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Helsinki Commission Briefing Highlights OSCE's Military Dimension of Security
Tuesday, March 23, 2004

By Bob Hand
CSCE Staff Advisor

The United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing February 11, 2004 to review the work of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Forum for Security Cooperation, particularly during the period in late 2003 when the United States chaired the FSC.

The purpose of the briefing was to gauge how the OSCE is responding to the latest changes in the security environment, such as the war on terrorism, weapons proliferation, and regional conflicts involving OSCE states.  The briefing featured James Cox, the Chief Arms Control Delegate of the United States to the OSCE in Vienna.

Helsinki Commission Senior Advisor Elizabeth B. Pryor opened the briefing, noting the OSCE’s well-known contribution to security through the promotion of human rights and democratic change.  She stressed, however, that the military dimension of the OSCE should not be overlooked.

“Measures such as advance notification of troop maneuvers and observation of military exercises have become such a part of our way of interacting that we too frequently take such transparency for granted,” Ms. Pryor stated.  Capitalizing on the dramatic changes in Europe in the 1990s, the OSCE “expanded the degree of military openness, then encouraged further reductions in force levels and equipment, and placed military institutions under democratic civilian control.”

Mr. Cox began by describing the FSC’s creation in 1992 to respond to military questions in the post-Cold War era, such as the change in force levels and the significant shift in the security environment.  Among other things, the Forum has been tasked to establish a web of arms control agreements and confidence- and security-building measures.  The FSC also pursues the implementation of these agreements, develops a security dialogue, and considers norms and standards on such politico-military features of security as civilian control of armed forces and adherence to international humanitarian law.

The OSCE made crucial steps toward addressing new threats to security and stability in the 21st century when the United States held the FSC chairmanship from September to December of 2003.  These steps were taken with the realization that the FSC now must expand beyond the limits of arms control and confidence- and security-building measures.   Mr. Cox stressed that the FSC needs to broaden its focus not only to address interstate relations between armed forces of OSCE participating States, but also non-OSCE States.  New security threats to the OSCE region include non-state actors, terrorism, proliferation, and organized crime.

Under the United States’ chairmanship, the FSC highlighted the proliferation of arms, the control of man-portable air defense systems, and civil-military emergency preparedness.  With regard to non-proliferation, the United States hosted a number of speakers to suggest ways to curb the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Effective and comprehensive controls for MANPADS were discussed, highlighting the threat posed by these weapons to civil aviation.  The FSC encouraged the participating States to prevent illicit transfers of MANPADS by destroying excess devices.  In addition, the EU, NATO, and UN speakers, and others were invited to the FSC to discuss their disaster response procedures.

The OSCE’s Document on Small Arms and Light Weapons, or SALW, contains provisions for the destruction of excess MANPADS.  The provisions also allows states to request assistance on the security and management of stockpiles, encourage the establishment of border controls in order to reduce the transfer of small arms, and provide for the disposal of light arms.  Mr. Cox also discussed initiatives addressing management and destruction of excess stockpiles of ammunition and explosive material, both through better management and destruction. 

In closing his presentation, Cox asserted that progress has been made in all spheres of European security, but he did not want to leave “too rosy a picture.”  The FSC is a consensus body which, by its nature, limits what any one country can achieve and has no enforcement capability. Nevertheless, he stressed that the FSC is useful to the 55 participating OSCE countries because it has norm and standard setting capabilities and provides a forum to discuss issues of national interest.

During a question-and-answer period, a question was asked about the stance of FSC participants that may be hiding their weapons and stockpiles.  Mr. Cox reiterated that although the FSC has no enforcement capability, its politically binding decisions are to be taken very seriously.  Positive developments have occurred with recent requests for clean-up disarmament assistance, including by Belarus.

Another issue raised was the failure of Russia to implement commitments adopted at the 1999 Istanbul OSCE Summit with respect to Moldova and Georgia.  The Istanbul commitments require Russia to remove troops and arsenals from Moldova and close military bases in the Republic of Georgia.  To this day, Russian troops and weapons remain in Moldova and Georgia.  Mr. Cox affirmed that these issues are raised in Vienna. 

A related issue is OSCE peacekeeping.  As Cox explained, the notion of OSCE peacekeeping would be difficult to undertake, as the organization lacks the necessary infrastructure to conduct such operations.  Compared to NATO forces and European Union efforts to take on these operations, peacekeeping is on the low end of FSC considerations, and there has been no agreement to go beyond the original OSCE language on the matter developed in 1992.

In response to a question regarding Russian military conduct in Chechnya, Cox noted that this is usually discussed as a human rights issue at the Permanent Council.  He did note, however, initiatives within the military dimension, including a Swedish request to observe a Russian military exercise in Dagestan, neighboring Chechnya, which Moscow denied on security grounds, are addressed in the FSC.

Finally, Cox was asked about the focus of the 2004 Annual Security Review Conference.   He predicted this second meeting will center on the implementation of counterterrorism measures, including commitments agreed at the Maastricht Ministerial, and further enhancing border security.  The first ASRC was held in 2003 to review select issues such as organized crime, arms trafficking, and terrorism.  It also encouraged the adoption of biometric standards for travel documents as a means to improve border security.

The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords.  The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.


United States Helsinki Commission Interns Colby Daughtry and Erin Carden contributed to this article.

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