The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation


The call last July by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) for foreign troops to be withdrawn from Central Asia was barely mentioned in the British press, despite the fact that two of the six members of the Organisation are China and Russia.  The others are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.  Created originally in 1996 as a group of five states (the present six, minus Uzbekistan) in order to sort out border disputes in the region, it admitted Uzbekistan in 2001 and renamed itself the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.


SCO met in Astana in Kazakhstan on 5-6 July 2005 and admitted India, Pakistan and Iran as observers, which is an interesting development.  In a declaration after the summit (see, for example, The Hindu’s report, China and Russia up the ante in Central Asia, on 7 July 2005), SCO said:


“We support and will support the international coalition, which is carrying out an anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan, and we have taken note of the progress made in the effort to stabilise the situation. …


“As the active military phase in the anti-terror operation in Afghanistan is nearing completion, the SCO would like the coalition’s members to decide on the deadline for the use of the temporary infrastructure and for their military contingents’ presence in those countries.”


The “temporary infrastructure” being used by coalition forces is the Karshi-Khanabad air base in southern Uzbekistan and the Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan. The US began leasing these Soviet-era bases during the run-up to the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, and they are used mainly to station troops (around 1,000 troops and civilian contractors on each) and refuel planes.  The US has been in control of most of Afghanistan since late 2001, and could therefore use bases there instead, so its continued presence in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan must be because it wants bases in Central Asia (and every other part of the world) for reasons unconnected with operations in Afghanistan.


In late July, Uzbekistan officially asked the US to withdraw from Karshi-Khanabad air base and the US has agreed.  There have been conflicting reports about whether Kyrgyzstan has made an equivalent request in respect of Manas.


It’s not clear if the request from Uzbekistan was connected with the US criticism of the suppression of the unrest in Andijan last May.   It is clear that having been a close ally of the US after 9/11, Uzbek leader, Islam Karimov, has now shifted his stance and opted to ally with Russia.  Last year, he signed a cooperation pact with Russia and last April he withdrew from a US-backed grouping of former Soviet republics Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Armenia and Moldova (GUAAM).


South Korea

From the Korean War (which ended in 1953) until 1994 South Korea’s military forces were under US command.  In 1994, peacetime control was returned to South Korea, but wartime control still remains with the US.  The US has around 32,000 troops in South Korea, whereas South Korea has nearly 700, 000 troops of its own, mostly ground forces.  Presumably, the only war envisaged is at attack from North Korea (or on North Korea?).


South Korea has now asked for control over its military forces in wartime also (see Reuters report on 21 October 2005).  The Reuters report quotes US Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, as saying that “Washington was open to discussing Seoul’s desire to assume wartime control of its troops”.


David Morrison

Labour & Trade Union Review


31 October 2005