European Security and Cooperation – Historical Significance of the CSCE/OSCE and Its Future Challenges
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Twenty-five years ago the Heads of State and Government signed the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in Helsinki. It is most appropriate that the Sixth World Congress for Central and East European Studies takes stock of the significance of the Conference for recent European history today in Tampere.
On a personal note let me confess at the outset that twenty-five years ago I deliberately chose to leave Helsinki, primarily so as not to have my basic rights as a citizen suppressed by the strict security measures the conference called for. But I was also skeptical about the conference itself. Viewing the meeting in Helsinki from the other end of Europe in Lisbon – the capital of a country that was then undergoing a very crucial transition – gave me a wider perspective and helped me to avoid thinking that the whole world was revolving around Helsinki.
On the other hand I soon had to admit that I had completely erred in underestimating the real power that the document signed in Helsinki had in shaping the future of Europe and the whole world for the better. The signatories to the Final Act may have included a fair share of cynics; but these cynics as well as those who from a distance followed events with as much cynicism have been proved wrong if they thought that declarations of principle cannot change the real world.
The CSCE/OSCE has been flexible. It has weathered well the cold war as well as its end. Its story has by no means come to an end. Therefore it is also appropriate to assess its present-day role and future possibilities in shaping European developments.
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I would like to refer to the question that is often asked of us Finns: Has the OSCE retained its significance in Finland’s foreign policy? Does it continue to be the flagship of Finnish diplomacy? I hope to be able to provide an answer in the course of my presentation.
It is beyond doubt that the Helsinki Final Act was a watershed , bringing together the political leaders of East and West to agree on principles of international relations which have lost nothing of their value. They addressed the vital security questions left open at the end of World War Two but at the same time they set their sights on the need to increase cooperation regardless of block structures.
In analyzing the significance of the CSCE/OSCE, the interaction between stability and change continues to be at the center stage. Different participating states undoubtedly emphasized different aspects of the process when signing the Final Act. Although there were certainly different motivations regarding the three baskets, what resulted was a comprehensive concept of security and a general framework for assessing and promoting basic rights which has not been called into question.
There is a wide convergence of opinion that the dynamic aspect of the process contributed significantly to the end of the division in Europe. The fixation on safeguarding the status quo gave way to new political realities and a common search of a unified Europe based on common values. The Paris Charter of 1990 enshrined the new political commitments aiming at a Europe whole and free.
There is every reason to give the CSCE credit for encouraging a positive change in Europe. After all, many of the milestones ending the Cold War were reached in CSCE forums: the CSBM documents, the CFE Treaty, the new commitments regarding human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
However, the CSCE also provided stability in the middle of this change of historic proportions. The new political forces had a forum where they could voice their concerns. Simmering interstate and minority problems had less chances to become acute when commonly agreed principles and commitments guided political action. In a word, while the CSCE may not have been the only source of inspiration for change, it has been able to manage it.
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In the 1990’s the CSCE/OSCE has experienced a transformation into an international organization. It has retained its role as a forum for political dialogue and as a framework for European disarmament agreements. It has added a number of new activities which aim at conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation. A large part of the work is done in the field, in the various field offices and missions.
The OSCE Summit in Istanbul held last year gave a stamp of approval at the highest level to the new role which the organization had gradually assumed. A number of problems were addressed in the Istanbul Charter and Declaration, but there were no breakthroughs comparable to the Helsinki and Paris documents.
One explanation is that there is little need for further normative work and that the emphasis is on the implementation of the commitments that have already been made. From another point of view one could say that the threshold from interstate to intrastate problems has not yet been fully crossed in the OSCE – the latter being a major source of instability and insecurity in today’s Europe.
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The OSCE – like the United Nations – is an expression of the will of its member countries to deliberate and act multilaterally. There are many reasons why multilateralism is the preferred as well as perhaps the only sustainable way to deal with problems. First, it involves all the actors that are needed in a long-term solution of a conflict. Second, it provides the transparency that modern conflict resolution requires. Third, it strengthens the respect for international law in general. And last but not least, it diminishes the possibility that force is used unnecessarily or disproportionately.
A tendency toward unilateralism would only re-open old divisions or create new ones. In the OSCE area, this organization should be used to safeguard the primacy of multilateral action also in the future. Perhaps all possibilities have not yet been explored in this regard.
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Multidimensional crises must be prevented, managed and solved with appropriate means. One of these tools is the OSCE with its respectable experience in political and normative work. There are others, such as the United Nations, the European Union , the Council of Europe and Nato. The principle of cooperation among organizations is a centerpiece of the Istanbul Charter.
The sad experience in the Balkans has pointed out many of the weaknesses of the crisis prevention and management tools of the international community. In Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere it will take years to heel the wounds of conflicts which make a mockery of the goal of a Europe whole and free for their victims.
A division of labor between the organizations in dealing with crises is still being sought, and it varies from situation to situation. The OSCE like other organizations must concentrate on what it can do best, following the principle of comparative advantage. It has the possibility to engage in military peacekeeping, but in all likelihood it would limit its action to giving a mandate to an operation rather than leading one.
The OSCE’s strength continues to be on civilian aspects of crisis management. In fact, most of its activities can be described as civilian crisis management and conflict prevention, where the organization practices what it preaches about the broad concept of security . Most of the 3000 staff of the OSCE work in field missions in eighteen countries. Such day-to-day routine activities seldom make headlines but are indispensable in a number of countries for the foreseeable future. At Istanbul, the OSCE decided to strengthen its capacity and make it deployable at a short notice.
Not all field activities take place in crisis situations. They have been and are used also to assist in processes of democratization, the strengthening of rule of law and the respect for human rights and the rights of minorities. The missions in Estonia and Latvia have contributed to the progress in the social integration of societies with considerable minorities. Their mandates are about to be completed.
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The OSCE is unique in its membership, bringing together the countries of North America, Western, Central and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It is obvious that such a vast area can provide any number of future challenges.
The root causes of potential conflicts are in the denial of equal rights to persons belonging to ethnic, religious, linguistic and other minorities. As the threat of interstate warfare recedes, the prevention and management of these conflicts will be the yardstick with which the successes and failures of the international community will be measured. The concept of internal affairs should once more be revisited.
The OSCE is facilitating a solution to the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaidzhan and is prepared to use its capacity also on the ground. A number of conflicts have been ”frozen”, escaping a solution, such as those of Georgia and Transdniestria. The conflict in Chechnya is testing the ability of the OSCE to engage credibly in the search of a political solution.
Central Asia is also a region where more attention is needed. The OSCE could assist those countries in all aspects of comprehensive security, particularly in strengthening a democratic system of government.
There will be challenges also in established democracies. Minority questions in particular need to be reviewed to facilitate the development of inclusive civil societies, strong enough to ward of potential crises. Such problems are best dealt with in cooperation with other organizations, including the indispensable network of non-governmental organizations.
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I would like to return to the significance of the CSCE/OSCE from a Finnish perspective. In the course of the past decade or so, Finland has joined the European Union, the Council of Europe, and the Partnership for Peace Program.
The decision to join the EU was, of course, the most significant, opening new avenues for shaping European developments. Presently, the EU is seriously enhancing its military and civilian crisis management capabilities. These will complement the political and economic tools that the Union can put at the disposal of the UN or the OSCE for crisis management tasks.
In the 1990’s, the Council of Europe has developed as a recognized promoter of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, including a vital parliamentary side of activities.
The Partnership for Peace is an important network of cooperation with Nato, which Finland uses to enhance its military crisis management capabilities.
There are many areas in which the work of the OSCE cannot be substituted by another organization. There are also tasks which can be carried out irrespective of the organization used. In the seventies the CSCE was the most important result of détente, and Finland is proud of its role in fostering a process which strengthened the position of small countries in a divided Europe. Now there are several international organizations to choose from.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Europe today is not a unified community of values. That is even more true of the OSCE family of nations as a whole. There is plenty of room for improvement in the implementation of commitments. The challenges facing the OSCE in this work continue to be huge. Finland was present at the creation of the CSCE and will continue to do its share for European security and cooperation also under the changing conditions.