WEBEDITION
No. 6 - Nov. 1996
Vol. 44 - pp. 7-12

The OSCE's increasing
responsibilities in European security

Flavio Cotti
Federal Councillor, Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of the Swiss Confederation, and President-in-Office of the OSCE


The OSCE offers all states from Vancouver to Vladivostok a forum for cooperation in security matters. This cooperation is founded on adherence to the shared values of democracy, the principles of the rule of law and the protection of human rights and of minorities. Through the mediation activities of the High Commissioner on National Minorities and by sending long-term missions into the field, it endeavours, notably, to resolve minority disputes. Since 1992, the OSCE has also become operational in the areas of preventive diplomacy and conflict prevention. The tasks entrusted to it in connection with the implementation of the peace agreement for Bosnia-Herzegovina and the means of action available to it in the Chechen conflict testify to the growing importance of the OSCE.

Like other security organizations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) - formerly known as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) - has embarked with courage and determination on the task of adjusting to the new political situation which has prevailed since 1989. Since the signature of the Helsinki Final Act of the CSCE in 1975, more than 20 years have elapsed during which the face of Europe has completely changed. The division into two blocs, the confrontation between two opposing systems and exacerbated struggles over ideology now belong to the past. Inspired by the common values of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, economic freedom, social justice and the protection of the environment, Europe has taken the path of cooperation and partnership.

The OSCE has played an important role in this process. By introducing a forum for dialogue and creating rules of conduct which apply both to relationships between the states and to the conduct of each state towards its citizens, it has gradually staked out areas in which cooperation has carried the day over confrontation. It has thereby contributed to developing the concept of the shared responsibility of all states, in a common area of European civilization.

The OSCE focuses on operational activities

The flowering of fundamental freedoms and human rights in the formerly Communist countries has been overshadowed by the outbreak of conflicts, ancient and new. A climate of social and economic instability has led to war, failure to observe fundamental freedoms, human rights violations, aggressive nationalism, racism, xenophobia and inter-ethnic tension. These are the new dangers which now threaten the peace, security and well-being of the European continent. The international community must respond to the challenge and react firmly and decisively to the emergence of this new barbarism.

Faced with these new challenges, the OSCE has had recourse to the new instruments of early warning, conflict prevention and crisis management. It has appointed a High Commissioner on National Minorities and set up permanent structures; it has also launched field operations with a dozen preventive diplomacy missions. The establishment of permanent institutions and the increase in the number of operations have fundamentally altered the nature of the OSCE. These changes led, logically, to the change of name in January 1995: the Conference became the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

As a result of these changes, the OSCE has gained in stature. Its membership of 55 states, including the United States, Canada and Russia, makes it the largest pan-European body in a position to discuss all security questions relating to the OSCE area. Thematically, its field of action is defined by the concept of global security. The general principle of consensus makes it a cooperative security organization with no means of coercion. Finally, its institutional flexibility and the political nature of the commitments undertaken by its members enable it to react swiftly and pragmatically in crisis situations.

A multifunctional approach

Nowadays, the OSCE fulfils four functions: firstly, it constitutes a community of values, giving priority to democracy, human rights, the rule of law and fundamental freedoms. These are the values to which the 55 participating states of the OSCE have subscribed. The basic documents of the OSCE contain politically binding standards of conduct which the participating states have jointly elaborated. The implementation of these standards, however, represents the ultimate challenge. The OSCE has no power to compel anyone to respect them, but it has devised monitoring systems which equally apply to domestic affairs in certain cases when violations occur.

Secondly, the OSCE is a permanent forum for dialogue on matters relating to security in Europe. Any participating state may at any time communicate its anxieties, concerns and fears about events within the OSCE area. By asking questions and pointing to worrying developments it can initiate a debate, receive clarifications and assurances from other states, and stimulate joint responses. This process contributes to transparency and itself represents a confidence and security-building measure.

Thirdly, the OSCE is a forum for arms control and disarmament. The confidence and security-building measures contained in the Vienna Document of 1994 were in fact negotiated under the auspices of the OSCE, which is also monitoring the implementation of the Document's provisions. The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) between the NATO countries, the countries of the former Warsaw Pact and the successor states to the former Soviet Union, also came about in this way. The OSCE is now preparing a new framework for arms control to cover the entire OSCE area. In parallel with these endeavours, arms control agreements at the regional and sub-regional levels can be negotiated within the framework of the OSCE, as in the case of the former Yugoslavia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Fourthly, the OSCE is equipped with the means to intervene in regions of conflict. It is the growing number of regional conflicts since the end of the Cold War which has compelled the OSCE to expand its activities on the ground. The activities of the High Commissioner on National Minorities and the OSCE's preventive diplomacy missions are all conducive to early warning, conflict prevention and crisis management. Since the end of hostilities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the OSCE has also embraced a new field of activity: post-conflict rehabilitation. Moreover, back in 1992, it acquired the option of carrying out its own peacekeeping operations, although this possibility has not yet been put into practice.

There are two field operations which have served to consolidate the role and function of the OSCE: the Assistance Group in Chechnya, established in the spring of 1995, and the deployment of the OSCE mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina from January 1996.

Chechnya: a discreet but effective presence

Maj. Lebed & Yandarbiyev
The then Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, Alexander Lebed (right) and Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev address the media on 17 September after holding talks on post-war arrangements in Chechnya.
(EPA/Belga 49Kb)
In the case of Chechnya, the innovation is the fact that Russia has accepted the presence of the OSCE in a conflict which it regards as a domestic matter, to be resolved without compromising its territorial integrity. By requesting the aid of the OSCE Assistance Group, Russia was explicitly conceding that its commitments given within the OSCE, and in particular, at the Budapest Summit in December 1994, at the very moment when the Chechen conflict was beginning, were a matter of direct and legitimate concern for all the participating states. It was also established that the constitution of a group of this kind is in the best interests of Russia itself.

The undertaking in Chechnya is further proof of the possibilities open to the OSCE. On the institutional level, it is perhaps weak, lacking any means of coercion and reaching its decisions only through consensus. However, paradoxical though it may seem, these weaknesses may also turn out to be its strengths. The OSCE is in fact the only international organization present in Chechnya and is therefore involved in a conflict which is taking place within one of its most important participating states.

The Assistance Group's possibilities for action depend on many political imponderables in Moscow and Chechnya. Its Head has repeatedly offered to mediate in the most difficult circumstances and has succeeded in making the OSCE a respected partner in the search for a negotiated settlement. Its signature figures on the agreement reached in Moscow, Nazran and Khasavyurt. Each time the parties need the services of an intermediary, the OSCE is called in.

In maintaining a presence on the ground, even in the most dangerous situations, the OSCE is able to act as a neutral 'third party'. Not only does this make it available when needed, but it also allows it to build confidence, to make discreet use of its influence and insist on the observance of human rights. In addition, the international community benefits from having such a reliable and objective observer of developments in the zone of conflict.

This method of cooperation, admittedly unspectacular, but inspired by long-term confidence-building, is the cornerstone of other long-term missions. Depending on the circumstances and the situation on the ground, these missions have a tailor-made mandate and a diverse range of tasks. Based on this principle, missions have been undertaken to Estonia, Latvia, Georgia, Tajikistan, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Croatia, Ukraine and Moldova. It has proved successful: in Ukraine, the OSCE mission and the High Commissioner on National Minorities have made a substantial contribution to resolving the constitutional crisis; also in Moldova and Georgia, progress is being made towards a political resolution of the conflict.

IFOR Troops
Bosnian Serb ammunition which had been confiscated at an illegal depot is buried by IFOR troops on 20 August prior to its destruction.
(EPA/Belga 45Kb)

A significant presence: Bosnia-Herzegovina

By taking part in the peace process in Bosnia-Herzegovina the OSCE is facing an unprecedented challenge. In 1991, the OSCE was kept out of the Yugoslav issue, but it is once more closely associated with the attempts of the international community to re-establish peace and stability in the Balkans following the signing of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina last December. It is indeed playing a key role as regards the civilian aspects of the peace agreement: it was at the request of the parties to the agreement that the OSCE agreed to supervise the preparation and holding of free and fair elections; to monitor the human rights situation; to facilitate negotiations to increase confidence and security; and to establish a new military balance based on an agreed reduction in troop strength and weaponry.

To perform these new tasks, essential to lasting peace, it has raised the funds necessary to ensure that an operation of this size can be undertaken, and deployed a preventive diplomacy mission in Bosnia of some 250 people. This operation has clearly raised the profile of the OSCE.

In the area of arms control, tangible progress has been achieved. At the end of January, an agreement on confidence- and security-building measures was adopted by Bosnia-Herzegovina and its two entities, the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska. The agreement has been implemented and the parties have exchanged military information, the data having been verified through a number of inspections. These measures prepared the ground for an agreement on sub-regional arms control which was signed on 14 June 1996. In this document, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Federation and the Republika Srpska laid down, as in the CFE Treaty, limits on five categories of weaponry (tanks, armoured combat vehicles, heavy artillery, combat aircraft and attack helicopters). These limits must be achieved through reductions by the end of October 1997. Once implemented, this agreement will result in a 25 per cent reduction in the heavy weapons of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and of the Republika Srpska, leading to a stabilization of armed forces in the former Yugoslavia at a reduced level.

The elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina: the challenge for the OSCE

Supervising preparations for the elections and the elections themselves was undoubtedly the most arduous task which the OSCE has had to carry out under the Dayton Agreement. Initially, this task related solely to the technical and organizational aspects of the elections. The challenges faced by the OSCE were enormous, as these elections were probably the most difficult ever held, chiefly because at least half of the some three million voters were displaced or had been forced to flee abroad.

However, the political conditions, rather than the technical aspects, caused the greatest concern. Under the Dayton Agreement, the parties undertook to ensure that all the conditions were met to hold "free, fair and democratic" elections, in particular: a political climate free of fear and intimidation; freedom of movement; freedom of the press and freedom of expression; together with freedom of association. As President-in-Office, I was given the task of certifying "whether elections are actually possible in the social conditions which now prevail within the two entities". During my certification before the Permanent Council of the OSCE in Vienna on 25 June 1996, I indicated that the conditions did not exist for "free, fair and democratic elections", as defined in the Dayton Agreement. However, taking account of other important factors, I nevertheless confirmed that the elections should be held on 14 September. Following gross violations in the registration of refugees, especially in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Croatia, the decision had to be taken to postpone the municipal elections.

Technically, the elections held on 14 September were conducted correctly and without serious incident. Their result gives us cause for hope. The participation in the elections of more than 30 political parties, as well as the gains registered by opposition parties, are all signs of the birth of political pluralism and democratic awakening. As I have said many times before, I see this as a first step. After such a long conflict, I hope these elections are the start of an evolution which will lead to peace and stability in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The next elections, envisaged in two years' time, will be the real test. To ensure all goes well, the continued presence of the international community must be assured.

A security model for Europe in the 21st century

At the Budapest Summit in 1994, the OSCE states initiated discussion on a security model for the 21st century. The OSCE was the best forum for this debate as it has such a wide remit from both a thematic and a geographical point of view,. The discussion is still in its initial stages, but over the past two years, states have familiarized one another with every issue relating to their security. What has emerged from this initial phase is a global vision of the new risks and dangers as perceived by the states. At next December's OSCE Summit in Lisbon, the President-in-Office will be responsible for submitting this risk assessment to the Heads of State and Government. This common endeavour is one of the foundations of the future structures of security and cooperation in Europe.

Three closely interlinked themes and controversial topics lie at the heart of the discussion. In the first place, there is the question of giving Russia its proper place in European cooperation in the matter of security. I am fully convinced that a future security model can play an important role in this, while also being aware that there are other possible ways of institutionalizing cooperation with Russia. Secondly, it is important to know how the states and organizations active in the OSCE region can collaborate and establish a true partnership in a constructive manner, in order to complement and reinforce one another. Lastly, the security model may also demonstrate what the role of the OSCE as an institution should be in future collaboration in security matters.

The security model will only be able to contribute to the security of Europe once the experience gained has been transformed into action, and when the states are ready to discuss it through an exchange of new and far-reaching ideas. It is not enough simply to carry on as before, consolidating the principles and commitments already established. There must be specific measures to follow them up.

We are only too well aware of the OSCE's limits in terms of financial resources as well as at the organizational and institutional level. In spite of great efforts, there is still a risk that the OSCE will not achieve the objectives it is pursuing in Bosnia-Herzegovina and elsewhere. And yet it is not too presumptuous to say that the OSCE is indeed yielding concrete results, and that even a small country like Switzerland can play a full role within it.


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