How relevant is the OSCE? New European Security Pact

In recent times, OSCE has become a paradox: the Organization has in fact consolidated its tendency to slide toward irrelevance at the precise time when its aims have proved to be the most current.  The strategies of the main players within the OSCE have failed to infuse new effectiveness in the organization.

The United States, during the Bush Administration, consolidated the trend  to favour the use of the Organization as an instrument for democratic transition  in the Euro-Asian region and for the U.S. policy of democratization in connection  with the events of September 200l. Despite providing 70% of the Organization’s budget, and accounting for the vast majority of its participating states, the EU has had little influence in the dynamics of the OSCE, decided mainly by bilateral agreements between the USA and Russia. The latter in particular, sees the Vienna-based Organization as an instrument of Western interests and has moved from an appreciation of its role in the nineties, to its current skepticism.

Yet it might be in the interests of Russia as well as the West to avoid an OCSEdescent into irrelevance. The new element introduced by the President of Russia in 2008 with its proposal for a new European security architecture brings to the foreground the question of the future of the Organization in Vienna. It has been already two years since President Medvedev in stressing the need for a new European security pact, has considered the role of the OSCE exhausted (Berlin, 5 June 2008).

However, in providing some elements of the proposed new European security pact, yet to be defined in its broad outlines, the Russian President made reference to nothing but the principles incorporated in the Helsinki Act – such as the rejection of unilateralism and spheres of influence, the community of democratic values and respect for human rights throughout the Euro-Atlantic area – of which Russia is historically part of.

By contrast, French President Sarkozy, in his speech in Evian, France, 8 October 2008, in positively considering any contribution aimed at strengthening European security, reiterated that the selected forum for reflection in this regard remains the OSCE. He has in fact launched the proposal to convene a summit of the Organization, which after that of Istanbul in l999, for a decade did not take place, confirming the progressive paralysis of the Vienna headquartered security forum.

President Medvedev’s proposal and President Sarkozy’s response have initiated a debate on European security architecture that has taken place mainly within the OSCE. It is possible to establish a new agenda of the OSCE. From this perspective, the awaited summit could be the beginning of a process aimed at providing a more organic structure to European security, creating greater synergy among NATO, EU, OSCE, UN, CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organisation), and restoring the role of the Vienna-based Organization to which its objectives and still unexplored potentials would naturally lead.

Need for Governance of Multipolar Diarchic World

If there has been a constant element in recent years, it is the increasing speed with which changes are taking place in the international arena. Since the Fall of the Berlin wall (if we really want to set a conventional date for what is in fact an historical process propelled by undercurrents, powered by several factors and difficult to categorize by specific events), balances have been rapidly changing. The financial crisis which erupted in recent months is clear evidence that the chimera of a world order based on the exclusive hegemony of the USA has been downsized over the last decade.

The fragility of the financial system was just the tip of the iceberg of the progressive wearing out of the system which started long ago and depends on many factors. The anomaly in the debt load of the largest economy of the world, which has lived for years above its means, is also associated with a gradual loss of cultural hegemony.

In fact, according to some international observers, these years would mark the end of an era, which since 1815, has seen a minority monopolizing the stocks and flows of wealth and effectively ruling over the majority of the world. The shift in the flow of wealth – today produced by the periphery rather than by the group of countries that rule the world and still holds the stock of wealth – has changed the balance. The periphery is no longer prepared to accept the rules imposed by the minority that rules.

The possibility of a Sino-American condominium, which will finally shift the balance of the world to the Pacific, as China will join Japan and Southeast Asia, is regarded likely by many international observers. Still we cannot disregard the possibility that next to China and the United States, a third European pole, could emerge with Russia. It is in this context that we should consider the issue of security in Europe and the need for “Helsinki-plus” arrangements that would enable us to identify shared rules, to promote communication among key players in this new framework. Russia, Europe, the United States but also regional organizations like NATO, EU, CSTO, CIS might better collaborate in an inclusive security platform in Europe, which, enhancing the achievements of the NATO-Russia Council and of the CFSP / ESDP in the EU-Russia summits, could still maintain the goal to go further and fulfil the untapped potential of the OSCE, restoring the role it deserves in the structure of European security.

Today, as then, we feel the need for a new pact on security in Europe based on a strengthened and explicit consensus on shared rules. The objective of not creating new divisions between countries, East and West of Vienna, must be further strengthened. Reshaping the Western strategy, sometimes anachronistically conditioned by its past legacy, towards new objectives, better fits today’s bill. Aspiring to become a major player next to the others, Russia, responds to this unipolar world, with a multi-vector proposal encompassing not only political and financial interests, but also cultural dynamics.

A considerable number of Western countries essentially see the OSCE as an organization active in the human dimension and committed to the democratization of countries East of Vienna. Russia and the CIS countries have for years demanded that the organization shift its focus on political cooperation, disarmament, and frozen conflicts. The identification of a mediation of conflicting interests between participating states would encourage more cooperation from countries East of Vienna on human rights matters, as in return they would expect to be active partners on key issues of political cooperation, from disarmament to frozen conflicts.

The question is whether the United States and those European countries that look  toward Washington rather than Brussels, would be prepared to relinquish multilateral control over armaments and the stability provided by the dialogue between East and West, to pursue, within the OSCE framework, the objective of democratization in the region.

According to many observers of international politics, the agenda advocating democratization was fitting to a unipolar world which would have gradually integrated Russia and its neighbouring countries. This does not mean that we should abandon the principles of Helsinki, which in the way they were formulated involve Russia and the nearby countries, if nothing else because they were among the signatories. President Medvedev has stressed in his speech of 5 June 2008 the importance of the common values uniting Euro-Atlantic Europe and Euro-Asiatic Europe. However, in a world that is restructuring itself around multiple centers (which we hope will be included in a system as rational and orderly as possible) the moderate approach based on a national road towards democratization, which tends to avoid foreign didactic tone and impositions from the outside seems more realistic.

Such a course is recommended, in full knowledge of the fact that a relative degree of flexibility can allow coexistence between forms of democracy even not particularly homogeneous (see, for example, the case of the European Union).

To reopen a discussion on the future ofthe OSCE is to recognize the need for a renewed multilateralism, but also to guarantee a link between Russia and Europe and the Euro-Atlantic area as well. It is difficult to pursue the objective of democratization of an area that stretches from Vancouver to Vladivostok if it is not linked to greater political cooperation, which is the basis for building stability in Europe. The recognition of a role to Russia as a strategic partner will lead in return to a commitment of Moscow to work for the realization of those principles and values that are assumed to be shared.

The U.S. role in a balanced multilateral system is based on shared rules. We live in a time of transition and consolidation of new international balances. Political courage is critical to ensure that processes are governed in order to create a balanced and multipolar international system based on shared rules.

The possibility of creating an area of stability and peace in Europe depends on the ability of the three mainplayers, United States, Russia and Europe to address the current challenges without turning around the issue which remained unsolved from the Cold War: the anchoring of Moscow to the West, its integration in a collaborative plan, clear and structured, with Europe and the United States.

The discussions on the new European security architecture that are taking place within the OSCE may lead to the expected results if the Euro-Atlantic and Russian governments work together to create coordination currently missing between OSCE, EU, NATO, CSTO, CIS, giving life, with a bridge to the UN (As was foreseen in the Platform for Security in Istanbul in 1999)

The recognition of a policy of balance in Europe must include Russia in its structure (as indeed the Russian Empire was part in the Holy Alliance which played the historical role of a stabilizer of the international scene). Inversely, failure to include Russia, will continuet o divide “Eurasia” from “Euramerica”. Hopefully, the current US Administration will continue, as it has begun, a comprehensive review of the philosophy and practice of the previous policy, drawing lessons from the experiences of the last decade. US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, stressed to the US Senate (13 January 2009):

Now, in 2009, the clear lesson of the last twentyyears is that we must combat the threats and seize the opportunities of our interdependence. And to be effective in doing so we must build a world with more partners and fewer adversaries.

In Central Europe, the United States could be the focus of the network of alliances with Russia and the EU as main partners, in order to govern areas of instability such as the Balkans, Caucasus, and Central Asia. The Georgian conflict was proof that Washington is not always able to support the geo-strategic consequences of the NATO’s expansion in the East.

President Obama will have a crucial role in making sure that NATO redefines its identity in a
strategy to create stability in Europe. The role of the EU and the anchoring of Russia to the West are the key to a renewal process that cannot deny the fact that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization established itself in the well-known saying which in the fifties simplified the functions of NATO: “keep the Americans in, the Russians out and the Germans down.”

To quote Fareed Zakaria, in an article published in the Newsweek magazine (20 Oct. 2008), entitled There Is a Silver Lining:

We cannot deploy interceptor missiles on Russia’s borders, push Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and expect Russian cooperation on the Iranian nuclear issue. We cannot insist on preaching to the world democracy and capitalism while our own house is in the grip of such a wild mess.

The United States can give coherence and strategic vision to the world’s international politics. American contribution to the creation of an effective multilateral system capable of governing a multi-polar world which tends to be anarchic will be crucial. The political revival of the OSCE and the construction of more stable and functional architecture for European security, capable of integrating Russia, is an essential part of a broader programme.
* Mrs Elena Basile is in charge of the Section responsible for the OSCE, the Alliance of Civilizations and the Community of Democracies at the Italian Foreign Ministry, Rome. This is an abridged version of her article L’ OSCE e il Futuro della Sicurezza in Europa that appeared in the Comunita’ Internazzionale, Rome. The views expressed in this article are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Italian Foreign Ministry. 





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Lecturer, Ionian University
written by Dr. William Mallinson, November 21, 2010 

Signora Basile, il tuo articolo e davero raffinato, e basato sulla storia. It almost evokes Francesco Guicciardini, and his dictum that things have always been the same, the same things return with different colours, and that the past sheds light on the future. Your article is healthily almost devoid of the linguistically bulimic and bromidic sloganising of much modern IR debate, with its prisons of ‘conceptual frameworks’ and paradigms.Certainly,the world may be going through a period of mild anarchy, having now left the ‘order’ of the so-called ‘Cold War’, in which ideology was merely an excuse for hard-nosed business interests.You mention China. Let us remember that Nixon’s paranoia of the late fifties is returning, although such diststeful expressions as the ‘yellow peril’ are not used.

I think that your commentary would have been strengthened by reference to the following: first, the fact that the EU could disappear into a quagmire of bickering states, with no coherent foreign and defence policy at all, which is what the US and its European headquarters, Britain,want. At present, the EU has at least the theoretical semblance of a policy,in the shape of the CFSP (not to be confused with the NATO-dependent ESDP). But the EU’s current currency and financial disorder does not bode well for a co-ordinated European role in the apparently emerging multi-polar system. Second, the recent Franco-British defence ‘deal’ complicates various issues. Third, and particularly pertinently, Germany is behaving increasingly like a bull in a china-shop.There is no longer any historical guarantee that she she will toe traditional French communautaire approaches.Fourth, can one completely trust Poland’s role, which is still inherently more spasmodically Anglo-Saxon in its foreign policy formulation, to the extent of even irritating the Russians and Germans? Finally,do we have any serious statesmen, apart, perhaps, from Vladimir Putin, and, perhaps, Obama, who can really do their job? We have no more de Gasperis,de Gaulles, Spaaks and Beyens….
You are pleasantly optimistic in your article, which was good enough to stimulate me to comment on. Give Fellini’s Roma a big baccio from me. I hope that we meet one day.