A 'Peace Mission' Without the West?

Are the joint military exercises between Russia and China confirmation of A World Without the West? Also, further thoughts from 

A "Peace Mission" Without the West?

Nikolas K. Gvosdev

What should we be thinking about the significance of "Peace Mission 2007"-the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) exercises now underway at the Chebarkulsk training ground in Chelyabinsk, Russia-and the summit that will follow in Bishkek?

Is the SCO on the verge of being transformed into a new Warsaw Pact, a Eurasian counterbalance to an American-led NATO? Simon Tidsall of the Guardian quoted Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian defense analyst, who observed: "As Moscow's relations with the west deteriorate, the Kremlin is doing its best to seek allies and is building up the SCO to counter-balance Nato. In propaganda terms, Peace Mission 2007 will be used to the full."Meanwhile, the Russian newspaper Kommersant, in an article tellingly titled "Maneuvers to Go Around the United States" sees the exercises and the summit that will follow in Bishkek as part of a renewed Russian effort to push back against the United States "on all fronts" from opposing plans to deploy missile defense components in central-eastern Europe to "expelling" the U.S. from Central Asia altogether. Kommersant also highlights the role played by former defense minister and current deputy prime minister (and presidential contender) Sergei Ivanov in acting as the godfather of this mission, beginning with his visit to Beijing in 2006.

Statements coming from China, however, support the thesis advanced by Naazneen Barma, Ely Ratner and Steven Weber that emerging powers are seeking neither to integrate with nor balance against the United States, but to create an alternate international order that "routes around" Washington? Chen Hu, executive chief editor of the World Military Affairs magazine, made a point of stressing, "‘Peace Mission 2007' targets no country, nor does it mean military alliance,"and argued that the Shanghai grouping is not trying to create a counterbalancing bloc against Washington, describing it as a "new type" of regional security organization which has made obsolete the "traditional security outlook" of seeking a balance of power.

Yes, Chen had a not-so-subtle dig at Washington-noting that countries felt the need to work more closely together in the Shanghai framework since "different countries have different anti-terror combat criteria and a few of them push forward hegemony under the cloak of war on terror ..." But as Tidsall commented, "No one in the SCO, least of all China with next year's Beijing Olympics and its trade and development goals potentially in the firing line, seriously wanted confrontation with the West."

One of the theses of Weber, Ratner and Barma is that countries in the "World without the West" remain in play, and India's reaction to the exercises is a case in point. Today, The Hindu reported: "While favouring cooperation with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) on trade and economic issues, official sources told The Hindu that India would like to steer clear of aligning with this six-nation grouping in military, strategic and political terms."

Security issue

But even if India (and even to a lesser extent China) are not interested in confronting the West, the emergence of the SCO as an organization sends a clear signal that that the United States is not an "indispensable nation" in this part of the world. And Ambassador M. K. Bhadrakumar, an Indian strategic analyst, notes that Moscow is pushing a new "alignment" between the SCO and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (which includes all full SCO members except China), which would then be in a position to set the security agenda for Eurasia. He writes:

Last December, addressing a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Baltic States media forum, Deputy Prime Minister (concurrently Russia's defense minister at that time) Sergei Ivanov said,

"The next logical thing on the path of reinforcing international security may be to develop a cooperation mechanism between NATO and CSTO, followed by a clear division of spheres of responsibility. This approach offers the prospect of enabling us to possess sufficiently reliable and effective leverage for taking joint action in crisis situations in various regions of the world."

And one area where this thesis may be put to the test is in Afghanistan. Bhadrakumar notes that "Afghanistan has become a lump in NATO's throat." China and Russia are wooing the Hamid Karzai government with promises of support via the SCO mechanism against a resurgent Taliban-and it must also be noted that Russia and Uzbekistan still have a good deal of influence over many of the components that came together as the "Northern Alliance."

Will Washington be more inclined to work with Beijing and Moscow in stabilizing the greater Eurasian/Middle Eastern region if NATO falters and the European Union does not live up to the promise Zbigniew Brzezinski outlined in the Winter 2003/04 issue of The National Interest, that "America can look to only one genuine partner in coping with the ‘Global Balkans'": Europe"? Bhadrakumar concludes that "the US will increasingly find itself under compulsion to perform as a team player, which suits neither its geostrategy nor its standing as the sole superpower."

At any rate, we are witnessing an interesting test of the "World Without the West" thesis unfolding before our eyes.

 

Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest.