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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, 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 historically 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.

However, the deteriorating security environment in the OSCE region, culminating in the all-out invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February 2022, raised fundamental questions about the future of a number of the key ‘first dimension’ agreements reached in previous decades, despite these agreements’ significant historical contributions to stability and predictability in the region.  These agreements include the Conventional Forces Europe Treaty (CFE), which established limits on the number of troops and heavy weaponry stationed along Cold War fault lines; and 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.   The Open Skies Treaty, signed in 1992 and in force since 2002, similarly aimed 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; however, the November 2020 withdrawal by the United States from Open Skies, coupled with the subsequent Russian withdrawal, underlined the extent to which the security environment in the region had changed.

Members of the Commission have kept a spotlight on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, in particular since the illegal occupation of Crimea which began in 2014, underlining that Moscow’s actions violate every principle of the Helsinki Final Act of 1975. In seeking to support Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and other countries victim to Russian aggression and malign influence, the Commission has also recognized the need to modernize earlier agreements in order to ensure they remain fully relevant to modern military developments and new threats.

Staff Contact: Alex Tiersky, senior policy advisor