China, Russia, and the Foreign Policy of the SCO

By Hansen, Flemming Splidsboel | Connections : The Quarterly Journal, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

China, Russia, and the Foreign Policy of the SCO


Hansen, Flemming Splidsboel, Connections : The Quarterly Journal


Having celebrated its tenth anniversary in 201 1, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) can be said to have risen rapidly to a position of prominence in the world of regional organizations. Part of the reason for this is found in the successful political marketing of the organization, a process which has seen the member states openly promote their ambition to develop a strong Asian bloc based on both wider and deeper cooperation. As was made clear by the 2001 Declaration on the Establishment of the SCO, this ambition includes the development within the organization of a culture of "close cooperation on the most important international and regional problems." l

A high level of agreement on aims and modalities among the members of the group - a precondition for close foreign policy cooperation - will indicate that they may more readily form a united policy front and thus find it easier to have an impact on their surrounding environment. Conversely, a low level of agreement will indicate that they will find it relatively difficult to stand together shoulder-to-shoulder and to achieve the ambitions outlined in the Declaration.

Assessing SCO Cohesion

What follows is an assessment of the actual level of foreign policy cohesion within the membership circle. This includes most importantly the six current full members: China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan (the founders in 1996 of the Shanghai Five, the predecessor of the SCO), and Uzbekistan, which joined the SCO at the founding meeting in 200 1.2 To this group I add the original four observer states - Mongolia (which joined in 2004) as well as India, Iran, and Pakistan (all of which joined in 2005) - as these are the most likely candidates for future full membership.3

I measure the level of foreign policy cohesion within the SCO by analyzing the voting records of the ten member and observer states in the United Nations General Assembly. The voting record of each state is seen as a proxy for its foreign policy behavior. These types of studies date back to the 1950s, making this a well-tried and oft-used methodology which can help provide us with quantifiable information as we speculate about the possible changes in the foreign policy of a single state or in the relationship between two or more states.4

The Toolbox

The data set used in this analysis is the voting records of the SCO member and observer states, all of which are freely available on the United Nations website.5 In order to present a fuller picture of the development of foreign policy in these respective states I expand the temporal basis by using data from General Assembly Sessions 47 through 65, beginning in September 1992 and ending in July 2011. This means that I include data reaching back before the establishment of the SCO and even the Shanghai Five. Within this time span, I extracted data from every second session, giving me data from a total of ten different sessions.

The data collection methodology was based on three basic principles.6 First, I only used votes on resolutions passed (thereby excluding resolutions that were rejected as well as parts of resolutions). Second, from this data set I included only roll call (recorded) votes. These two principles combined result in a pool of more than 700 recorded votes. These votes form the basis for the following analysis. The third and final principle is to treat absenteeism as abstention. On each of the more than 700 votes, the SCO member or observer states had the choice of voting "Yes" or "No," or abstaining. A fourth option, however, is to simply choose to be absent - that is, not take part in the voting altogether.

Faced with the challenge of absenteeism, some researchers simply throw out all cases with less than full participation by all the objects of analysis.7 However, as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan all had high levels of absenteeism in several sessions, this clearly would not work in this study. …

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