Remarks at Festive Symposium ”CSCE/OSCE 30 years and STETE 35 years”, Helsinki, 8.12.2005


This year has provided many opportunities to assess the role of the CSCE and the OSCE during the past thirty years. Conferences and academic colloquia have analysed the interrelationship between political changes in the participating states and the role of the CSCE/OSCE as a catalyst of those changes. Fascinating flashbacks of recent history have pointed out how quick the pace of events has been.

However, the 30th Anniversary of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe is also an occasion to take a look at the potential future role of the OSCE in European security. I wish to commend the Finnish Committee for European Security for the initiative to mark its own 35th Anniversary by convening a seminar which encourages such discussion.

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An attempt to assess the future role of the OSCE must be accompanied by many caveats. First of all, the concept of security is undergoing a thorough change.

The CSCE was created to tackle a set of European security issues related to the peculiarities of the bipolar world system. It was transformed in the 1990´s to consolidate democracy, the rule of law, market economy and respect for human rights in the countries in transition.  Military conflict between states was and is no more the main threat to security in Europe.

It is sometimes forgotten that the CSCE had a global dimension from the beginning. The Helsinki Final Act of 1975 recognized the link between peace and security in Europe and in the world as a whole. After all, two years earlier a war in the Middle East had caused a serious energy crisis in Western Europe, and the Vietnam War had just ended before the signing of the Final Act. In the minds of the leaders of those times, European security was clearly part of global security.

Security risks and challenges are now, a generation later, more global than ever. Globalization also means a globalization of security questions, and a growing need for the international community to address them in unison.

Regional organizations, such as the OSCE, originally designed to tackle problems which are specific to their region, must sooner or later adapt to global security challenges, if they want to remain relevant. They will have to learn to think globally while acting regionally.

This process is under way in the OSCE. It was declared to be a regional arrangement of the United Nations over ten years ago, and this link has little by little gained in relevance. Perhaps the division of labour in crisis management is the best example. In the Western Balkans the OSCE has taken over many of the post-conflict activities, while the United Nations leads the most demanding operations and negotiations, such as those conducted in Kosovo. 

Smooth cooperation between the United Nations, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, Nato and other organizations will be crucial for European security also seen in a broader context. What is at stake is the future of multilateral conflict resolution, peacekeeping and crisis management not only in Europe but worldwide.

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The OSCE has been pronounced dead more than once, but the announcement has always proved to be premature. Also this year, the organization had to sail through troubled waters, but thanks to the efforts of the Slovenian Chairmanship it not only survived but reached a number of important decisions in the annual ministerial meeting earlier this week in Ljubljana.

We may ask what keeps the OSCE relevant long after the mandate of the CSCE was fulfilled.

Above all, I would like to emphasize that the participating states have been fairly successful in making good use of the comparative advantages of the OSCE, and in developing them further.

Perhaps the most frequently quoted advantage is the geographical extension of the OSCE, covering all states of Europe, North America and Central Asia from Vancouver to Vladivostok,  including four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and all countries of the European Union, among other countries and groups of countries.

The large membership – 55 countries – also means that the OSCE is an important forum for countries that belong to only a few international organizations. Being a member of the organisation certainly strengthens the countries’  sense of ownership when their problems are treated.

The vast OSCE region also means that it has several neighbours in the adjacent regions. Five Asian and six Mediterranean countries have joined as partners of the OSCE. Recently, also China has shown some interest in cooperating with the organization. In the coming years, the OSCE should further develop its cooperation with the partners, providing expertise and models for multilateral problem-solving efforts.  

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The CSCE was based on an early form of comprehensive security. It was a far-sighted decision to divide the CSCE agenda into politico-military, economic and environmental and humanitarian ”baskets”. In the 1990´s, the norms and commitments of the dimensions were further developed.

However, since the OSCE has engaged in field operations and other practical projects, the lines between the baskets or dimensions have been blurred more and more. Presently, cross-dimensional activities meet best the needs of cooperation based on a comprehensive concept of security. The compartmentalization of security issues should be avoided also in the future.

Here I would like to give an example. The reprehensible modern form of slave trade, trafficking in human beings, is a major challenge for a number of states, whether they are countries of origin, transit or destination. Trafficking is certainly one of the principal human rights challenges in the OSCE area. To combat it effectively, we need seamless co-operation between law-enforcement, social and other sectors. Non-governmental actors play a very important role in terms of identifying victims and providing solutions.

Another example is projects, financially supported by Finland and other countries, which aim at the safe disposal and destruction of small arms and hazardous material such as rocket fuel. They can be counted as politico-military activities but they also contribute to safer environment.

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The OSCE is known for its capacity to combine its norm-setting work with the practical application of principles, norms and commitments. Sometimes the follow-up of commitments takes years, even longer, but persistence often pays off. On occasion, new commitments are almost immediately complied with, as was the case with the first multi-party elections in Central European countries in the 1990´s.

The quick response that the OSCE is able to provide in crises and other situations is an asset that should be valued and further improved. The flexibility of the Chairman-in-Office and the autonomous position of the OSCE institutions should be preserved. No amount of bureaucracy will compensate for the remarkable agility of the OSCE.

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Perhaps the most significant contemporary advantage of the OSCE is its network of direct contacts with the civil society and its actors. International human rights organizations work closely with the OSCE and its institutions, and the field offices touch base with a great number of organizations, groups and individuals on a daily basis. The picture that appears on the OSCE´s radar screen is therefore fairly accurate and up-to-date.

Considering the future, the ongoing revolution in information and communication points in the direction of further developing contacts with non-state actors both within countries and internationally. With threats to security becoming increasingly global, the OSCE may face an uphill battle if it tries to limit its cooperation only to state structures.

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Earlier this year, an OSCE Panel of Eminent Persons provided a set of recommendations to make the OSCE more effective. The Panel stressed that the OSCE should concentrate on what it does best and where its added value lies. It recommended that the OSCE concentrate its activities on a limited number of tasks such as those related to conflicts, arms control and confidence building, tolerance, police matters, border management, election observation and fight against trafficking.

At the same time, a report of the Centre for OSCE Research of the University of Hamburg made strikingly similar recommendations, which deserve attention also in the coming years. The CORE recommendations also exhorted the OSCE to be prepared for multi-functional field operations in the context of a solution to the so-called frozen conflicts.

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In the course of the recent debate on the need to reform the OSCE, also the question of values has been addressed. The OSCE has been a values-driven organization since the Paris Charter of 1990. Some participating states have questioned the fundamental role of those values, underlining their different interpretation in different countries. Sometimes the criticism has been even harsher, claiming that OSCE values are western, not common values to all participating states. 

One of the issues stirring criticism and doubts of double-standards is election monitoring, which has become one of the key functions of the OSCE.

Election observation normally takes place under special circumstances, in places where there is a risk of deficiencies in the electoral process. Due to this, election observation has the image of being a ”police operation”. This stigma and atmosphere of mistrust related to election observation is apparent not only in the OSCE area, but also globally.

The Helsinki Group – the high-level body of the 21st Century Helsinki Process on Globalisation and Democracy – has also pointed out the selective nature of election observation and the lack of common and comprehensive standards. In order to improve the balance, the Helsinki Group proposes making election monitoring a universal practice, to be based on universal standards and procedures.

It could be argued that universal election rules already exist. The bases of internationally recognized electoral standards stem mainly from UN declarations and conventions on human rights which are applicable in any country.  In addition, election monitoring principles are defined by other international and regional legal documents such as the 1990 Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE. 

Election observation should be considered as a standing element of elections, based on common rules regardless of the country or election. Guidelines and principles of universal election monitoring should be developed on the basis of existing international and regional instruments – by exploring the UN, EU, OSCE and African Union standards as well as the guidelines of the International IDEA (Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance).

One key element of universal election monitoring is the role of parliamentarians. Networks of parliamentarians such as the IPU could be involved in developing general election monitoring standards. In addition, parliamentarians could take the lead in introducing necessary changes in national legislation and play an active role in the actual monitoring of elections.

Universal monitoring of the principles of free and fair elections could contribute to removing the perceived implication of expected misconduct whenever a monitoring mission is sent on a selective basis. Developing universal standards of election monitoring and having monitoring missions in all elections in all our countries could be the right way to build confidence and reduce political controversy globally, and also among the 55 OSCE member states.


In dealing with security challenges, both the values as such and their application are important. If the validity of principles, values and commitments is questioned, the OSCE will be marginalized and doomed to oblivion.

On the other hand, if we don’t practice what we preach, the organization will soon turn into an empty shell. Both dangers should be avoided, because the OSCE has still work to do.

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The work that lies ahead requires a common vision, common priorities but also an effective organization which is available to the participating states. There is clearly a need to develop and improve some of the instruments. Many international organizations, including the UN, are engaged in reform processes. Also in the OSCE, the question is most probably not about making quick turns at once but making the necessary adjustments, perhaps step by step.

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In Finnish foreign policy, the CSCE /OSCE occupies a special place. It had a role in gaining recognition to Finland’s policy of neutrality during the cold war. It also provided small states with opportunities of pursuing their interests. The present-day OSCE is regarded as a model in consensus-based decision-making in international relations.

This week in Ljubljana, Slovenia, the other 54 participating States of the OSCE entrusted Finland with the task of chairing the organization in 2008. The upcoming chairmanship will give the Finnish government an opportunity for sharpening its goals in multilateral diplomacy, both in theory and in practice.   

The OSCE chairmanship will give a chance to strengthen ties with the other participating states, including countries with which our contacts have not been very frequent. This will be a welcome opportunity of enhancing our cooperation with, for example, the countries of Central Asia and Southern Caucasus.

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It is too early to set any priorities for the OSCE in 2008. We will of course benefit from the experience of countries chairing the OSCE before us, namely Slovenia, Belgium and Spain.

The OSCE will be chaired by four European Union countries in a row. Being a Member State of the EU is something that Finns value highly. In spite of recent setbacks in efforts to streamline its decision-making and institutions, the EU should endeavour to move ahead in its common foreign and security policy and continue developing its neighbourhood policy and external relations in general.

For Finland, this means that the Union will more often speak with one voice and act as a credible partner in negotiations. Such a Union would also make it easier for the OSCE chairmanship to seek common ground in a consensus-based organization.

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The OSCE chair serves all the 55 participating states of the organization, large, small and middle-sized. Many of them have their particular security concerns, sometimes conflicting with those of other states. Still I believe that the vast majority of security issues are common to all participating States.

The task of the chair is to try to make the area of common security concerns as large as possible by seeking solutions acceptable to all. Here the cooperation of the other members of the troika and all participating states will be necessary.