Russia and China Will Deploy 500 Weapons Systems in Joint Military Exercise

Russia, China and a handful of other regional powers will deploy around 3,000 troops and 500 weapons systems for joint counterterror exercises that will take place in Russia's Ural Mountains in August, Russia's military announced Monday.

Members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), an intergovernmental entity that seeks to foster military and intelligence sharing, will participate in the drills. The organization is composed of Russia, China, India and Pakistan, as well as Central Asian countries Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

The SCO, created in 2001, is one of the world's largest multilateral military organizations. China, which has been actively working to expand its influence around the globe, has been the driving force behind the organization during its nearly two decades. Nevertheless, the organization's aims and achievements are nebulous, and some experts say the organization's main players, Russia and China, don't agree on what the organization's goals are.

"The politics are a little tricky, because you have to distinguish between China and Russia. For Russia it's a revisionist platform to challenge the U.S. liberal order, they question hot spots of security, talk about countering U.S. hegemony. For the Chinese, they are strategic partners with Russia and they agree that there is a multipolar world now, but the Chinese have always tried to temper the idea of it being an anti-NATO organization," Alexander Cooley, an expert on the Eurasia region at Columbia University, told Newsweek.

"It's not a problem-solving discussion forum because it operates on consensus. So they don't talk about hard stuff because it's not a problem-solving forum and China and Russia themselves are not on the same page. It reacts rather than agenda sets," Cooley added.

On its website, the organization lists a plethora of goals, including "strengthening mutual trust and neighborliness among the member states; promoting their effective cooperation in politics, trade, the economy, research, technology and culture, as well as in education, energy, transport, tourism, environmental protection, and other areas; making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region; and moving towards the establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new international political and economic order."

In reality, however, the organization's most visible achievement is the military drills it hosts every two years in one of the member states. Still, China has said the organization is responsible for having boosted trade between members by almost 21 percent in the first quarter of 2018, compared to the 19-percent yearly growth in 2017.

Officials from Beijing also suggested that the organization could help foster better relationships between members India and Pakistan, both of which are nuclear-armed powers engaged in a slowly simmering conflict that experts warn could erupt at any moment. Both countries joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization last year, and some experts say their interactions within the organization could be one of the most significant recent developments.

"India and Pakistan element is interesting. They've imported this intractable problem," Cooley noted.

China will host a meeting of the organization's members on June 9-10.