Friday 27 July 2012

Russia & China should expand SCO (PO)

By M D Nalapat
Why is it that NATO has so much greater geopolitical resonance than the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) ? Part of the reason is that the full members of the SCO have till now adopted a bureaucratic approach towards their functioning, avoiding major initiatives and refusing to even accomplish what is desirable and inevitable, which is expanding the SCO to include India, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Until such an expansion takes place, the SCO will continue to be a peripheral player on the international stage. However, Russia and China seem hesitant to bring in the other large country, India, perhaps out of fear that its inclusion would dilute their own control over the decisions of the SCO. Because of this reluctance to share power, Moscow and Beijing are losing the opportunity to vastly increase the clout of the SCO, as well as its ability to make a difference in the region.

Rather than continue with its policy of blocking expansion, it would be better for China and Russia to immediately approve the expansion of the organisation by the inclusion within the list of members of Tehran, Kabul, Delhi and Islamabad. The USSR collapsed because of the bureaucratisation of the higher command structure of the government. While the bureaucracy is a necessary component of any state, this machine has to be led by those with a vision bigger than that of getting two promotions in the next ten years. The objective of a bureaucrat is to become Joint Secretary from Deputy Secretary and from that to Secretary. Were such a career progression linked to tangible achievements, there would be no problem.

However, in most bureaucracies, personal preferences and favouritism play a bigger role in promotions than merit. Indeed, in the case of India, tangible achievements are not necessary. The system has made promotion so easy that no fewer than 80% of civil servants get their work graded as “excellent”. Judging by the abysmally low level of quality of almost all government work in India, those making such an evaluation must be indulging their sense of humour Unless a political class with vision emerges that directs the bureaucracy and challenges it to do better, a country is in trouble. If the politicians themselves function as bureaucrats, trying to avoid bold decisions and adopting a policy of going by the lowest common denominator of activity, the machinery of government will slow down and in many cases, become negative for growth, as is very much the case in India. In 2004,Sonia Gandhipassed over politicians to appoint a retired bureaucrat - Manmohan Singh - as PM, aware that his decades in state service have honed in him the instinct of obedience to higher authority.

Other countries need to learn from what is happening in India, a country where a bureaucratised regime obsessed with expanding its already formidable list of powers has converted an economic success story into what may soon become a basket case. The cautious way in which Moscow and Beijing are steering the SCO indicates that a super-cautious, bureaucratic mindset is not the monopoly of Delhi, but is shared by Moscow and Beijing as well.

All three capitals need their leaders to have a vision for the future, as well as the skill and tenacity to ensure its actualisation. An expanded SCO would be able to turn its attention to critical problems, such as ensuring that Afghanistan get prevented from once again becoming a terrorist haven. It could plan and implement a new system of road and rail links that would bring together member-states in ways that enhance rather than reduce security. Above all, it would show that the two big powers do not seek to retain the monopoly of their privileges into the indefinite future, the way the majority of permanent members of the UN Security Council seek.

The SCO ought to be different, in that no member ought to seek to play a Big Brother role within it. India, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan are strategically important, each in their own way, and making them permanent members would significantly enhance the stature of the SCO. Bringing them into the organisation would also help promote better relations between them, especially between India and Pakistan.

It is time for Russia and China to think big, to take the long view “from atop the high mountain”, and expand the SCO. Not doing so indicates to the four aspiring members a lack of respect for their status and potential that is far from the thinking of Moscow and Beijing, two capitals who jointly ought to show NATO how to treat other countries with equality and respect.

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