The Policy World Meets Academia: Designing U.S. Policy toward Russia

Chapter 1: Russia and the Recent Evolution of the SCO: Issues and Challenges for U.S. Policy

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Timothy J. Colton, Timothy Frye, and Robert Legvold
U.S. Policy Toward Russia

Alexander Cooley

The rise of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)—comprised of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan—has been met with a mix of alarm and fascination in the West. Some analysts view the organization as an emerging anti-Western military bloc intent on undercutting U.S. influence in Central Asia. Others have painted a more benign portrait, arguing that the SCO’s functions have expanded well beyond the security realm and that the organization is now primarily a facilitator of regional cooperation. Analysis of the SCO’s purpose and scope has become a virtual cottage industry.1

The hype surrounding the SCO has not matched its still meager accomplishments. Though a number of new initiatives, projects, and functions have been announced over the past five years, few of them have been effectively implemented or come to fruition. And despite its self-styled image as a “new” type of regional organization, the SCO continues to be plagued by the perennial political concerns of its two key members, Russia and China, and their growing competition for influence in Central Asia.

This paper seeks to clarify, both analytically and empirically, the development of the SCO and to evaluate its competencies and shortcomings. Analytically, I draw from a diverse set of academic literatures on clientelism, hegemony, and regionalism to explain the various functions and challenges faced by the SCO. Empirically, I mostly draw on recent interviews that I conducted with SCO-related policy-makers and analysts in China (including with the SCO Secretariat itself), Russia, and Central Asia, as well as with EU and NATO officials in Brussels.2 I outline three emerging scholarly views of the SCO: as a “soft-balancer” against the West, as a promoter of authoritarian norms, and as a regional public goods provider. I then critically evaluate how well these perspectives explain the organization’s recent evolution. Next, I discuss Russia’s growing ambivalence toward the SCO and China’s growing influence in Central Asia. In the final section, I propose some principles to guide U.S. policy-makers in their formulation of a strategy toward the SCO and Russia.


The most alarming view of the SCO is that it is a strategic challenger to the United States and NATO military presence in Central Asia. This view gained currency in July 2005, when, at the SCO annual summit in Astana, the organization issued a communiqué declaring that U.S. military bases in Central Asia had served their initial purpose to stabilize Afghanistan and should be placed on a timetable for withdrawal. Just a few days later, the government of Uzbekistan issued an eviction notice to the U.S. Embassy, and U.S. forces were completely withdrawn from the Karshi-Khanabad facility (K2) by November 2005.3 Some analysts attributed the eviction from K2 to pressure brought by Russia and China on Uzbekistan through the SCO.4 Moreover, the biannual joint military exercises, or “Peace Missions,” conducted by Russia and China since 2003 have also elevated concerns that the SCO is developing an advanced operational capability.5

Among academics, the SCO’s Astana statement and K2 eviction have been held up as examples of “soft-balancing” against the United States.6 Robert Pape, the author of the doctrine, defines soft-balancing as “actions that do not directly challenge U.S. military preponderance but that use nonmilitary tools to delay, frustrate and undermine aggressive unilateral U.S. policies.”7 The denial of base access to the United States, as happened in the K2 expulsion, is a prime example of such soft-balancing responses, as are the SCO’s periodic statements critiquing “U.S. unilateralism.”

In reality, the hostile SCO reaction to U.S. military presence in Uzbekistan was the culmination of regional concern that the West was planning more “Colored Revolutions” in Central Asia, intending to overthrow regimes under the guise of promoting democracy. The collapse of Askar Akayev’s regime in Kyrgyzstan’s “Tulip Revolution” in March 2005, following protests in the south of the country over the conduct of flawed parliamentary elections, sent shock waves across the region and marked the first regime change in Central Asia since its independence.8 All SCO members strongly opposed the revolutions, albeit for slightly different reasons: Russia was convinced that these regime changes were directed against Moscow and were intended to bring pro-Western governments to power; China was concerned that such democratizing forces might spill over and destabilize its Western province of Xinjiang. Central Asian leaders, especially President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, believed they might also become targets, even though Western assistance efforts played a much less significant role in Kyrgyzstan than they had in Georgia and Ukraine. When the United States failed to back Tashkent after its heavy-handed crackdown on protestors in the eastern city of Andijon in May 2005, Karimov was convinced that realigning with Moscow and Beijing served his regime’s interest more than continuing military cooperation with the United States.9

Just a few years later, however, the regional security environment in Central Asia has changed dramatically. Whereas in 2005 Afghanistan appeared relatively stable and Central Asia seemed prone to volatile regime change, since 2008 this situation has been reversed. Instability is now mounting in Afghanistan, even in the north, while Central Asian elites have consolidated their rule, and their concern about externally sponsored regime change has eased. All SCO members now acknowledge the pressing importance of the international campaign in Afghanistan (though they are divided over how actively to support U.S. and International Security Assistance Force [ISAF] efforts), and the organization has established an SCO-Afghanistan contact group and held a number of conferences on the topic, including a March 2009 summit in Moscow that U.S. officials attended as invited observers. Since early 2009, the U.S. military has reached commercial agreements with each Central Asian state to allow the transit of military goods and supplies through their territory, establishing the so-called Northern Distribution Network for Afghanistan.10 Tellingly, throughout these developments, the SCO has remained silent about its renewed cooperation with the U.S. military in Central Asia.

Emerging Differences in Russia-China Regional Security Agendas

Moreover, the aftermath of the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia illustrated important divergences in the Russia-China regional security agendas. Russia remains concerned about countering Western strategic efforts and influence in Central Asia. It also wants to integrate Central Asia into Russia-dominated security structures such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Beijing has no desire for the enduring presence of U.S. military bases in the region, but its primary security concern is stabilizing the region and countering separatism in the Xinjiang province.

In August 2008, the SCO’s self-defined security goal—to combat the “three evils” of terrorism, separatism, and extremism—came into direct conflict with Russia’s attempts to splinter Georgia and recognize the independence of the breakaway territories. Just a few days after President Dmitry Medvedev recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Russian premier headed to Dushanbe for the 2008 annual SCO summit to secure support for the Russian position. It is still unclear how much backing Moscow believed it could obtain from the SCO states, but Russian analysts and commentators suggest that Medvedev was fairly confident he could secure Kazakhstan’s and Kyrgyzstan’s recognition of Abkhazian and South Ossetian independence. Instead, the Central Asian states, backed by Beijing, held firm and restated their commitment to preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states. Officials from both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan also subsequently expressed concern that Moscow’s “passportization” policy in Georgia—its indiscriminate distribution of passports abroad and subsequent invocation of the right to defend these citizens—could also potentially undermine the sovereign interests of the Central Asian states.

Russia’s frustration with the SCO on the Georgia issue can be instructively contrasted with the organization’s immediate and strong support for China in the aftermath of the July 2009 ethnic violence that erupted between Uyghurs and Han in Urumqi. Just a few days after the rioting, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs drafted a strong SCO statement that characterized the riots as “purely China’s internal affair” and that supported Beijing’s actions to “restore order in the region.” Within a few hours, all SCO countries signed on to the communiqué, and an official declaration was issued.11 The episode’s contrast with the Dushanbe summit also illustrates how China has been arguably more successful in using the SCO to promote its regional security agenda than Russia has been with its own.


A second category of scholars and analysts has pointed to the ways in which the SCO promotes authoritarian practices and norms in its member states.12 There is ample evidence to suggest that much of the SCO’s successful cooperation does indeed undercut civil liberties and democratic practices across Central Asia. The organization’s mission to combat the “three evils” has been criticized by human rights activists for being far too broad and allowing any form of political opposition to be silenced as a designated security threat.13 Since 2005, the Central Asian states have adopted similar measures to restrict the activities of external NGOs and curtail domestic media freedoms. New laws restricting the Internet have been disseminated across the region, with China providing censoring software and training to the Central Asian security services under SCO cybersecurity initiatives. SCO member countries also have bundled a common list of “extremist” groups, including political dissidents, human rights champions, and NGOs, under the auspices of the SCO’s Regional Anti-Terrorism Center (RATS). Despite assurances that the RATS list of extremist organizations would be made public, the SCO has yet to do so.

Of related concern to human rights groups have been the SCO security services’ numerous expulsions of political dissidents. Groups such as Human Rights Watch and the Moscow-based Civic Assistance Committee have accused the SCO of violating asylum laws, bypassing national extradition procedures, and reciprocally recognizing acts of “terrorism, separatism and extremism,” regardless of national law or due process protections.14 Data on the number of expulsions by security services conducted under SCO treaty jurisdiction are difficult to corroborate, but the number seems to total in the hundreds, with most suspects accused of membership in the Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir or Uyghur separatist movements.

The other area in which the SCO’s activities have directly challenged Western-supported democratic practices has been international election monitoring. One of the critical lessons drawn by Eurasian elites from the Colored Revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine was that the activities and official proclamations inherent in the election-monitoring mission of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), a part of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, were pivotal in delegitimizing fraudulent initial election results. Starting with the March 2005 Kyrgyz Parliamentary elections, the SCO has joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in sending election observers to each national legislative and presidential election held in its member states.15 Instructively, the SCO’s verdict on each election has been far more positive and supportive of the incumbent government than the more critical evaluations issued by the ODIHR.

Though the SCO is not exclusively concerned with promoting authoritarianism, its many activities to strengthen ruling regimes and undercut political opposition should not be dismissed. The conceptual issue is not so much that the SCO explicitly promotes “authoritarian norms,” but that it actively promotes regime stability and survival in its members in the name of security. One consequence is the conflation of external and internal security threats within SCO countries. Thus, regional militant Islamic groups are put on a par with Western human rights organizations or democracy-promoting NGOs; they are all perceived as destabilizing, and therefore threatening, transnational forces. The situation is challenging, but perhaps not irreparably so. After all, another regional organization, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), was once described as a regional “club for dictators” and now has gone some way toward institutionalizing more democratic values among its members. Perhaps as the promotion of Western-style democracy is recast less in terms of threatening “regime change” and more in terms of supporting selective reforms, there may be some room for the West to pressure the SCO to clarify the criteria by which individuals and organizations are classified as one of the three “evils.”


A final analytic perspective looks beyond the security functions of the SCO to consider the organization as a facilitator of regional integration in Central Asia and provider of scarce “public goods,” such as project finance, infrastructure development, telecommunications, and energy projects. Starting around 2006, a number of European-based commentators began to present the SCO as an organization primarily interested in fostering regional cooperation and integration in Central Asia.16 According to these commentators, such integration not only deserved to be supported by the EU as part of its emerging Central Asia strategy (officially adopted under the German presidency in 2007), but also implied that the EU and West European governments should immediately engage the SCO as a multilateral partner in order to avoid “being left behind” or shut out of multilateral planning of the region’s development.

Such views are part of an emerging (incorrect) impression that the SCO has become a leading economic actor in Central Asia and that it facilitates cooperation in regional trade, development, and investment. Certainly, China has consistently tried to promote the organization as an economic vehicle. In 2007, Premier Wen Jiabao publicly proposed that the SCO should potentially expand into a free-trade zone. In 2006, the SCO established the Business Council and an Interbank Association to coordinate regional investment among the member countries’ national development banks. Some commentators point to a list of 135 alleged “SCO projects” that the Council supervises as evidence of the SCO’s ambitious regional economic agenda.

In practice, however, the organization’s economic initiatives independently have yielded few results. All the projects on the Business Council list were preexisting bilateral and multilateral initiatives, including the flagship trans-Central Asian highway projects that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) launched in the 1990s through its Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation program. Indeed, the original ADB program was started with seed money from Japan (supplemented by the EU) and is now being directed to suit Chinese interests and infrastructural development. Almost all the SCO’s realized projects are Chinese bilateral initiatives that are given the SCO’s multilateral stamp of approval. And Russia is increasingly alarmed at China’s assertive attempts to expand the SCO’s economic functions; neither it nor the Central Asian states, which are also concerned about China’s potential to overrun the area economically, will accept a free-trade zone in the foreseeable future.

On the other hand, the one public goods function that Moscow has pushed (so far unsuccessfully) is the SCO’s potential to become an “energy club” that could rationalize and coordinate energy distribution and pipeline projects within Central Asia. Not only has Beijing remained lukewarm to this idea, but in 2009 it aggressively pursued and concluded major new bilateral energy agreements with Central Asian countries, offering investments and cash infusions in exchange for shares in prime energy assets. In April 2009, China announced a $10 billion package for Kazakhstan that included a $5 billion investment in its state-owned oil company, KazMunaiGas. China now reportedly owns at least 27 percent of Kazakh oil production, a remarkable number given its exclusion from the major international consortia in Tengiz and Kashagan. Most dramatically, in December 2009 China concluded initial construction of its trans-Central Asia gas pipeline, which extends from the gas fields of eastern Turkmenistan through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan toward Xinjiang. The pipeline’s initial 13 billion cubic meters (bcm) annual capacity is expected to triple to 40 bcm by the end of 2012. Remarkably, within a few years Turkmenistan may export more gas to China than it does to Russia.

Central Asia’s Weak State Institutions as a Barrier to Regional Integration

A second factor that has undermined the SCO’s role as a regional public goods provider has been the weak and patrimonial institutions of the Central Asian states themselves. Political scientist Kathleen Collins has argued that the patrimonial structure of Central Asian states prevents them from implementing agreements to deepen regional economic integration.17 According to Collins, every major regional initiative designed to foster economic integration in Central Asia has failed because key state-run economic positions and assets serve as political rewards to political clients of the ruling families. Introducing true market competition in these spheres would undercut the entire system of graft and clientelism that underpins Central Asia’s systems of patron-client rule.

Collins’s argument can be expanded when one considers the cases of the most lucrative state-controlled assets: for example, electricity sectors in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and telecommunications in Kazakhstan. These sectors are actually controlled by prominent members of the ruling family themselves, not just their political clients. In turn, these assets are managed in a predatory fashion, providing sources of private revenue to ruling families under the guise of state activity. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that these controlling partners would ever agree to implement a plan for regional cooperation that would transfer control of these private rent-seeking assets to another country, such as China or Russia.

Finally, the weakness and acute governance problems in the Central Asian states also undercut the capacity of these bureaucracies to implement and regulate regional integration agreements. For example, consider all the institutional and legal arrangements that underpin the EU’s internal market or NAFTA.18 The former has been governed mostly ex post by an array of supranational bodies, regulators, and standards-setting agencies that carefully monitor the legal and technical requirements necessary for operating a common market. In the case of NAFTA, most regulations are painstakingly specified ex ante in the thousands of pages of the original agreement, so actual arbitration and dispute resolution have been kept to a relative minimum. But the important analytical point is that each of these two different models of regional integration —the EU’s ex post institutional regulation and NAFTA’s ex ante complete contractual specifications—require a high degree of state capacity, bureaucratic expertise, and clearly specified chains of delegation within states. The contrast between these models and the SCO, in which periodic declarations of friendship and cooperation frequently lack bureaucratic follow-up, could not be greater. As one of the SCO national coordinators pointed out, there is simply no mechanism by which SCO countries are expected to keep their commitments in various sectors.


The three analytical perspectives on the SCO—as anti-West balancer, authoritarian norms promoter, and regional public goods provider—also allow us to understand better Russia’s evolving attitude toward the organization. In practice, Russia has supported the first two perspectives, whereas it has been significantly less supportive of the organization’s public goods and economic initiatives.

Moscow has strongly supported SCO initiatives to counter Western political influence and support for democratization. In turn, President Putin’s mantra of promoting “sovereign democracy” was broadly supported by all the Central Asian members, as were Russia’s efforts to weaken the election-monitoring activities of the ODIHR. Similarly, Russia’s techniques to restrict the activities of Western democracy and human rights NGOs have been emulated by the Central Asian states, while the Kremlin has emphasized to the Central Asian regimes that it unequivocally backs them and considers democratization in the region a potential security challenge.

In the security realm, Russia has tried to harness the potential geopolitical weight of the SCO to counter the spread of Western influence in Central Asia. Though Russian President Putin did not initiate the Astana declaration, he enthusiastically supported Karimov’s proposal and statement. And in February 2009, all accounts indicate that Moscow was intimately involved in Kyrgyz President Bakiyev’s dramatic announcement that his government was closing down the Manas air base to U.S. forces.19

However, since the drama of Astana, the SCO has not advanced an aggressively anti-Western agenda. Not only have differences emerged in the regional security priorities of China and Russia, but as Bobo Lo of the Centre for European Reform has detailed, the bilateral relationship is prone to as much strategic competition and mutual distrust as it is to collaboration.20 In the realm of Central Asia, this competition is now clearly intensifying.

Tellingly, since Medvedev’s rebuke at the SCO summit in Dushanbe in August 2008, Russian officials have asserted that the CSTO, not the SCO, should be the preferred institutional vehicle for dealing with regional security issues. For example, on Afghanistan, Moscow maintains that the CSTO has the experience and capacity to be more actively consulted by NATO and the United States. SCO officials themselves admit that the organization’s members have yet to develop a consensus about its potential role in Afghanistan beyond the often-discussed issue of narcotics trafficking.21

In public, Chinese officials are very careful to minimize any potential rivalry with Moscow over Central Asia and tend to acknowledge Russia’s “special interest” in the region. Yet it is also clear that Beijing has no intention of mediating or slowing its efforts to expand its Central Asian influence under SCO auspices because of Russian concerns. For example, China has initiated a number of training and exchange programs for Central Asian customs officials and is now deepening its security cooperation with each of the Central Asian states. Chinese policy planners have also stated that the SCO should develop a more formal technical assistance arm, modeled on USAID, to assist the Central Asian states in the implementation of SCO policy. In terms of its potential regional scope, most Chinese SCO analysts and planners view the organization’s natural Western boundary as the Caucasus and Caspian Sea, with the energy fields of Azerbaijan as the ultimate target for the expansion of Chinese influence.

If Moscow has become increasingly concerned that it can no longer leverage the SCO to counter the West, it is also alarmed at the extent to which China is using the organization to promote its economic interests. In response, over the last two years Moscow has pushed the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) forum, which includes the Central Asian countries but not China, as its preferred instrument to increase regional economic cooperation. Though Russia cannot halt large Chinese initiatives to develop regional infrastructure, it does see the potential to use its voice in the SCO to limit the projects designed to connect Central Asia with South Asia.

But Russia clearly no longer has the capacity to monopolize the economic interactions of the region, with China now adopting country-specific strategies toward each of the Central Asian countries.22 For example, Beijing views Kazakhstan as a supplier of energy and a significant market for cheap consumer goods, whereas it sees Kyrgyzstan as a “transit state” through which it can take advantage of a more liberal trading regime to then reexport its goods to the rest of the region.23 Tajikistan is viewed as a supplier of electricity for the energy-intensive industry being developed in Xinjiang, and Chinese companies are investing billions to lay down power transmissions lines and improve Tajikistan’s infrastructure.

The financial crisis that started in Fall 2008 magnified the regional economic imbalance between Beijing and Moscow. Moscow’s opposition to the SCO’s economic functions was illustrated over the course of 2009 by its reaction to Beijing’s proposal for an “anti-crisis” stabilization fund.24 Beginning in October 2008, China proposed to establish an SCO fund for investing in Central Asian infrastructure during the economic downturn. Moscow refused the request and then proceeded to draft its own anti-crisis financial packages for CIS members Belarus and Kyrgyzstan under EurAsEC auspices. At the June 2009 SCO summit in Yekaterinburg, Chinese officials once again proposed to establish a $10 billion SCO fund and suggested that Russia and China each contribute $5 billion in order to retain joint control of its projects. Moscow once again refused, citing a legal barrier that prevents Moscow from contributing to multilateral organizations without explicit Duma approval; China went ahead and unilaterally announced that it would fund the entire $10 billion on its own. It is still unclear what, if any, political concessions Moscow extracted from either Belarus or Kyrgyzstan in exchange for its financial packages. After all, Kyrgyzstan renegotiated a basing accord with the United States to create the “Manas Transit Center” in Spring 2009, while Belarus has steadfastly refused to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, despite considerable pressure from Moscow to do so.

In sum, Russia has grown increasingly frustrated with its inability to control the SCO’s security and economic agenda. The aftermath of the war in Georgia and the financial crisis have emphasized to Moscow that China’s regional interests are not as strategically aligned as they were during the Colored Revolutions, when both regional powers feared Western-backed regime change and instability in the region. And China’s aggressive economic moves in Central Asia, especially in the energy sector, have underscored the growing gap in the economic potential between the countries.


Given Moscow’s current ambivalence toward the SCO, how should the United States think about crafting its potential strategy toward the organization? Three points seem especially relevant.

First, policy-makers should view the SCO primarily as a Chinese-controlled vehicle designed to advance Beijing’s influence and interests in the region. Beijing would certainly like to implement more projects in consultation with Moscow, but it is prepared to move its regional agenda forward and build Central Asian partnerships through the SCO even with waning Russian enthusiasm. Therefore, support for certain SCO initiatives is consistent with the stated U.S. policy of strengthening the sovereignty and independence of the Central Asian states.

Second, policy-makers should acknowledge that even though the SCO is not an anti-Western military bloc, it still engages in a number of activities that serve neither United States interests nor values in the region. Encouraging the public goods agenda of the SCO would certainly continue to undermine Russian regional influence, but it would also erode the existing authority and influence of Western-controlled international organizations and NGOs operating in the region. For example, neither the World Bank nor the International Monetary Fund can seriously compete with the $10 billion anti-crisis fund established by Beijing. Accordingly, China’s policies in Central Asia may come to resemble its current role in Africa, where some countries now view China as an appealing alternative source of investment and patronage to the West. As with its dealings in Africa, Beijing is positioning itself as the respectful partner that, in contrast to the West and its persistent demands for political and economic reforms, does not meddle in the internal sovereign affairs of the Central Asian states.

Third, given this wide range of U.S. regional objectives and extensive set of SCO functions and activities, U.S. officials should recognize that developing an effective SCO policy will require formulating nuanced trade-offs regarding what it wants from the organization. U.S. officials should be prepared to support certain SCO activities and voice their concern about others. Moreover, policy-makers should recognize that such an initial period of engagement is potentially when U.S. leverage over the SCO will be at its maximum. SCO planners are growing increasingly desperate to secure external recognition and engagement and might be willing to compromise on certain elements of the SCO agenda in order to secure more robust external contacts.


1. Some of the better analyses include Alyson J.K. Bailes, Pál Dunay, Pan Guang, and Mikhail Troitskiy, “The Shanghai Cooperation Organization,” SIPRI Policy Paper 17 (Stockholm: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, May 2007); Geir Flikke, “Balancing Acts: Russian-Chinese Relations and Developments in the SCO and CSTO” (Oslo: Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, 2009); and Rebecca Nadin Louise, “China and the Shanghai 5/ Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, 1996–2006: A Decade on a New Diplomatic Frontier,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Sheffield, July 2007.

2. As an Open Society Institute Fellow, I conducted field research on the SCO in Kyrgyzstan (June 2009), Moscow (September 2009), China (October 2009), and Brussels (October 2009). In addition, in July 2009 I was invited to participate as a Western academic in the 9th Annual Academic Conference on the SCO and Central Asia, organized by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

3. For analysis of the events leading up to the K2 expulsion, see Alexander Cooley, “Base Politics,” Foreign Affairs 84 (6) (2005): 79–92; and Alexander Cooley, “U.S. Bases and Democratization in Central Asia,” Orbis 52 (1) (Winter 2008): 65–90.

4. See, for example, Adam Wolfe, “The ‘Great Game’ Heats Up in Central Asia,” Eurasianet Insight, August 3, 2005. However, we now know that even in Astana, the declaration concerning the status of U.S. bases was proposed by Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov and then accepted by the other members. It did not originate from Moscow or Beijing, though Russia was keen to support the resolution.

5. See Roger N. McDermott, The Rising Dragon: SCO Peace Mission 2007 (Washington, D.C.: The Jamestown Foundation, October 2007).

6. Robert A. Pape, “Soft Balancing Against the United States,” International Security 30 (1) (Summer 2005): 7–45; and T. V. Paul, “Soft Balancing in the Age of U.S. Primacy,” International Security 30 (1) (Summer 2005): 46–71. For a critical response, see Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth, “Hard Times for Soft Balancing,” International Security 30 (1) (Summer 2005): 72–108.

7. Pape, “Soft Balancing Against the United States,” 10.

8. For an overview, see Scott Radnitz, “What Really Happened in Kyrgyzstan,” Journal of Democracy 17 (2) (2006): 132–146.

9. Cooley, “Base Politics.”

10. See Andrew Kuchins, Thomas M. Sanderson, and David A. Gordon, “The Northern Distribution Network and the Modern Silk Road” (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies, December 2009). For a less optimistic view of the Northern Distribution Network, see Cornelius Graubner, “Implications of the Northern Distribution Network in Central Asia,” Central Asia-Caucasus Institute Analyst, September 1, 2009.

11. Author’s interviews with Chinese analysts and SCO officials, Beijing, China, October 2009. On the declaration, see Also see Alexander Cooley, “Cooperation Gets Shanghaied: China, Russia, and the SCO,” Foreign Affairs (online version), December 14, 2009.

12. See especially Thomas Ambrosio, “Catching the ‘Shanghai Spirit’: How the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Promotes Authoritarian Norms in Central Asia,” Europe-Asia Studies 60 (8) (2008): 1321–1344.

13. For example, see the prepared comments by Damian Murphy, senior program manager at Freedom House, “The Shanghai Cooperation Organization: Threatening Human Rights or Providing Regional Cooperation and Stability?” September 19, 2007,

14. “Agreements of the SCO as the ‘Legal’ Basis for the Extradition of Political Refugees” (Moscow: Civic Assistance Committee, August 2008),

15. For an overview of the origins and dynamics of these “counter-election monitors,” see Rick Fawn, “Battle over the Box: International Election Observation Missions, Political Competition and Retrenchment in the Post-Soviet Space,” International Affairs 82 (6) (2006): 1133–1153.

16. For representative examples, see Oksana Antonenko, “The EU Should Not Ignore the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation,” Centre for European Reform Policy Brief, May 2007,; Alyson J.K. Bailes, “The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and Europe,” China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly 5 (3) (2007): 13–18; and Marcel de Haas, “Central Asia’s Waking Giant,” The Guardian, January 5, 2009.

17. Kathleen Collins, “Economic and Security Regionalism among Patrimonial Authoritarian Regimes: The Case of Central Asia,” Europe-Asia Studies 61 (2) (2009): 249–281. On the recurring inability of Central Asian states to implement regional cooperation, also see Roy Alison, “Virtual Regionalism, Regional Structures and Regime Security in Central Asia,” Central Asian Survey 27 (2) (2008): 185–202.

18. See Alexander Cooley and Hendrik Spruyt, Contracting States: Sovereign Transfers in International Relations (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2009), chap. 5.

19. See Shairbek Juraev, “The Logic of Kyrgyzstan’s Base Policy,” PONARS Eurasia (Program on New Approaches to Research and Security in Eurasia) Policy Memo 72, September 2009.

20. Bobo Lo, Axis of Convenience: Moscow, Beijing, and the New Geopolitics (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2008). In his review of Lo’s book, Princeton University’s Stephen Kotkin, a professor of history and international affairs, goes even further, referring to Russia as China’s “junior partner” in an increasingly imbalanced relationship. See Kotkin, “The Unbalanced Triangle: What China-Russia Relations Mean for the United States,” Foreign Affairs 88 (5) (2009).

21. Author’s interview with SCO Secretariat, Beijing, China, October 2009.

22. Alexander Cooley, “Behind the Central Asian Curtain: The Limits of Russia’s Resurgence,” Current History 108 (720) (2009): 325–332.

23. Kyrgyz analysts estimate that more than 90 percent of Kyrgyz imports from China are subsequently reexported to other Central Asian countries.

24. This episode was discussed at the 9th Annual SCO Conference in Shanghai in July 2009 and confirmed by SCO officials to the author in October 2009.