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Interstate Rivalries in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization: Trust Building and Reinforcement as Impetus for Rivalry De-escalation

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posted on 2021-06-10, 10:11 authored by James MacHaffie
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is a relatively new intergovernmental organization but has demonstrated its staying power over the past nineteen years, despite internal contradictions, such as competition among its members. Relations between these countries have always been fractious at best, especially since the fall of the Soviet Union, and the onset of independence among the Central Asian states.

This thesis examines the presence of interstate rivalries among the six founding members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization: China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan and the role, if any, the organization has played in de-escalating the rivalry impulses among them.

Through the case study method, and using process tracing, the research determined there are at least six dyadic rivalries that exist among these states. However, despite the presence of such triggers for conflict escalation as nondemocratic regimes, territorial disputes, and contested control of resources, none of these potential rivalries have escalated such joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. In fact, the rivalries seem to have de-escalated tensions in some ways.

This thesis argues that it is the SCO itself that helps to build and imbed trust among its members. This trust is reinforced over time through specific mechanisms such as summitry and joint military exercises. In this way rivalry impulses are tamped down among the SCO’s member states, and rivalry backsliding – the reemergence of the rivalry after it has de-escalated or terminated – is prevented.

The research is premised on the hypothesis that rivalries did form but have been restrained through the structural framework that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization amalgamates among its members: specifically, their interactions in formal settings, which are repeated consistently, over a prolonged number of years. This thesis adds new knowledge to the study of interstate rivalries and the SCO.



Helen Dexter; Tara McCormack; Jon Moran; Ben Zala

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of History, Politics, and International Relations

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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