In this issue:
- REVIEW: Reviving Dialogue and Trust in the OSCE in 2018
- REPORT: Slovakia’s OSCE Chairmanship – strategies and challenges
- POLEMICS: Does the OSCE have the credibility to resolve conflicts in Europe?
Reviving Dialogue and Trust in the OSCE in 2018
STRATPOL Brief Review
At times when Europe is facing arguably the greatest challenges to its security in the last three decades, a discussion about cooperative security on the continent is more relevant than ever. Such cooperation is embodied by the largest and most prominent regional security organisation in the world, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). And such discussion is especially relevant for Slovakia as it chairs the organisation in 2019 with high ambitions. While ambition might be high, Nünlist’s paper reminds the deep structural challenges the OSCE faces and offers guidelines for reform that might be hard to swallow for some.
First things first, calls for reform and reviving trust in the OSCE are not scarce. With every year several more are published, highlighting the inability of the organisation to transform. But as the author reminds, since 2014 the Ukraine crisis is both “a curse and an opportunity” for the OSCE to change.
It is a curse because it is clearly a negative turning point in European security. The annexation of Crimea violated the principle of inviolability of borders, a principle upon which lies the value-based system of European security and the OSCE. The relations between Moscow and the West are at their lowest in decades, making life very difficult for the consensus-based organisation.
However, it is also a blessing, it pushed the OSCE back into the spotlight. For the first time in 11 years, the Organisation agreed on a new field mission in Ukraine. It is doing better and is more relevant than several years ago. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission still plays a central role in the Ukraine peace process.
There are other positive developments as well: the conventional arms control is an important pillar of European security and stability; the Economic Connectivity concept revitalised the traditionally neglected second pillar and more countries volunteer to chair the organisation. The OSCE is, nonetheless, still less relevant than before 1999.
The biggest obstacle is the lack of political will because there is, for a long time now, no common view on European security. There are many common threats – instability in the MENA region resulting in migration; the rise of domestic threats with growing populism, radicalisation, and xenophobia; weakening of the EU with Brexit and more. However, there is no common view on solutions.
With the strategic rivalry between U.S. and China, uncertain role of the U.S. in the world and reorientation of NATO back to Article 5 responsibilities, there is a growing need for Europeans to assume a more active role in its security. But the consensus-based OSCE cannot contribute to this effort effectively without the political will of its members.
Nünlist offers a way out for re-establishing trust in the organisation through the Structured Dialogue (SD) process. He argues that after the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, the CSCE (the predecessor of OSCE) proved that a consensus-based dialogue can establish a common modus vivendi and prevent an escalation in Europe.
He suggests that the strategy of the OSCE for the 21st century should be updated to reflect a common view on threats and solutions in order to find this common modus vivendi again. He goes as far as suggesting for the overly euphoric 1990 Charter of Paris to be updated to reflect this common view.
In this context, Nünlist reminds that “Willingness to listening to each other, and readiness to compromise, trust-building and finding a new modus vivendi should not be mistaken for appeasement or a renegotiation of the Helsinki Principles of 1975. Helsinki 1975 must be upheld.”
The author also offers some clever track 2 efforts in this realm. The continuation of the analysis of the historical narratives of European security, trying to find common ground and preventing misunderstandings in one example. But a thorough and well-designed public relations strategy would be necessary.
European security seems to be turning to a zero-sum game thinking, an environment in which the win-win thinking of the OSCE is doomed to fail. The handful of topics on which the countries can agree – combating terrorism, organised crime or cyber threats – signal that cooperation is based on common short-term interests rather than common values.
Unfortunately, the question of values lies in the heart of the crisis of OSCE. The values of human rights and liberal democracy created tension especially with its field missions east of Vienna. However, the third ‘human dimension’ is an essential element making the OSCE what it is and field presence is its traditional strength. It seems that increasingly these are not the common values in maintaining European security.
Christian Nünlist is a seasoned analyst and expert on the post-Cold War European security and reform of the OSCE. In his article, he offers much more insight, for example on the internal institutional ills of the Organisation. In the end, however, lack of trust, political will and common values in European security is what lies behind the OSCE paralysis. The paper is also not short of informed recommendations – stronger political leadership, dynamic chairmanship bridging the East and West or a new generation and small and flexible missions are great ways to make the OSCE more relevant.
Nonetheless, only finding a new common modus vivendi and rethinking the basis of European security could solve the current problem. This is guaranteed to be a painful and complicated process for all. In the meantime, we should stick to the evergreen: “one should not expect too much from the weakly equipped, consensus-based OSCE (…) A sober reality check is paramount.”
Author: Ondřej Zacha
Slovakia’s OSCE Chairmanship – strategies and challenges
On the onset of the New Year, Slovakia took up a new diplomatic challenge. For the first time in history, the country assumed the Chairmanship of the world’s largest security-oriented organisation – the OSCE. The chairing state not only acts as an external representative but also has an exclusive opportunity to develop the organization’s internal agenda considering its national foreign-policy perspectives.
Briefed @OSCE Permanent Council on priorities of #Slovakia today. 1/ We’ll focus on how conflict is mediated, resolved & prevented – as well as on people who are living through it. 2/ we need to prepare for “a Safer Future”. 3/ we need a recommitment to effective multilateralism pic.twitter.com/ZPbxsXqUvn
— Miroslav Lajčák (@MiroslavLajcak) January 10, 2019
Given the fact that the OSCE has 57 participating states and 11 partners for cooperation from three continents, reaching a consensus in decision making requires a reasonable mediation. Successful conduct of this task is expected from the Chairman-in-Office, in this case, Slovakia’s Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák. Having built an outstanding career in diplomatic service and international institutions, he is well-recognized and highly respected. Conflict prevention, a safer future, and efficient multilateralism became the program priorities of Slovakia’s Chairmanship. All three dimensions – the politico-military, economic and environmental, and human – are contained in the slogan “Slovakia 2019: For people, dialogue and stability.”
Firstly, a universal approach is necessary for preventing imminent conflicts, mediating existing ones and mitigating their consequences, all while focusing on affected people. The top priority of the Chairmanship is to reduce tensions and promote dialogue in Ukraine, where the bilateral commitments have not been fully implemented. A related point to consider is that possible escalations could directly affect Slovakia, being a member of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine as well as its bordering country. Moreover, there still are unresolved conflicts in Georgia, Transdniestria and Nagorno Karabakh requiring international assistance, peacebuilding, and inclusive development. Not to forget, Slovakia appeals to maintain the process of transformation and Euro-Atlantic integration of the Western Balkans. In this region, the field missions will reinforce reforms of security and education and will observe any potential negative movements within the societies.
Regarding the provision for a safer common future, the organization must promptly react to both societal and technological trends. Growing radicalization, intolerance, and discrimination as the main preconditions for spreading terrorism depend upon all security dimensions and, therefore, need to be handled comprehensively. Along with the engagement of extremism experts, the participation of youth in policy-making is essential. Likewise, the OSCE will face numerous challenges originated from the cyberspace and digital transformation. Slovakia will attempt to overcome differing attitudes of the respective countries and coordinate sustainable controlling mechanisms for the online sphere.
Finally, the 2019 Chairmanship will promote dialogue among states as well as with non-state actors as the most basic, yet the most powerful tool of effective multilateralism. Improved communication among international organizations – the OSCE, UN, EU, Council of Europe, NATO, CSTO, and OECD – should result in the establishment of cooperative rather than competitive environment. On the other hand, the OSCE seeks to prioritize its activities, adopting fit-for-purpose strategies and internal administrative reforms. To illustrate the current inefficient practice, this year’s organization’s budget is once again provisional, since the states have failed to reach a consensus over its financing. Functioning operation would contribute to the strengthening of mutual trust, responsibility and respect towards commonly agreed commitments.
Another challenging task for Lajčák’s office arises within the Slovak borders. To some extent, the civil society has found itself in an ideological conflict over the direction of the country’s foreign policy. Half of the population runs hot and cold about being pro-Western and pro-Eastern, hence wishes to preserve geopolitical neutrality. Under these circumstances and holding OSCE Chairmanship, Slovakia has a unique opportunity to act as a “bridge between the East and the West” and to open space for multilateral dialogue.
To conclude, in its priorities for 2019 OSCE Chairmanship, Slovakia succeeded to reflect the changing security environment. Via dialogue, trust, and stability in the OCSE area, the accomplishment of the set ambitions would finally move the organization to the everyday realities of the twenty-first century.
Author: Kristína Urbanová
Does the OSCE have the credibility to resolve conflicts in Europe?
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is the largest and most prominent regional security organisation in the world. It functions, in various forms, for nearly 45 years and strives to achieve security in Europe. It is engaged in most conflicts in and around the old continent. But it is also burdened by a loss of relevance, institutional ambiguity, and frequent paralysis. The Organisation reflects the crisis of European security order and most of the conflicts it is engaged in remain unresolved. It is thus the right question to ask whether the OSCE is credible to resolve conflicts in Europe.
OSCE lacks credibility to resolve conflicts in Europe
In the last 15 years, the OSCE has proven multiple times that it is unable to foresee and effectively resolve any crises, even in areas where its presence is relatively strong (such as Ukraine). This problem is rooted in two basic areas: firstly, the member states are not willing to participate in a constructive dialogue and secondly, the OSCE lacks institutional tools to create any legitimate pressure on its members, magnifying the first problem.
Since every activity of OSCE is based on consensual decisions, any of its 57 members can halt its activities. The probability that this will happen in the increasingly divided international arena is very high, making the OSCE unable to push any legitimate agenda. What remains is a group of states that agree solely on the necessity of action that never comes. This mechanism has been used a number of times to prevent the OSCE from doing its job (the 2010 Astana summit comes to mind).
This problem is nothing new. The OSCE is in crisis since the 2000 Vienna Ministerial Council Meeting. Newly elected Vladimir Putin saw the OSCE as a Western agent trying to forcefully democratise the Eastern European countries. Harsh criticism and obstruction from the Russian Federation started to undermine the Organisation’s standing and unleashed calls for structural reform.
Even though talks about internal reforms started in the early 2000s, there have been no actual steps taken. In 2015, marking the 40th anniversary of OSCE, the organization came up with the “Resolution on Helsinki +40: Building the OSCE of the Future”. The document decried lack of international legal personality, dysfunctional decision-making procedures and lack of tools and mandate. According to the European Parliament, there is no consensus on a possible reform in sight. So, in nearly 20 years, no progress has been made.
Without reform, the OSCE remains an organization with a very little room to manoeuvre. Even if the Permanent Council agrees on something binding, the commitment for members is ‘only’ political, not legal, which leads to empty promises being broken. Thus, only public pressure remains as the OSCE Secretariat’s only enforcing mechanism. However, even this is rarely used because the Organisation tries to avoid angering the member states. What remains is a combination of different mediating mechanisms which fail hard without political goodwill of participants.
These ‘soft’ tools are powerless in the face of a resolute use of hard power. This fact was highlighted in the Russian-Georgian war in 2008. The OSCE was unable to deescalate tensions, even though it had a strong presence in Georgia since 1992. The events in Georgia also showed OSCE’s unwillingness to anger Russia. In 2007, Russian warplane fired a missile over Georgia’s territory and even though independent Swedish and Polish experts showed evidence of this aggression, the OSCE stated that, given to conflicting stories, it was „difficult to know what happened.“ The OSCE’s weakness was used by Russia as evidence of exoneration and showed reluctance of the international community to confront Russian aggression. Not only is Russia disrespecting the OSCE, it often tries to use it as a tool in its aggressive foreign policy. The Ukrainian crisis is riddled with incidents of the Russian intelligence agencies’ ex-employees.
The final sign of complete disillusionment with the OSCE can be seen on its budget. A decline from the 2000s €211 million to €138 million in 2018 speaks for itself.
Fragmentation and unwillingness in policy making, lack of tools to create legitimate pressure, no political will to reform and lack of respect towards the OSCE makes it fundamentally unreliable to resolve conflicts in Europe. If the OSCE is to survive, it has to undergo radical reform, otherwise, its activities will be overtaken by other, more capable organisations.
The OSCE is credible enough to solve conflicts in Europe
The OSCE, the child of the Cold War, and the outcome of the Helsinki Conference, whose services were abundantly used in the Balkans in the 1990s, lost on importance during first years of the new millennia. However, the OSCE experienced a comeback in connection with the biggest security threat facing Europe since the end of the Cold War – the Ukrainian conflict. A question arises whether this organization is credible enough to solve conflicts on the European soil.
One of the strengths of the OSCE is its member base. It is the largest regional security organization in the world and the only pan-European organization which brings together all Western and Eastern European countries together with overseas countries relevant to the European security system. Its geographical diversity, which extends from Vancouver to Vladivostok and includes all the Asian republics of the former USSR, makes it an ideal platform for dialogue. The Cold war taught us how important it is to sustain dialogue between belligerent sides in the times of mutual distrust.
Its advantage is the inclusivity and existence of platform which offers a space for equal dialogue, mainly for Russia which was able to maintain its position as an equal partner in US-led diplomacy. The OSCE was activated as the main tool of “soft power” in conflict also thanks to flexible bureaucracy in Vienna. The OSCE has also deployed special monitoring mission, whose mandate is continuously extended, in the area. It has played the role of a mediator and the overarching dialogue between Russia and Ukraine about the situation in the east of Ukraine. In this role, the “honest broker” was accepted by the Ukrainian Pro-Russian separatists, Russia, and Western states. The organization has also become a part of the Trilateral contact group composed of representatives of Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE. Within it, the most important documents were agreed on, opening the way for de-escalation, stabilization and the start of progressive management of the crisis. The OSCE has also become an important guarantor of the Minsk Agreements and had been essential to maintaining communication channels to ease tensions.
The OSCE also proved to be a trustworthy and complementary partner to other organizations which are crucial for European security infrastructure – NATO and the EU. NATO identifies the OSCE as a key partner and considers the OSCE a platform for building dialogue and mutual trust. The Alliance´s goal is to deepen the cooperation as was decided at the Warsaw summit in 2016. Practical cooperation was most important in Western Balkans during the 1990s where these organizations collaborated closely on missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia. The European Communities have been closely associated with the CSCE, the predecessor of the OSCE since the beginning. The OSCE was formalized and was granted a seat next to the participating State holding the rotating EU Presidency. Both organizations co-work on a wide range of security issues and the cooperation has recently deepened with the implementation of the EU´s Common Foreign and Security Policy, according to which the OSCE is at the heart of the European security system.
OSCE already proved its worth in the Balkans during the wars caused by the breakup of former Yugoslavia. Its efforts to suppress the overwhelming effects of these conflicts have been followed by continuing relief and post-conflict reconciliation. Today, the OSCE`s field missions continue to operate practically in all countries of the region. It supports reforms and cooperation necessary for long-term stability of the region through its activities supporting democratic institutions and governance, mainly through the strengthening of the rule of law, supporting minority integration, fight against violent extremism, and regular reporting to the OSCE Secretariat and participating States.
The OSCE has already proven its value in many instances including the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Moreover, it has been a crucial component of the European security infrastructure for decades now and represents a unique platform for diplomatic conflict resolution.
OSCE`s comprehensive approach to the security involving military, political, economic, human and environmental aspects makes the organisation not only credible but also indispensable in the new European security environment as it provides the framework necessary for creating a system of early warning, post-conflict recovery, prevention and dealing with structural causes of conflict.
Authors: Matyas Bajer and Dominik Novosad
Responsible editors: Ondřej Zacha and Matúš Jevčák
Graphic: Ondřej Zacha
Ukraine Sepratists Crisis Slovyansk ATO | Sasha Maksymenko / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Helsinki Accords Signing | Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-P0801-026 (CC-BY-SA 3.0)
Bratislava – host of the OSCE Ministerial Council 2019 | OSCE
Serbian Prime Minister Vučić Addresses OSCE Foreign Ministers in Belgrade | US government work / Flickr
Ukraine army cuts off main road to Sloviansk | Sasha Maksymenko / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Ford signing accord with Brehznev, November 24, 1974 | White House Photograph Courtesy Gerald R. Ford Library
OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine | Flickr
STRATPOL ViewPoints is a project which seeks to address the most important international politics and security affairs of today. In every issue, you can find a Polemics, a controversial thought that one author supports and the other opposes, a thought-provoking opinion piece and a Brief Review of a recent study from well-known research centers and think-tanks worldwide.