. In an e-mail interview, head of the Asia practice group at Eurasia Group and adjunct senior fellow for Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, Evan A. Feigenbaum, discusses the evolution of the SCO.
WPR: What is the significance of the SCO's newly articulated membership procedure, and what does it reflect about the organization's approach to future expansion?
Evan Feigenbaum: At their June 11 summit in Tashkent, the six SCO heads of state approved new rules for applications and admissions that will enable the group to expand. The decision wasn't much of a surprise -- the SCO was already bringing in other countries as "observers" and "dialogue partners." But at the end of the day, expansion is almost certain to make a fragmented organization more incoherent still. There are quite a lot of cheerleaders for SCO expansion, especially in Russia and China. They argue that bigger is better, because by bringing in India, for instance, the group would boost its economic power and global reach.
But especially since the end of the Cold War, the most successful multilateral groups have been ad hoc and informal, mobilizing specific coalitions to address specific issues, imminent problems, and immediate crises. The original SCO met that test. It was a smaller group called the "Shanghai Five," with clear criteria for membership, a defined purpose, and measurable goals. All of its members shared a border with China. And all of its members sought to resolve outstanding border disputes, left over from the Soviet collapse. When the group expanded to include Uzbekistan, as well as observers and dialogue partners, its purposes and goals became broader, murkier, and less achievable.