Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)

  • The Helsinki Final Act, which enshrined values like territorial integrity and respect for human rights, was signed in 1975 by the nations that made up the two opposing blocs in the Cold War. This act is where the OSCE got its start. The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) mechanism was used to oversee the act’s implementation once it was passed. After the Paris Charter, which proposed a new post-Cold War European order, was adopted in 1990, the CSCE was given a more permanent institutional foundation and renamed the OSCE.
    The OSCE, like the CSCE before it is founded on a concept of “comprehensive security” that includes traditional “hard” security as well as economic cooperation and human rights. However, as differences resurfaced between an expanded EU and NATO on the one hand and Russia on the other, aspirations that the OSCE might serve as the main tenet of a new post-Cold War order began to wane.
  • The OSCE lacks the resources and legal authority necessary to fulfill its objective of serving as a hub for transatlantic and pan-European cooperation. Disagreements among participating states impede consensus decision-making and prevent the organization from becoming more effective.
    In a few sectors, the OSCE has a useful but constrained function. The organization has little influence over the post-Soviet region’s conflicts, but its observers are the primary source of accurate information about the situation in eastern Ukraine. The Vienna Document and other OSCE accords support military transparency, and election observation missions have promoted democratic changes in a number of nations.
OSCE membership, structures, and history

The OSCE’s Cold War origins

  • A multilateral conference on European security was proposed in 1954 by the Soviet Union. The US and its allies in western Europe rejected the proposal because they considered it as an effort to legitimize the Soviet-dominated post-war regime in eastern Europe.
  • 1973: As a result of the détente in the early 1970s, improved ties between the two opposing blocs allowed for an agreement, and the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) was established.
  • Representatives from 35 nations (including Warsaw Pact and NATO members as well as a number of neutral states like Finland, Switzerland, and Yugoslavia) signed the Helsinki Final Act, commonly known as the Helsinki Accords, on August 1, 1975. These latter ones include the inviolability of borders, abstaining from using force, respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, and collaboration among governments. They also contain ten principles (the Decalogue).
  • 1977–1992: The process proceeded with a number of follow-up sessions following the approval of the Helsinki Final Act, with the final one taking place in Helsinki in 1992.
  • 1990: The Paris Charter, which was based on the ideals of the Helsinki Final Act and was signed by the majority of parties to the Act, expressed hope for “a new era of Democracy, Peace, and Unity” in Europe and the end of Cold War hostilities. The CSCE was changed from a diplomatic process to an international organization by the charter, which also established a permanent secretariat and other organizations.
  • 1994: At the Budapest Summit, the OSCE countries decided to improve the CSCE’s institutions and change its name. The role of the Chairman-in-Office, Secretary General, Secretariat, High Commissioner on National Minorities, and Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights was strengthened by the Budapest Document that was agreed during the summit.
  • In order to reflect this shift, the CSCE was renamed the OSCE in January 1995.

From Vancouver to Vladivostok, the OSCE claims itself as the greatest regional security organization in the world. It is unique in that it brings together the former Soviet Union, NATO members in Europe and North America. The original 35 signatories of the Helsinki Accord (in the case of the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia, the countries that used to comprise them) are among the 57 OSCE nations (referred to as “participating” rather than “member” states), together with two new nations, Albania and Mongolia.
Additionally, the OSCE has 11 “partners for cooperation,” six of which are from the Middle East and North Africa, four from Asia, and one each from Australia and Australia. These nations take part in OSCE political meetings, work together on matters of shared interest, and host OSCE initiatives.

OSCE Structures

  • Three primary bodies make up the OSCE. The first of these organizations is the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which sends observers to observe elections in OSCE nations and is situated in Warsaw under the leadership of Matteo Mecacci. A representative for media freedom, who is now Teresa Ribeiro of Portugal, keeps an eye on matters including internet freedom, media regulation, and journalist safety.
  • Kairat Abdrakhmanov, the High Commissioner for National Minorities, keeps an eye on both the immediate and long-term root causes of racial tension and violence. Additionally, there are 15 field activities running at the moment, all of them are in Western Balkan and former Soviet Union nations, including the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. The Secretariat, which has its main office in Vienna, and a network of field offices that manage OSCE initiatives provide administrative support. Helga Schmid, formerly the Secretary-General of the European External Action Service, has been in charge of the Secretariat since December 2020.
  • The foreign ministers of the participating states in the Ministerial Council unanimously elect these four senior OSCE officials to three-year terms that are renewable once.
    All political decisions within the OSCE are made by representatives of the participating states.
    Due to the infrequent meetings of OSCE heads of state or government—the most recent OSCE summit was held in Astana in 2010—it is the annual Ministerial Council, which is composed of the foreign ministers of the participating countries, that serves as the OSCE’s equivalent of the European Council in terms of establishing the organization’s longer-term priorities.
  • The Forum for Security Cooperation, which is in charge of security concerns including arms control and the exchange of military information, as well as the OSCE Permanent Council, which meets once a week in Vienna, play a decision-making role in the Council of the EU. Participating states have equal weight in OSCE decisions, which are all reached by consensus regardless of their size. Despite the organization’s predominately intergovernmental nature and the lack of any statutory right of initiative for the Secretariat, in actuality, the latter can occasionally take the lead in formulating policies.
  • The 323 members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE are chosen or appointed by respective national legislatures. The assembly can pass resolutions and proposals but does not have any decision-making authority over OSCE executive organs. Instead, it serves as a forum for inter-parliamentary discussion.
    The OSCE states alternately host the fall meetings and the annual sessions, and the Secretariat (which is distinct from the main OSCE Secretariat) is located in Copenhagen. The annual winter meeting is held in Vienna.
OSCE Activities

Although the OSCE calls itself a security organization, unlike NATO and the previous Warsaw Pact, its purview is not restricted to “hard,” or military, security. Instead, it is influenced by the idea of “comprehensive security,” which recognizes that security depends on a number of factors, including respect for human rights, the rule of law, and economic cooperation. Thus, it may be claimed that it is similar to the concept of resilience, which the EU’s 2016 Global Strategy describes as “a broader concept, encompassing all individuals and the entire society” and cites as a priority for partner countries. The core of a resilient state is a resilient society that values democracy, institutional trust, and sustainable growth. The OSCE’s activities are divided into three “baskets” by the Helsinki Final Act, each of which stands for a different aspect of total security: political and military, economic and environmental, and human.


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