Iranian Defense Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani suggested that the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a Eurasian geopolitical organization, increase its role as a maritime organization, with the goal of projecting its power against the West.
Iran recently joined the SCO, which serves as one of several organizations that China and Russia seek to use to push the international system towards being multi-polar, designed to supplant the US. BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and CICA (Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia) are also used as conduits to this end.
The SCO, which works on economic and defense issues, is considered the world’s largest regional organization in terms of both geography and population. It includes China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan, as well as India and Pakistan, with Iran being the most recent addition in 2022.
Last year, an article at Brussels-based think tank Centre for Youth and International Studies (CYIS) noted that “maritime security cooperation is a viable area of activity between the SCO and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Within the SCO, Iran, Pakistan, India, China and Russia are coastal states, while Southeast Asia is at the junction of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.”
This important article noted that “the combined maritime space of these organizations comprises the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean, and Pacific Ocean. This shared maritime space presents several non-traditional security challenges to both organizations, such as piracy, terrorism at sea, illegal migration, illegal fishing, smuggling and man-made or natural disasters to name a few.
“Thus, the SCO and ASEAN are well-positioned to collaborate to address these shared security challenges as a larger Greater Eurasian Security Community,” it added.
Pushing for increased maritime security
Yet, so far the SCO does not have a maritime security mechanism. Now, the pro-Iran, pro-Syria Al-Mayadeen news channel reported that Ashtiani is pushing for more muscular defense initiatives by SCO. This move is part of Iran’s new tactics in Oman, and also in Beirut, which was recently visited by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.
“Shanghai has become an influential organization in global developments and equations, whose expansion and strengthening can be an effective measure in promoting and advancing multilateralism in the international arena,” Ashtiani said. “We can deal with common security challenges and threats in the region and the world.”
Now the Iranians want to use the SCO to increase defense and military cooperation, they want India to play a part in this as well. But India is close to the West and is also a strategic partner of Israel, so that might prove a challenge.
India also works with the I2U2 group and the Quad, a group that includes Australia, India, Japan and the US. But Iran has a different mission, as well as a defense minister that says that the world is no longer run by the West, it is no longer unipolar and is dominated by the US.
Ashtiani wants the SCO to promote global pluralism and what he sees as a balance of power, and hopes to influence the creation of a Shanghai ‘maritime security belt,’ as a large part of global trade is linked to the SCO.
According to Ashtiani, “It is time for global multilateralism and balance of power.”