Iran, Belarus to be newest SCO members 
GS Paper 2, IR.


  • Iran and Belarus are set to be the two newest members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which is sponsored by China and Russia.
  • China and Russia are attempting to cast the alliance as a reaction to the West, particularly in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • The international community has speculated that the tendency of nonalignment has returned.
  • The SCO is a cooperative organisation built on non-alignment and does not target a third party, unlike NATO’s growth. NATO is built on Cold War logic. NATO’s philosophy is to create new adversaries in order to maintain its own survival.
  • The SCO “believes that one should not develop one’s security at the expense of other countries,” a remark previously used by China to criticise NATO for the Ukraine issue. Mr. Zhang, SCO General Secretary, also criticised “small circles” — a term China has previously used to criticise the Quad — emphasising India’s somewhat unique position in the SCO, whose two most important members, China and Russia, are increasingly positioning the grouping directly at odds with the West.

SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization):

  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is an intergovernmental international organisation that exists indefinitely.
  • It was founded in 2001.
  • It is a Eurasian political, economic, and security partnership. It is the world’s largest regional organisation in terms of geographic breadth and population, spanning around 60% of Eurasia, 40% of the world population, and more than 30% of global GDP.
  • The SCO Charter was signed in 2002 and took effect in 2003.

Formation of SCO:

  • Prior to the formation of the SCO in 2001, the Shanghai Five consisted of Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan.
  • The Shanghai Five (1996) developed from a series of border demarcation and demilitarisation agreements undertaken by the four former Soviet republics with China to assure border stability.
  • The Shanghai Five was renamed the SCO after Uzbekistan joined the group in 2001.
  • India and Pakistan joined in 2017.
  • It was announced on September 17, 2021, that Iran will become a full member of the SCO.

Objectives of SCO:

  • Increasing mutual trust and neighbourliness among member countries.
  • Encouraging successful collaboration in politics, commerce and economics, research and technology, and culture.
  • Strengthening linkages in education, energy, transportation, tourism, environmental protection, and other areas.
  • Maintain and ensure regional peace, security, and stability.
  • The establishment of a new world political and economic system that is democratic, fair, and reasonable.

Structure of the SCO:

  • Heads of State Council – The top SCO body that decides on internal SCO operations, interactions with other states and international organisations, and international concerns.
  • Heads of Government Council – Approves the budget and evaluates and decides on topics pertaining to SCO’s economic domains of engagement.
  • Council of Foreign Ministers – Considers problems concerning day-to-day operations.
  • Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) – An organisation formed to combat terrorism, separatism, and extremism.

SCO Member Nations:

There are eight member countries:

  • China
  • India
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Russia
  • Pakistan
  • Tajikistan

Dialogue Partners:

  • Armenia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Cambodia
  • Nepal
  • Sri Lanka
  • Turkey

Structure And Operation:

  • The SCO’s top decision-making body is the Heads of State Council (HSC).
  • The HSC meets once a year and establishes guidelines and decisions on all SCO-related issues.
  • Once a year, the SCO Heads of Government Council (HGC) meets to examine the organization’s multilateral cooperation strategy and priority areas, as well as to settle current major economic and other cooperation issues.
  • The organisation has two permanent bodies: the Executive Committee of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS), which is located in Tashkent, and the SCO Secretariat, which is based in Beijing.
  • The Council of Heads of State appoints the Director of the Executive Committee of the SCO RATS and the SCO Secretary-General for a three-year term.

The Importance of the SCO for India:

  • The SCO is part of India’s proclaimed goal of “multi-alignment.”
  • From an Indian standpoint, the strategic and geographical area occupied by the SCO is critical. Security, strategic, economic, and geopolitical concerns are all inextricably linked to advances in this region.
  • Terrorism, extremism, and instability pose a serious danger to Indian sovereignty and integrity.
  • India requested intelligence and information from the SCO’s counter-terrorism organisation, the Regional Anti-Terror Structure in Tashkent (RATS).
  • With Central Asia’s landlocked republics, and Uzbekistan doubly landlocked, access to these resources becomes problematic. In this context, India has prioritised the development of the International North-South Transport Corridor, which will assist India in connecting with South Asian states by joining SCO.
  • The Central Asian area is awash with key minerals and natural resources.
  • The main focus is on energy cooperation. However, India will have to contend with an aggressive China that will promote its Belt and Road Initiative.
  • SCO membership will assist India in becoming a significant pan-Asian player, which is now restricted to the South Asian region.
  • India’s extended neighbourhood includes Central Asia. India’s connections with the region offer significant potential for strengthening relationships in sectors such as economics, security, policy, investment, commerce, connectivity, energy, and capacity building.
  • One reason is that India and the area do not have common geographical borders, but another aspect has been the infrequency of high-level visits between India and Central Asian republics.
  • India’s SCO membership will allow the country’s leaders, including prime ministers, to meet with counterparts from Central Asia, Russia, China, Afghanistan, and other countries on a regular and frequent basis. Participation of India in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) will be an added benefit to this alliance.

India’s SCO Membership Challenges:

  • India may face problems as a result of Pakistan’s admission to the SCO.
  • Given that China and Russia are co-founders of the SCO and its main powers, India’s capacity to express itself would be constrained, and it may be forced to play second fiddle.
  • India may also be forced to diminish its expanding alliance with the West or perform a careful balancing act, as the SCO has generally had an anti-Western stance.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO):

  • The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, often known as the North Atlantic Alliance, is an intergovernmental military alliance of 30 member nations, 28 of which are European and two of which are North American.
  • The organisation was founded in the wake of World War II to carry out the North Atlantic Treaty.
  • NATO is a collective security arrangement in which its autonomous member nations pledge to defend one another against third-party aggression.
  • NATO served as a check on the perceived danger presented by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
  • After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the alliance remained in force and has been involved in military actions in the Balkans, the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.

Comparison between NATO and SCO:

  • Both NATO and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) have strategic interests in Central Asia and the Gulf.
  • The former is a military alliance whose members have established significant presences in the Greater Middle East, including the United States’ military presences in Afghanistan, Djibouti, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Oman; the United Kingdom’s military presence in Afghanistan and Bahrain; and the French military presence in Afghanistan, Djibouti, and the UAE.
  • In comparison, the SCO is a political group with a minimal level of military integration among its members. China maintains a logistical station in Djibouti, similar to Russia’s military presence in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, while India has a military presence in Tajikistan.
  • The three SCO members have greater geographical proximity, but the three NATO members have more military deployment and force projection capabilities.
  • The major SCO nations have cemented their respective land strength in Central Asia, while NATO members have gained both land power in Afghanistan and maritime might in the Gulf.
  • While the SCO and NATO have reinforced their respective military postures, Central Asia and the Gulf confront major economic, political, and social issues, as well as inter-state violence.


  • The SCO is seen by India as a key regional organisation for promoting collaboration in a variety of disciplines based on internationally recognised international principles, good governance, the rule of law, openness, transparency, and equality.
  • The SCO serves as a route for India to strengthen ties with Russia.
  • India might utilise the conference to monitor and challenge China and Pakistan’s influence.
  • The organisation may be able to assist India in expanding collaboration and strengthening connections with Central Asian republics (CARs).
  • India needs to increase connection with Central Asia via the Chabahar port, and the Ashgabat accord should be used to establish a larger footprint in Eurasia, as well as an emphasis on the International North-South Corridor (INSTC).
  • The SCO’s purpose of increasing economic cooperation, trade, energy, and regional connectivity should be utilised to strengthen ties with Pakistan and encourage it to unblock India’s access to Eurasia, as well as to provide momentum to initiatives such as the Silk Road Economic Belt.
  • The increased terrorist activity in the region necessitates the development of a “cooperative and sustainable security” framework and the enhancement of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure.
  • The Eurasian strategy should be envisioned to serve India’s regional interests in order to ensure nation-building through development partnerships, sovereignty, and the prevention of terrorism and extremism in the area.


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