To Be or Not to Be: The OSCE in the 'New Europe'

By Leah Pybus
Interstate - Journal of International Affairs
1997, Vol. 1996/1997 No. 1 | pg. 1/2 |

The aim of this article is to assess the role of the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in the post-Cold War era. The paper will firstly give a brief outline of the development of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) and will then consider two opposing views which have developed in the 1990s. The first argues that the OSCE is a product of the Cold War which has become obsolete in the absence of East-West rivalry. The second suggests that the OSCE has an important role in providing security in the “new Europe,” and goes so far as to argue that it could offer a viable replacement for Nato. Supporters of the OSCE recognise however, that vital alterations must be made to adapt the institutions and procedures of the organisation to new security concerns, particularly ethnic tensions and national uprisings. Following the discussion of these two views the article will move on to look at some of the major drawbacks of the organisation which have been identified, and which demand the attention of member states if the organisation is to fulfil their expectations.

The Birth of the CSCE

In 1944 the leader of Yugoslavian Communist movement, Tito, voiced interest in developing co- operation between states throughout the whole of Europe. [1] This desire was echoed in 1953 by Molotov, Foreign Minister for the Soviet Union, in his proposal for a pan-European security system. In 1965 Tito once again reiterated the importance of establishing a security conference in Europe. This enthusiasm encouraged the Yugoslavian government to publish suggestions for a conference. This document was subsequently distributed to all European states and Canada and the United States, although enthusiasm in the West was lacking. [2] These proposals were resubmitted to prospective member states in 1972 and the doors for a Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe were finally opened. [3]

The struggle towards the final agreement in 1975 was long and arduous. The Soviet Union battled to ensure that post-World War II boundaries remained intact and Socialist regimes were accepted as legitimate. On the other side of the negotiating table the West rallied to include issues relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms into the final agreement, much to the dissatisfaction of the USSR. In the midst of this political tug-of- war the neutral, non-aligned states (NNA) grappled to find common ground between the two blocs in order to provide a focus for the foundations of compromise and an acceptable final agreement. [4]

Following three stages of negotiations – Helsinki, July 3-7, 1972; Geneva, August 29- September 2, 1973 and Helsinki, July 30-August 1, 1975 – the Helsinki Final Act was produced as the non-legally binding concluding document. [5] The document is divided into four Baskets each addressing a different aspects identified by the members as being relevant to European security. Basket I, the baby of the Soviet Union, is presented in the form of ten Principles which establishes norms for the regulation of inter-state relations. These Principles express the commitments of the member states to respect sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the inviolability of frontiers and to refrain from intervention in the internal affairs of states and the use or threat of force. [6] Basket II, to which the West devoted more attention, encourages co-operation and the harmonisation of relations in economic, technical, scientific, and environmental fields. This Basket received enthusiastic support from Eastern and Central European states, as it provided a legitimate means through which to weaken ties with the Soviet Union. [7]

Basket III proved to be the bane of the negotiations, but without agreement on human rights issues addressed in the Basket the West would have refused to agree to those Principles in Basket I. [8] After considerable compromise and rephrasing Basket III finally emerged to promote freedom of movement and information, the protection of national minorities and efforts towards reuniting divided families. Basket IV declares the signatories’ resolve to adhere to the standards of the treaty and to discuss sentiments on its provisions and their implementation. The continuation of the Conference was also secured through setting a date for a Follow-up Meeting. Finally provisions were made in an additional section, to improve co-operation with non- member Mediterranean states, considered by Malta as vital for European security. [9]

The achievements of the CSCE during the Cold War amounted to providing a forum for communication between the East and West at times when relations outside of the Conference were hostile. [10] It ensured accepted standards in inter-state relations and enabled East European countries to strengthen ties with the West. The atmosphere in the CSCE eventually enabled a break through in the area of arms control through the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) negotiations, an area in which Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction (MBFR) negotiations had failed to achieve any compromise between 1973 and 1989. Confidence and security- building measures (CSBMs) encouraged transparency and predictability in military manoeuvres and promoted the exchange of military information in order to reduce misunderstanding and misinterpretation. [11] More importantly perhaps, the CSCE provided Europe with a comprehensive security forum to enable it to take advantage of the new circumstances which emerged after 1989.

The end of the Cold War paved the way for the institutionalisation of the CSCE – the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of hostilities lead many to argue that the Conference worthy was of permanent status. [12] The process of institutionalisation was triggered at the Paris conference, 1990 which formulated permanent bodies in Vienna, Warsaw and Prague, and in Budapest, 1994 the Conference was renamed the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe. [13] The focus of the CSCE/OSCE since the Paris Charter has shifted towards that of conflict prevention and crisis management. This has been reflected in the way the organisation has attempted to develop a capability to deal with intra-state as well as inter-states tensions. [14] The question remains however, whether the OSCE will have developed this capacity to provide a pillar of security in Europe, and possibly to replace Nato, in the future. Or will the OSCE prove inappropriate in the new Europe, troubled by internal ethnic tensions, the threat of nuclear proliferation and environmental degradation? [15]

The Death of the OSCE?

A number of analysts have argued that the OSCE does not hold the potential to offer a credible forum through which to address these new threats and uncertainties. Those who renounce the contribution of the OSCE tend to be neo-realists and as Michael Bryans found at the Prague conference, journalists. [16] Neo- realists still maintain that institutions simply reflect the balance of power within a region rather than offering a means of security; although this claim could be questioned in the case of the OSCE, where states are considered equal. In his article The False Promise of International Institutions, Mearsheimer states that such misguided reliance upon institutions will prove damaging in the future. [17]

The pessimistic media coverage is perhaps inevitable given the focus of the OSCE’s work. The role of the OSCE has been more in the realm of providing long-term solutions to tensions. [18] The OSCE’s influence has therefore been behind the scenes. Christopher Bertram, political editor of Die Zeit, Hamburg sees the OSCE as a stage upon which the East and West blocs could continue their games of Cold War political rivalry. Bertram does not believe that the OSCE has the ability to build the capacity to cope with the threats to security in the post- Cold War Europe. This obsolescence, he declares, is reflected by the organisation being preceded by other forums such as Nato, the European Union and the WEU, which has left the OSCE with no unique identifiable role.

Pavel Seifter, Director of the Conference’s co-hosting institute in Prague, lends support to Bertram’s claims. Seifter highlights the fact that the CSCE was created within an atmosphere of détente and the optimistic belief that such a forum for European security could be created and succeed. Europe during the 1970s, Seifter informs us, was also a more humane Europe and more conducive to co-operation and coexistence. He goes on to argue that in the aftermath of the euphoria generated by the end of the Cold War and the collapse of Communism, the “true nature” of post-Cold War Europe emerged.

For Seifter, the outbreak of nationalist violence and ethnic tensions nipped the euphoria in the bud and removed the motivation which existed in some areas of the organisation. [19] David Braid has also raised the question over Great Power enthusiasm for an organisation in which they are given no preferential treatment over middle and small states. [20] Similarly, Martin Walker of the Guardian was sceptical about whether the Great Powers will tolerate their international status remaining unrecognised in the future. Walker predicts that Great Power enthusiasm for the OSCE will wane and that their efforts will be concentrated on alternative organisations such as Nato and the EU, where they have more leverage over the course of events.

The Show Must Go On?

It is undeniable that the East-West hostility which the CSCE was created to address disappeared with the collapse of the bi-polar world. A multi-polar world however has not managed to eliminate all of these tensions, and conflicts which were suppressed during the Cold War era have now been released from the bonds of socialist solidarity. There are those who argue that these tension areas could provide the OSCE with a role which can be distinguished from those within the jurisdiction of other European organisations. The body of literature supporting the role of the OSCE in the future is expanding in the 1990s. Supporters of the CSCE/OSCE (including Johan Jorgen Holst, 1990; Holsti, 1990; Toogood, 1990; Andrew Williams, 1992, Peter Courtier, 1990; Jan Zielonka, 1991; Clifford and Charles Kupchan, 1991) have concluded that the OSCE has important features which other alternative organisations do not have, which make it more conducive to conflict management and crisis prevention. Dr. Wilhelm Hoynck, former Secretary General of the CSCE, states that the CSCE is the only organisation whose membership covers the whole of Europe, rather than being limited to Western or Eastern European membership. [21]

It is a result of this comprehensive nature that the OSCE is considered vital for securing Europe in the future. (Kiss, 1990; Dassi, 1990; Kielinger, 1990.) In addition to the nature of the membership, the OSCE is also considered valuable due to the Final Act covering all aspects of state relations, rather than being preoccupied with military or economic concerns. [22] One of the most vital benefits of the OSCE, it is argued, is that it aims to ensure what Galtung refers to as positive peace, rather than negative peace, (an absence of war). Positive peace ensures that as well as there being an absence of war there is also an absence of violations of the fundamental rights and freedoms. This, according to Galtung is essential in removing the threat of war. Because of the OSCE’s inability to place economic or military pressure on member states it has channelled its energies in to providing more long-term solutions to tensions even before they have developed into conflict, through the promotion of CSBMs. As a result, supporters argue that many conflicts have been prevented from breaking out. John Toogood has suggested that it was the promotion of CSBMs that prevented the spread of the conflict in Bosnia into neighbouring territories, and discouraged external support for the factions. [23]

In addition to having limited capabilities to enforce decisions, the OSCE is also a non-legally binding treaty. For some this is an obstacle to success. Zagorski, (1992) however adopts the opposite view and actually states that in the absence of any legal force member states are encouraged to co-operate beyond the expectations of the Helsinki Final Act. [24] Because there are no legal obligations the treaty is reliant on the good-will of member states to adhere to the standards. Conformity, Zagorski argues, encourages an atmosphere of trust and the desire to improve relations further. This extension of the Final Act has been particularly evident in the area of CSBMs where the West particularly has provided information in excess of that specified by the Final Act. [25]

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