The OSCE, Dialogue, and European Security

Two former foreign ministers of Switzerland and Serbia on how the OSCE is contributing to peace in the 21st century.

Three years ago, following months of difficult negotiations and extensive diplomatic maneuvering, we reached an agreement as foreign ministers of Switzerland and Serbia to avoid our bilateral face-off by submitting a first-ever joint candidacy for two consecutive chairmanships of the OSCE in 2014 and 2015. The solution we conceived helped avert a multilateral stalemate that threatened to bring the world’s largest regional security organization to a standstill.

The implementation of our initiative has now reached its midpoint. Recently, our consecutive chairmanships have been strengthened by Germany’s joining the presiding Troika, by virtue of the fact that it will head the OSCE in 2016.

Bern and Belgrade have been tasked with leading an Organization whose relevance had been brought into question by many in the recent past.

Building on the pledge we made in December 2011 to conduct the Swiss-Serbian consecutive chairmanships in an “unbiased, transparent and co-operative manner” and our prescient choice to designate as a shared priority for 2014-2015 the improvement of the OSCE’s crisis management capabilities (in particular dialogue facilitation and mediation), the OSCE was able to react constructively to the crisis in Ukraine.

Last May, for instance, the Swiss chairmanship proposed a roadmap for the implementation of the April 17th Geneva Joint Statement. Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, the head of the Munich Security Conference, was tasked with organizing in quick succession three Ukrainian-led and Ukrainian-owned national dialogue roundtables in the run-up to the vote that elected Petro Porochenko as president of Ukraine.

This important initiative was accompanied by the deployment of the OSCE’s largest-ever election observer mission to oversee that critical vote, as well as by a sizeable mission to monitor Ukraine’s subsequent parliamentary elections.

The Swiss chairmanship led the OSCE in the Trilateral Contact Group that brokered the Minsk Protocol. Although the Protocol’s provisions have not been fully implemented, it continues to be the only agreed upon document setting the terms for a ceasefire and the start of political dialogue to resolve the crisis.

The OSCE has also been active on the ground in Ukraine. Its Special Monitoring Mission has grown into the Organization’s largest field presence. Thanks to its broad reporting, facilitation, and mediation mandate, we have been able to get a more accurate picture of the reality on the ground, especially in eastern Ukraine. Despite a number of setbacks and incidents, the Mission has put up an effective performance. It has even undertaken what amount to, in the words of OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier, “peacekeeping tasks, even though it is an unarmed civilian mission.”

The OSCE is by no means a panacea. It has no legally binding treaty or charter, and its decisions are non-binding. There are still several frozen conflicts in the OSCE space, borders of a number of Participating States are not subject to consensus, agreement on arms control has proven to be elusive, and the gap between declared commitments and their implementation has yet to be narrowed. Nonetheless, the OSCE has helped to bring peace, advance democracy, and entrench the rule of law and human rights in a number of regions, including the Western Balkans.

It also remains the most inclusive intergovernmental forum for dialogue between the West and Russia—not only in the context of the crisis in Ukraine but also in the quest to establish parameters of a comprehensive, cooperative, equal, and indivisible security framework for the vast OSCE geography.

Switzerland’s recent initiative, developed in close coordination with Serbia and Germany, to establish a high-level Panel of Eminent Persons on European Security as a Common Project is an important step. Its recommendations will be presented to the Serbian chairmanship near the end of this year, in preparation for the Belgrade high-level meeting that will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act. We hope that the Panel’s work will reinvigorate intergovernmental political discussions on reforming the Organization to better serve the 21st century interests of its members.

Just as Switzerland and Serbia came together through dialogue to propose an innovative solution to a multilateral stalemate three years ago, we hope that in the time ahead, the OSCE’s 57 participating States will follow it up to strengthen the Organization’s effectiveness and construct a more resilient system of European security.

Micheline Calmy-Rey and Vuk Jeremić are former Foreign Ministers of Switzerland and Serbia, respectively, and the architects of their two countries’ joint bid for consecutive chairmanships of the OSCE in 2014 and 2015.

Image: Wikimedia/Kaihsu Tai