The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was established as a multilateral association to ensure security and maintain stability across the vast Eurasian region, join forces to counteract emerging challenges and threats, and enhance trade, as well as cultural and humanitarian cooperation.
By reinforcing mutually beneficial cooperation, preventing confrontation and conflict, and maintaining equal and indivisible security, SCO aims to build a just polycentric world order, in full conformity with the norms of international law and principles of mutual respect, which meets the interests of each and every State, taking into account their mutual needs and aspirations. As a multinational and multicultural organization, SCO strives to stave off the clash of civilizations across its respective regions.
Adhering to the principles of openness, SCO does not intend to form any alliances or direct its actions against any sovereign entity. It actively and consistently pursues dialogue, exchanges and cooperation, and stands for strict observance of the purposes and principles inscribed in the Charter of the United Nations, such as equality and sovereignty of States, inadmissibility of intervention in their domestic affairs, respect for territorial integrity, inviolability of borders, non-aggression, peaceful settlement of disputes, non-use of force or threat of force, as well as other universally recognized norms of international law, aimed at maintaining peace and security, establishing partnerships between States, protecting national sovereignty and respecting the right to determine one’s own destiny and path forward for political, socioeconomic and cultural development.
The entire structure of the organization is designed to generate multilateral partnerships to assist sovereign members in coordinating strategies and approaches to solving pressing international issues and meeting regional needs. It also provides an opportunity for member States to concentrate their efforts on common goals in accordance with the principles of voluntary cooperation and equitable distribution of responsibilities.
SCO Expansion – the Organization’s Capacity-building
The historic summit of SCO heads of member States in Astana, Kazakhstan, on 8-9 June 2017 launched a new stage in the organization’s development. One of its principle outcomes was the granting of full SCO membership to India and Pakistan. The accession of these two powerful and influential South Asian States has allowed the SCO to strengthen its capacity and expand the spectrum of its opportunities, including in the sphere of combating existing and emerging challenges and threats.
The vast region comprising SCO member States—stretching north to south from the Arctic to the Indian Ocean, and east to west from Lianyungang in China to Kaliningrad in the Russian Federation—home to almost 44 per cent of the world’s population, poses the fundamental task of collectively maintaining stability and effectively counteracting security threats across our respective territories, the responsibility of what is currently the largest regional organization on Earth.
By consolidating four nuclear powers—half of the world’s nuclear States—into a single regional organization, SCO serves as an additional deterrent within the system established to maintain the world’s strategic balance of power and political stability.
In addition to agreements of SCO member States on key issues on the regional and global agendas, the text of the Astana Declaration of the Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is an outcome document of the Astana summit, outlines further steps the organization will take against threats to international peace and security.
Approaches and Practical Steps towards Security and Stability
Adhering to the strict observance of universally recognized norms of international law, as well as to the relentless pursuit of the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter, SCO is unshaken in its belief that as a means of conflict resolution diplomacy is unmatched. In this regard, SCO continues its support for an even more prominent coordinating role for the United Nations in international relations, with an emphasis upon the further development of close cooperation with the world Organization.
A number of special initiatives launched under the auspices of the United Nations and SCO have noticeably contributed to the enhancement of international cooperation in combating common challenges and threats to security. A case in point is the outcome of the High-level Special Event on “The United Nations and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization: Jointly Countering Challenges and Threats”, held in November 2016 in New York, as well as the high-level side event on “The United Nations and Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the Fight Against Drugs: Common Threats and Joint Actions”, held in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in March 2017 in Vienna.
SCO will continue to make coordinated efforts to combat common challenges and threats to security, broaden dialogue and reinforce collaboration in ensuring comprehensive security by countering terrorism, cyberterrorism, separatism, extremism, transnational organized crime, and illicit drug trafficking, as well as reinforcing international information security and emergency response.
In this regard, SCO intends to further develop its core permanent body—the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS). Data clearly illustrates to what extent RATS has been effective in its efforts. Between 2011 and 2015, under RATS coordination, the authorities of SCO member States managed to prevent 20 terrorist attacks while still in the planning stages, averted 650 crimes of terrorist and extremist nature, and neutralized 440 terrorist training camps and 1,700 members of international terrorist organizations. More than 2,700 members of illicit armed groups, their accomplices, and persons suspected in criminal activity were arrested, while 213 people associated with terrorist or extremist organizations were extradited, with many sentenced to long terms of imprisonment; 180 suspects were placed on wanted lists, 600 undercover bases with weaponry were revealed, and more than 3,250 improvised explosive devices were confiscated, along with 10,000 weapons, approximately 450,000 pieces of ammunition, and more than 52 tons of explosives.
The SCO common response to the steadily growing threat of extremism is the SCO Convention on Countering Extremism, adopted at the summit in Astana. This document will strengthen the international legal framework for countering emerging challenges and threats along with the Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism, the Convention of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization against Terrorism, and the 2016-2018 SCO Member States Programme on Cooperation in Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism, as well as core United Nations instruments, such as the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. The SCO Convention on Countering Extremism is aimed at advancing security, increasing effective cooperation between authorities and improving the legal framework in this sphere.
An upsurge in terrorist activities in various parts of the world requires the development and improvement of existing methods and techniques applied to our common fight against this evil. The Statement by the SCO Heads of the Member States on Joint Counteraction to International Terrorism issued in Astana is an important political instrument that includes an assessment of the state of affairs, approaches to consolidating joint forces in our fight against terrorism, and our call to the international community to unite within a broadly-based international anti-terrorist coalition to combat this severe global threat.
The spread of extremist ideology and propaganda, including the public justification of terrorism as a means of incitement to committing terrorist acts, has been particularly dangerous under the circumstances. In this regard, SCO will enhance joint efforts to counteract societal radicalization, which results in the manifestation of the worst forms of extremism, including terrorism, especially among young people. We are also taking steps to prevent religious, ethnic, ideological and political extremism, ethnic and racial intolerance, and xenophobia. Along with cooperation between law enforcement authorities and judicial bodies, special emphasis will be placed upon strengthening the leading role of States in combating terrorism, separatism and extremism, as well as on the potential for voluntary and responsible contributions from civil society, including traditional religious organizations, educational and research institutions, mass media and non-governmental organizations operating in SCO member States in accordance with their respective national legislation.
Adhering to the provisions of the 2006 Agreement on Cooperation in Identifying and Blocking the Channels of Penetration on the Territory of SCO Member States of Individuals Involved in Terrorist, Separatist and Extremist Activities, as well as the 2015 Agreement on Cooperation and Interaction of the SCO Member States on Border Issues, member States will continue their collaboration in preventing malicious activities and movement of foreign terrorists, militants and terrorist groups by means of effective border control, an exchange of data regarding persons involved in terrorist activities, identifying forged or stolen identification documents, as well as conducting joint investigations of transnational terrorist crimes.
SCO member States will also collaborate in counteracting the activities of individuals and organizations related to recruitment, training and use of terrorists and propaganda, as well as the justification or financing of terrorist acts.
Although SCO is not a military alliance, our front-line struggle against terrorist threats demands that we further develop and enhance mechanisms aimed at complete eradication of terrorist activities. In this regard, SCO will continue its scheduled anti-terrorist training manoeuvres, including the SCO Peace Mission exercise. We will also strengthen our collaboration in countering radical propaganda and public justification of terrorism, separatism and extremism in mass media and the information space, building upon the Agreement on Cooperation in Ensuring International Information Security between SCO Member States.
Countering Illicit Drug Trafficking Is among SCO PrincipAL Priorities
Illicit drug production and trafficking remain one of the most serious threats to security that undermines international peace and stability. Building upon the 2004 Agreement on Cooperation between SCO Member States in Combating Illicit Trafficking of Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Precursors, the 2015 Statement by the Heads of SCO Member States on Drug Threat, and in accordance with provisions of United Nations conventions and resolutions, including the outcomes of the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem, held in April 2016 in New York, SCO will further develop cooperation and coordinate member States’ actions in combating this threat. In the course of special anti-drug operations performed within SCO territories over the past five years, 69 tons of deadly heroin was seized from traffickers, proving the effectiveness of our joint efforts in this area. This figure constitutes approximately 14 per cent of confiscated drugs worldwide. Effective collaboration among law enforcement bodies also facilitated the seizure of 75 tons of precursors, used in the illicit production of narcotic poisons.
Cooperation between authorities of SCO member States proved to be fairly successful. Yet in order to effectively combat the drug threat, it will be necessary to consolidate the efforts of the international community as a whole. In this regard, SCO intends to continue its close collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Economic Development as a Means of Preventing the Emergence of New Sources of Challenges and Threats to Security
Uneven economic development in various parts of the world increasingly leads to radicalization and ultimately to life-threatening conflict situations. Negative trends in global economic development intensify existing imbalances, which in turn contribute to a growing number of threats and challenges to security and sustainable development. In light of this, SCO stands for broad international cooperation in providing the impetus to world economic recovery, ensuring economic and financial stability, and maintaining sustainable, dynamic, balanced and inclusive growth in a rapidly globalizing environment. At the same time, SCO member States agree that world trade must be carried out abiding by the principles of transparency, non-discrimination and inadmissibility of protectionist practices. Trade must be based upon rules applied equally to all participants. It is important to eliminate existing trade barriers and prevent the emergence of new ones, in order to facilitate the formation of an open world economy that will reinforce the multilateral trading system.
SCO will undertake additional measures to help develop regional economies, provide favourable conditions for trade, support investment initiatives, enhance infrastructure, build industrial parks whenever the appropriate conditions permit, and improve the quality of life for respective populations.
An important practical step in that direction is the implementation of the Agreement between the Governments of the SCO Member States on Creating Favourable Conditions for International Road Transportation, signed in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in September 2014. This agreement not only establishes equitable conditions for managing mutually-beneficial trade flow from Eastern Europe to the Russian east coast and China, it has also become the treaty-based foundation for multilateral comprehensive development of regional infrastructure and an integrated system of road transportation.
Cultural Dialogue as a Preventive Measure against Threats to Security
A key factor in establishing mutual trust, friendship and neighbourly relations between SCO member States is their collaboration in cultural, educational and scientific spheres. Well-established ongoing cultural dialogue among SCO nations contributes to learning about and enriching one another’s cultural experiences, which eventually leads to a greater level of mutual understanding. Cultural dialogue brings people together, and unites them around common humanistic values and aspirations, helping to reduce xenophobia, religious and ethnic intolerance, and discrimination based on ethnic and racial background. Such dialogue includes a principle SCO goal of bringing civilizations together.
The rich historical and cultural legacy of the peoples of SCO countries is embodied in cultural sites that currently comprise 20 per cent of the UNESCO World Heritage List. Learning about these landmarks presents a unique opportunity to become acquainted with the vibrant history of the Eurasian region, enjoy the diverse palette of its unique national and cultural attributes, and better understand the mentality and worldview of people residing there.
Expanding cultural interactions within the SCO region, strengthening mutual understanding among its peoples, respecting their cultural traditions and customs, and preserving and enhancing cultural diversity within SCO member States will remain top priorities for our work aimed at promoting peace and ensuring security and sustainable development. These critical goals can be achieved by organizing international exhibitions, festivals and competitions, by enhancement of cultural exchanges, collaboration between countries, and ongoing scholarly pursuits examining the cultural and natural heritage of the region.
Translation from Russian by Lyubov Ginzburg