Thursday, June 15, 2006

So what's the SCOre?

Members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) began a summit today in, appropriately enough, Shanghai.

Why should we care? Because the SCO could be developing into the most significant challenge to U.S. power around the world since the end of the Cold War -- far more than any act of terrorism. If that turns out to be the case, it's a big story we'll be covering in the years to come.

The SCO is made up of China, Russia, and four of the "stan" countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union. It formed five years ago for the usual purposes international leaders start such groups -- "international cooperation," "a forum for mutual interests," yada yada yada. But something interesting happened at last year's conference; the SCO demanded the United States close its military bases in two SCO member countries, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan -- bases the U.S. military opened shortly after 9/11 to help with the war in Afghanistan. (In fact, the Uzbekistan base shut down late last year.) Quite simply, the Chinese and Russians aren't too keen on having U.S. bases in their backyard.

This year's summit is overshadowed to some extent by an invited guest -- Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Whether Iran formally joins the SCO or takes on some sort of lesser "observer" status, you can bet people in Washington, D.C. are watching this meeting closely -- even if the major American networks and newspapers are pretty much ignoring it.

There's no guarantee the SCO will develop into what diplomats like to call a "counterweight" to U.S. power; the two biggest members, Russia and China, have had chilly relations for a long time and old disptues may flare up anew. But if the SCO does become a big deal a few years down the road, remember you read it here first.


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