Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Iran: A Power-Full Union

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization and Iran: A Power-Full Union

Article excerpt

The need of expansion is as genuine an instinct in man as the need in a plant for the light, or the need in man himself forgoing upright.

--Matthew Arnold

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has emerged as a globally influential political, economic and security association. This international organization, embodied by six permanent members--the People's Republic of China, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Republic of Tajikistan and the Republic of Uzbekistan--has garnered little attention from its western counterparts since its inception in June 2001 (see Figure 1).


This is starting to change. Recent SCO activity indicates it is dedicated to expanding member state cooperation in numerous arenas, none more important than energy and resource trade. The current unstable atmosphere in the Middle East has accentuated the need, by countries around the world, to secure alternative energy supplies. The SCO, with its large petroleum, gas and natural resource assets, is well positioned to meet these needs and, in doing so, greatly increase its sphere of influence.

As the Beijing-Moscow relationship continues to strengthen, Middle East dissension towards the West builds and Iran's bid for membership in the organization advances, the SCO is poised to emerge as an intergovernmental coalition to rival all others. Regional expert Professor David Wall puts it quite succinctly: "It would essentially be an OPEC with [nuclear] bombs." (1)

In the lead-up to the SCO's June 2006 summit in Shanghai, Iran was considered by many a lock for promotion from an observer state to a full member state. However, nuclear proliferation concerns, championed by the United States and its Western allies, stifled Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's hopes for induction, at least temporarily The SCO's decision to offer Iran full membership was awaited with bated breath from London to Washington to Tokyo. Although the result was greeted with a relieved exhale from the West, the decision should by no means be taken as a permanent one. The SCO's decision to prioritize joint energy projects in the oil and gas sectors coincides markedly well with what Iran, the home of enormous oil and natural gas reserves, brings to the table. The inclusion and full integration of Iran into the SCO hold the potential to drastically change the anatomy and symmetry of the energy arena.

This paper will analyze the potential impact of Iranian membership in the SCO. Factors supporting Iran's admission are offered as a basis for the likelihood of its promotion from an observer state to a full member. Factors likely to hinder Iran's membership bid are also introduced to put into perspective the probability of acceptance. While Iran's position in history and the current world order has been widely described--principal issues include human rights, religious expression and nuclear development--no single defining characteristic of the Islamic Republic's past is more emblematic of its future than its energy resources. Thus, in the following pages, I will concentrate predominantly on matters directly concerning the energy arena. The treatment incorporates what the inclusion of Iran in the SCO would mean for Iran, the SCO and the West vis-a-vis energy resources, economics, trade and geopolitical influence.


Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.

--Mark Twain


It is first important to recognize the sheer magnitude of the SCO in terms of the scope of its energy resources, and the resulting increase in its world share of these resources with the inclusion of Iran into the cooperative. The total area occupied by the SCO member states is about 30,189,000 square kilometers, or about three-fifths of the territory of Eurasia, with a population of 1. …

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