Opinion | The SCO’s Clumsy Push to Disrupt the World Order

Opinion | The SCO’s Clumsy Push to Disrupt the World Order

It was a busy week for Washington’s foreign-policy elite. House Speaker

Nancy Pelosi

visited Armenia to express sympathy following a round of fighting with Azerbaijan that left an estimated 200 dead in their contested border regions. Before heading to London for Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, President Biden warned

Vladimir Putin

against using nuclear weapons in Ukraine and repeated that the U.S. will defend Taiwan with American troops if Beijing invades.

But the week’s biggest news didn’t come from Washington. It came from Samarkand, Uzbekistan, the fabled Silk Road city, where the eight nations that make up the Shanghai Cooperation Organization held their annual summit.

As Russian forces retreat in Ukraine, the Eurasian power balance is shifting.

Xi Jinping

is asking questions about the war, and Indian Prime Minister

Narendra Modi

is airing qualms. This is not a sign that things are going well for Mr. Putin. More significantly, while traveling to Samarkand, Mr. Xi stopped in neighboring Kazakhstan. A Russian military intervention in January quelled a revolt against President

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s

government. Mr. Putin undoubtedly hoped this would restore Russian power in a vast, resource-rich territory once part of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Xi doesn’t see things that way and expressed China’s undying support for Kazakhstan’s “independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.” He also said China would “categorically oppose the interference of any forces in the internal affairs of your country.” Translation from the euphemisms of professional diplomats: Hands off, Vlad.

In the 1920s and early 1930s,

Benito Mussolini

was the senior member of the Fascist alignment in Europe, with Hitler a minor figure. But Mussolini failed to develop Italy’s economic and military might while Hitler transformed Germany into a colossus. Mussolini shrank and Hitler grew. The Samarkand summit made clear that Mr. Putin is getting shorter while Mr. Xi is standing tall, at least for now.

That doesn’t mean Mr. Xi is preparing to dump Mr. Putin. Hitler grew to despise Mussolini—his grandiosity, his bad strategic choices, his weak army and his pathetic economy. But when Mussolini fell from power, Hitler stepped in to prop him up. China doesn’t have so many allies that it can afford to throw Russia under the bus.

The other message out of Samarkand is less encouraging. What is now the SCO began as a relatively informal association of the so-called Shanghai Five (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) in 1996. In 2001 the founders plus Uzbekistan created the more ambitious Shanghai Cooperation Organization. India and Pakistan joined in 2017, and as the challenge to world order has grown, the organization has become more significant.

It is still growing. Iran will become a permanent member next year, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he hopes his country will join. Last week the SCO displayed its clout, hosting important negotiations that affect American interests—with no American officials at the table.

Yet while the leaders in Samarkand toasted one another, warning signs were flashing from Ethiopia across the Middle East into Eastern Europe and West Asia. Iran’s drive for supremacy has plunged much of the Middle East into state failure and war. The American withdrawal from Afghanistan left behind a humanitarian nightmare and a security threat for the neighbors. Massive floods have exacerbated what was already one of the most serious crises in Pakistan’s unhappy history.

With the great powers distracted, new battles erupt. Armenia and Azerbaijan weren’t the only former Soviet republics engaged in shooting last week. Hostilities broke out between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan over their disputed borders, with up to 100 deaths and more than 100,000 civilians evacuated.

Mr. Putin’s war hasn’t destabilized only Eastern Europe. From the Middle East to Central Asia, governments face discontent as supply shocks raise food and energy prices. From Turkey to Kazakhstan, countries whose economies have deep ties to Russia struggle to navigate Western sanctions. The soaring dollar and global inflation make matters worse. This will be a bitterly hard and hungry winter for millions.

Russia, China and Iran all seek to disrupt the international system. Yet they have no positive agenda to propose. In Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, Iranian meddling produces only misery and ruin. Mr. Putin’s attack on Ukraine has weakened Russia, and greater upheavals may be in store. China’s saber-rattling over Taiwan has galvanized a stronger alliance against it. Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the two countries who tied their futures most closely to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, have fallen into deep crisis.

If SCO nations seriously want a new international system, they will have to do much better than this.

Journal Editorial Report: Paul Gigot interviews military analyst Seth Jones. Image: Sputnik via Reuters

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