The 56-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is facing hard times as observers increasingly question its relevance and effectiveness. At a Permanent Council session in Vienna on January 14, the new Kazakh chairmanship of the OSCE will lay out its plan for the coming year -- an agenda that former OSCE Chairman in Office and Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb describes as "an extensive and ambitious working program." Stubb, who chaired the organization in 2008, spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson about the challenges the OSCE will face in 2010.
RFE/RL: Kazakhstan is about to begin its term as the first former Soviet state to chair the OSCE. Could you describe for us the formal and informal powers of the chairmanship to influence the course of the organization? What limits are there to those powers?
Alexander Stubb: Basically you have a chairman in office -- Finland held it in 2008 -- and you actually have quite a lot of powers, because you are trying to direct an organization of 56 states. One of the problems, of course, with the OSCE is that it is a consensus organization. It is very much based on conference diplomacy. So what you need to do is to negotiate basically with all the members to get things through. So, the role of the chairmanship is, of course, I think, very important. For a small country like Finland, it is essential to have these kinds of chairmanships because it opens a lot of doors around the rest of the world.
RFE/RL: What are your expectations for Kazakhstan?
Stubb: I think there is good news and bad news. The good news is clearly that it's the first time we have a Central Asian country chairing the OSCE, and I think symbolically it is very important. And I think they've prepared very well as well, and tomorrow, actually, they are going to present an extensive and ambitious working program for the whole year, including talking about the future of European security. Our basic take on the Kazakh chairmanship is positive, and let's not judge a book by its cover.
At the same time, it is no secret that there are issues with freedom of speech, elections, and human rights -- so, basically, questions that the OSCE deals with. So one could say that Kazakhstan itself will be under scrutiny about what Kazakhstan is doing. So it is a new kind of a chairmanship, but let's wait and see.
RFE/RL: A recent report on Central Asia says the countries there are "authoritarian regimes that prioritize their own perpetuation and expect their international cooperation to aid in this goal." Do you think this applies to Kazakhstan and its chairmanship of the OSCE?
Stubb: Well, none of the Central Asian countries are, I guess, perfect from a Western, democratic, rule-of-law perspective. At the same time, I would argue that they are much better off and doing much better than they were many years ago. And these processes take a long time to change, and they cannot necessarily be enforced or shoved down the throat from above. We have to take it step by step. At the same time, I do think that we have to be very tough on our basic principles. So, it is the soft power of the OSCE working on these countries.
RFE/RL: Analysts are saying the OSCE is facing a difficult period now and that something of a "values gap" has developed within the organization. Do you think there is such a gap, and is the OSCE strong enough -- or flexible enough -- to bridge it?
Stubb: There might be a values gap -- I think that analysis is right. At the same time, it is an organization which spreads its wings from Vancouver to Vladivostok and has 56 countries in it. So, in terms of the values gap being bigger than, for instance, the values gap in the UN -- I would never buy that argument, because the UN has 195 countries in it, and the values gap is much bigger. But, of course, there is an aim to try to find the common values, and that's why it is very important to stress that the OSCE has always had three baskets and one of them has to do with democracy, human rights, the rule of law. One of them has to do with security, and one is sort of the economy and environment. All these three things are important, but it is of course clear that we are not all Jeffersonian or European democracies.
RFE/RL: In your opinion, is the OSCE the right place to be discussing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's recent proposals for a new security architecture in Europe?
Stubb: I don't only think it is the right place -- it is the only place where you can actually discuss it because it is the only organization which, as I said, reaches its wings from Vladivostok to Vancouver. And, in that sense, I think it is the right place. You have countries there who are in the EU. You have countries there who are in NATO. You have countries there who are in neither. You also have countries there who are in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization; you have countries who are in the CIS. So, you have many different formations, and I think that if you want to talk about European security in a broad perspective, the OSCE is the only context in which you can do it.
RFE/RL: Do you think those proposals will get serious discussion this year?
Stubb: I think it has had serious discussion already. I mean, we began it here in Helsinki on December 4, 2008, when we had a three-hour luncheon meeting where I drew eight conclusions on the Medvedev proposal. We continued that discussion in Corfu among foreign ministers and we continued it again in Athens last year. In between, all of our OSCE ambassadors have been discussing it in Vienna, so, you know, it has been the subject of a lot of conversation, a lot of serious conversation. And I'm sure that will continue. What it will all end up with, I don't know because, to be quite honest, I think the security structures in Europe have worked quite well.
RFE/RL: Many others have questioned Russia's calls to reform the security architecture and its calls to reform the OSCE itself. They wonder if there really is a need for reform.
Stubb: I think there is always a need for reform, but especially in this case of the OSCE. And we'll just have to have a look at what it's like. We are 35 years away from Helsinki, when it all began in 1975. And the organization has changed, of course, its statutes since then a few times. A few key changes in Paris and elsewhere. And I'm sure the time has come to have a serious look at how the OSCE should reform itself. Whether that means a complete revamp, I don't think so. But, you know, touching it around the edges -- sure.
RFE/RL: Do you think that Russia will have a special role or strengthened influence with Kazakhstan taking the chairmanship, considering the relatively close relations between those two countries?
Stubb: It is difficult to say. I mean, they have relatively close relations, but every country is the chairman in and of itself. It is a little bit like saying, "will the Greek part of Cyprus have an influence on the Greek presidency?" Or something of that kind. I'm sure that the contacts are very close between Kazakhstan and Russia, but what the final influence is, it is too early to say.
RFE/RL: What do you think the prospects are for restoring the OSCE mission to Georgia in 2010?
Stubb: I think the prospects, to be quite honest, are quite grim on that one. And I do find that quite unfortunate, having been personally involved, of course, in my capacity as chairman of the OSCE during the war in Georgia. I think it would have been very useful indeed to continue the mission there, but it simply didn't happen.
RFE/RL: Is there any justification or argument for closing that mission other than pure geopolitics?
Stubb: I think geopolitics plays a big role in this and, coming back to the first question that you posed about the working methods and the capacities and abilities of the chairmanship to deal with these types of issues, you can't do much when you have to do it by consensus. Everyone has to give a green light for the continuation of a mission and if only one country is against it, then...there's not much you can do.
RFE/RL: Will you personally be urging the Kazakh chairmanship to push Russia on that issue?
Stubb: Well, we personally urge everyone to push on that issue, because I think it would be, would have been, very useful to keep the mission in Tbilisi.
RFE/RL: One final topic -- Kazakhstan has been calling for an OSCE summit this year. There hasn't been an OSCE summit since 1999. Do you think this is a good idea and that it might happen?
Stubb: We are quite open to the idea. We certainly don't have a problem with it. But one of the problems with the organization right now is that it is not able even to agree on political declarations on the foreign ministers' level. What could we then achieve on a summit-meeting level? So we need to have some substance in order for a summit meeting to be held. It is very important not to play with these things. If it looks like we don't have substance and there is very little interest, then we shouldn't have it. But if there are some perspective issues to deal with, then we are quite open to having a summit meeting.
RFE/RL: Isn't there a growing danger that the OSCE would be seen as less relevant since it has been more than a decade since it was able to come up with something of substance that the whole organization could sign off on?
Stubb: There is always that risk, and that's why I think it is very important that we take a hard look at the OSCE as an organization and see where we can take it.