Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 11/2014

Strategic Implications of the Evolving Shanghai Cooperation Organization

Henry Plater-Zyberk, Andrew Monaghan

August 2014

The Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College


The role of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in regional politics and the significance of the organization for U.S. interests are widely misunderstood. The organization is emphatically not a military bloc, and yet engages in joint activities which resemble military cooperation to U.S. eyes. It is, in theory, open to new members; but at present is highly unlikely to accept any. Its rhetoric firmly opposes U.S. presence and activity on the territory of member states, and yet individual member states leverage basing agreements with the U.S. to their advantage. The author reviews SCO's history and stated aspirations, and measures these against actual achievements. He concludes that, with the notable exception of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure(RATS), the great majority of SCO accomplishments are of little significance other than to provide an additional multinational vehicle through which China and in particular Russia can seek to counter U.S. and Western activity in Central Asia.