Spotlight on Geopolitics

The OSCE December summit

This fall’s Deauville summit between Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and Dimitri Medvedev has highlighted the need to include Russia in a pan-European security architecture, distinct from the decaying and confrontational-type North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Fortunately since 1975 European nations, regardless of EU membership, have had one of the most advanced regional co-operative security structures in the world, the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe).

After an 11-year hiatus, an OSCE member states’ leaders summit is convened in Astana on the 1st and 2nd of December at the initiative of Kazakhstan’s president Nursultan Nazarbayev. Although lesser-known than NATO, the OSCE is more inclusive (it currently includes 56 states) and represents, in Fabio Liberti’s words, “the largest security forum in the world”.

From the start, the OSCE was created as a regional security organisation, the first one to approach security comprehensively. It encompasses not only politico-military activities (police, arms control, conflict prevention, border management), but also economic and environmental activities (control of money-laundering, integrated management of water resources, support for the elimination of hazardous materials) and human rights activities (promotion of human rights, minority rights, freedom of the press and gender equality).

During the cold war, the OSCE effectively contributed to the promotion of human rights behind the Iron Curtain and participated in the dismantling of the Soviet bloc. In 1990, member states have adopted the Charter of Paris for a New Europe and have decided to equip the OSCE with permanent institutions (secretariat, election bureau and a center for conflict prevention) in order to enable the organisation to respond to eventual crises. Subsequently, OSCE has installed missions in Kosovo, Sandjak, Voivodina and Macedonia. Together with the UN and NATO, it has participated in bringing to an end the ethnic conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina and to the elaboration of an arms control agreement for the Balkans.

All these achievements, its regional focus and comprehensive approach to security matters qualify OSCE as the most adequate regional security arrangement for Europe, Russia and Central Asia alike.
Recent developments

The conflict between Russia and Georgia in the summer of 2008, the tensions in Transnistria between Moldova and Russia and the current crisis in Kyrghizstan have highlighted the need to rethink European security outside its current NATO-EU-Russia dialogue. Although Dimitri Medvedev has advanced the proposal of a new security architecture for Europe and Russia, distinct from NATO, the OSCE is perfectly capable of assuming this role. To achieve this, however, the organisation would have to become consistent with its regional focus and restrict its membership to 54 countries (all the European countries plus Russia and the 5 stans), but without the US or Canada, as is currently the case.

The presence of the US withion OSCE structures has become counterproductive, as the current negotiations in Kyrghizstan demonstrate. The State Department’s pressure to involve the OSCE in the stabilisation process there has led to the organisation’s failure to successfully participate to negotiations for an end to the ethnic conflicts in the area. In truth, the Eurasian focus of OSCE, which is regional and not global, comes into conflict with the vision of an OSCE “from Vancouver to Vladivostock”. Since 2001, Russia’s Far East security problems could be more adequately dealt with within the structures provided by the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation), and it’s even likely that the OSCE will have to bring its expertise to bear in Central Asia in cooperation with the SCO.

To summarize, instead of creating another EU-Russia cooperative structure, the leaders meeting in Astana could instead consider ways of re-focusing the OSCE exclusively on regional security matters, without the participation of the US and Canada, and of funding it more adequately than it is the case right now. (sources: Le Monde diplomatique, EurActiv, Project Syndicate)

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  1. It is very interesting to analyze the objections that where expressed in multiple articles, including your article, before the Astana Summit in December last year and to compare those with the results and effects of the Summit afterwards. Human Rights is about taking small leaps forward and in my opinion the Astana Summit was a small step in the right direction. The recently published article by Walter Kemp on represents an interesting analyzes of the developments in Kazakhstan after the Summit.

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