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The Future of an Efficient Eurasian Transit System Stopped Dead in Its Tracks? A Report on the 18th Economic and Environmental Forum and the Future of Central Asian Road and Rail Transport
Monday, August 02, 2010

By Josh Shapiro, Staff Associate

The 18th Economic and Environmental Forum (EEF) was held this year on May 24-26, 2010, in Prague, Czech Republic with the theme of promoting good governance at border crossings, improving the security of land transportation, and facilitating international transport by road and rail in the OSCE region. The Forum brought together 42 of the 56 OSCE participating States, four Partners for Cooperation, multiple international organizations including the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the International Road Transport Union (IRU), and several business, academic, and non-governmental organizations.

The EEF is annually the central event of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s economic and environmental activities. The Forum gives political impetus to dialogue in this area and provides recommendations for future follow-up activities. The EEF takes place in two parts, of which this meeting in Prague is the second; the first part was held on February 1-2, 2010 in Vienna, Austria. Two preparatory conferences for the Forum have also been held, the first in Astana, Kazakhstan on October 12-13, 2009 and the second in Minsk, Belarus on March 15-16, 2010.

The 18th Economic and Environmental Forum in Review

Transport is a crucial factor, not only between Asia and Europe, but around the world. The need for simplified systems, which can cut down transit times and costs for products, will enable countries to thrive from the revenue and job creation that it possesses to affected countries. Along with these positive factors comes the downside of such a new system. More corruption, environmental pollution, and the need for more security measures will all become new factors.

The road to implementation of a fully integrated Eurasian transit system will be long and tough. A slew of major bumps along the way will surely slow the progress of long-term execution, which includes, but is not limited to, revising visa and customs procedures, rule of law issues between neighboring countries, smuggling of weapons and drugs, human trafficking concerns, and private and public sector corruption.

Concerns about the increase of prices of goods due to delays from the aforementioned issues and improving customs systems have arisen, given that many neighboring countries have complex differences between them. Enhancement of cooperation between these participating States will be a critical test to the vitality of this proposed transit network and whether it will survive the many problems it faces.

Prospects for the further development of efficient and secure transit transportation between Asia and Europe

Improving Eurasian transport links can promote mutual economic growth and help overcome the current global economic recession. Further development will help facilitate positive partnerships between participating States, and will help stabilize the region. Additionally, landlocked countries will benefit greatly from the new trade routes built with their neighboring transit countries.

The current state of transport links is in dire need of improvement. According to Russian Railways, building a 1520 millimeter gauge railway in Slovakia from Bratislava to Vienna, as well as associated logistics infrastructure, may be a breakthrough in developing the transport link from Europe through Central Asia to China. This proposed railway will attract freight traffic from numerous countries including Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Serbia and Croatia.

By building a new system, it will take approximately one-third of the transit time currently in place, helping move current maritime transport practices to more efficient and cost-effective road and rail transport. Rises in global economy are determined by transport, energy, climate, and water security. Building a new ground system will not, however, provide for a perfect method of transport, as an infrastructure without security is useless.

Review of the implementation of OSCE commitments in the economic and environmental dimension

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) prepared a Review Report focused on the facilitation of international transport and the security of inland transport. In the report, there is discussion of the many challenges that an integrated Eurasian transport system faces. For example, road traffic safety, border crossing challenges, capacity and quality of road and rail infrastructure are just a few of the obstacles. There must be a shift from a national transit perspective to a regional perspective. Once integrated, there must be a shift from a regional to an inter-continental approach.

Additional challenges include a development gap between countries, as some do not have the resources to build such an infrastructure. Investment in transport is a question of priority within a country, as some give precedence to other issues, regardless of what a neighboring participating State might do. CO2 abatement, traffic safety, and trade and transport facilitation need to be compared to security concerns. The lack of a current unified rail law is a major issue, and land transport security is currently well underestimated.

According to the UNECE, road safety should be given priority when looking at security issues. In fact, more people have been killed since World War II on the roads than in the War itself. Currently, road and rail networks are not integrated fully, especially in Central Asia, and the need for an adequate and coherent system will be challenging. According to Ms. Eva Monár of UNECE, inland water transport is currently operable; however, efficient integration into the modern day system is lacking because not all countries border a body of water.

The environmental impact of an expansion is of major concern, as air pollution causes health hazards and harms our atmosphere. The need for more efficient ‘green’ vehicles is recommended in some UNECE countries, as well as proposed paths around urban areas, reducing noise nuisance and smog.

Promoting Good Governance in International Transportation and at Border Crossings

Many barriers are faced in international transportation, including issues at border crossings. Approximately 40% of transit time is lost at border crossings as a result of bad governance and the lack of a simplified visa and customs process. Based off of numerous presentations, the need for cooperation between countries is a must and a proactive approach must be made. Procedures need to be modified so that freight traffic can move in a secure and regulated manner, and contractual frameworks need to be in place for joint liability between carriers and its customers. According to the International Rail Transport Committee (CIT), the OSCE could also play a role in locating and identifying efficient trade routes and motivate participating States to conduct pilot projects to check for potential issues.

An example was given at the Forum of a demonstration train that the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) ran from Islamabad, Pakistan to Istanbul, Turkey in the fall of 2009. The run proved to potential private investors to take another look at its promise for faster and efficient trade, and this example particularly demonstrated the importance of political will from the States that took part.

Regarding customs issues, The Arusha Declaration, adopted by the World Customs Organization in 1993 and revised in 2003, outlines a way forward to enhance integrity in the Customs environment. The revised Kyoto Convention is also key to implement, which harmonizes the customs clearing process. The major concern is the lack of integrity within the customs community and the strong need for governments to be fully committed to reduce corruption. For example, according to a representative of Azerbaijan, modernization of its procedures is already taking place and the amount of waiting time during its customs process has decreased ten-fold. Simplifying the documentation system and implementing a single window structure is the key, as well as training border patrol agents correctly on following up-to-date procedures.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development suggests that the implementation of existing conventions should be given priority and that public-to-public and public-to-private sector relations are both very important. The Rotterdam Rules were brought up, which were the result multilateral negotiations that took place within the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law for seven years starting in 2002. The Convention, signed by 21 countries including the United States, describes who is responsible and liable for what, and brings clarity under a single contract of carriage.

Ireland, which will chair the OSCE in 2012, noted that the EU’s single window market took more than 40 years to implement and the longer term benefit of such a system far outweighs the potential loss of sifting through free trade agreements.

Transport facilitation and Security in Central Asia and with Afghanistan

Afghanistan currently faces numerous challenges when trading with its neighboring countries and the world. According to Mr. Ziauddin Zia, Adviser to the Minister of Commerce and Industry of Afghanistan, the obstacles include implementing second-generation policy reforms, the exorbitant cost of doing business, a weak-knowledge economy, and poor infrastructure. Tremendous progress has been made in Afghanistan, though, which has recently been torn with violence and corruption.

There was a mention by Mr. Zia of the ‘World Bank’s Doing Business’ report, which lists economies on their ease of doing business, of which Afghanistan is ranked last out of 183 countries for the ease of trading across its borders. Poor road conditions hinder efficient trade, and the lack of access to Central Asia by rail limits the possibility of trade with neighboring States. In the long term, if reform in Afghanistan can be achieved in such challenging conditions, other countries can certainly do it as well.

Mr. Thomas M. Sanderson, Deputy Director and Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), stressed the economic significance and geopolitical importance of Afghanistan due to its strategic location as the land bridge between the subcontinent, Central Asian states, and the Persian Gulf. Legal frameworks and capacity building through the OSCE could place an added value to the region as well.

The Impact of Transportation on Environment and Security

Many risks are associated with transcontinental transport, including shipping hazardous waste and dangerous goods. There was a focus on many instances where these materials are shipped through non-EU countries, which do not have to adhere to guidelines already in place. The need to adopt legislation for a single method system to then work with prior European legislation was a discussion topic, as well as the need for construction of secure railcars and subsequently a study of accident prevention.

International training of monitoring personnel and trainers were brought to light, and the idea of translating more training manuals was suggested. Unfortunately, security is a major factor that is holding up talks to build an intercontinental rail transport system. Air transport is now secure but rail is certainly not. There are countless access points to terrorize a rail system, as opposed to scanning cargo and passengers in a secure arena such as an airport. Initial costs may increase to prevent terrorism and provide a more secure system, but the long-term economic benefits will make the venture worthwhile.

Specific Transport Security Aspects and the Role of the OSCE

The importance of land versus maritime transportation is quite evident, as virtually all freight is carried on roads at some point throughout the shipping-to-receiving process. The security aspect of land transportation is much more complex than that of sea, as there is much more potential of terrorist acts being carried through over such a vast area. Some argue, though, that there is an unwillingness of governments to compromise sovereignty in favor of international frameworks and measures.

Enhancing inland transport security is key, though currently it appears to be under-protected, especially in the international law perspective. ‘Good practice’ sharing is an effective and inexpensive way to enhance transport security. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe has organized an ‘Inland Transport Security Discussion Forum’ to provide dialogue on inland transport security issues.

The threat of weapons of mass destruction remains but the need to focus on those areas in which cargo is relatively harder to protect is crucial. Closed methods of transport, including aviation (100% passenger and luggage screening) and maritime transport (almost 100% container scanning), might currently be used for global transit, though more of a look into inland transit needs to take effect. Inland transit remains open and accessible to security threats, and design safety standards on railcars and cargo vehicles need to improve.

Current financial uncertainty will place greater scrutiny on the decision-making process, especially in the aspect of security. A look at history and past events, such as the Madrid, London, and Russian train bombings, will need to be integrated into the managerial process; however, there is no existing model that fully meets the need of a counter-terrorism security appraisal.

Follow-up to the 18th Economic and Environmental Forum

The Eighteenth Economic and Environmental Forum is a clear example that the OSCE is taking efforts to provide dialogue to facilitate and secure road and rail transportation, and an effective Eurasian transport system will be a long-term undertaking. Cooperation from neighboring countries and the perseverance of its people to one day be a part of a larger system than just their own will lead to lower overall priced goods and more security for its citizens.

The U.S. welcomes further discussion by Kazakhstan, the current Chair-in-Office of the OSCE, of trade and transport ideas at the upcoming OSCE summit, as Kazakhstan is a land-locked country and could reap significant benefits from freer regional trade. Subsequent peace and stability would have a profound effect in the region, especially in Afghanistan where trade is hindered by corruption and the lack of efficient infrastructure. Although many agreements between participating States exist, overcoming the political and economic hurdles to effective implementation will remain the key impediment to success.

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Other journalists highlighted in Political Prisoners in Russia: Mykola Semena (Ukraine) – Semena, a Crimean journalist, has been charged under Article 280.1 of Russia’s criminal code, which penalizes "public calls for actions violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation." The law was added to the Russian criminal code in December 2013, and came into force in May 2014 - several weeks after Crimea was annexed by Russia. Semena was one of the only independent journalists to remain on the peninsula following Russia’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea. He contributed reporting to RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service and its Crimea Desk. On April 19, 2016, after Russian police searched Semena’s home and confiscated computers and storage media, the de facto Crimean prosecutor-general ordered Semena to remain on the peninsula while he was investigated for alleged “calls to undermine Russia’s territorial integrity via the mass media.” Semena has been forced to stay in Crimea ever since, despite his requests to travel to Kyiv for urgently needed medical care. Semena’s trial has been adjourned and delayed several times this year. If he is found guilty, he could face five years in prison. Roman Sushchenko (Ukraine) – Sushchenko, a Ukrainian journalist, is charged under article 276 of Russia’s criminal code (espionage). He has worked as a Paris-based correspondent for Ukraine’s state news agency, Ukrinform, since 2010. He was detained at a Moscow airport on September 30, 2016, upon his arrival from Paris on private business. He was accused of collecting classified information on the activities of Russia’s armed forces and the National Guard. Mr. Sushchenko denies any involvement in espionage. His employer, Ukrinform, also considers the accusations false and called his detention a “planned provocation.” Mr. Sushchenko’s attorney is Mark Feygin, who previously represented Pussy Riot and Nadezhda Savchenko. Sushchenko’s pre-trial detention has been extended several times by the Lefortovsky District Court of Moscow since his arrest, and is currently set until September 30, 2017. Photos Cited: Afqan Muxtarli: Facebook Mehman Huseynov: Facebook Halina Abakunchyk: RFE/RL Zhanbolat Mamay: RFE/RL Nikolai Andrushchenko: RFE/RL Dmitry Popkov: TON-M Nur Ener: Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) Oguz Guven: Twitter Stanyslav Aseyev: RFE/RL

  • Reaching Consensus on Senior OSCE Appointments

    On July 18, 2017, the 57 participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) formally approved by consensus new leaders for four OSCE institutions: Thomas Greminger (Switzerland): OSCE Secretary General. Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir (Iceland): Director of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Harlem Désir (France): Representative on Freedom of the Media. Lamberto Zannier (Italy): High Commissioner on National Minorities. Following weeks of debate, the agreement was reached on the margins of an informal Ministerial Council meeting in Mauerbach, near Vienna, held under the auspices of the 2017 Austrian chairmanship.  Download the full report to learn more.

  • Democracy in Central & Eastern Europe

    On July 26, 2017, the U.S. Helsinki Commission held a briefing on “Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe: Renewing the Promise of Democratic Transitions.” This briefing followed a series of roundtable discussions and other events earlier in the year relating to this region, demonstrating the Helsinki Commission’s interest in Central and Eastern Europe. Erika Schlager, Counsel for International Law for the U.S. Helsinki Commission, welcomed panelists Andrew Wilson, the Managing Director of the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE); Peter Goliaš, Director of the Institute for Economic and Social Reforms in Slovakia; András Lőke, Chair of Transparency International in Hungary; and Marek Tatała, Vice-President of the Civil Development Forum in Poland. Jan Surotchak, Regional Director for Europe at the International Republican Institute (IRI), and Jonathan Katz, Senior Resident Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) added Washington policy perspectives. The discussion was moderated by Martina Hrvolova, Central Europe and the Balkans Program Officer at CIPE. The panelists provided a background on democracy in the regional context, as well as on the specific case studies of Slovakia, Hungary and Poland. Andrew Wilson observed that new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe face serious stresses that raise questions about the resilience of their democratic transitions and threaten to undo the remarkable progress the countries made during the last three decades. He argued that the problems in the region do not stem from the failure of democracy, but rather a failure to more actively pursue its consolidation. Peter Goliaš offered a brief overview of the current state of democracy in Slovakia. He described the findings of a recent public opinion poll that paint a very bleak picture of how Slovakians see the current state of democracy in their country. He argued that a main reason for people’s dissatisfaction with democracy has been the perception that politicians do not work in the public’s interest, but in the interest of the oligarchs. He projected that current political trends will lead to the continued slow deterioration of Slovak democracy. To stop this deterioration, Goliaš proposed several short- and long-term measures that he believes would strengthen the rule of law and civil society in Slovakia. András Lőke cited the reports of several influential NGOs to describe the current state of Hungarian democracy. While both Freedom House and Transparency International still give moderate scores to Hungary on the level of freedom and corruption, Hungary is trending downward on every indicator that were examined. Lőke argued that the most telling figures were found in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, which ranked Hungary very poorly based on an assessment of the rule of law and the level of corruption. After identifying the challenges facing Hungary today, Lőke outlined a list of solutions to these problems that would ultimately enable civil society to reassert its role in maintaining transparency and accountability in governance, and generally increase the crucial engagement of civil society in public affairs. Marek Tatała assessed the state of democracy in Poland, arguing that while the country remains a democracy, its current political leadership is weakening rather than strengthening its democratic development. Tatała observed that laws on the constitutional tribunal and on the organization of courts, and the rapid nature of the legislative process, have been harmful to the rule of law in Poland. He underlined the need for a higher level of engagement of the business community in public affairs, and a better quality of education that is more focused on civic engagement and economic literacy. Following up on the three country case studies, Jan Surotchak presented the findings of a recent poll conducted as part of IRI’s Beacon Project. The findings revealed a number of disturbing trends in Central and Eastern Europe, including waning support for core transatlantic institutions; tensions over the nature of European identity; and a deep discontent with socioeconomic challenges in the region. Most importantly, the study confirmed that there is a strong correlation between socioeconomic disparities in these countries and their vulnerabilities to Russian influence. Finally, Jonathan Katz emphasized the need to increase the United States’ bilateral and joint diplomatic engagement and development assistance efforts in the region to support continued democratic and economic transition. More specifically, Katz presented four core strategies that he argues are needed, which included the establishment of joint US-EU mechanisms to strengthen development cooperation and coordination in the entire OSCE region. The panelists agreed that any external development assistance should primarily support the work of civil society in Central and Eastern Europe, with a special focus on communication campaigns. Particular emphasis should be given to the improvement of the education system with a focus on promoting discussions with students. Marek Tatała also argued that given the fairly strong ties of these countries’ leaders with the United States, a stronger voice from the current US Administration regarding negative developments in Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland would be also welcome and effective. With regard to action from Congress, panelists argued that resources for development assistance could come in the form of a congressional authorization bill. Panelists also noted that to be effective, any external development fund that targets NGOs or the civil society must be monitored by donors to avoid corruption. Panelists observed that the Congress could play a particularly important role in providing oversight of such assistance programs and making sure that their spending follow very strict guidelines.

  • A Hazy Crisis: Illicit Cigarette Smuggling in the OSCE Region

    On Wednesday, July 19, 2017, the U.S. Helsinki Commission held a hearing on illicit cigarette smuggling in the OSCE region. Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) presided over the hearing. Witnesses included Dr. Louise Shelley, Director of the Terrorism, Crime, and Corruption Center and George Mason University; Professor David Sweanor, adjunct professor of law at the University of Ottawa; and Mr. Marc Firestone, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Phillip Morris International (PMI). In his opening statement, Chairman Wicker outlined the significant threat to global security and economic prosperity the illicit cigarette trade poses. “Ongoing illicit [cigarette] trade helps fund terrorist activities, it fosters corruption, and it undermines the rule of law,” Chairman Wicker said. He continued his remarks by discussing how the illicit cigarette trade affects both hard security and economic issues in the OSCE region: two of the Helsinki Final Act’s three principal dimensions. Dr. Shelley, the first of the witnesses to testify, reiterated the Chairman’s assertion that the illicit cigarette trade represented a serious national security threat, and highlighted the impunity of cigarette smugglers as a core concern. “There has been a problem of a culture of impunity ... It’s not just criminals, it’s not just terrorists, but it’s high-level officials that are not just in policing or in the borders, but at the heads of national governments that are involved in this,” she said. She also lamented the lack of an organized legal response to these crimes and argued that there must be more cooperation between private companies and national governments to curb this illicit trade. Professor Sweanor focused on the economic aspects of illicit cigarette smuggling. He argued that governments should venture to undercut the economic viability of the illicit cigarette trade, by targeting demand for cigarettes. “Give people alternatives to the sorts of illicit products that they’re buying now,” he said, “if you don’t give people alternatives to cigarettes as a product, the alternative they’re going to find is illicit cigarettes.” The third witness, Mr. Firestone, echoed Dr. Shelley’s recommendation for greater public-private collaboration and reaffirmed Phillip Morris International’s commitment to combat illicit cigarette smuggling. “PMI doesn’t make or enforce anti-smuggling laws. We don’t police borders. We can’t tell other companies what to do…There has to be an integrated, cooperative, comprehensive approach,” he said. Answering a question about the role of new media companies in the illicit cigarette trade, Dr. Shelley argued for greater cooperation between U.S. government agencies and these new media firms in order to curb the illicit trade of cigarettes. Chairman Wicker and the witnesses also discussed the process of buying illicit cigarettes and what strategies EU and OSCE national governments can follow to further stem this market.

  • 2017 OSCE Gender Equality Review Conference

    By Janice Helwig, Representative of the Helsinki Commission to the U.S. Mission to the OSCE The OSCE held its second Gender Equality Review Conference in Vienna on June 12-13, 2017. The meeting was not a traditional review conference;  it did not systematically evaluate how OSCE participating States are doing in implementing their commitments, but rather offered a framework for an exchange of information and best practices among governments, international organizations, and NGOs. Austrian Federal Minister for Families and Youth Sophie Karmasin opened the conference, followed by a video address from the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau. The conference was also addressed by the Special Representative of the OSCE Chairmanship-in-Office on Gender Issues Ambassador Melanne Verveer. The conference was held in a non-traditional format for the OSCE, which usually holds meetings with government delegates speaking from behind their country’s nameplate. It comprised concurrent panel discussions viewed by an audience, followed by a question and answer session. Panelists came from governments, the OSCE Institutions and field missions, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the European Union, the United Nations, and civil society. Panelists discussed women’s participation in the security sector; women’s participation in political and public life; equal economic opportunities for women; combating violence against women; strengthening institutional mechanisms; and emerging issues and ways forward. Issues raised included the disproportionately low number of women in political decision-making positions or in military, security, and conflict management roles; the pay gap between women and men for similar work; discrimination and harassment, including of minority women; and the vulnerability of women and girls to trafficking and sexual abuse.   Recommendations for areas that need more attention included improving access to and the quality of education for girls; alleviating poverty and other situations that make girls more vulnerable to trafficking and sexual exploitation; doing more to better prevent violence against women; promoting women’s participation in conflict management, mediation, and peace processes; closing the pay gap; focusing on the role of women in perpetrating or countering violent extremism and terrorism; and the need to gather more sex-disaggregated data and research to develop the most effective programs to address these issues. Several speakers also discussed OSCE efforts to promote equal opportunities for women inside the Organization, as well as to incorporate a gender perspective in its work. They noted that the OSCE has established a network of Gender Focal Points throughout all OSCE structures; raised the percentage of women working in the Organization from 35 percent in 2004 to 49 percent today; increased gender components in OSCE projects; and stepped up assistance to participating States in implementing their gender-related commitments. They recommended that the OSCE strive to increase the number of women appointed to senior level positions, provide more coaching on gender issues for OSCE management, develop a mechanism to more systematically incorporate a gender perspective in all OSCE projects and activities, ensure no all-male panels at OSCE events, and update the 2004 Action Plan for the Promotion of Gender Equality.

  • The OSCE Moscow Mechanism

    The Moscow Mechanism is a tool allowing for the establishment of a short-term fact finding mission to address a specific human rights concern in the OSCE region. It grew out of the earlier Vienna Mechanism, which was designed as a vehicle to enable participating States to raise and address specific concerns in the human dimension.  Together, the two today form what is generally referred to as the OSCE Human Dimension Mechanism, although in practice, the Vienna Mechanism has largely been overtaken by the Moscow Mechanism. Download the full report to learn more.

  • Democracy in Central & Eastern Europe Focus of Upcoming Helsinki Commission Briefing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: DEMOCRACY IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE: RENEWING THE PROMISE OF DEMOCRATIC TRANSITIONS Wednesday, July 26, 2017 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM Capitol Visitors Center Room SVC-215 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission In 1990, at a moment of historic transition, the countries of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe adopted a watershed agreement recognizing the relationship between political pluralism and market economies. To advance both, they committed to fundamental principles regarding democracy, free elections, and the rule of law.  In recent years, however, concerns have emerged about the health of the democratic transition in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in the face of ongoing governance challenges and persistent corruption. At this briefing, speakers will examine the current state of democracy in Central and Eastern Europe and analyze efforts to address the region’s challenges.  They will also discuss the declaration adopted on June 1 by civil society representatives, members of business communities, and others, which seeks to reinvigorate the region’s democratic trajectory, support democratic and economic reform, and strengthen the transatlantic partnership. The following panelists are scheduled to speak: Andrew Wilson, Managing Director, Center for International Private Enterprise Peter Golias, Director, Institute for Economic and Social Reforms, Slovakia Andras Loke, Chair, Transparency International, Hungary Marek Tatala, Vice-President, Civil Development Forum, Poland Additional comments will be provided by: Jan Surotchak, Regional Director for Europe, International Republican Institute Jonathan Katz, Senior Resident Fellow, German Marshall Fund

  • The 2017 OSCE Asian Partners Conference

    By Janice Helwig, Policy Advisor and Representative of the Helsinki Commission to the USOSCE From June 19 to June 20, 2017, approximately 150 representatives of governments, academia, and international organizations from 41 OSCE participating States and seven Partners for Cooperation gathered in Berlin for the annual OSCE Asian Partners. The venue of the annual conference rotates among the five OSCE Asian Partners for Cooperation; however, as this year’s chair of the Asian Partners Contact Group, Germany hosted rather than Afghanistan. The conference, with a theme of “Common Challenges and Common Opportunities,” opened with a high-level session in which participants discussed security challenges in the OSCE and Asian regions. H.E. Adela Raz, Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Cooperation, described the growing complexities of combating terrorism, including an increase in foreign terrorist fighters, links between international organized crime and terrorist financing, and the vulnerability to recruitment of unemployed and marginalized youth. The session also focused on threats stemming from North Korea’s nuclear and missile testing programs, territorial disputes in the South China Sea, and cybercrime. A second session focused on connectivity and regional economic cooperation, particularly between Afghanistan and the countries of the Central Asian region. Participants discussed various initiatives to foster trade along the historic Silk Road, including building roads, railways, and modernized ports, as well as developing digital and financial connectivity. The third session looked at three specific United Nations Sustainable Development Goals –, goal 4 on ensuring inclusive and quality education for all, goal 5 on achieving gender equality, and goal 16 on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies – and opportunities for the OSCE to support them. Common priorities discussed included increasing access to and funding for quality education, combating violence against women, and promoting human rights and the rule of law. A side event organized by the OSCE focused on a project to increase women’s participation in water management and promote confidence-building between Afghanistan and Central Asia. Women play a major role in household use of water in the rural areas of the region, but often have little say in decisions concerning water management. The OSCE project  fosters the development of a regional network of female water professionals from state agencies, NGOs, research institutes, and water users associations and providing capacity building in negotiation and mediation skills.

  • Addressing Anti-Semitism through Intersectional Advocacy

    By Dr. Mischa Thompson, Policy Advisor “[There were so many victims of the Holocaust] but we engage in competitive victimhood, where we take the oppressor’s view of a victim’s worth.” – Words into Action participant Misko Stanisic, Terraforming From June 21 to June 23, 2017, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) hosted the second in a series of workshops focused on addressing anti-Semitism.  The workshop, titled “Gender and Intersectional Activism: Coalition-Building for a More Tolerant Society,” provided a forum for 50 civil society leaders to discuss their efforts to address prejudice and discrimination across the 57 European and North American countries of the OSCE.  The forum was part of the OSCE/ODIHR’s “Turning Words into Action to Address Anti-Semitism” (WiA) project, which increases the capacity of countries and civil society to prevent and respond to anti-Semitism through security, education, and coalition-building measures.  According to Cristina Finch, Head of the ODIHR Tolerance and Discrimination Department, the forum will also assist with “creation of a coalition-building manual that ODIHR will publish to assist civil society in these efforts.”  Noting the problem of “underreporting,” the forum educated participants about OSCE/ODIHR efforts to collect hate crimes statistics, and highlighted methods by which civil society could work with local law enforcement and the OSCE/ODIHR to report hate crimes.  At the forum, OSCE/ODIHR shared recent findings that indicate that while Jewish men are more likely to be victims of anti-Semitic speech or physical violence, Jewish women fear anti-Semitic attacks more.  This suggests gender may play an important role in addressing anti-Semitism, prompting the need for more gender-rich and intersectional prevention efforts. For instance, Misko Stanisic of Terraforming, an organization focused on Holocaust and human rights education, noted that thousands of women participated in crimes of the Holocaust, but that gender stereotypes resulted in women often not being viewed as perpetrators, resulting in “female perpetrators [being] seldom investigated for their crimes and rarely prosecuted during the post-war trials.” He also described how socially constructed perceptions of gender, race, and other identities not only impacted who is – and who is not – included in text books and other educational tools on the Holocaust, but also how this has impacted efforts to address anti-Semitism.  “[There were so many victims of the Holocaust] but we engage in competitive victimhood, where we take the oppressor’s view of a victim’s worth,” he said. Other participants highlighted the forum’s relevance to American scholar Kimberle Crenshaw’s intersectionality theory, which details how hierarchal systems of gender and race resulted in African-American women often being excluded from the mainstream feminist movement in the United States.  In particular, participants discussed how efforts to address anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice and discrimination have been stymied by approaches that have reinforced gender and other hierarchical power structures preventing men and women within communities from effectively working together.  Invoking American luminary James Baldwin, Finnish journalist Maryan Abdulkarim stated, “No one is free until we are all free.” She stressed the need for more inclusive efforts that move away from a focus on differences that separate the “majority” and “minorities,” and to restore humanity by challenging harmful societal constructs and working across communities, including with the “majority” to address problems. While the forum explored the importance of inclusive approaches to addressing anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance, some participants warned that intersectionality could become an ineffective trend if care is not taken in its implementation.  Specifically, the differences between academic discussions and practice were raised.  In particular, participants cited the need for clear laws, processes, and procedures that protect all, as well as equal access to justice.   For example, laws and policies should be understandable to police, judges, and ordinary citizens, and straightforward to implement.  Researchers, funders, and advocates should be particularly mindful as to whether their efforts advance equality, or simply check a box. The art and commentary of speaker Dan Perjovschi underscored and offered insight into the societal challenges forum participants faced in efforts to address anti-Semitism, gender and other inequities in countering prejudice and discrimination at large, and the need for their continued efforts. More Information Roundtable on Fighting Anti-Semitism Looks at Turning Words into Action OSCE/ODIHR Turning Words into Action Project

  • Energy (In)Security in Russia’s Periphery

    On July 13, 2017, the U.S. Helsinki Commission held a briefing on “Energy (In)security in Russia’s Periphery.” Energy security is an important topic that belongs to the OSCE’s Second Dimension. This briefing addressed energy security challenges in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, in particular in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. Panelists included Peter Doran, Executive Vice President and Interim Director at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA); Edward Chow, Senior Fellow at the Energy and National Security Program of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS); Andrian Prokip, Senior Associate at the Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center and Energy Expert at the Institute for Social and Economic Research; Lyndon Allin, Associate at Baker McKenzie; and Dr. Mamuka Tsereteli, Senior Fellow at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute. The panelists provided a background on energy security both generally and in the regional context of the post-Soviet space, as well as in the specific case studies of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. Mr. Doran stated that the energy security situation in Europe, and also in Russia’s immediate neighborhood, has fundamentally changed as a result of the end of energy scarcity in the world and the construction of new energy infrastructure in Central and Eastern Europe in a positive way. However, the bad news is that Russia is not willing to accept this game-changing market shift and is fighting back. For instance, the panelists agreed on the key role that Azerbaijan could play for the supply of energy not only in the post-Soviet space, but also in other European countries. They noted, however, in order for world-class projects, like the ones operating or being planned in Azerbaijan, to become a reality, the achievement of market integration is critical. Unfortunately, market integration in Southeastern Europe is exactly what Russia has been trying to prevent with the tool of energy corruption, which it uses to keep its neighboring countries dependent on it for energy supplies, and to obtain kompromat on various political leaders in the region. Mr. Doran specifically cited the case of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which he argued is a political and not a commercial project for Russia to gain more influence over European, and in particular Ukrainian, energy security. When it comes to ways of approaching energy security, panelists agreed that it must be achieved not by top-down but rather with bottom-up solutions, citing the specific example of Ukraine, which could easily become self-sufficient if it implemented crucial reforms that hinder much-needed private investment in its energy sector. In particular, Mr. Chow observed that, while external challenges must be confronted and overcome, the implementation of crucial structural reforms in the energy sectors of post-Soviet countries is critical to meet the challenge that Russia poses. For example, he regards corruption in the energy sector in Ukraine as the key reason for the nation’s energy insecurity. The panelists agreed that U.S. political leaders should be careful about making promises to politicians in the region, for example the oft-cited promise that U.S. LNG exports will be able to substitute for Russian gas and solve the energy security problems of the region. Instead, as the panelists pointed out, the emphasis should be put on supporting the energy market development of countries in the post-Soviet space. Mr. Prokip stressed that the recently proposed reforms in Ukraine must go forward. In particular, progress must be made in implementation, which he argued could only happen if the West is willing to exert more pressure on the Ukrainian authorities, while continuing to provide advice and assistance. In both Chow’s and Prokip’s view, U.S. energy exports cannot serve as a substitute for structural economic reforms in Ukraine. Following a similar line of argument, Mr. Allin pointed out that, in the case of Moldova, it is the Moldovans who need to make more effort to solve their own problems, rather than looking only to foreign partners for external solutions. Finally, Dr. Tsereteli reminded the audience that structural reforms and the openness to trade and investment that accompanies them can lead to post-Soviet countries’ integration in the global economic system, as was the case in Georgia, which managed to improve its energy security significantly this way.

  • Helsinki Commission Staff Meet with OSCE Election Experts

    By Erika Schlager, Counsel for International Law On July 11, Helsinki Commission staff met with Dame Audrey Glover, head of the OSCE election observation mission during the 2016 U.S. elections. Other members of the OSCE team included Mr. Jan Haukass (Vienna Representative of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, or ODIHR), Dr. Richard Lappin (ODIHR-Warsaw), and Mr. Radivoje Grujic (ODIHR-Warsaw).  The meeting was part of OSCE’s standard consultations following the deployment of an election observation mission.  The election team also held meetings in Washington with Members of Congress and the Department of State. OSCE election observation is based on the 1990 Copenhagen Document in which the participating States agreed that “the will of the people, freely and fairly expressed through periodic and genuine elections, is the basis of the authority and legitimacy of all government.” The commitment fosters universal suffrage, equality, fairness, freedom, transparency, accountability, and secrecy of the ballot. The original proposal for a commitment to hold free and fair elections came from the Helsinki Commission in 1989 but, at that time, was unacceptable to communist countries. In 1990, as communist regimes began to fall, agreement on the new commitment was adopted and signaled the rejection of the one-party systems that had previously dominated Eastern Europe. However, implementation of this commitment continues to be restricted in some countries where civil society is limited or faces repression. OSCE election observation in the region represents the “gold standard” in international election observation. In some instances, when even the fundamental conditions for free and fair elections are lacking, the OSCE may decline to observe elections rather than give them a degree of legitimacy that is unwarranted. In 2015, restrictions imposed by the government of Azerbaijan compelled the OSCE to cancel a planned election observation mission. Some countries, such as Russia, have sought to undermine OSCE election observation by promoting observation through the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a post-Soviet grouping that includes Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine.  CIS election observers consistently praise elections that are considered to be significantly flawed by independent observers, particularly the OSCE.  Helsinki Commissioners and staff have participated in well over 100 election observation missions since 1990 – the vast majority of them as members of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly contingent that is part of the larger OSCE-led international observation missions. The Commission continues to support OSCE observation efforts, focusing on countries where resistance to democratic change remains the strongest.  The Commission has also actively supported the right of domestic election observers to monitor the elections in their own countries. Learn more about OSCE election observation.

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Illicit Cigarette Smuggling

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: A HAZY CRISIS: ILLICIT CIGARETTE SMUGGLING IN THE OSCE REGION Wednesday, July 19, 2017 9:30 AM Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 106 Live Webcast: http://www.senate.gov/isvp/?type=live&comm=csce&filename=csce071917 The global illicit tobacco trade costs governments around the globe approximately $40 billion to $50 billion annually. The U.S. Department of State classifies illicit cigarette smuggling as low-risk, high-reward behavior for traffickers; they are regularly able to avoid detection and punishment while bringing in millions of dollars. This money is frequently used to fund other criminal activities such as human trafficking, drug trafficking, and terrorism. One of the most problematic regions for cigarette smuggling globally is the OSCE region. For example, studies estimate that €10.2 billion ($11.64 billion) is lost every year to this criminal activity in the European Union alone, where counterfeit cigarettes are particularly prevalent and account for 30 percent of articles detained by EU customs. Hubs of illicit activity exist in regions such as Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, where large quantities of cigarettes are produced and then illicitly trafficked through transit countries. Western Europe’s high cigarette taxes create demand for illicit alternatives, and transnational organized criminal networks and terrorist groups have seized upon this opportunity. The hearing will examine the issue of illicit cigarette smuggling in the OSCE region with the goal of understanding the threats it poses and how best to respond. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Louise Shelley, Director, Terrorism, Transnational Crime, and Corruption Center, George Mason University David Sweanor, Adjunct Professor of Law, University of Ottawa Marc Firestone, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Phillip Morris International  

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing to Examine Energy Security in Russia’s Periphery

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: ENERGY (IN)SECURITY IN RUSSIA’S PERIPHERY July 13, 2017 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM Dirksen Senate Office Building Room G11 Under Vladimir Putin, Russia has used its neighbors’ dependence on its energy supplies as a source of geopolitical leverage and sought to keep their energy sectors underdeveloped and corrupt. Ukraine has recently managed to implement crucial reforms in its energy sector, but challenges remain. Meanwhile, initiatives for similar reforms in Moldova have stalled, while Georgia has successfully reformed its energy sector and developed new infrastructure. Why are these outcomes so different and what more can be done to achieve energy security in post-Soviet Eastern Europe? This briefing will provide a general overview of energy security in Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, and examine challenges and opportunities in the energy sectors of these states. Briefers will discuss the role that corruption plays in preventing the implementation of effective reforms as well as strategies to curb Russian influence. The following experts are scheduled to participate: Peter Doran, Executive Vice President and Interim Director, Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) Edward Chow, Senior Fellow, Energy and National Security Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Andrian Prokip, Senior Associate, Kennan Institute; Energy Expert, Institute for Social and Economic Research Lyndon Allin, Associate, Baker McKenzie Mamuka Tsereteli, Senior Fellow, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute  

  • Social Media Day 2017

    First celebrated in 2010, Social Media Day recognizes the enormous impact social media has had on global communication. Many OSCE institutions, field missions, and related entities maintain a robust presence on social media, allowing them to share news, facilitate dialogue, and promote democracy, the rule of law, and human rights throughout the 57 participating States of the OSCE. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission)  Twitter Facebook YouTube Flickr LinkedIn U.S. Mission to the OSCE Twitter Facebook YouTube OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Twitter Facebook YouTube Flickr Instagram OSCE Secretariat  Twitter Facebook YouTube Instagram LinkedIn SoundCloud OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities  Twitter OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Twitter Facebook LinkedIn OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Twitter Facebook YouTube Flickr OSCE Presence in Albania  Twitter Facebook OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina Twitter Facebook YouTube Google+ SoundCloud OSCE Mission in Kosovo Twitter Facebook YouTube OSCE Mission to Serbia Twitter Facebook OSCE Mission to Skopje Twitter Facebook OSCE Mission to Moldova Facebook OSCE Project Co-ordinator in Ukraine Facebook OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine Twitter Facebook OSCE Office in Tajikistan Facebook

  • Using Technology to Protect Children from Online Exploitation

    Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith, the Special Representative for Human Trafficking to the President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, has registered a supplementary item for this year’s Annual Session in Minsk, Belarus, titled, “Preventing Child Sexual Exploitation Online through Advances in Technology.”  Smith’s supplementary item examines the ways protections for children have lagged behind technology, leaving children vulnerable. “Impressionable children in most of the OSCE region have unrestricted access on any web-capable device to every conceivable form of pornography—even the most violent and vile acts—and that exposure has measurable impact on their vulnerability to sexual exploitation,” Smith said. “Tragically, we are seeing children targeted and further victimized as they are exposed to pornographic websites,” said Smith. Studies Show Correlation between Youth Access to Pornography, Sexual Exploitation Similar to earlier studies, a 2016 study in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence (Stanley et. al) of 4,564 young people aged 14 to 17 found in boys a statistically significant correlation between viewing online pornography and committing sexual coercion and abuse.   Importantly, this study was conducted in five OSCE participating States. A definitive study in the European Journal of Developmental Psychology (Bonino, et. al, 2006) found that adolescent girls who report viewing pornography are more likely to report being victims of sexual harassment or forced sex at the hands of male friends or acquaintances. “We are kidding ourselves if we think unrestricted access to pornography online is not harming our children,” said Smith. “We are allowing them to be actively and passively groomed for trafficking,” said Smith, referring to how child sex abusers are known to lower the defenses of children and condition children to accept sexual abuse as normal by showing children pornography. Age Verification The United Kingdom recently joined Germany, Finland, and Iceland in recognizing that unrestricted access of children to online pornography is a public health concern.  In April of this year, the UK’s Digital Economy Act of 2017 became law, empowering an “age verification-regulator,” most likely the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), to create guidelines on age verification walls for all pornographic websites viewed from within the UK.  The age-verification regulator will be able to fine websites that violate the new guidelines.  Ultimately, IP addresses in the UK for non-compliant websites could be shut down.  The new UK law is in addition to the country’s current requirement that cell phone companies filter content unless the cell phone owner is 18 or older. “All UK mobile operators run content filtering and age verification on their networks, based on the BBFC guidelines,” said Ernie Allen, who led the Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States and International Center for Missing and Exploited Children for more than 25 years. “If a customer tries to access an 18+ site and has not age verified, he or she receives a notice on the site that they may not access it until they have age verified,” Allen said.  Verification may be accomplished by visiting the cell phone store and showing identification, or logging into a designated website and using a credit card.  Cardholders must be 18 or older to have a credit card in the UK.  To make sure the card is not “borrowed” from a parent, one pound may be deducted to give notice to the credit card owner that their card has been used for age verification.   The data repository already created by the UK cell phone requirements could be used to inform age verification for pornographic websites.  In addition, the data repository created by the UK’s Gambling Act of 2005, which imposed age restrictions for online gambling, could also be used to verify age.  Visitors to pornographic websites could enter their gambling account number, which would then be authenticated by the website.   The pornography industry has recently come out with its own age verifying system, AgeID.  After an account is created on AgeID, the account number would be sufficient for age verification. Other companies are offering biometric options, using apps to verify that a passport showing the appropriate age belongs to the person offering the passport as verification. “We now have the technology to protect children online,” said Allen.  “A few data points sent to a third party can effectively verify age without necessarily disclosing identity.” The pending supplementary item received sponsorship from 54 parliamentarians representing 26 countries.  President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Christine Muttonen, has offered her support. Since raising this issue at the St. Petersburg Annual Session in 1999, Rep. Smith has introduced or cosponsored a supplementary item or amendments on trafficking at every annual session of the OSCE PA, including on issues such as prevention of sex tourism, situational awareness for the detection of trafficking victims in transit, and corporate responsibility for trafficking in supply chains.

  • 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report – the OSCE Region

    Human trafficking remains a pressing human rights violation around the world with the International Labor Organization estimating that nearly 21 million people are enslaved at any given time, most of them women and children. As part of U.S. efforts to combat human trafficking, the U.S. Department of State today released the 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report), reflecting the efforts of 187 countries and territories to prosecute traffickers, prevent trafficking, and to identify and assist victims, as described by the Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. Trafficking Victim Identification and Care: Regional Perspectives According to the new TIP Report, in the 2016 reporting year, countries in the OSCE region identified 304 more trafficking victims than in the previous year, for a total of 11,416 victims.  This increase is particularly notable when compared to the East Asia and Pacific, Near East, South and Central Asia, and Western Hemisphere regions, where victim identification declined, but still maintained a generally upward trend over 2014.  Trafficking victim identification and care is critical for proper management of refugee and migrant flows.  In order to help law enforcement and border guards identify trafficking victims among the nearly 400,000 migrants and refugees entering the region last year, the OSCE Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Human Beings launched a new project to conduct multiple trainings, including simulation exercises, through 2018.  The first training in November 2016 included participants from 30 OSCE participating States. Victim identification and care are also critical for successful prosecutions.  Nearly every region of the world saw a drop in prosecutions of human traffickers, but an increase in convictions in the 2016 reporting year.  This trend may reflect a growing knowledge among prosecutors of how to successfully investigate and prosecute a trafficking case.  It also may reflect an overall increase in trafficking victims who have been identified, permitted to remain in-country, and cared for such that the victims—now survivors—are ready, willing, and able to testify against their traffickers.  Despite the dramatic decline in prosecutions (46 percent) in the OSCE region, convictions held steady at nearly the same numbers as the previous year. Individual Country Narratives Along with regional statistics, the TIP Report also provides individual country narratives, recommendations for the most urgent changes needed to eliminate human trafficking, and an assessment of whether the country is making significant efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking. Tier 1 countries meet the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking. Tier 2 countries do not yet meet the standards, but are making significant efforts to do so.  Tier 2 Watch List countries do not meet the minimum standards and are making significant efforts to do so, but have a very large or increasing number of trafficking victims, have failed to demonstrate increasing efforts over the previous year, or lack a solid plan to take additional steps in the coming year. Tier 3 countries do not meet the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so. Twenty-five OSCE participating States qualified for Tier 1 in the TIP Report.  Nineteen participating States qualified for Tier 2, including Ukraine, which was upgraded this year after four years on the Tier 2 Watch List.  Five participating States were designated for the Tier 2 Watch List, including Hungary, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, and Bulgaria.* Four participating States were on Tier 3, including Belarus, Russia, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.  States on Tier 3 may be subject to sanctions. Legislation authored by Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith—who also serves as the Special Representative for Human Trafficking Issues to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly – requires the TIP Report to be produced every year.  In recent years the report has also included an assessment of the United States.   Since the inception of the report, more than 100 countries have written or amended their trafficking laws, with some nations openly crediting the report for inspiring progress in their countries’ fight against human trafficking. * OSCE participating States Andorra, Monaco, Lichtenstein, and San Marino are not included in the TIP Report.

  • OSCE Debates Future of European Security

    By Alex Tiersky, Global Security and Political-Military Affairs Advisor Can an organization of 57 participating States which includes both the United States and Russia come to agreement on the causes of instability in European security today, let alone re-commit to the basic rules of the road governing states’ behavior?  And are all participating States – especially Russia – still able and willing to participate in good faith in a positive-sum, cooperative approach to building security, rather than a competitive, beggar-thy-neighbor approach? These were the questions that underpinned the OSCE Security Days conference of non-governmental experts and governmental representatives on “Countering fragmentation and polarization: Re-creating a climate for stability in Europe,” held on May 18-19, 2017 in Prague.  While the Czech hosts were proud to inform attendees that the meeting was held in the very hall in which the July 1, 1991 protocol dissolving the Warsaw Pact was signed, it seemed unlikely that this historical spirit would deliver positive breakthroughs in the current challenges facing the post-Cold War order in Europe, which was declared dead by more than one speaker. The great majority of interventions focused on the deliberate undermining of other countries’ security and independence by Russia. Additional challenges raised by speakers included increasing polarization within and among states, the rise of populist movements, a post-truth environment that feeds instability and mistrust, and the emergence of the cyber domain and its use in interstate competition. Russian revisionist perspectives on the European security order, declared on such occasions as President Putin’s speech at the Munich Security Conference in 2007, underline the extent to which Russian leaders see the post- cold war order as detrimental to Russia’s interests and therefore obsolete, according to several speakers. Conference participants from Russia, for their part, painted an entirely different reality than that described by most other participants. In the former’s telling, the west took advantage of Russia in the post-cold war period despite positive actions by Russia, ranging from the withdrawal of troops and armaments previously stationed across Europe, to more recent collaboration in fighting against piracy or eliminating Syrian chemical weapons. Stressing the concept of indivisibility of security, Russian speakers underlined that Russia would make no more of what they called unilateral concessions, and called for a new European Security Treaty.  NATO’s concept of deterring Russia is not compatible with OSCE commitments, they asserted. Seeking to address these widely differing perspectives among its membership, the German Chairmanship in 2016 and the Austrian Chairmanship in 2017 have launched an informal working group on “structured dialogue” to discuss participating States’ differing views on security threats and possible ways forward.  Conference participants were of mixed views on the prospects for the structured dialogue effort, with skeptics citing what they saw as similar past processes such as the Corfu Process or Helsinki +40, which failed to show concrete results.  Many participants were keen to underline the need for the structured dialogue to avoid calling existing institutions or principles into question.  The challenges facing European security were not institutional in nature, these voices argued, but rather the result of one OSCE participating State – Russia – failing to uphold its commitments or respect the sovereignty and independence of other participating States. Conference participants offered a number of policy recommendations for strengthening the OSCE (such as providing a small crisis response fund under the Secretary General’s authority; providing additional tangible assets like unmanned aerial vehicles; supporting historical research to better understand the sources of divergent perspectives; or modernizing arms control and confidence building measures).  The OSCE should pay more attention to the increasing instability in the Western Balkans, it was suggested, and ongoing work on cyber norms had real potential utility. Individual participating States were urged to combat disinformation campaigns by investing in tools to rapidly rebut false claims, educate publics, and discredit outlets that serve as propaganda, while safeguarding fundamental freedoms.  Despite these and other positively-inclined recommendations, however, the general mood at the conference was one of urgency, not optimism. If one point of general consensus emerged among the widely differing perspectives, it was that in the face of increasingly complex and urgent challenges (many of them caused by or closely linked to Russia’s geopolitical stance, according to the great majority of conference attendees) the absence of shared views and approaches was unlikely to resolve itself in the near term. This dynamic was likely to contribute to a worsening of existing and emerging security crises – and ultimately the further loss of lives. Alex Tiersky attended the conference as a representative of the U.S Helsinki Commission.

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