Iran’s Prospects in Joining the SCO

_ Nandan Unnikrishnan, Vice President and Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. Mumbai, 13 December 2017.

Iran’s joining of the SCO is beneficial to both sides. With the accession of Iran, the SCO will be able to settle the Afghanistan problem, and develop strategic transport corridors. Iran, becoming a member of the SCO, will raise its rating as a regional player.

Iran has long had observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, but its application to join the SCO could not be considered for several years because of the problems related to Tehran’s nuclear program. Now these problems are in the past, but it should be remembered that all decisions concerning the new members of the SCO are taken by consensus.

Iran’s accession to the SCO is an unsettled matter, but there is no doubt that it will be a positive act. Much will depend on the policies of other influential countries in the Middle East, which will not like Iran’s accession to the SCO, as it will immediately raise the reputation of Iran as a regional player. Those countries that are now in confrontation with Iran would not want this to happen. They will make every effort to stop this from happening.

The issue is above all about Saudi Arabia. Politics in the Middle East as a whole will play a role. There is still a confrontation between the Saudis and Iran. Saudi Arabia has quite a strong influence in some countries of Central Asia.

If Iran becomes a member of the SCO, this will benefit both the SCO and Iran, since the organization will become truly regional. For one thing, Iran’s accession will contribute to the development of transport corridors. For example, there is the North-South transport corridor. Different branches of it can connect Afghanistan and Central Asia to the arterial transport corridor that goes from Southeast Asia through India to St. Petersburg and Europe.

In terms of regional security, Iran’s participation could contribute to the settlement of the situation in Afghanistan. With the accession of Iran, the SCO contains all countries (except Turkmenistan) that have borders with Afghanistan. All countries that have a certain influence or interests in Afghanistan are also members of the SCO, be it China, Russia, Pakistan or India. So the agreement between them would practically guarantee the solution of the Afghanistan problem.

In addition, due to Iran’s participation in the SCO, there will be an alternative to the Chinese “Belt and Road” initiative, which causes certain fears for India. And for all other countries this is a small but strategic space in which they could maneuver with China.

The last major expansion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, established in 2001, took place on June 9, 2017, when India and Pakistan joined.


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