SCO displays counterforce to NATO


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

"Rival to Nato" begins first military exercise

By Tony Halpin - Timesonline

Russian and Chinese troops are joining forces this week in the first military 
exercises by an international organisation that is regarded in some quarters as 
a potential rival to Nato.

Thousands of soldiers and 500 combat vehicles will take part in ³Peace Mission 
2007², organised by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in the 
Chelyabinsk region of Russia. Russian officials have also proposed an alliance 
between the SCO and a body representing most of the former Soviet republics.

Scores of Russian and Chinese aircraft begin joint exercises tomorrow before a 
week of military manoeuvres from Thursday that will include Tajikistan, 
Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. At least 6,500 troops are involved in what is 
described as an antiterror exercise.

Colonel-General Vladimir Moltenskoi, the deputy commander of Russian ground 
forces, said: ³The exercise will involve practically all SCO members for the 
first time in its history.²

Staff officers from Uzbekistan, the sixth SCO member, will also attend in what 
is being regarded as a major extension of the organisation¹s capabilities. The 
SCO was founded as a nonmilitary alliance in 2001 to combat drugs and weapons 
smuggling as well as terrorism and separatism in the region. It has since 
developed a role in regional trade and is increasingly regarded by Moscow and 
Beijing as a counterweight to US global influence.

The secretary-general of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) 
called last week for joint military exercises with the SCO. Nikolai Bordyuzha 
said that the body representing Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, 
Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan should work with the SCO to guarantee security
across the region. Mr Bordyuzha has already announced a CSTO plan to create a 
large military force capable of assisting a member state in the event of an 
attack. A rapid-reaction force is already based in Central Asia and there are 
plans for a common air defence system covering most of the former Soviet Union.

Leaders of SCO member states will meet in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, next week
for their annual summit. Turkmenistan will also attend for the first time, while
Mongolia, Iran, India and Pakistan have observer status.

Igor Ivanov, the head of Russian security, played down concerns in May that the 
SCO was evolving into a military alliance to counter the expansion of Nato into 
Asia as part of the War on Terror. But MPs on the Foreign Affairs Select 
Committee expressed fears last year that the West could be on a collision course
in the struggle for energy resources with ³an authoritarian bloc opposed to 
democracy² that was based on an alliance between China and Russia.

A newly assertive Russia, flush with oil and gas revenues, is moving rapidly to 
increase its military capability amid tensions with the West over missile 
defence and Nato expansion. Almost £100 billion has been set aside for 
rearmament over the next eight years.

At the ready
$24.9bn Russian defence budget 2006
395,000 on active service in army
142,000 in active service in navy
160,000 on active service in air force

$35.3bn Chinese defence budget
1.6m Army
255,000 Navy
400,000 Air force

$535bn US defence budget
595,946 Army
376,750 Navy
347,400 Air force
Source: International Institute for Strategic Studies
[Published August 6, 2007, link]

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