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International Law and International Organizations

Comparison of the CSTO and the SCO as institutions of international relations

Belousova Irina Sergeevna

Post-graduate student, the department of Sociology of International Relations, M. V. Lomonosov Moscow State University

119234, Russia, g. Moscow, ul. Leninskie Gory, 1, str. 33








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Abstract: The post-Soviet countries are one of the main directions of Russian foreign policy, and the problems of national and regional security are key to the current agenda. These issues are dealt with by several international organizations in the region, while their functions overlap and there is no clear coordination between them. As a result, it becomes necessary to set priorities for Russian diplomacy in relation to these organizations. The article compares two international security organizations - the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization - in terms of their effectiveness as institutions of international relations and compliance with Russian interests. The comparison is made through the history of the formation and development of these institutions, as well as the adopted regulatory documents and ongoing projects of the CSTO and the SCO. The scientific novelty of the research is the preference of one organization over another, while the result of most such studies is a statement about the need to make efforts for their parallel and full development. The author of the article comes to the conclusion that it is expedient to give priority to the development of the CSTO. The conclusion is made on the basis of the original goals of the founders of the organization, the alignment of forces in them, the dynamics of their development, their institutional problems and the elaboration of their conceptual documents.


social institution, international relations, social organization, national security, regional security, CSTO, SCO, postsoviet region, non-traditional security threats, national interest

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The topic of comparing international organizations such as the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) and the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) is widely discussed among specialists. It should be noted that in most works devoted to the analysis of the CSTO and the SCO, experts conclude that both organizations are "good" and should complement each other in an indefinite way. It seems more realistic that with the same vector of development, the CSTO and the SCO will compete for influence in Central Asia due to the almost complete identity of the composition, the same goals on the one hand, and the participation of ambitious China in the SCO on the other[1]. In addition, the placement of precise "accents", priorities of any foreign policy contributes to its orientation and consistency. Therefore, the question arises which organization has a great potential for development.

Since both organizations by their nature are social organizations on the one hand and social institutions on the other, we will analyze them through the concept and signs of a social organization and a social institution. Following the chosen methodological approach, we first indicate the definition of an organization within the framework of sociology:

A social organization is a kind of social group, a structurally ordered and mutually conditioned association of individuals and groups that function guided by a common goal and interests and subject to certain program plans. Unlike a social group, a social organization is created arbitrarily, it has one or more decision-making centers, as well as a formally fixed structure and distribution of powers[2].

A social institution and a social organization are not equal: an institution is a broader concept than an organization. At the same time, a social organization is a tool for the implementation of its functions by a social institution, and as the parts bear the signs of the whole, an institutional approach in one sense or another is applicable to the organization.

Due to the complexity of most modern social organizations, it seems that the first three approaches simplify their nature too much, although they remain relevant in their study. As we can see, the institutional and systemic approach have their own characteristics, and their application depends on the tasks of a particular study.

The definition of an international organization as a special case of a social organization is similar. Based on the studied literature , we will highlight several essential features of an international organization:

Association of two or more social groups of an international character;

Having a common goal. Note that the founders may have different motives, sometimes very different interests, but feasible in the presence of a mechanism of cooperation. However, the officially stated goals are always the same.

It is worth noting that by creating an international organization, States do not give it any special powers, but a mandate to act on their behalf. Thus, in most cases, an international organization for a State is a means of realizing its interests. In itself, the well-being of an organization often does not concern its members, which significantly affects the effectiveness of its work as an international institution.

Constancy of action. This is a sign that distinguishes an international organization from a forum, summit, temporary negotiations and consultations

Having an organizational structure, membership, its own staff, headquarters and its own staff. This feature is inherent in an international organization as a social organization designed to perform certain "institutional" functions assigned to it;

Availability of the charter. The Charter is a tool for consolidating and streamlining the activities of the organization;

International legal personality. According to the author, this feature is controversial, since not all public structures of an international scale are subjects of international law. This happens due to the lack of legal recognition of these organizations by other subjects of international law. At the same time, they actually perform the tasks assigned to them by their founders. Therefore, the criterion of the actual activity (albeit with different efficiency) of the organization seems to be more effective. Accordingly, the activity of the organization as a social institution consists of the realization of the collective will of its participants[3].

Note that both international organizations fully comply with the above formal but important features. Both the CSTO and the SCO have their own charters, Charters, headquarters. They are recognized by the UN and actively interact with it. Thus, we will conduct an analysis based on less formal criteria: the alignment of interests and values within organizations, their institutional problems and the elaboration of accepted agreements, as well as ongoing projects.

Comparative analysis of the effectiveness of the CSTO and the SCO

Ideas, values of participants and their national interests As you know, the socio-economic (and political) situation in the Central Asian region leaves much to be desired: in addition to socio-economic instability, the countries have faced large volumes of drug trafficking and the threat of extremism and terrorism. As you know, Russia does not have fortified borders with Kazakhstan, so it actually "shares" security threats with Central Asian states. Due to the international nature of non-traditional security challenges and the weak ability of Central Asian countries to cope with them, both Russia and the former post-Soviet countries have an urgent interest in strengthening their common defense capability, which is achieved with the help of international institutions such as international organizations. The PRC, due to ethnic and confessional tensions in the XUAR, also has a need to level these security challenges. It should be noted that the Central Asian countries also have a purely political interest in integration in the postSoviet space - this is maneuvering between strong powers (Russia, the USA, China) to obtain their economic and military-political benefits from them. In turn, China primarily sets the goal of its economic primacy in the region. There is an opinion among domestic and foreign experts that the SCO's advantage over the CSTO is the presence of China, which creates a counterweight to Russian "dominance" in it. In practice, this advantage seems to be controversial. An analysis of recent changes in the SCO so far shows the declarativeness of its existence, coupled with attempts to please "both ours and yours" (i.e., both Russia and China). So, in 2017, India and Pakistan were admitted to the SCO, the adoption of which was supported by the Russian Federation and the PRC, respectively[4]. Their membership excluded each other due to territorial disputes between India and Pakistan. Nevertheless, both countries have been accepted into the Organization, and it is difficult to judge whether this will have a positive impact on its functioning as an institution of international relations. In addition, the Development Strategy states that the SCO is a multidisciplinary organization that does not aim to create either an economic or a military-political union. At the same time, the "single Silk Road" is declared as an instrument of favorable economic cooperation of the SCO members[5]. It turns out that the contradictions of the main players of the SCO Russia and China have not been resolved (Russia stood for the military-political orientation of the SCO, China for the economic one). With its "versatility", the SCO began to resemble the CIS. At the same time, if the CIS has its own engine of development (the Russian Federation) and multiple historically established socio-economic and cultural ties, then in the SCO we see two poles of power that have united artificially for the sake of a diplomatic demonstration.

There is no doubt that the CSTO also suffers from the problems of the contradiction of the national interests of the participating countries and that it does not feel the consequences of the "consumer" attitude of its creators. As in the SCO, the CSTO has its own "centers of power" that drive the development of the Organization. Judging by the initiatives coming from the CSTO members, the most active countries here are the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Nevertheless, most experts agree that unlike the SCO, where Russia is forced to compete in power with China, its dominance in the CSTO is undeniable. Western commentators absolutize this factor: in their opinion, the CSTO is nothing more than a tool for the realization of Russian imperial ambitions[6]. It seems that such a vision of the issue does not correspond to reality. This will be illustrated in a detailed examination of the institutional problems of an Organization whose members freely use the consensus principle of decision-making, which significantly hinders the implementation of CSTO projects. In addition, the dominance of one of the players is not unnatural for an international organization (the United States freely dominates NATO, Germany and France in the EU). Another question is how the players themselves feel about this.

Thus, we see that as a social organization, the CSTO is more prosperous than the SCO: the gap of interests is not fundamental, it is also surmountable due to its insignificance and the presence of a prominent leader in the CSTO Russia.

Institutional problems of organizations

Let's consider the system of SCO and CSTO bodies, the order of their activities and formation. The analysis of the SCO documents concerning its institutions allows us to draw the following conclusions:

1) The supreme bodies of the SCO are not permanent. Moreover, they are rarely convened (for example, 1-3 times a year);

2) The system of SCO bodies is built according to the official levels of representatives of the member states[7]. On the one hand, its advantage is that it covers representatives of different levels of government (heads of State, heads of government, heads of foreign ministries, heads of relevant departments), which should facilitate coordination between them and the implementation of the agreements reached. On the other hand, the absence of existing permanent bodies specializing in their field of activity makes it impossible to implement large-scale and long-term projects that can significantly change the situation in the region;

3) Special attention should be paid to the shortcomings of the SCO rules of procedure. It is known that the principle of consensus greatly hinders the initiatives of the Organization (for example, Uzbekistan often uses its right of "veto"). At the same time, the SCO Charter implies the possibility to implement projects only for interested participants[8], which stimulates cooperation on a two- and three-way basis, but not the development of the Organization itself;

4) There is no mechanism within the SCO for financial support of its projects. The SCO Business Council has been established, which is convenient for concluding business contracts, and the Interbank Association (IBO), which consists of large banks of member countries and is designed to provide financial support for concluded transactions[9];

I must say that the CSTO also faces the problem of consensus, and here experts also cite the example of the delegation of Uzbekistan, which at one time used the veto to slow down the Organization's activities (when signing documents on the forces and means of the collective security system, CSR, the formation of a unified position of the Organization on Afghanistan)[10]. Nevertheless, in a more developed organizational structure we can find advantages over the SCO:

1) The bodies responsible for general issues of the Organization's activities (namely, the Collective Security Council) meet in sessions, and in the periods between sessions their activities are carried out by the Permanent Council;

2) The CSTO has the post of Secretary General, which is the dominant separate body and is directly accountable to the Collective Security Council;

3) There are also permanent advisory and executive bodies that have their own sphere of activity (combating drugs, illegal migration, emergencies, military-economic cooperation)[11].

So, we can conclude that as a social institution, the CSTO is stronger due to the constancy of the activities of its main bodies. In addition, the "division of labor", spheres of action in different profiles corresponds to the requirement of various tasks set by the creators of the social institutions in question.

Elaboration of strategies and concepts for the development of organizations

As mentioned earlier, a social organization is distinguished by activities according to a pre-planned plan. In the case of international organizations, these are the Charter (Charter) and Development Concepts.

The current Charters of the organizations were signed in 2001 (the SCO Charter) and 2002. (CSTO Charter). Let's pay attention to how they reflect the goals, objectives of international organizations and the principles of their actions. Based on the wording in the above-mentioned documents, it can be assumed that at the very beginning the functions of the CSTO as a security organization were clearly expressed[12]. At the same time, there is a rather vague understanding of the SCO's tasks. With a fairly specific formulation of the threats "three evils", drug trafficking, organized crime, illegal migration the field of activity of the Organization is quite widely designated, in fact, it is designed to deal with everything: military-political, economic and humanitarian cooperation [13]. It seems that, nevertheless, plans to create an organization of universal orientation, whose activities would be really effective, are unrealistic. This has been shown by the practice of dividing international organizations into their spheres of activity. In general, such vague formulations often "about everything" most often indicate the absence of a common vision for the future of the organization.

At the same time, some articles in the statutory documents speak of serious qualitative differences between the CSTO and the SCO. Here are excerpts containing the obligations of the participating countries and methods of implementing their tasks.

The CSTO Charter of 2002 develops the provisions of the CSTO Treaty of 1992, where Articles 1-4 bring the Organization closer to the status of a military bloc[14]. Aggression against one of its members will be considered as aggression against all other participating countries. A parallel with NATO is appropriate here: Articles 4-6 of the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949 contain similar provisions[15].

The conclusions drawn allow us to see a rather vivid contrast between the CSTO and the SCO. The SCO Charter prioritizes common phrases ("maintaining security in the region"), developing a common position on international issues, and coordinating efforts to combat security threats[16].

Thus, the analysis of the statutory documents of the organizations shows that when establishing the CSTO, the participants were guided by the goal of creating an organization of a well-defined profile, while assuming well-defined obligations. At the same time, the SCO was given all-encompassing functions without providing a legal basis for their implementation. The SCO Charter does not contain such a reserve, because its "forum" nature is visible from the emphasis on consultations and the development of common declarations of the participants. The general conclusion of the analysis is that the CSTO is a more promising international institution than the SCO.

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