The Consequences of Communication

Shanghai Cooperation Organization

The Consequences of Communication

Kerri Matulis
The Harriman Institute, Columbia University

To start the new year, we'll be sharing a selection of thought pieces from Consortium Fellows who participated in our most recent Consortium Module, hosted by St Antony's College, University of Oxford.

In discussing her book, The Challenge of Authoritarian Regionalism, Anastasia Obydenkova outlined those international factors affecting the development and disintegration of autocracies, namely through international organizations. While Obydenkova examined numerous regional non-democratic organizations, such as the CIS and EEU, the SCO, personally, proved most controversial. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), with Russia and China as key members, largely implements a security agenda, supporting authoritarian consolidation with appeals to stability, fighting terrorism, and protecting sovereignty. In so doing, the SCO directly challenges Western-espoused universal human rights norms and values. As Professor Alexander Cooley noted, the rhetoric of the organization allows for countries to bypass international human rights standards in the name of thwarting terrorism, separatism, and extremism. This has resulted in extra-territorial provisions and the blacklisting and identification of terrorists, who, in many cases, simply represent domestic opponents.

Although no particular ideology underlies the mission of the organization, this securitization framework offers human rights offenders an appealing and appreciated alternative to the largely Western-supported values system. How is the EU, for example, to counter the SCO and its rhetoric? How can those countries, advocating for liberal-democratic standards, reconcile their views and values with those of non-democratic organizations and states?

With the rise of illiberal democracies and populism, these questions will remain pertinent in the coming years, and, unfortunately, no easy answers exist. However, we must begin to examine and address our differences through honest dialogue. Although assuredly difficult to master, consistent, open dialogue may prove the only way to resolve the supposed clash and conflict in our values.

Together with empathy, listening was critical to our discussions and activities at this Consortium Module. Nevertheless, we should not underestimate the usefulness of these skills beyond our small circle of students and researchers. We cannot be so naïve to think that such skills will solve every problem, particularly those affecting complicated relations between Russia, Europe, and the United States. However, without communication, we can assure further division and isolation, consistent calls for non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, and, likely, repeated human rights violations.