The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is holding its 27th Annual Session on 7-11 July 2018 in Berlin. This month the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe marks its 45-year anniversary. It was established as the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) in July 1973 to be renamed Organization in 1995. The Helsinki Act adopted by the Conference remains the cornerstone of European security. The Russian and US lawmakers used the event for meeting each other on the sidelines before the upcoming Trump-Putin Helsinki summit scheduled for July 16. The Organization provides a forum for discussions and the opportunity should not be missed.
In the heat of the Cold War, the CSCE served as an inclusive, consensus-based platform for constructive dialogue no matter how adverse the weather was. It’s hard to overestimate the important role the 1975 Helsinki Act played in making Europe a safer place.
Since the 1990s, the OSCE has been declared obsolete numerous times but it is still unique and its raison d’être can hardly be questioned. Reviving the Helsinki spirit and restoring confidence that existed those days should be a top priority at the time the attempts to build a single security system in the Euro-Atlantic area have evidently led to nowhere. The common goal of creating a value-based security community from Vancouver to Vladivostok, envisioned in OSCE documents after the end of the Cold War, has never materialized. Today Europe is divided and unstable, balancing on the brink of slipping into anarchy and a new Cold War.
It has turned into a continent where double standards prevail, color revolutions are staged and sanctions wars are raging, while the idea of US exceptionalism is used to justify violations of international law. But sanctions and violations do not help build security architecture.
The ramifications of instability in the MENA region, triggered to large extent by US and NATO military interventions, pose a serious threat to Europe. The crisis in Ukraine, the Nagorno-Karabakh stand-off, the situation in Kosovo and the status of Transnistria remain unsolved problems.
The OSCE has to large extent lost its role as a security forum able to effectively handle problems. This has happened for a range of reasons, including the NATO eastward expansion, the erosion of treaty-based stability and inability to find solutions to regional conflicts.
The treaties concluded within the OSCE framework are either dead or about to take the final breath. The Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) has become a thing of the past. The Open Skies Treaty is facing an uncertain future.
The turbulent times dictate the need for the OSCE’s notable comeback to turn the tide and strengthen European security. In 2018, Italy chairs the OSCE and the country’s new government can play a positive role in making the Organization reappear on the radar and regain its relevance.
Practical steps can be taken. The 2011 Vienna Document on Confidence and Security-Building Measures (CSBMs) could be updated. The discussions on “Steinmeier Initiative” in the area of conventional arms control could be a start of OSCE-brokered process. In 2008, Russia submitted for OSCE consideration the draft Treaty on European Security. It was largely ignored by Western nations and swept under the rug as time dragged by. Probably if the attitude had been different then, Europe would have been a much safer place today. Now the German initiative, which is in essence a repetition of what Moscow offered ten years ago, has been waiting to be put on the OSCE agenda since 2016. Is it the right moment for wasting time instead of starting talks?
The ongoing Structured Dialogue (SD) on security challenges is a good step towards the revival of multilateral security dialogue. The Organization can be used as an effective communication channel for more frequent military-to-military contacts to prevent escalation and enhance predictability and transparency. It is especially important in view of fruitless attempts to make the NATO-Russia Council an effective forum for addressing burning security problems. Finally, the OSCE could initiate a new negotiation process with the aim of having a “Helsinki Act II” document signed.
The OSCE needs reforms. Its decision-making process has proven to be ineffective. All decisions are taken by consensus. With so many members, it’s unrealistic. The most complex and important issues are supposed to be discussed at the level of heads of state. There has been no OSCE summit since 2010. The Organization has no Charter. Russia has proposed to prepare one numerous times but the initiative is left hanging in the air.
Not all is doom and gloom. Far from it. The newly formed Italian government led by PM Giuseppe Conte has the reputation of being able to adopt inventive approaches and see things in a new light. It’s full of desire to contribute into making the OSCE an effective multilateral forum able to enhance European security. Swiss diplomat Thomas Greminger, the new OSCE Secretary General, is resolute to get the Organization back to the days of glory. The 25th OSCE Ministerial Council will be held in Milan on 6 and 7 December 2018. There still time to work on new proposals to make the Organization regain its prominence.