OSCE Summit Highlights Gaps and Prospects for Regional Security

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 222

When the Helsinki Final Act was adopted in 1975 to reduce tensions between East and West during the Cold War, few believed in its potential to transform the international security architecture by way of advancing border stability and human rights. Yet, the Helsinki Final Act precipitated the end of the Cold War era and collapse of the Soviet Union, leading to the establishment of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE): the largest and most comprehensive regional security body in the Euro-Atlantic zone, tasked with promoting stability from Vancouver to Vladivostok.

Today, the radically transformed global security environment in the early part of the 21st century once again calls for viable responses to most pressing security challenges. Ongoing East-West tensions and breached links between security and democracy in some regions only reinforce this imperative. This was clear at the OSCE Heads of State Summit in Astana, Kazakhstan on December 1-2, which aimed to chart the future of regional security for the first time in 11 years since the last meeting in Istanbul, Turkey.

The OSCE Summit did not produce any action plan, highlighting inter-state tensions, including between Russia and Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan (www.dw-world.de). This was expected given the need for consensus among the 56 member-states, while considering the summit a success. “This happens at all summits, as each side is representing its interests. All in all, the summit was still a success,” an Uzbek analyst, Alibek Sabukhi, observed. The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Secretary-General, Nikolai Bordiuzha, concurred: “Earlier it was never possible to gather the leaders of so many countries and international organizations in one forum, which is an indicator of the meeting’s success” (www.centralasiaonline.com, December 2).  

The OSCE Summit resulted in the “Astana Commemorative Declaration: Towards a Security Community” that reaffirmed the OSCE’s commitment to promote security, stating that “the security of each participating state is inseparably linked to that of all others.” The Astana Summit also called for reforms within the OSCE to better address transnational threats ranging from human trafficking, crime, and terrorism to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), regional conflicts, climate change, and economic misbalances. Finally, it stressed the importance of democratic reforms and economic development in bolstering regional security, especially in the post-Soviet space and Afghanistan (www.osce.org, December 2). US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, stressed the connection between human rights and security in Eurasia, while calling on the return of the OSCE mission to Georgia and more active cooperation in the Afghan war effort (www.glavred.info, December 1).

Lingering conflicts and new flash points in the region are urgently calling for expanded OSCE’s activities in Eurasia. “The uniqueness of our summit lies in the fact that it is taking place in the heart of Eurasia, a thousand miles from the geographical boundaries of Europe. This above all reflects the changed paradigm of European security,” according to the Kazakh President, Nursultan Nazarbayev (www.osce.org, December 1). Yerevan and Baku, for instance, have not resolved their dispute over Karabakh. The Russian-Georgian war has further weakened security in the South Caucasus, exposing East-West divides. Recent instability in Kyrgyzstan, ongoing volatility in Afghanistan, poor regional cooperation and even rivalries in the South Caucasus and Central Asia have further impaired stability and the OSCE’s security role (www.dw-world.de, December 2; www.uznews.net, December 2).

Kazakhstan’s OSCE Chairmanship thus highlighted the country’s enhanced regional profile and growing importance of Eurasia for global politics, and the need for multilateral efforts to enhance security in the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian zone (www.kazpravda.kz, December 2; www.osce.org, December 2). Eurasia lends itself as a natural East-West trade, energy, and security interconnector –the realization Astana actively promotes as the OSCE looks for new mechanisms to address transnational challenges. “Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, Europe was reunited. I am of the opinion that today we are demolishing another wall –the wall between Europe and Asia,” Nazarbayev continued (www.mediawitty.com, December 3).   

Alliances and coalitions on both sides of the Atlantic have proved unable to deal with a myriad of transnational threats. Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, stated: “I am confident that by relying on a security platform based on cooperation, the OSCE can become a driving force in developing cooperation between NATO, the EU, Council of Europe, the CIS and the CSTO. All of the countries that enter these organizations are represented in the OSCE. In this sense, the OSCE remains a universal platform” (www.trend.az, December 1). The OSCE may also better facilitate a Euro-Atlantic security engagement in Eurasia where the China and Russia-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the CSTO operate. “For us, the OSCE really is the only game in town,” one senior retired US diplomat said (www.centralasianewswire.com, November 26).

The OSCE, however, is yet to reinvent itself. “We realize that the way to a true Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian community with united and indivisible security will be long and thorny,” Nazarbayev said (www.osce.org, December 2). The President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Petros Efthymiou, agreed: “It is clear that the process of revitalizing our organization has only started, and the challenge at hand is analogous to the birth of our organization, in the 1970’s” (www.osce.org, December 1). OSCE members have already proposed specific security initiatives and organizational reforms, though divisions remain.

Russia thus calls for a new security architecture in Europe, an idea that has some supporters in the region (www.english.ruvr.ru, December 2; www.rian.ru, December 3; www.osce.org). Turkmenistan, in turn, offered to establish a security forum for cooperation in Central Asia and the Caspian Basin, while Kazakhstan proposed adopting “Maastricht Plus” document as a guide for economic development after the global financial crisis. Astana also calls for the creation of Energy Council and Security Forecasting capabilities within the OSCE to promote economic, environmental, and military security (www.centralasiaonline.com, December 2; www.osce.org, December 2).

The OSCE Chairmanship in 2011 by Lithuania will show whether the progress made in Astana will materialize into a concrete action plan as the OSCE members seek to enhance security at home and abroad.