11 February, 2007

the Shanghai Cooperation Organization - is the world order becoming irreversibly multipolar?

M K Bhadrakumar:
Russia is not in competition with Iran in tapping the South Asian market for gas. It is expedient for Russia if Iran gets deeply engaged in the Asian market (which includes two energy guzzlers - China and India) and, that, too, with Russian equity participation in the actual construction of Iran's pipeline to South Asia. That could lead to Gazprom's participation in the highly lucrative distribution and retailing of Iranian gas in Pakistan, India and China.

In geopolitical terms, what merits attention will be the prospects of an "energy club" taking shape within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) framework. Significantly, the foreign ministers of India, Russia and China are to meet in New Delhi in a trilateral format this month. Meanwhile, the Indian foreign minister has just concluded a visit to Iran, setting the requisite political climate for accelerated energy cooperation.

Russia sees advantages in developing an "energy club" within the SCO. Putin proposed such an idea at the SCO summit last June. The Russian objective is to bring together major energy producers and key consumers within the ambit of SCO, which would not only lead to coordination of efforts in joint energy production and transportation projects but also strengthen regional security on the whole, apart from reinforcing the multipolarity of the world order. The SCO consists of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Iran has observer status.

Alarm bells must be ringing in Washington. Has the clock begun ticking for a SCO "energy club"? Is the world order becoming irreversibly multipolar? To be sure, the tensions around the Iran nuclear issue that Washington has ratcheted up are proving counterproductive. They have prompted Tehran to draw close to Moscow and, arguably, to expedite the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project.
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The specter of a nuclear arms race being forced on Russia haunts the Kremlin. Nothing brings this home more than the Russian proposal to Washington to conclude a non-aggression pact ("legally binding agreements guaranteeing that their military potentials will not be targeted against each other"). Russia-Iran cooperation seems to gather pace almost in direct proportion to the deterioration of Russian-US relations. Moscow's post-haste delivery of Tor-M1 air-defense systems to Iran in December was extraordinary.

Former Russian prime minister Yevgeni Primakov last week summed up the calculus: "Russia is on the way to becoming one of the pillars, if you like, one of the centers, of the multipolar world and one should reckon with Russia ... The Americans will have to retreat, they are at a dead end, and they don't know how to back out of it. They understand it and they are now turning to the United Nations ... Our task is, together with Europe, together with China, together with India, to make sure that a world order that emerges is based on stability."

Primakov added, "You see, we want the American hegemonistic aggressiveness to be blunted. Objectively, things will be moving in this direction because giants such as China and India are rising. By the way, the combined GDP [gross domestic product] of China and India is exceeding that of the United States and they are growing 2.5 times faster than the United States."

Significantly, the adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader on international affairs and former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati arrived in Moscow on Thursday for follow-up consultations over Ivanov's talks in Tehran. Velayati played a key role, along with then-Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov, in laying the foundation for Iran-Russia strategic cooperation in the mid-1990s.


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