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Symposium Focused on Future of the OSCE
Thursday, November 06, 2008

By Janice Helwig, Policy Advisor

The Embassy of Finland and the Center for Transatlantic Relations at John Hopkins University held a half-day symposium on October 15 to discuss the future of the OSCE. The symposium succeeded in laying out clearly the challenges currently facing the 56-state organization. There were, however, more questions than answers when it came to ideas on how to address those challenges. Participants in the symposium included the Secretary of State of Finland, prominent figures from OSCE’s past, academics, representatives of participating States, NGOs, and the Helsinki Commission. Finland currently holds the Chairmanship of the Vienna-based OSCE.

At the outset of the meeting, there was an acknowledgement that Russia’s invasion of Georgia in early August altered the program originally envisioned by the Finnish chairmanship for the OSCE. Other issues raised included open challenges to core OSCE principles, values, and commitments; internal divisions and lack of consensus over what the organization should be doing; implications of a stronger and more active EU; and whether there is waning support for the OSCE in Washington.

Rather than offering prescriptions for overcoming these challenges, many speakers instead underlined the challenges by reflecting their governments’ views of the OSCE. For example, the Russian speaker focused on President Medvedev’s June call for a new European security architecture and the need to reform the OSCE, a longstanding Moscow demand. U.S. State Department Assistant Secretary and Helsinki Commissioner David Kramer focused on the importance of implementing OSCE commitments on human rights, and the need for Kazakhstan to implement its Madrid reform promises in advance of its 2010 Chairmanship. The Kazakhstani speaker foreshadowed what could signal – for the U.S. at least – problematic views with serious implications for his country’s chairmanship, including questioning the validity and universal applicability of OSCE standards and commitments as well as raising doubt over the continued need for field missions. OSCE Secretariat representative Paul Fritch laid out frankly the challenges facing the OSCE today, and tried to start a discussion of how to address them.

Early History of the Helsinki Process*

The first panel focused on the history of the Helsinki Process, and featured U.S. Ambassador Max Kampelman (ret.), who had been active in the process in the 1980s, and Finnish Ambassador Markuu Reimaa, who recently published a book, Helsinki Catch, covering the negotiations leading up to the 1975 signing of the Helsinki Final Act. Ambassador Kampelman focused on his personal experiences and on the Madrid Meeting of the CSCE (1980-1983). He stressed that the CSCE was at that time the main framework for U.S.-Soviet dialogue and for reinforcing relations with NATO allies. Kampelman acknowledged the key role played by Commission staff throughout the Madrid Meeting. He then claimed to reveal a long-held secret that he had leveraged the Soviet desire to end the Madrid Meeting by securing permission for some 250,000 individuals - mostly Jews - to emigrate from the U.S.S.R. to Israel.

Ambassador Reimaa cited the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia as a crucial event that opened the eyes of many in both the West and East. He said that the negotiations leading up to the Helsinki Final Act were successful partly because none of the countries (numbering 35 at the time) expected much to come of the process. He suggested that, within two years, the Soviets were questioning the wisdom of their involvement, but that the Helsinki Process was like “a fish trap”: once in, you could not get out. He stressed the importance of dialogue, noting that CSCE offered the only venue where meaningful talks continued during the frosty first half of the 1980’s.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The second panel focused on the current Finnish Chairmanship of the OSCE, and featured Finnish State Secretary Pertti Torstila and Professor Terrence Hopmann of Johns Hopkins University SAIS. Secretary Torstila said that OSCE’s relevance was proven most recently in connection with the conflict in Georgia, but serious challenges to it exist in today’s world. A consensus-based organization cannot be greater than the sum of its parts, and many OSCE States are weak in their commitment to core principles. Secretary Torstila acknowledged that the state-building begun in the aftermath of the collapse of the U.S.S.R. remains incomplete, and urged that the OSCE be used as a venue for dialogue. In addition, the OSCE must avoid getting dragged down by internal wrangling, as some other International Organizations have done. He related that the CiO believes that the OSCE needs to be more involved in settling conflicts, not just managing them after the fact. Torstila provided a disappointing update on talks on Georgia that had opened and abruptly closed earlier that day in Geneva.

Professor Hopmann said that the OSCE is in deep crisis at this point, arguing that the U.S. and Russia must decide if they believe the OSCE is worthwhile or not. Hopmann went on at length about the weakness of the organization’s conflict prevention capacity and the need to look at the relationship between core principles like self-determination and territorial integrity. He was highly critical of the lack of U.S. support for the organization, quipping that Washington spent more on Iraq in one hour than on the OSCE for an entire year. Beyond dwindling resources, he cited the failure of the U.S. Secretary of State to attend an OSCE Ministerial since Colin Powell in 2003. (Helsinki will serve as the venue for the 2008 OSCE Ministerial in early December.) Hopmann appealed for the next administration to play a more active role in the OSCE.

The third panel focused on the future of the OSCE. It featured Mr. Aleksandr Lukashevich from the Russian Embassy, Assistant Secretary of State and Helsinki Commissioner David Kramer, Kazakhstani Ambassador at Large for OSCE Askar Tazhiev, and Director of the Office of the OSCE Secretary General, Paul Fritch.

Mr. Lukashevich gave what appeared to be a scripted presentation of Russian views of the OSCE. He argued that the organization has failed to take the shape of an integrated security architecture that Russia had hoped it would. Instead, each OSCE country pursues its own agenda and geographic splits result. No country should predominate in the OSCE, and there should not be any “spheres of influence” in the organization. He repeated Russian assertions that the OSCE needs legal status, as well as a treaty-based Charter defining its goals adopted at the same time; he insisted that the U.S. fear that a Charter would undermine existing OSCE commitments is unfounded. Notwithstanding the restrictive proposals Moscow has circulated over the past couple of years that would undermine OSCE election observation activities and seriously weaken the role of NGOs in the organization, he rejected the notion that Russia is seeking to weaken existing OSCE institutions, including the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). He insisted that Russia has a positive agenda in the OSCE and wants to give the organization a “second wind.”

Moreover, Russian President Medvedev has proposed discussion of a treaty on European security that would be legally binding and that would lay out the role and obligations of States for the medium- to long-term. The new treaty should stress that all States are equal and that there should be uniform rules and legally binding security guarantees for all, as well as uniform interpretation and implementation of the treaty. Mr. Lukashevich floated a proposal for an international forum with the participation of all OSCE countries as well as leading International Organizations. He said Russia hopes that the proposal could be reflected in the upcoming Helsinki Ministerial.

Assistant Secretary of State and Helsinki Commissioner David Kramer stressed the importance of implementation of existing OSCE human rights commitments. He said that the U.S. would oppose any efforts to dilute OSCE standards or undermine the organization’s effectiveness, including its election observation activities undertaken by ODIHR and the Parliamentary Assembly. Kramer pointed out that most of the criticism of the OSCE seems to be coming from those States where fundamental freedoms are facing the most challenges. He then turned to Kazakhstan and the reform program it committed to late last year in Madrid concerning its 2010 Chairmanship. Kramer said that the U.S. is prepared to help Kazakhstan make progress on its Madrid commitments. However, currently, human rights defenders, NGOs, and independent media in Kazakhstan are threatened. Concerning Georgia, he stressed that the Russian Federation is responsible for protecting persons remaining in South Ossetia and for maintaining public order in all areas effectively under Russian control. Kramer insisted that OSCE monitors must have unimpeded access to all areas of Georgia, including South Ossetia.

Kazakhstani Ambassador-at-Large for OSCE Askar Tazhiev’s statement raised serious questions about how his country might run its 2010 Chairmanship. Tazhiev stressed that there should be no blind adherence to OSCE commitments; rather, cultural differences and national particularities must be taken into account. Echoing long-standing Russian claims, he said the three dimensions of the OSCE – political/military, economic and environmental, and human - are imbalanced. There is too much emphasis on the human dimension and that should be fixed. Tazhiev reiterated Kazakhstan’s promise made in Madrid not to support efforts to weaken ODIHR or election observation, but at the same time endorsed Russian proposals concerning “strengthening” OSCE election observation. (Note: Russian initiatives would eviscerate election observation, for example by giving any country a virtual veto over every aspect of the process, including the evaluation of the conduct of the election.) He said that the effectiveness of OSCE field missions is in doubt, and many host countries – particularly those in Central Asia – feel their views are not being taken into account and are therefore questioning the further need for those missions. Finally, he noted that Kazakhstan supports Russia’s view that the OSCE needs a convention giving it legal personality as well as a Charter, adopted simultaneously.

The Director of the Office of the OSCE Secretary General, Paul Fritch, gave a thoughtful overview of where the OSCE currently stands, and asked a series of questions (though not providing answers). In the 1990s, there was a unique and historic consensus within the organization. While some States view that period as the Golden Age, others view it as a time of humiliation. Consensus is now wearing thin in all three dimensions, and it is not in style to be a “country in transition.” The situation has changed dramatically, particularly with developments in Kosovo and Georgia. There is now open military confrontation in the OSCE region, between Georgia and Russia. There are also diverging views on energy and water resources which could lead to future conflicts. It is the first time that participating States are openly challenging the validity of OSCE commitments, and universal interpretation of them is yielding to local variations. At the same time that cohesion within the OSCE is eroding, external challenges are growing in scope and complexity. Relations with other International Organizations are changing as NATO expands and the EU becomes active in more areas.

Fritch then threw out several good questions. How can the OSCE promote implementation of its values when some States openly challenge them (despite the fact that they were adopted on the basis of consensus)? Do OSCE mechanisms to deal with political military challenges need to be updated? What role can the OSCE play outside its geographical area? Will the OSCE take up Medvedev and Sarkozy’s proposal for a new security architecture and an OSCE summit in 2009? Now that the EU makes up half of the OSCE participating States, how will the two organizations divide their activities?

In the discussion that followed, U.S. Ambassador Julie Finley rejected Terry Hopmann’s characterization of waning U.S. interest in the OSCE. In response to Russia, she stressed that actions speak louder than words. While recent Russian words have been lovely, corresponding actions have not. Picking up on the issue of legal personality raised by several speakers, she said that as soon as the U.S. had compromised and agreed to a limited legal convention, Russia reneged on the deal and began demanding that a treaty-based Charter be adopted at the same time. She asserted that Russia constantly moves the goalposts, and that is not constructive. The OSCE should look to the future and expand its activities, perhaps by bringing Libya, Syria, and Lebanon in as Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. Spencer Oliver, Secretary General of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and former Commission Chief of Staff, drew on his extensive experience in the Helsinki Process dating back to the mid-1970s. He stressed the critical precedents set by the U.S. at the Belgrade Follow-up Meeting (1977-78) of naming names and being specific about human rights violations. Oliver credited Arthur J. Goldberg for his leadership of the U.S. delegation at Belgrade and commended the role played by Griffin Bell, appointed by President Carter to head the U.S. delegation at the opening of the Madrid Follow-up Meeting in 1980. Max Kampelman served under Bell until Ronald Reagan appointed him to lead the delegation through the end of the Madrid Meeting (1983). Oliver pointed out the irony that the OSCE, an organization promoting transparency, often operates behind closed doors.

*encompassing the original Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and its successor since January 1, 1995, the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

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