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Military Aspects of Security

Military aspects of security, part of the OSCE’s politico-military or "first" dimension, involve not only applying conflict prevention and crisis management approaches to ‘traditional’ military challenges on the state level, but also using national armed forces, including police, for peace-building activities. At times, such forces may also used to help resolve certain security threats such as terrorism. Such activities promote and enhance regional security by joint engagement in activities of arms control, border management, combating terrorism, policing, conflict and military reform.

The main OSCE forums active in the First Dimension are the Forum for Security Cooperation (FSC), the OSCE’s Security Committee, and the Annual Security Review Conference (ASRC).  Arms control and confidence and security building measures are the main First Dimension areas in which the OSCE has demonstrated tangible successes. Major achievements include work following the fall of the Soviet Union to reduce weapons stockpiles in Europe and build systems for transparency and trust between the armies of OSCE participating States. Key agreements include the Conventional Forces Europe Treaty (CFE), which regulates the number of troops and heavy weaponry stationed along Cold War fault lines; the 1999 Vienna Document, an information exchange agreement that requires advanced notification of large scale military exercises and maneuvers in order to avoid destabilizing responses to erroneous perceptions of threats; and the Open Skies Treaty, which similarly aims to reduce chances of conflict by providing for reciprocal overflight inspections in order to increase transparency and understanding of one another’s military capacity and intentions. 

While the previous decades have seen a reduction in military tensions throughout the OSCE region, allowing the Helsinki Commission to focus much of its attention on human rights – the OSCE’s Third Dimension – the recent and ongoing conflicts in Georgia and Ukraine, along with the steadily deteriorating relationship with Russia, have put the OSCE’s security role back in the spotlight. 

The Commission has released a number of statements and held hearings highlighting the growing violation of miltary security agreements, especially with regard to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and intervention in Ukraine, both of which violate every founding principle of the Helsinki Final Act of 1975.  The Commission also recognizes that many of the same earlier agreements require modernization if they are to remain fully relevant to modern military developments and new threats, and is working with OSCE colleagues to place this issue firmly on the OSCE’s agenda.

Staff Contact: Alex Tiersky, senior policy advisor

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