As the Russia – West confrontation continues without any signs of an end, many experts, academicians, and politicians seek to grasp the contours of the emerging new world order. Some believe that, in the end, a new bipolar world will emerge dominated by China and the US, while Russia will be forced to choose between these states based on the outcome of the Russia – Ukraine war. If the West can impose a strategic defeat on Russia and bring about a regime change, Russia will be in the West’s camp against China. Otherwise, the Kremlin will be a junior partner of China, supplying Beijing with cheap raw materials and getting access to Chinese funds and technologies.
Others argue that the future world order will be multipolar, with no fixed alliances, and several key players will pursue temporary cooperation with each other based on short-term needs. One thing is clear: the finalization of the new world order will take years and decades, and till then, instability and strategic ambiguity will be the primary features of the world.
Meanwhile, several non-Western organizations continue to increase their power and potential, in line with the strategic pattern of a shift of power from the West to the East. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is among these new groupings. The organization was established in 2001 and was perceived as a tool to manage Russia – China relations in Central Asia. At that time, China was still an emerging regional power, while Russia still was seeking ways to cooperate with the West. However, over the last 10-15 years, the SCO gained additional momentum as one of the emerging poles of the changing world order, adding economic cooperation and anti-terrorist activities to its core functions.
The significant milestone for the organization was the full membership of India and Pakistan, which transformed the SCO into a significant regional actor in Asia, playing the role of another platform for discussions between Russia, China, and India, alongside the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and Russia – China – India trilateral dialogues. India is cautious not to be associated with anything anti-Western, as it is interested in continuing its strategic partnership with the US. However, India also does not want the return to a unipolar world dominated by the US, nor is it interested in finding itself in a new bipolar US–China cold war, where it has to choose between Washington and Beijing.
In this context, the full membership of Iran in the SCO, finalized during the July 2023 summit, will inject additional momentum into the organization, making it a more powerful vehicle for cooperation and dialogue in Asia. Given the tensions between Tehran and Washington, Iran’s membership may add more anti-Western patterns to the organization. However, India and Central Asian republics will be careful not to cross the line between fostering regional cooperation and pursuing a blatant anti-Western policy. Meanwhile, as Iran has friendly relations with Russia, China, and India, its membership in the SCO may play a positive role in balancing the interests of these three behemoths.
Iran’s membership in SCO will also impact the regional geopolitics of the South Caucasus. This region gradually is emerging as one of the primary areas of US – Russia confrontation in the post-Soviet world, as Washington seeks to decrease Russia’s influence and presence there. Russia also faces increased competition from Turkey as Ankara pushes forward its strategic partnership with Azerbaijan and trilateral Azerbaijan – Georgia – Turkey cooperation.