Mid-Life Crisis?

Mid-Life Crisis?

Mini Teaser: The OSCE is not a relic of the Cold War. Instead, it may be the only body that can tackle problems across Eurasia.

by Author(s): Marc Perrin de Brichambaut

WHILE ALL are equal inside the OSCE, differences are deepening between participating states-differences of membership in the EU and NATO, differences in transition processes, differences of political regimes. These differences have led some states to see the organization as being divided between "mentors" and "students." The OSCE is fragile.

Fragility lies in its genetic make-up. Differences of culture and history between participating states and different understandings of security have resided at the heart of this project since 1975. In fact, the organization was created precisely to act as a forum for airing such disagreements and building consensus. In addition, the organization has always featured conflict within its guiding principles. The declaration of the 1975 Final Act brought together principles enshrining the sovereignty of states (territorial integrity, non-intervention, inviolability of frontiers) as well as those relating to the fundamental rights of peoples (to equal rights and self-determination, to human rights and fundamental freedoms). Reconciling contrasting principles and differences between states has meant a precarious, dynamic process.

In addition to these perennial issues, the organization faces a number of difficult questions in 2007. Tensions have increased as some states have proved less willing to accept the intrusiveness inherent to some of the mechanisms adopted in previous eras, while others have been unwilling to invest in the organization beyond areas that directly interest them. All sides have been tempted to hold the organization hostage, leaving it in a state of permanent crisis, struggling from one ministerial council to the next.

The challenge from Russia and other countries "east of Vienna" has centered on the legitimacy and effectiveness of key OSCE activities such as election monitoring, raising questions about the "ownership" by states of the organization. The issue, then, for the United States and other states today is how to engage in a meaningful process of adaptation, which would address the concerns of Russia and other states, while safeguarding positive OSCE activities.

A second fundamental challenge is to help the participating states navigate difficult transitions while ensuring that they uphold OSCE commitments. Colored revolutions cannot be expected everywhere. Some OSCE states will take time to achieve progress; others have even called into question fundamental parts of the OSCE body of standards. Although we must reinforce participating states' sense of inclusion in the organization, it is vital that states remain concerned with fulfilling the commitments into which they have entered.

Kazakhstan's bid for the organization's chairmanship in 2009 illustrates the problem of sharing "ownership" within the organization. A significant number of states have rallied to the Kazakh bid in order to put to bed the challenges raised by Russia and other CIS states in 2003. Many EU member states view a Kazakh chairmanship as an opportunity to lock in the democratization process in that country and to raise the profile of the organization in Central Asia, a region of increasing importance. Other states, however, including the United States, would prefer that Kazakhstan delay its bid, in order to allow more time for serious efforts to apply the full range of OSCE standards.

The debate raises vital stakes. Transatlantic stakes, first, because of the differences between the United States and many EU states on how to engage in this region. And OSCE stakes, because outright rejection of the Kazakh bid would reinforce the perception of the organization being divided between "mentors" and "pupils." The results could be serious, with the OSCE losing its position as a significant actor in Central Asia and the OSCE model of standards losing traction in the region. Participating states will have to resolve the issues raised by the Kazakh bid with care; the implications ripple far beyond Kazakhstan.

Is there room for a laboratory of ideas, dedicated to values, that encompasses three continents?

The answer, of course, is a decisive yes. Managing and settling conflicts, assisting challenging transition processes, adapting to new threats and strengthening the ability of participating states to address these-these objectives lie at the heart of the OSCE mandate. The mandate is ambitious-and it should be.

Why U.S. Leadership is Needed

THE 1990s were something of a golden decade, marked by successive waves of EU and NATO enlargement and strong consensus between most states of the OSCE on the objective of building a Europe whole and free. Apart from the fighting in former Yugoslavia and some conflicts in the post-Soviet space, all good things seemed to be coming together at the same time.

Times have changed. The Balkan wars have been quelled. However, the remaining transition processes in the OSCE area face a long haul. NATO and EU enlargement has slowed down. Most fundamentally, the consensus of the early post-Cold War years has eroded; the goals and activities of the OSCE are now challenged. What does this mean?

First, that our assumptions of the 1990s must be re-thought. It is possible that all good things are not going to come together quickly in the OSCE area. Building a Europe whole and free remains unfinished business, and the process is set to be long and complex, requiring tireless engagement and constant debate about values and their application. Certainly, the haste of success of the 1990s will have to be replaced by patience founded on a longer view.

The changes occurring in the OSCE area make the organization not less but more important for the United States-for engaging with Russia and Central Asia, for coordinating with Euro-Atlantic allies, for responding to the century's new threats and challenges and for supporting democratic transition processes across the northern hemisphere. The strength of the OSCE as a value-centered organization in the 21st century lies not in providing all the answers to all challenges at any given moment. Rather, it lies in providing a place where answers may be found over time and in ways that restrain disruptive factors of violence and confrontation. Having an organization based on the permanent debate and elaboration of a set of basic values in such a complex and fluid world is, indeed, useful for the United States.

The OSCE today requires U.S. leadership. In current circumstances, leadership cannot be reactive and cannot take the face of defending the status quo. Given the changes across the OSCE area, it cannot be enough to rely on the hope that the success of the 1990s will be replicated. Leadership requires finding a balance between retaining past strengths and considering new ways of thinking for the future. It also requires giving careful thought to where and how to affect organizational change, avoiding two extremes: "radical change", which would undermine the OSCE, and "no change", which might do the same. Adapting the OSCE should be a normal process of fine-tuning an organization designed for different times to new circumstances. The United States should lead it-actively, patiently and carefully.

Marc Perrin de Brichambaut is secretary-general of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Essay Types: Essay