Stability in Europe and the OSCE

Since its creation in 1975, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has seen wars, crises, revolutions. It has survived tumultuous events, it has helped to guide systemic change, and it has itself been transformed by them. One of the first signatories of the Helsinki Final Act, Greece has played a key role at each juncture of change. The OSCE is today the product of more than 30 years of transformation. In the process, the organization has lived through three ages. First, a pioneering phase in the 1970s and 1980s, when the then-Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) emerged as a forum of innovation for building confidence between Cold War adversaries. The CSCE was most radical at the conceptual level, in the link it forged between military security and the so-called Human Dimension, the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. This was followed by a brilliant, if brief, phase immediately after the end of the Cold War, when the OSCE benefited from a solid consensus among its participating states, adopted an ambitious framework of standards and commitments, created institutions and field operations, and helped foster the conditions for the enlargement of two other regional systems, the EU and NATO. This seemed the springtime of a Greater Europe, high in hopes and expectations. Many of these hopes were realized. Witness the historic transformation of Central and Eastern Europe. However, expectations have been tempered by the rise of sobering realities. Since the late 1990s, the OSCE has indeed been a mirror to the difficulties of the process of transition within the large area it covers, of the resurgence of tensions among some of its participating states, and of the rise of new threats and challenges. It is difficult for a value-based organization to do better than its constituent parts; the OSCE is no exception to the rule. In the last few years, therefore, the organization has seemed to lurch from crisis to crisis. Still, the OSCE has 19 field operations deployed in 17 countries, assisting states across three dimensions of activity – building political-military confidence, fostering better economic and environmental governance, and promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms. The OSCE has also become active in addressing new challenges to our societies in creative ways. The range of activities is wide; the organization has assembled expertise in counter-terrorism, anti-trafficking, policing, the illicit trade of small arms and light weapons, as well border management. Since its birth, the OSCE has always been a privileged forum for debating the key security questions facing Europe. This remains true today. Three questions stand before us in this first decade of the 21st century. First, how can an inclusive and values-based OSCE accommodate the difficult transition ongoing in some of its participating states? After the rapid and great successes of the 1990s, the fact is that we are in for the long haul with assisting the transitions in parts of the former Soviet Union and with embedding stability more deeply in the Balkans. How do we keep states going through difficult transition processes fully engaged in the OSCE’s demanding set of standards and commitments? How can we preserve a shared sense of ownership while encouraging states to implement their commitments? Reconciling these points is a difficult balancing act, requiring compromise and patience from all. The politics of values and their implementation are never easy. Second, what role is there for the OSCE in managing Europe’s persistent crises? The so-called «frozen» conflicts in the former Soviet Union remain unresolved. This year, we all face the challenge of deepening stability in the Balkans, especially regarding the Kosovo status question. Tall orders, indeed. Clearly, the EU, NATO and the UN have key roles to play. But let us not forget that the OSCE is also a central actor. The organization is the forum where all major players of the region are represented; it has long been engaged in conflict mediation in the former Soviet Union; and it is a major pillar of international efforts in the Kosovo region. The OSCE is the only venue where all questions and actors are bound together. Last question: Is there room for a laboratory of ideas, dedicated to values, stretching from North America through Europe to Asia? I believe the answer, of course, to be a decisive yes. Managing and settling conflicts, developing human values in complex contemporary societies, adapting to new threats within those societies and outside them, strengthening the ability of participating states to address these – these objectives lie at the heart of the OSCE mandate. The agenda is not diminishing but expanding. Our mandate is ambitious, and it should be. What does all of this mean? First, it means that Europe remains unfinished business. The original vision of the OSCE was to create a united Europe that was not only free but at peace with itself. We are not there yet; we have to keep working towards this goal. Second, we must rethink the assumptions of the 1990s. All good things may not come together again quickly in the OSCE area. Building a united Europe remains a process that may be long and complex, requiring tireless engagement and constant debate about values and their application. So, the haste of success of the 1990s will have to be replaced by patience founded on a longer view. The key is to keep the momentum moving, and in the right direction. The bid by Kazakhstan to chair the OSCE in 2009 illustrates the point. A decision will have to be reached this year. Some states have raised doubts whether the time is right for Kazakhstan to chair the OSCE. Irrespective of the pros and cons, the bid is a clear signal that Kazakhstan has made a choice for implementing OSCE standards, and this is the right direction. Finally, and crucially, this means the OSCE matters all the more today. Thirty-one years show that the value of the OSCE lies not in providing all the answers to all questions at any given moment. Rather, it lies in providing a place where the right questions can be raised and where answers may be found over time and in ways that restrain violence and confrontation. Having an organization like the OSCE based on the permanent debate and elaboration of a set of basic values in such a complex and fluid world is vital for building a Europe that is whole and free. Greece is and will be, as it has always been, a key part of this process. (1) Marc Perrin de Brichambaut is the Secretary-General of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.