Lithuania Assumes the Chairmanship of the OSCE

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 23

Chairing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010, Kazakhstan showed that it is possible to bring a successful chairmanship to a failing organization. Prerequisites to a successful chairmanship include strong motivation as the starting point; ambition to demonstrate a young state’s national competence at the international level; and carefully calculated initiatives which, even if thwarted in the veto-bound OSCE system, become reference points in the organization’s annals as sound and creative responses to major challenges (i.e., the Kazakh chairmanship’s proposals for OSCE roles in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan). On all these counts, as well as on summitry-organizing ability, Kazakhstan’s performance qualified as successful, despite the OSCE’s own paralyzing flaws (“Kazakhstan’s OSCE Chairmanship 2010: Final Report,” Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Institute for New Democracies, Washington, January 2011).

Lithuania took over the OSCE’s chair in January 2011 with national motivations and ambitions on a similarly high level. Unlike Kazakhstan, however, Lithuania is a member of the European Union and follows the EU’s common foreign and security policies, along with more than half of OSCE’s participant states. Thanks to more coherent EU policies since the Lisbon Treaty came into force, Lithuania seems better placed to influence the EU’s common positions on OSCE-related issues than any previous OSCE chairmanship. On the other hand, challenges in the OSCE’s primary area of responsibility (eastward of the EU and NATO) have accumulated in recent years, now posing even more deep-seated difficulties for the international order. Mostly stemming from Russia, these challenges far exceed the OSCE’s means to respond effectively.

Thus, Lithuania’s chairmanship will of necessity move with cautious small steps and lowered expectations. This is already generating some critical questioning from domestic public opinion, including some of the government’s supporters. For a whole decade Lithuania had positioned itself at the forefront of extending Euro-Atlantic security to Europe’s East, as well as the “value-based policy” vis-à-vis Russia. According to a widespread, approving view, “Lithuanian diplomacy had had a very clear goal: to do everything to block the spread of Russia’s influence and for bringing post-Soviet countries closer to the EU.” However, “the status of a country chairing the OSCE has deprived Lithuania of its right to independent opinion and initiative” (Lietuvos Rytas, January 5).

In Lithuania and elsewhere in Central-Eastern Europe, some opinion circles may well expect Lithuania to act along those familiar lines while in the OSCE’s chair. Such expectations, however, underestimate at least four factors and their impact.

First, chairing an organization –particularly the veto-bound OSCE– is by definition an exercise in mediation and consensus-building, not in advocacy or finger-pointing. Second, long-standing neglect of the “frozen” conflicts by the US, NATO, and the EU, has rendered the situation even more difficult, correspondingly weakening the OSCE’s already weak hand there. Third, the “reset” in relations with Russia (a process cascading from Washington to Paris and Berlin to Warsaw) constrains other states’ policy leeway, at times even challenging certain states to show that they are not “reset-spoilers.” Fourth, serious criticism of Russia over democracy issues is now deemed futile and too costly by most Western governments; whereas going beyond criticism to actually penalize a far lesser offender, such as Belarus, is deemed cost-free (and psychologically compensatory for the uncomfortable appeasement of Russia).

On January 1, the OSCE faced the loss of yet another field presence, this time in Belarus. Following the December 19, 2010 presidential election and the post-election crisis, the government of Belarus announced on December 31 that it refuses the annual prolongation of the OSCE Minsk Office’s mandate. The Lithuanian Chair has expressed regret over the decision and is urging the Belarusian government to reconsider (Belapan, January 4, 13, 21). Led by German diplomats for many years, that office was a high-profile political operation until the OSCE’s December 2002 ministerial conference in Porto went along with a drastic curtailment of that office’s mandate. Still German-led, the office assumed a low-profile reporting role from 2003 to date.

From January 27-29, Lithuania’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Evaldas Ignatavicius, undertook a good-offices mission to defuse political tensions in Albania. Following violent clashes in that country, the OSCE’s Chair mandated Ignatavicius to encourage a dialogue between the government and opposition leaders to settle the political crisis (BNS, Delfi, January 27-29).

Barely starting to recover from the financial crisis, Lithuania has only been able to budget 9 million Litas ($3.5 million) for the expenses of its chairmanship year. By some calculations this amounts to a mere 4 percent of Kazakhstan’s budget for its chairmanship. Lithuania’s meager allocation is mostly reserved for defraying the expenses of OSCE’s December 2011 ministerial conference in Vilnius (Lietuvos Rytas, January 1).

Since 2006, the OSCE has gone through five draft versions of an Action Plan to regenerate the organization. Russia blocked the latest version, along with other summit documents, in Astana in December 2010, due to Russia’s own position on the protracted conflicts. Any decisions on an OSCE Action Plan at the December 2011 meeting in Vilnius would depend on tangible progress during the year on those protracted conflicts.