Page 1 of 4 The new 'NATO of the East' takes shape
By M K Bhadrakumar
If optimism is a force multiplier, as former US secretary of state Colin Powell
once said, it has worked well so far for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
There were times in the past seven years when it seemed doubtful that the SCO
would pull through, beating back the all-out US assault on its credibility.
It is certainly a measure of the SCO's success that the United States and Japan
are knocking at its door, anxious to gain "observer" status. But for Beijing
and Moscow, the two capitals
that jealously guarded the SCO and nursed it through its infancy, optimism
wasn't the entire story behind the success of the organization, which comprises
China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Everything depended on their mutual relations, too. In the past half-century,
Sino-Russian relations haven't been as fraternal. But fortuitously,
Sino-Russian relations have reached an almost unparalleled level of mutual
understanding. That indeed helped the SCO gain flesh and blood. To quote from
an editorial by The Financial Times, "On the face of it, SCO is everything that
Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger - who sought to keep Russia and China apart -
tried to prevent."
In an overarching way, however, the massive shift in the templates of
great-power politics in recent years also has provided impetus for the SCO's
growing clout. Matters are moving in such a direction today that, arguably, if
the SCO didn't exist, Russia and China would have reason to discover one.
Nothing brings this home more than the deliberation with which Russian
President Vladimir Putin chose the press conference at the fag end of the SCO's
first-ever military maneuvers, "Peace Mission 2007", to make the dramatic
one-line announcement, "I have decided that Russia's strategic aviation will
resume patrols on a permanent basis."
Putin said with his uncanny sense of timing, "At midnight today, August 17, 14
strategic missile carriers, support and refueling aircraft took off from seven
air force bases in different parts of the Russian Federation and began a patrol
involving a total of 20 aircraft. As from today, such patrols will be carried
out on a regular basis. These patrols are strategic in nature."
Shadow of new cold war
Russia has resumed a practice that it had unilaterally suspended in 1992 with
the collapse of the Soviet Union. It happened to be on the day the SCO's first
ever military maneuvers concluded. Conceivably, the "new cold war" was like
Banquo's ghost in Shakespeare's Macbeth, the unsolicited visitor at the
SCO's summit meeting in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek on August 16-17.
Where does the SCO fit in the "new cold war?" The question can take different
forms. A variant would be, "Is the SCO turning into a NATO [North Atlantic
Treaty Organization]-like military alliance?" The core issue is the extent to
which Russia and China would have common concerns and shared interests in the
period ahead as the chill continues to deepen in Russia's relations with the
Curiously, it is from the Chinese side that we get a detailed version of the
two rounds of talks last week held between Chinese President Hu Jintao and
Putin on the sidelines of the SCO summit. Briefing the Chinese journalists
accompanying Hu, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi gave an upbeat account of the
strategic ties that exist between China and Russia.
According to People's Daily, Yang identified "mapping out Sino-Russian ties and
upgrading bilateral strategic coordination" as one concrete outcome of Hu's
"major diplomatic maneuvering in the Eurasian region" this past week.
Yang said Chinese and Russian leaders held "in-depth and candid discussions
about strategic security cooperation as well as major international and
regional issues ... They agreed to lose no time in working out the mid- and
long-term plans for Sino-Russian regional cooperation ... [they] agreed to
further implement the Sino-Russian strategic security negotiations ... and to
join forces to tackle other major security issues, in a concerted effort to
safeguard the strategic interests of both countries.
"[They] held an in-depth exchange of views on major global and regional issues
such as the development of the SCO, how to bring the United Nations into fuller
better play, and have reached a broad consensus. Their consensus will ... raise
the Sino-Russian strategic cooperation partnership to a still higher level."
What stands to reason from the above is that the two leaderships may have for
the first time discussed the common challenge facing the two countries,
emanating out of the US plans to deploy the missile-defense systems in Central
Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
When asked about it, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov left the topic
vague. According to Russian media, he said that although Russia and China had
not yet considered cooperation in missile defense, the two countries "share a
vision of how to provide security". Lavrov added, "We and China are analyzing
the US global missile-defense plans targeting Europe and the East."
Significantly, the government-owned China Daily featured a lengthy article on
this subject four days after Hu's meeting with Putin. Authored by Fu Mengzi,
vice president of the Chinese Institute of Contemporary International
Relations, the article "Signs point to rekindling of Cold War mentality" noted
that apart from the proposed US deployments in Poland and Czech Republic, "The
US is now working with Japan to advance the development of BMD [anti-ballistic
missile] systems in the Far East."
The article assessed that for the US, its global hegemony is no less important
than its ongoing "war on terror", and this is because "the rise of non-Western
powers is becoming a main trend in global politics and Russia happens to be one
of those powers with a superpower's capability to rival the US in its strategic
"Even though it is not the Soviet Union, Russia is still a strategic nuclear
superpower next to the US. It surely will not sit idle while the US tightens
the noose around its neck." The article estimates that the US is getting
paranoid that the "real threat" to it comes not from terrorism but from "major
Fu concludes, "That is why NATO is still hell-bent on growing larger ... and
the US is working hard on energizing the old military alliance in addition to
building an 'alliance of the willing', with an obsession in forging military
relations with non-allies."
"We are watching the rekindling of the Cold War mentality in Washington's
efforts to find allies and partners while beefing up its