The OSCE needs to strengthen its role

The OSCE needs to strengthen its role

Russia’s actions in Ukraine have shattered the European security architecture as we know it and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) could be the platform to reconstruct it, writes Princess Thera of Liechtenstein.

The Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) was originally created in the early 1970s as a confidence-building project between the East and the West.

This series of multilateral negotiations culminated in the signing of the Helsinki Final Act in 1975, which was essentially a compromise – the West achieved agreement from the Soviet Union to follow principles of self-determination and human rights in return for accepting the territorial status quo of Europe as of 1945.

This was the basis of European security as we know it and the key was that leaders of countries with immensely different ideologies managed to engage in dialogue to prevent war.

The conference developed into the OSCE later, but after the end of the Cold War in 1991 the OSCE lost much of its importance.

The Ukraine crisis has revived the OSCE’s role somewhat, but it faces several challenges – Russia’s violation of OSCE principles, increasing tensions between its member states, and the near-impossibility of conducting missions on the ground.

The OSCE is vital to continued dialogue between all the parties which have a stake in the current Ukraine crisis, even if its ability to fully observe the situation on the ground may be limited.

The Trilateral Contact Group (TCG), set up by Swiss chairmanship in 2014, includes representatives from Ukraine, the Russian Federation, and the OSCE. It is the only framework for direct negotiations with the eastern Ukraine separatists.

The TCG was crucial to achieving the Minsk II agreement, although it was portrayed in the media that the Normandy group of France, Germany, Ukraine, and Russia, was behind this.

So what conditions are needed for greater involvement of the OSCE?

  1. Increased political will and resources. The OSCE was unprepared for such a large mission. Its ability to act will always depend on the political will of participating states, their ability to agree, and the resources they provide.
  2. Refocussing on traditional Helsinki principles. The OSCE’s key objectives have focussed on strengthening democracy and the rule of law in post-Soviet countries. Many of these see the OSCE as biased towards interfering in their countries, but regard it as a ‘lesser evil’. The OSCE should return to its original Cold War objective of being a platform for inclusive cooperative security dialogue between all members, regardless of their political ideology.
  3. Strong and neutral leadership. The OSCE is consensus-based and therefore needs strong leadership to ensure decisions are made. We need the kind of leadership we had in 1975 which put ideological differences aside and engaged in dialogue to ensure security within Europe.
  4. A stronger focus on the underlying East-West conflict. The Ukraine crisis cannot, and should not, be seen as a singular event but rather a symptom of the East-West conflict. With the currently steadily increasing hostility between Eastern and Western politicians, a platform is needed where issues can be discussed freely.

That is where the OSCE comes in.

However, negotiations would be much easier if we followed US President Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy of ‘Speak softly, and carry a big stick’.

Related reports:

Sanctions against Russia – a game with no winners

Europe lets down Ukraine

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