From the CSCE to the OSCE

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe was preceded by the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), which adopted the Helsinki Final Act at its Summit in 1975. The official change of name from CSCE to OSCE became effective on 1 January 1995. With its 57 members, the OSCE is the only security policy organisation in which all European countries, the successor states of the Soviet Union, the United States, Canada and Mongolia are represented – Mongolia having become the 57th member on 20 November 2012.

The Helsinki Final Act (1975), the Charter of Paris (1990), the Charter for European Security adopted in Istanbul in 1999 and the Astana Declaration “Towards a Security Community” (2010) are the OSCE’s key documents, defining a steadily evolving and maturing set of political commitments based on a broad understanding of security. 

This understanding of security includes the OSCE’s “three dimensions”: 

  1. the politico-military dimension, 
  2. the economic and environmental dimension, and 
  3. the human dimension. 


The most important goals of the OSCE thus include establishing comprehensive and indivisible security, conflict prevention and conflict management in all phases of conflicts and crises in the OSCE region, protection of human rights, democratic and rule-of-law standards as a contribution to security and stability, disarmament, confidence building measures and fighting terrorism. In the 2010 Astana declaration, the OSCE participating States also made it clear that human rights and democracy are “matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the state concerned.” All 57 OSCE participating States enjoy equal status. Decisions are taken by consensus and are politically, but not legally binding. The OSCE is especially well-known to the general public for its independent election observation missions by the ODIHR, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

Documents and other up-to-date information can be accessed on the OSCE website. The Centre for OSCE Research (CORE) of the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, which is supported by the Federal Foreign Office, can provide more comprehensive information on the OSCE.

Institutions and priorities

The OSCE’s decision-making bodies are the Summits of Heads of State and Government (most recently held in 2010); the Ministerial Council, which meets once a year; the Permanent Council in Vienna composed of participating States’ Permanent Representatives to the OSCE, which meets at least once a week; and the Forum for Security Co-operation (FSC), which meets once a week and has its own decision-making powers on politico-military issues.

OSCE-Secretary General Zannier (Archives)

OSCE-Secretary General Zannier (Archives)
© picture-alliance/dpa

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OSCE-Secretary General Zannier (Archives)

OSCE-Secretary General Zannier (Archives)

OSCE-Secretary General Zannier (Archives)

The Secretary General (since July 2011 Ambassador Lamberto Zannier from Italy) supports the Chairperson‑in‑Office and heads the OSCE Secretariat, which has a staff of about 310. For

The OSCE also has three independent institutions that monitor the political OSCE commitments and thus serve as an early warning mechanism. They are as follows:

At the invitation of each host country, the OSCE is currently present in 15 participating states with field missions. The goal of these field missions is to strengthen cooperation between the OSCE and the host governments and support the host countries in implementing OSCE commitments.

Public attention is currently focused on the OSCE’s involvement with Ukraine. The organisation has a Project Co-ordinator’s office in Kyiv and, since the start of the crisis, has been represented by two further missions – the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine and an Observation Mission covering two Russian checkpoints. 

In addition to this, as Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Austrian diplomat Martin Sajdik participates in the Trilateral Contact Group (comprised of a representative from Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE respectively). This group provides the framework for negotiating the details of implementing the Minsk agreements.

The CSCE’s traditional role as a forum for political consultation and negotiation has, due to many internal and inter-ethnic conflicts, gradually expanded in recent years to include new functions in the areas of early warning, conflict prevention and post-conflict peacebuilding. The OSCE has developed a specific set of instruments for preventive diplomacy to enable it to perform these tasks.

Arms control

The OSCE is the anchor of conventional arms control, military transparency and confidence-building in Europe. Its Forum for Security Co-operation (FSC), which meets weekly and holds annual Implementation Assessment Meetings, is responsible for monitoring compliance with the various OSCE instruments for arms control and confidence- and security-building measures (CSBMs) as well as for ongoing conceptual development in that area. It consults on current security dialogue developments and negotiates and adopts politically binding decisions and documents aimed at strengthening security and stability throughout the OSCE area. The OSCE also supports the implementation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) and the Open Skies Treaty.

Among the key documents that are the subject of consultation and further development within the FSC are the Vienna Document of 2011 on confidence- and security-building measures, the Code of Conduct on politico-military aspects of security, the Document on Small Arms and Light Weapons and the Document on Stockpiles of Conventional Ammunition. The arms control regime defined by the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords is also implemented under the auspices of the OSCE.

Conventional arms control under OSCE auspices

OSCE cooperation with other international organisations and non-OSCE countries

Cooperation with the United Nations

The OSCE is a regional arrangement in the sense of Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter. Its 1992 Helsinki Summit provided a general mandate to conduct peacekeeping operations and the Istanbul Summit in 1999 confirmed this mandate. However, no such activity has been carried out so far by the OSCE.

The OSCE also cooperates with other international organisations such as NATO and the EU.

At the NATO summit in Lisbon on 20 November 2010, NATO reaffirmed its goal to strengthen its cooperation with the OSCE, seeing it as an important organisation and a dialogue forum for Euro-Atlantic security in all three dimensions.

From the EU’s point of view, the OSCE is a pillar of common security with a comprehensive approach (three dimensions). EU Member States amount to a little more than half of the OSCE members and provide two-thirds of the OSCE’s financial contributions. The EU is working to further develop the OSCE acquis. Cooperation takes place on conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation and dealing with regional conflicts (Transdniestria, Georgia, Nagorny Karabakh). Some OSCE programmes are co-financed by the OSCE and the EU.

Partnerships for Co-operation

The OSCE conducts a structured dialogue with countries in the southern Mediterranean region (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan) and with some Asian states (Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Afghanistan) as well as Australia. The exchange of views on cooperative security is promoted through annual conferences and seminars, and cooperation partners also take part in meetings of OSCE bodies.

Other cooperation activities are offered depending on the needs and interests of individual partners; for example, the OSCE offers support to the democratic transformation processes that began with the Arab Spring in North Africa and is especially active in training border staff in the interests of Afghan stability.

Forum for Security Co-operation

Election monitoring

The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly regularly conduct election observation missions in all OSCE participating States, which all committed themselves to inviting international election observers in the 1990 Copenhagen Document. Over the past ten years the ODIHR has conducted more than 200 election observation missions.

Monitoring elections is one of the more transparent ways to promote democracy and human rights. The OSCE’s election observation activity is based on two principles: on the one hand, monitoring clear government commitments to ensuring democratic elections, and on the other, ensuring no interference by the election observers in the voting process. Election observation missions can last as long as two months and do not limit themselves to election day and vote counting, but also cover election laws and electoral campaigns. The Federal Republic of Germany usually provides up to 15 % of the international election observers and regularly invites OSCE observers to monitor Bundestag elections.

Qualified potential observers can contact the Center for International Peace Operations (www.zif-berlin.org) about the possibility of participating in OSCE election observation missions.

Germany is second-largest contributor and important source of staff

Germany is an active contributor of finance and personnel to the OSCE, providing a little over 11 % of the current OSCE budget, which makes it the second-largest contributor behind the United States. The German Government also provides substantial support in the form of addition voluntary contributions to OSCE projects in the entire OSCE region. German staff are to be found in almost all the OSCE long-term missions and in OSCE institutions. All in all, Germany supplies more than 70 experts. Furthermore, Germany regularly contributes 10 %, sometimes up to 15 % – which is actually the limit prescribed by the OSCE – to the election observation missions run by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Secondment of personnel is organised in close cooperation with ZIF, the Center for International Peace Operations.

From the IDEAS Initiative to an academic network

Together with France, Poland and Russia, Germany announced the establishment of IDEAS: Initiative for the Development of a Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian Security Community with a view to strengthening the participation of academic institutions in security policy discussions. 

In 2013, IDEAS was expanded to include a number of additional scientific institutes from different OSCE participating countries. The new network is called the OSCE Network of Think Tanks and Academic Institutions. It is currently headed by Dr Wolfgang Zellner from the Centre for OSCE Research (CORE) in Hamburg.  

The IDEAS report (PDF, 1 MB)

Joint Communiqué of 6 December 2011 from the four ministers (PDF, 6 KB)


Last updated 09.01.2017

OSCE Secretariat in Vienna

OSCE institutions

Alongside the traditional role of the predecessor organisation, the CSCE, as a forum for political consultation and negotiation, the remit of the OSCE has expanded in the last ten years due to many domestic and inter‑ethnic conflicts and now includes new functions in the field of early warning, conflict prevention and post‑conflict peacebuilding.


The Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF)

The Federal Foreign Office has trained civilian personnel for international missions since 1999. The Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF) has assumed this role since its establishment in 2002. 

The training programme is primarily geared to personnel to be deployed in peace missions of the UN, the EU and the OSCE. Since it was set up, just under 1800 German and international experts have completed ZIF courses for election monitoring and peace missions.

In addition to general training of civilian peace experts, ZIF’s remit also includes recruiting experts for specific missions and looking after them before, during and after the missions, as well as drafting independent analyses and providing advisory services and information on peace operations.

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