This month, Russia hosted back-to-back meetings of two organizations representing “emerging powers” on the global scene. The first of the two, both held in Yekaterinburg, was a meeting of the heads of state of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is made up of Russia, China and the four central Asian states (and former Soviet republics) of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. In 2006, Iran, India, Pakistan and Mongolia were inducted as observer states and expected to become full members soon. The presidents of the four observer countries, including Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, were all in attendance at the Yekaterinburg meeting. (When the U.S. originally applied for observer status at the SCO, it was turned down).
As I mention in Chapter 9 (“America’s New Rivals”), the SCO is nominally an alliance of “good neighborliness and friendly cooperation” but many observers see it as a counterbalance to NATO and perhaps to the EU. In 2003, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao proposed a long-term goal of turning the organization into a free trade area, reminiscent of the early phases of the EU.
The alliance already includes countries occupying three-fifths of the Eurasian landmass, and an expansion that would bring together China, Russia, India and Iran would be an imposing global force. Furthermore, it would bring together some of the world’s major oil reserves in Iran, Russia and the Caspian Sea. Some analysts see a strategic and economic effort among these countries to reduce the U.S. hold on the region’s energy resources. China and India, as the world’s fastest-growing energy consumers, may want to secure central Asia’s energy resources for their own economies. Iran and Russia, two of the world’s largest energy suppliers, want to reduce their dependence on sales to the West.
The idea of challenging Western (and especially U.S.) global dominance was evident in the communiqué from the meeting—The Yekaterinburg Declaration—which proclaimed that
“the tendency towards true multipolarity is irreversible. There is a growing significance of the regional aspect in settling global problems.”
Russia’s long-expressed opposition to “unilateralism” and “unipolarity” is a not-so-subtle swipe at the United States. Moscow’s preference for alternate configurations was evident in a second meeting in Yekaterinburg, right after the SCO assembly. This was the inaugural summit of the so-called “BRIC” countries—the emerging economic powers of Brazil, Russia, India and China. Russian president Dmitry Medvedev was perhaps guilty of hyperbole in calling the summit “the epicenter of world politics” but there is no doubt this is a formidable foursome. According to The Economist, the BRIC’s share of world output leapt from 16% in 2000 to 22% last year. For the last decade, GDP growth in the BRICs has outpaced that of the world, and of emerging and developing economies (see The Economist charts above). These four countries alone control about 40 percent of global currency reserves.
During the summit, the leaders talked about assuming more say in global policy-making; reforming the International Monetary Fund; and a plan to switch some of their foreign currency reserves out of dollars and into IMF bonds (an idea which is also the subject of much discussion in China). As the New York Times observed, the BRIC summit was
“intended to underscore the rising economic clout of these four major developing countries and their demand for a greater voice in the world. And Russia, the group’s host and ideological provocateur, is especially interested in using the summit to fire a shot across Washington’s bow.”