OSCE: Current State and Perspectives

Zoran Prescher

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It is quite evident that Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe experiences now not the best times. Its summit did not gather for almost ten years already. Because of difficulties of principle the Organization’ Council of Ministers for Foreign Affairs during last seven years is not able to adopt Joint Declaration at its annual meetings.

These disagreements are the consequence of the diametrically opposite positions of the West and Russia. In order to make current situation more clear it is expedient to consider in more details the last meeting of the aforementioned Council of Ministers for Foreign Affairs that took place in the beginning of December of 2008 in Helsinki.

The old idea of Russian diplomacy dominated there: in June, just after taking office, President of Russia Dmitri Medvedev has summoned to reshape the European security – to create more flexible and large structure and to conclude an agreement on new forms of collective security.

In his opinion, a number of basic regulations are to be fixed in the new European Treaty. Mainly it has to contain guarantees of providing equal security for the European states by following three principles: Not to provide one’s security at the expense of security of others; not to allow (in the frames of any military blocs or coalitions) actions that weaken unity of common security space; and not to permit the advance of military blocs becomes the prejudice of security of the other Treaty members.

Moscow proposed to define a composition of participants attracted to the Treaty development by the formula “OSCE plus” in order to complete the list by multilateral security organizations. One of the key points of the Russian initiative is the recognition the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (that includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) as one of the sponsors of future European security.

Russia today is per se the only European country which insists on existing military threat to its security. But in truth Moscow does not consider that there is any serious danger. Otherwise it would not carry out military reform that includes complete and final renunciation of the concept of mass mobilization army. Should Vladimir Putin find conceivable NATO’s military aggression against Russia, he would never take the risk of such resolute reducing country’s armed forces.

Nevertheless Russia demanded that all must take seriously its apprehension that unification of Europe on basis of the European Union and NATO represents a military peril. Of course, in terms of today’s Russian leadership thinking this initiative is not without foundation: Kremlin reasonably supposes that it is much easier for him to defend its interests against not a bloc of states but countries singly.

Therefore Russia and its closest allies from CIS for several years repeat over and over again that in the OSCE a serious imbalance between the three security dimensions – political and military, economical, and humanitarian ones – do exists. Nominally the principal claim is that for many years already the main attention of the Organization allegedly comes to defending human rights while another two directions of its activities – political and military as well as economical and ecological – remain sidelined.

Besides that, low effectiveness of the OSCE field missions as well as their meddling with countries of residence interior affairs are pointed out (it is worth to note that majority of these missions are located right in the CIS states). Moreover, extreme annoyance is called not only by the fact of such ‘displacement of accents’ but by the situation inside the humanitarian ‘basket’ itself, that is actions of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) which permanent criticism of violation of democratic standards causes obvious dissatisfaction of Kremlin and its satellites.

As for the reproofs in lack of missions’ effectiveness, one can find some, to say the least, slyness. It is well known that these structures can be opened in any country only by permission of its authorities and can have a mandate only agreed with the latter. It is evident that cardinal displeasure of the presidents of post-Soviet states is caused by international community claims concerning existing there violations of universally recognized democracy standards and human rights. Here is the origin of popular there last time statements about existence of different kinds of democracy: ‘Western’, ‘Eastern’, ‘sovereign’ and so on.

The best illustration of such moods is a statement adopted by a group of CIS countries in July 2004 where OSCE was accused in non-fulfilling its basic documents and ‘non-observance of such fundamental Helsinki principles as nonintervention into internal affairs and respect to state’s sovereignty’.

It seems that in the light of August war at the Caucasus and one-sided recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia the considered proposal of Moscow becomes inherently contradictory since it claims the ‘esteem of territorial integrity’ of states. Therefore the fact that in the beginning some countries of the continent met it with favor has caused some bewilderment.

Thus Nicolas Sarkozy during the meeting with his Russian colleague suddenly send a signal to conciliation and offered to hold next June an OSCE summit where the talk has to turn to neither more nor less than new architecture of Euro-Atlantic security. Head of Germany foreign policy office Frank-Walter Steinmeier also declared his country readiness to discuss with Moscow a new Euro-Atlantic architecture.

However other OSCE members reacted to the Sarkozy gesture skeptically, and in whole the Russian initiative met in Helsinki a cool welcome. Finally even French Foreign minister Bernard Kouchner has pointed out that security of Europe is inseparably connected with the protection of human rights, democracy and state of law. His Lithuanian colleague called upon for using more effectively organizations that already exist. “Those who bring in new proposals have to prove to what extent they can improve existing structures such as NATO, European Union and the OSCE,” said British minister David Miliband. And representative of the Netherlands declared directly that Europe does not need new institutions.

In fact Moscow proposes such a continental security architecture where the United States has to play the minimal possible role. The logic is the next: if Americans cannot be excluded completely from the OSCE, they are to be put there in a politically marginal position whereas European and Russian will solve their problems themselves.

So it is quite natural that the most implacable position was taken by Washington. According to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, there is no any necessity in creating new architecture, “the existing system is rather transparent, and hereon the question is exhausted.” Bryza considers that Moscow idea on elaborating new Treaty of collective security in Europe pursues a goal to create an alternative to NATO because the latter is ‘uncomfortable for Russia’. He added also that “existing security system in Europe where European Union and NATO take part satisfies almost everyone. There are only few countries which demand specific attitude to them. And it is those countries which start wars in the region.”

Many states feel doubts in the sense of Russian initiative due to obvious Russia’s hostility to the OSCE. Besides that the moratorium on the CFE Treaty introduced by Moscow makes hardly probable a perspective of creating new instruments of security preservation. In addition during past months even interested foreign diplomats were not able to clear, how aforementioned Treaty will differ from existing agreements that determine security space of the modern Europe.

It is quite evident that in a situation when majority of states consider themselves as being in a security and only one insists that all other threaten it, one cannot formulate objective criteria of threat as well as defense sufficiency. It can be elaborated only as some balance of forces of opposed sides, as it happened, for example, when NATO bargained with the Warsaw Treaty Organization.

However since that time the situation has changed drastically. Kremlin’s proposals, being explained in detail, mean a demand that cannot be realized in principle: parity between Russian military forces and all armies of the North Atlantic Alliance member states. This demand is all the more impracticable since it in general prevents any NATO enlargement: adoption of new members inevitably increases aggregate strength of the bloc military force.

So the majority of European states refused to discuss this notorious absurdity and OSCE has turned Russian idea down. OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb stated that many points of the initiative are not new and for a long time fulfilled already not only by the OSCE but by the European Union and NATO as well. Among them there are recognition of territorial integrity, measures for violence deterrence, and observance of human rights and democracy standards.

In the result Russia found itself if not in an isolation then in a deep minority, since even those European leaders who by economic perforce believe it profitable to maintain good relations with Putin and Medvedev, have to justify themselves in front of their countries’ public opinion.

However in the environment of economic crisis France, Germany and Italy do not want to risk irritating the main supplier of energy carriers to Europe. Therefore the European states gave an evasive answer to Russian proposals. They pointed out that it was necessary to specify outlines of the new organization and to solve numerous questions concerning circle of its participants, especially Asian ones.

As one of the high-ranking European diplomats said, “The problem of Russia is that it wants to separate the notion of military security from the notion of humanitarian security including democracy and human rights. At the same time all other OSCE members are in favor of the notion of complex security which includes both these dimensions. Should Moscow want to be heard it has to demonstrate more transparence and clarity.”

In Swiss Le Temps opinion, “it was a diplomatic way to say Russian that they still have to make a ‘homework’ and though the West is ready to improve the existing structures, the necessity of new concept of Euro-Atlantic-Asian security it to be proved.”.

Thus no summit will take place and therefore there will be no any new European security treaty in a visible future. It means that not too sophisticated project of Kremlin’s international strategists – to get European countries involved into senseless negotiations for many years – failed.

But since Russia gives back to the Soviet Union policy of the ‘cold war’ times a question arises: why in 1975, being in much more confrontational position the Soviet Communist leadership did not refuse to sign the Helsinki Final Act while today’s Kremlin aspires to step aside from its principal regulations?

The USSR has agreed to undertake alien obligations in the sphere of human rights, first of all, because its economics had become to decline already, and Soviet government figured on the Western assistance. Secondly, the Act has fixed strictly the firmness of European borders, the point that troubled Moscow very much. As for the so called ‘third basket’, people in Kremlin were sure that they would cope with the human rights problem. Finally, according to the Soviet participants of preparatory negotiations, Leonid Brezhnev did not go too deep into the content of the document he signed.

In 1990s Moscow still paid great attention to the only pan-European organization on security issues where it had a veto power. It hoped that the OSCE eventually will supersede American-dominated NATO. Until Vladimir Putin’s accession to power, Russian did not object even to observing electoral processes in new democratic states. But after they intended to recreate their zone of influence at the Soviet Union debris, it was decided that being under the Western impact the OSCE spent too much time for activity that can be equated to meddling with their interior affairs.

One must not forget that until now Russian political elite as well as many ordinary people of the country feel themselves deeply injured by the Soviet Union collapse. They trust that creation of the CSCE with its ‘third’ or ‘humanitarian basket’ has become in fact the first capitulation of the USSR before the West. One can, possibly, agree that then Moscow has lost, but, as becomes clear now, it lost only a battle but not war. So the future of the OSCE as a whole completely depends on Russia’s resoluteness to realize its strategy.

It is clear that in general the OSCE in its today’s kind contradicts new Kremlin’s policy both inside the country and at the international arena. Russian authorities are convinced that practically all Western states under the slogans of democratization of the post-Soviet space eager to turn the Organization into an instrument of political reshaping of Europe. In their opinion the OSCE more and more transforms into auxiliary mechanism of implementing political orders prepared in the leading Western capitals, in NATO and European Union. For example, well-known Russian political analyst Sergei Karaganov is on the whole sure that the OSCE has become obsolete.

Really, until recently Russia lost one political battle after another, including those at the CIS space. This situation is especially painfully perceived and considered absolutely inadmissible by ‘sovereign Russian democracy’ that has felt strength last time. But instead of searching for real reasons of such development of affairs and bringing corrections into its own policy, Moscow prefers to look for hostile intrigues.

This position of current Russian elite has been revealed very clearly by Valentin Fedorov, deputy director of the Institute of Europe of Russian Academy of Sciences: “Russia does not want to be anyone’s protectorate. Our thinking is different: we have imperial mind, and Europeans – servile one with respect to the United States. We are brought up on the great history, great geography, rocket and nuclear potential – I do not speak now, good it or bad.”

As a result for a long time Russia insists on the OSCE reforms, at the same time threatening to refuse from support its budget. Attempts are activated to undermine the OSCE actions aimed to control maintaining human rights and elections observing. In general the essence of today’s Russian foreign policy is to prove that the Organization has become obsolete and does nothing, so new form of consolidation of states is necessary, which will be able to solve all the problems ‘ex aequo et bono’.

The OSCE decision of December 22 to close its mission of 200 observers to Georgia, which term of mandate validity expired on December 31 has become the next Russia’s achievement of this kind. It happened after Moscow has pulled out a requirement to change the mandate in order to reflect the fact of its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And representatives of 56 OSCE member states could not find consensus on the mission future.

By the way, Georgia did not object this shutting because under these circumstances Russia will have to deal with the European Union that is organization upon which decisions on regional problems it has no influence. It becomes an additional testimony of the current OSCE’s significance degree.

After all, no move by the Kremlin – no matter how ‘unexpected’ it is – should come as a surprise. As Harvard University Russia specialist Marshal Goldman has said, “Russia is predictable in the sense that it will continue to be unpredictable.”

Thus Russia in fact sets up an ultimatum in front of the OSCE: the latter has either to change in accordance with Russian demands or it will be quite another organization, likelihood without Russia and possibly its closest CIS allies. It is quite evident that in this case its raison d’etre will disappear completely. But even at conservation of the OSCE in today’s kind its real influence will become much less.

It is difficult to argue with the statement that now the OSCE does not represent the very efficient organization. There are several reasons for it. First of all, at the principal directions of its activity it has to compete with more specialized and consequently more successful structures: in sphere of security – with NATO, in economics – with the European Union, in humanitarian sphere – with the Council of Europe.

But even more essential seems to be the fact that as distinct from NATO and EU, the OSCE was created on the basis of not common values but purely geographic principle. Moreover after the Soviet Union collapse it was joined by the Central Asia states that are extremely far from European political culture. And if remind that consensus remains the main principle of adopting decisions in the OSCE, which permits any state to veto everything it considers to be unacceptable, it becomes clear that it is practically impossible to reach agreement in majority of the most serious cases.

To the point, among other reforms of the OSCE there was discussed a transition to another principle of taking decisions – by a simple majority. However Russian diplomats declared categorically that they would veto any amendments of this kind.

Despite all these difficulties the OSCE still remains the only mechanism that permits to solve a considerable number of problems – from peacekeeping activity to electoral campaigns monitoring. Having three thousand employees and 19 field missions it is the largest regional organization in the world.

But this mechanism malfunctions more and more frequently. One can hardly deny that the OSCE needs changes even for formal reasons: there is no more the Warsaw Treaty, no more USSR, GDR, Czechoslovakia or Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Not once the post-war borders have varied already. Correspondingly, is it necessary to change everything or it would be enough to make serious revision? If change everything, one has to start a difficult negotiation process, to write a new treaty and create new mechanisms of its implementation. This process inevitably will be very confrontational and hard.

Further, who will do it? In 1975 it was done by member states. But today there is the European Union with its more and more common foreign and security policy. There are Russia and post-Soviet states many of which are represented in the common European process only due to logic of the USSR collapse. Who must be members of the new agreement?

And last but not least: what new sense must be introduced into the context? Borders, military security, energy security, human rights and freedoms – all these took place already. And who will follow the situation – some European mini-UN or purely technical office?

In any case it would be necessary to agree on new rules of game on the continent, which contradict neither basic EU documents, nor Russian Constitution, nor different international and regional treaties. The main idea is to prevent crisis situations, to find mutually acceptable decisions via negotiation mechanisms. In this situation one must not forget that NATO more and more intends to transform itself into a global political and military structure which will continue to live according to its own rules. As well known the OSCE has never been an edict for NATO.

Due to enlargement of NATO and European Union and aspiration of joining them of majority of European states still remaining out of these structures, these institutions have a huge potential. There is no doubt that with the lapse of time today’s disproportion will be only aggravated, and the OSCE functions in these spheres will be finally exhausted.

Hypothetically the most important sense the OSCE could have in assisting building democracy, in particular by observing elections. However given active opposition by known group of countries as well as lack of real levers of influence upon violators this role also turns to out of its depth. Belarusian example is the most obvious evidence of this.

At the same time it would be, probably, premature to refuse this organization in its right for existence for good and all. For example, during the same Helsinki meeting in spite of all differences concerning Joint Declaration, ministers have agreed on a number of other important questions, such as small-caliber and light weapons, struggle with human beings trade etc. Maybe this is the OSCE possible way of existence.