The OSCE Needs a Change

The West disregards the Eastern argument that the OSCE no longer serves its purpose, because it believes that the OSCE should serve the interests of the West.

I remember reading about the 1975 Helsinki Conference in the Czechoslovak media. It was convened to replace the post-war peace conference and to give us the hope that the Cold War will end, despite the prevailing skepticism. Ultimately, the Helsinki Conference helped end the Cold War, but the eastern block of countries failed to formulate a different set of values and rules that would win broad public support in the East and West alike.

In 1993-1995, I held the elected post of vice-president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. By that time, the Soviet Union collapsed and the annual assembly meetings were attended by delegations from the former Soviet republics that had become sovereign states. Russian was the official language of the Assembly, with speeches in Russian simultaneously translated into its other official languages. It was funny to see delegates from the former Soviet republics, in particular Ukraine and the Baltics, deliver their statements in broken English or French, although they could speak fluent Russian. I later wrote in a newspaper that the Russian delegation looked lonely.

Pressure put on Russia continued to grow. European countries were becoming increasingly more loyal vassals of the United States, and voting at the OSCE agencies turned into mindless lobbying for US interests. The OSCE’s inability to constructively contribute to the settlement of international issues became public knowledge through TV reporting of the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the investigation of the crash of Malaysia Airlines’ plane over Ukraine. OSCE officials did go to very dangerous areas in the conflict zone and to sites that were vital for determining the cause of the crash, but afterwards they mostly provided neutral comments. In this situation, even outsiders could see that the OSCE badly needed a change.

The OSCE was established in the 1970s when the East and the West were balanced politically and militarily. The OSCE’s mission was to implement this balance in the sphere of military and economic relations and by monitoring elections and protecting human rights. But conditions have changed since then. Russia and the West are now balanced only in the sphere of strategic weapons, and the West feels that it prevails in all other spheres. Unfortunately, the West has been trying to use the OSCE as a tool for attaining superiority. It doesn’t care that by doing this it is robbing Europe of an additional instrument for strengthening or preserving peace. The OSCE has abandoned its initial mission and instead of helping us overcome the vestiges of the past Cold War it is paving the way to a new cold war. The West disregards the Eastern argument that the OSCE no longer serves its purpose, because it believes that the OSCE should serve the interests of the West.
Developments can proceed in two ways.

Under the first scenario, the OSCE mission should be revised. We need to provide a scientific and political explanation for the difference between the current international situation and that of the 1970s. How should the new conditions have influenced the OSCE’s structure and operation? How can the system of security and cooperation in Europe be restructured? If the sides reach an agreement on this score, should they formalize these changes, for example, in a Final Act II?

The second scenario is tragic. The West only started cooperating with Russia in the fight against Islamic terrorists after the terrorist attacks in Paris. Must we wait for more tragedies? Europe is more vulnerable to them than Russia. Besides, Europe lacks Russia’s inner resolve to stand up against terrorism. NATO will not protect Europe from Islamists. Never since WWII have Russia and Europe needed so much to pool their efforts against a common enemy as they do now. Will we see the leaders like Churchill and Stalin who will help us overcome our differences and bring us together against this common enemy? The OSCE reform will ensue from this, much more important battle.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.