The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

When do we get to call it “balancing”?

August 16, 2007

I’ve expressed skepticism in the past about the idea that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization represents counterbalancing against the United States. And I still believe that the primary purpose of the organization isn’t to function as a NATO-like block, but more as an alternative or “exit” option for public goods provided by the US.

But The rhetoric certainly sounds an awful lot like, if not balancing, then some sort of proto-balancing.

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – The leaders of Russia, China and Iran said Thursday that Central Asia should be left alone to manage its stability and security — an apparent warning to the United States to avoid interfering in the strategic, resource-rich region.

The veiled warning came at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and on the eve of major war games between Russia and China.

The SCO was created 11 years ago to address religious extremism and border security in Central Asia, but in recent years, with countries such as Iran signing on as observers, it has grown into a bloc aimed at defying U.S. interests in the region.

“Stability and security in Central Asia are best ensured primarily through efforts taken by the nations of the region on the basis of the existing regional associations,” the leaders said in a statement at the end of the organization’s summit in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, attending the summit for the second consecutive year, criticized U.S. plans to put parts of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe as a threat to the entire region.

“These intentions go beyond just one country. They are of concern for much of the continent, Asia and SCO members,” he said.

Washington has said the system would help protect against potential Iranian missiles.

Russian President Vladimir Putin didn’t mention the United States in his speech, but he said that “any attempts to solve global and regional problems unilaterally are hopeless.”

He also called for “strengthening a multi-polar international system that would ensure equal security and opportunities for all countries” — comments echoing Russia’s frequent complaints that the United States dominates world affairs.

Even if we reject the full notion of “soft balancing”, we still might consider attempts to substitute for the US–and therefore to erode its influence–as something akin to balancing.

So, here’s the question: at what point would we declare that the SCO, and related policies, amount to counter-balancing, and what’s the justification for your particular threshold?

Image source:

website | + posts

Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.