By Emma Derr,
Max Kampelman Fellow
November 21, 2020, marks the 30th anniversary of the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, a groundbreaking document of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE).
The charter was signed by 34 heads of state and government during a CSCE Summit in the French capital from November 19 to 21, 1990. The political agreement charted a path forward following Cold War confrontation and division caused by Soviet domination in the east. It ushered in a new era as states made an unprecedented commitment to domestic individual freedoms, democratic governance, human rights, and transnational cooperation.
By institutionalizing the CSCE as a platform to realize peace and security, this process transformed the multilateral Conference into the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which today is the world’s largest regional security organization, comprising 57 participating States.
The charter states, “Europe is liberating itself from the legacy of the past. The courage of men and women, the strength of the will of the peoples and the power of the ideas of the Helsinki Final Act have opened a new era of democracy, peace and unity in Europe.”
Known by many as the “Helsinki Process,” both the CSCE and its OSCE successor have been based on ten principles guiding relations between participating States, enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act. The charter marks a triumph of the comprehensive definition of security these principles represent and a moment of unity, which participating States hoped to maintain through enhanced cooperation.
During the OSCE’s three-session Security Days event in October “Revitalizing Trust and Co-operation in Europe: Lessons of the Paris Charter,” former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who played a leading role in the charter’s formation, recalled signing the agreement as an “optimistic, almost festive event.”
“It encapsulated so much that was positive about the process that had begun with the Helsinki Final Act in 1975,” he said. “It envisioned a new and inclusive continent based largely on western values, particularly the value of democracy.”
The Enduring Value of the OSCE
Since 1990, the OSCE has acted as a forum for political dialogue and a platform for joint action across North America, Europe, and Asia through its institutions, structures, and field operations.
As its occupation of Crimea and military intervention in Eastern Ukraine have led to Russia’s isolation and sanctions by the United States and others in recent years, the OSCE is one of the few remaining multilateral forums for American diplomats to directly engage with their Russian counterparts. As an organization promoting the principles of democracy and as a forum for conflict resolution, the OSCE is a valuable tool to hold authoritarian regimes accountable throughout the region, which stretches from Vancouver to Vladivostok.
Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission Rep. Alcee L. Hastings and U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE James S. Gilmore III see the OSCE as a forum where the United States remains engaged and committed to the ideals cemented in the Charter of Paris.
“Through the OSCE, the United States directly confronts the deceit of Russia and other authoritarian powers. By raising our voices, through our participation and leadership, we reassure our friends that the United States stands with them and supports our shared values against the growing tide of autocracy,” Rep. Hastings and Amb. Gilmore stated in an August 2020 op-ed.
The organization continues to play a critical role in regional conflicts in and amongst participating States. The OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine is the only independent observer group with a permanent presence in the war zone.
“The OSCE’s broad membership and comprehensive definition of security make it an ideal platform to advocate for our interests in a vital region,” stated Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker and Ranking Member Sen. Ben Cardin in a 2018 article describing the OSCE’s timeless value. “Its institutions remain singularly placed to moderate regional conflicts, promote respect for human rights, and safeguard essential elements of democracy.”
The OSCE operates field missions in 13 participating States with the goal of supporting the development of host countries’ democratic institutions, legal frameworks, and ability to meet various human rights, media freedom, and policing commitments. OSCE field mission staff are praised by Carnegie Europe Senior Fellow Thomas de Waal as “some of the unsung heroes of Europe’s darkest corners.”
The Charter of Paris articulated a new era of economic commitments, and the OSCE provides frequent opportunities for representatives of OSCE governments to discuss best practices concerning free market economies, economic cooperation and environmental issues.
The OSCE also organizes international election observation missions to transitional and well-established democracies alike, observing and reporting on adherence to democratic election commitments.
Much has changed since the end of the Cold War, and the anniversary of the charter provides an opportunity to renew commitments to cooperation and examine how the OSCE will meet current and emerging challenges.
During October’s Security Days event, former OSCE Secretary General and former High Commissioner on National Minorities Ambassador Lamberto Zannier called for reinvigorated political support and investment by participating States to enable the OSCE to continue its vital work. He cited the post-Soviet transition in Ukraine and Serbian elections in Kosovo as examples of these efforts.
During his remarks at the event, Baker concluded that in this spirit, the OSCE can find new methods of cooperation to meet 21 century challenges.
“Our message should not be much different than it was three decades ago,” he said. “States should fulfill the promises they made in the Paris charter 30 years ago.”
The 30th anniversary inspired other webinar discussions, such as IFSH Hamburg’s Event, “30 Years Charter of Paris: Lessons for Pragmatic Cooperation in the OSCE Area,” which discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the Charter of Paris, as well as potential reforms to the OSCE. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) also engaged in the anniversary and hosted the event “(Dis)functional International Security Institutions? The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Today.”
The OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly and the French Delegation to the Assembly held an online, public discussion “The 30th Anniversary of the Charter of Paris: A Parliamentary Perspective,” on November 20, which discussed how to the OSCE can continue to provide value within today’s complex international framework.
Finally, on November 20, the Woodrow Wilson Center in cooperation with the U.S. Helsinki Commission also hosted an event, “Marking the 30th Anniversary of the Charter of Paris for a New Europe – Europe Whole and Free: The Future of the OSCE.” The discussion included the U.S. Helsinki Commission’s Ranking Member Sen. Ben Cardin and Commissioner Rep. Robert Aderholt, as well as other leading voices on European security and cooperation.
Photos Courtesy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France