Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 165

Two special conferences in Vienna this week and next are meant to ponder the “OSCE’s future” and ways to make it “more effective” — euphemisms for managing the organization’s crisis. A just-completed Final Report with recommendations by a seven-man “Panel of Eminent Persons” — also known as the OSCE’s Seven Wise Men — provides the basis for discussions. The OSCE’s 2004 year-end conference instituted the panel and commissioned the report, and the organization’s 2005 Slovene Chairmanship formally appointed the panel’s members in February 2005 following the usual backstage consultations among the main players.

The Final Report’s most conspicuous characteristic is the absence of references to the hard issues: the OSCE’s failures as a security actor in the “grey zone” of Eastern Europe, and Russia’s political and budgetary blackmail that seeks to neutralize as well the OSCE’s democracy-promoting role.

On the security front, the report completely ignores the performance of the OSCE’s Georgia and Moldova field missions, largely responsible for discrediting the organization as a security actor in the host countries and internationally. That performance ranges from irrelevance in South Ossetia (where the OSCE nominally monitors the ceasefire) to direct cooperation with Russia in Transnistria (where the OSCE accepts the Russian-installed authorities as legitimate political partners).

The report also passes over in silence the forced termination of the OSCE’s Georgia Border Monitoring Mission (BMO) at Moscow’s demand — an event that traumatized the organization and exposed Georgia to security risks during the Eminent Persons Panel’s lifetime. The BMO had been designed as a confidence-building and border-management mission and it had an obvious conflict-prevention role as well. Ironically, it fell to the OSCE’s Conflict-Prevention Center to actually close down the BMO in 2005 in compliance with Russia’s veto. While the Panel’s report was being completed, the OSCE and Russia jointly submitted a confidence- and security-building plan for Moldova, involving the legalization of Transnistria’s army and allowing for an indefinite stay of Russsia’s troops.

Although the OSCE is the custodian of the adapted Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe and the Istanbul Commitments — twin sets of documents signed in 1999 at the last summit that the OSCE was able to hold — the Wise Men’s Report makes is no mention of these agreements. Yet the OSCE’s inability to elicit Russian compliance with these agreements is one of the organization’s most serious problems. Similarly, the OSCE as a security actor is the main custodian of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act’s provisions on the territorial integrity of recognized states and inadmissibility of the use or threat of force against states. Amid the ongoing breaches by Russian- or Russian-backed forces, the Report chooses to ignore that problem.

Despite this track record, the Report argues, “The OSCE can claim a lead role in addressing issues within the four phases of the ‘conflict cycle’ — early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management, and post-conflict rehabilitation.” It calls, moreover, for continuing OSCE efforts in confidence-building and border-management, albeit “under the prevailing circumstances and taking into account that the priorities for OSCE cooperation with participating states may vary from country to country.” This last clause appears to imply deference to Russia in ex-Soviet-ruled countries — a deference amply demonstrated already.

Aware of its irrelevance as a security actor in the Euro-Atlantic area, the OSCE seeks to play that role in the area to the east of the enlarged NATO and EU, by collaborating on Russia’s terms there. Although the security of countries in that area is directly at stake, their representatives — or those of new NATO and EU member countries — have not been included in the Eminent Persons’ Panel.

(Common Purpose: Toward a More Effective OSCE. Final Report and Recommendations of the Panel of Eminent Persons: Nikolai Afanasievski [Russia], Hans van den Broek [Netherlands], Wilhelm Hoeynck [Germany], Kuanysh Sultanov [Kazakhstan], Knut Vollebaek [Norway], Richard Williamson [United States], Miomir Zuzul [Croatia])