The end of the long zastoi? The OSCE summit kicks off in Astana today

Tisdag, 30. November 2010     0 kommentti(a)
Sinikukka Saari
Äldre forskare - forskningsprogrammet EU:s östra grannskap och Ryssland
A view outside the Palace of Peace and Accord (OSCE/Vladimir Trofimchuk) A view outside the Palace of Peace and Accord (OSCE/Vladimir Trofimchuk)

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe is an organisation devoted to strengthening security – understood in inclusive, multidimensional manner – across Europe and Central Asia. Over the years its agenda has widened to include everything from conflict resolution to the protection of the environment and from fight against human trafficking to the promotion of free and fair elections.

However, simultaneously with the expanding agenda the OSCE’s ability to agree on basically anything has diminished close to zero. As the OSCE’s decision-making is based on the principle of consensus of all 56 participating states, the disagreements pose a significant challenge to the functioning and the whole existence of the organisation.

The ultimate reason behind the decision-making stalemate is that the OSCE has been torn into two camps that disagree fundamentally on what the organisation is really about: the states in the ’west of Vienna’ emphasise the importance of promotion of democracy and free and fair elections whereas the ’east of Vienna’ camp with many semi-authoritarian governments see democracy promotion as direct interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.

Many participating states and OSCE officials would like to wipe the division line running across the OSCE under the carpet and keep on pretending it is still business as usual at the OSCE.

While the formal decision-making of the OSCE has been almost completely halted for years, basically the only functioning parts of the organisation have been its relatively independent specialised offices, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in Warsaw and Office for the Freedom of the Media, as well as its various field offices in East and Southeast Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

However, today a new page may be turning in the history of OSCE. After a pause of 11 (!) years, the OSCE has been able to convene an OSCE summit that brings together all the heads of state of the participating states. The OSCE summits are the highest priority-setting body of the organisation and originally meant to be organised biennially.

It is quite telling that it was the semi-authoritarian state of Kazakhstan that belongs to the ’east of Vienna’ camp that was finally able to pull the summit together. Many western states that have held the OSCE chairmanship over the years, have desperately tried it without success.

It remains to be seen if the summit is able to produce a concluding document but already the fact that OSCE summit is organised, is historical. Even if the summit failed completely, it would bring the division lines of the OSCE into the spotlight. Even a failure would thus be an achievement because difficult issues dividing the OSCE will not be solved by denying they exist. What is needed is openness and honesty about the existing division lines and malfunction of the organisation.

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