OSCE: Identifying the Cutting Edge

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Mån 14.1.2008
Auditorium of the Parliament
New Annex Building, Arkadiankatu 3

Identifying the Cutting Edge: The Future impact of the OSCE

The Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) organised a seminar in cooperation with the Finnish Foreign Ministry on the future role of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in managing change in Europe on 14 January 2008. A report prepared by CORE (Hamburg) and commissioned by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland entitled Identifying the Cutting Edge: the Future Impact of the OSCE was released at the event. The report and the related seminar were intended as a brainstorming exercise bringing about fresh and innovative ideas for enhancing the OSCE's significance and raising public awareness of the challenges of the Finnish OSCE 2008 chairmanship.

The seminar was opened by the director of FIIA, professor Raimo Väyrynen. He made a remark on the apparent interest in the OSCE by the Finnish public despite the current crisis of the organisation over its norms and values, its role and priorities as well as working methods and budget.

After the opening words, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Mr. Ilkka Kanerva gave a keynote speech. Minister Kanerva reiterated the points made at the OSCE Permanent Council meeting in Vienna last week. He highlighted the continuous importance of the concept of cooperative security in an interdependent world. Minister Kanerva called himself an optimist and expressed his firm belief that OSCE still has an important role to play in bridging emerging divides. Minister Kanerva took up several key issues that the OSCE is expected to continue working on in the forthcoming months. These issues included continuous dialogue on the CFE treaty, OSCE's presence in Kosovo and election observation.

As regards to the priority areas of the Finnish chairmanship, Minister Kanerva mentioned several issues reflecting all three dimensions of security represented in the OSCE framework: 1) conflict prevention and crisis management and, in particular, the issue of improving border management in Central Asia, 2) cooperation in maritime and inland waterways, 3) fight against trafficking in human beings and combating intolerance and discrimination.

After Minister Kanerva, Jose Angel Lopez Jorrin, special ambassador for the Spanish OSCE 2007 chairmanship, took the floor. In his speech ambassador Lopez Jorrin elaborated the Spanish chairmanship experience. He described the Spanish approach in 2007 as pragmatic: attempts were made to find shared views and elements with which to work. This aspiration was reflected in the priority areas of the Spanish chairmanship. These issues included fight against terrorism as well as against human trafficking, conflict management and encouragement of tolerance and non-discrimination. In addition, special attention was paid to the environment with a specific focus on water and natural resources management. Indeed, many of these issues can now also be found in the Finnish chairmanship agenda.

Although Spain concluded its term on a positive note in December 2007, Ambassador Lopez Jorrin also expressed concerns in his speech. He noted that their chairmanship term turned out to be a relatively difficult one, and that he believes that chairmanships are only getting more difficult in future. The Spanish chairmanship was disappointed to see that in the end there was no political will to tackle the frozen conflicts within the OSCE area, nor to draft a new comprehensive environmental strategy. Also election observation became an increasingly contentious issue during their chairmanship. This was not only due to the uncooperative attitude of the Russian Federation but also because of institutional disagreements between OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Finally, Ambassador Lopez Jorrin encouraged the Finnish Chairmanship to plan a long way ahead and remarked positively the Finnish initiative to engage also Greece (holding the chairmanship in 2009), Lithuania (chairman in 2010) and Kazakhstan (chairman in 2011) in developing ideas for longer-term activities of the OSCE.

In questions and answers session that followed the speeches, minister Kanerva and ambassador Lopez Jorrin were asked to reflect on possible overlap and competition between various organisations - e.g. NATO or Council of Europe and the OSCE. Both gentlemen assured that NATO and OSCE activities - for instance in Kosovo - are completely compatible. Also a question on the financial situation of the organisation was raised. Minister Kanerva assured that the OSCE is fully capable of functioning at least until May 2008. Kanerva expressed optimism and insisted that a consensus on the 2008 budget is likely to be achieved before May. The OSCE budget is being drafted on the basis of zero nominal growth.

The second half of the seminar was dedicated to a debate on the report prepared by director of CORE, Dr. Wolfgang Zellner (in consultation with an international panel) entitled Identifying the Cutting Edge: the Future Impact of the OSCE. The session was kicked off by a presentation by Dr. Zellner in which he analysed the essence of the current crisiis of the OSCE and the ways in which the organisation could try to solve it.

Dr. Zellner painted a rather gloomy picture of the current state of affairs in the OSCE. According to him, the OSCE are in acute danger primarily due to two strands of developments taking place in the OSCE region: 1) the rise of unilateral thinking and action on security issues, 2) the emergence of (semi-)authoritarian challenge to the OSCE norms and values. These developments are directly reflected in the OSCE's key areas of action – namely, politico-military cooperation and the human dimension.

Dr. Zellner urged that the OSCE participating states should engage in serious and open-ended dialogue on the politico-military and the human in order to renew a consensus on the basic values, principles and norms that the OSCE is based on. Dr. Zellner pointed out that at this stage there are no other viable options available. Reaching out for a renewed consensus within the organisation inevitably involves great risks but inaction would be even riskier. Not addressing these fundamental issues would lead to further stagnation and marginalisation of the OSCE.

In addition to this key conclusion, Dr. Zellner offered various more specific and concrete suggestions on how to improve the OSCE's performance in the shorter term. These suggestions included, for instance, a new focus on inter-religious dialogue within the tolerance and non-discrimination framework, new border security and policing initiatives in particular in Central Asia, refocusing the OSCE presence in the field and establishing OSCE Academic Network and intensifying cooperation with the OSCE's Asian partners for cooperation.

Dr. Zellner's presentation was followed by three expert comments. Dr. Rick Fawn from the University of St. Andrews expressed his concern over the issue of misleading use of normative rhetoric. Although he agreed that there is a profound ideational divide on values in the OSCE, the semi-authoritarian states often confusingly use the same language as the OSCE human dimension documents and democratic participating states. Due to this blurred character of the normative divide, dialogue on values and norms might prove out to be even more difficult.

Dr. Oksana Antonenko, senior fellow and a programme director at the International Institute on Security Studies (IISS, London), argued that the report by Dr. Zellner did not pay enough attention to the so-called frozen conflicts within the OSCE area. Dr. Antonenko welcomed the proposal to engage more actively with China, Afghanistan and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) by the OSCE. She also expressed her view that it is unlikely that Russia will return to the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty and suggested that negotiations on a new framework for military information sharing should be started as soon as possible.

Dr. Alice Ackermann, senior operational advisor at the OSCE Conflict Prevention Service, welcomed strong emphasis on conflict prevention in the Finnish OSCE chairmanship agenda. Further, she pointed out that the scaling down of OSCE field missions is not in necessarily only a negative development but, in many cases, a sign of successful completion of tasks. The scaling down of field mission should, however, be always carried out in a systematic and coordinated manner.

After a short questions and answers session, the seminar was officially closed by Professor Väyrynen.


A report prepared by CORE and commissioned by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland entitled Identifying the Cutting Edge: the Future Impact of the OSCE was released at the event. The report formulates key operational undertakings aimed at restoring and strengthening the OSCE's relevance for managing change in Europe. The report has full intellectual and political independence and the outcome does not bind the Finnish Government in any way.

The Centre for OSCE Research (CORE), attached to the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg (IFSH), operates as a politically independent think tank, combining basic research on the evolution of the OSCE with demand-driven consultancy projects and teaching.

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