The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) was preceded by the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), which adopted the Helsinki Final Act at its Summit in 1975.

Flags of the OSCE and its 57 participating States
Flags of the OSCE and its 57 participating States © dpa/picture alliance

The Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe (OSCE) is the largest regional security organisation in the world. Its 57 participating States comprise the countries of Europe and the successor states to the Soviet Union, as well as the United States, Canada and Mongolia. It was established in 1975 with the Helsinki Final Act, and was initially called the Conference on Security and Co‑operation in Europe (CSCE). The OSCE was given its current name on 1 January 1995.

The OSCE’s decisions are reached by consensus, i.e. with the approval of all participating States, and are not legally binding. The OSCE has regained significance as an important dialogue platform in recent years. Beyond its participating States, the OSCE conducts a dialogue with partner countries in the southern Mediterranean region (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan) and with Asian partner countries (Japan, South Korea Thailand and Afghanistan), as well as Australia. These cooperation partners also attend meetings of the OSCE bodies.

Objectives of the OSCE

The OSCE’s objective is to enhance security in Europe through cooperation and dialogue between the European as well as the eastern and western neighbouring states. The OSCE applies a wide-ranging definition of security that encompasses what are known as the “three dimensions”: 1. the politico‑military dimension, 2. the economic and environmental dimension, and 3. the human dimension of security policy. Core topics of the OSCE in the first dimension include disarmament, crisis management and counter-terrorism. The economic and environmental dimension primarily seeks to promote good framework conditions for security and stability in the economic realm. The third dimension comprises the protection of human rights as well as the promotion of democratic and rule‑of‑law standards. This comprehensive definition of security allows participating States to win back and build trust in the long term with overarching topics of mutual interest.

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.

Background information: organs and institutions of the OSCE

Germany in the OSCE

Germany hosted the 2016 OSCE Ministerial Council in Hamburg (9 December 2016)
Germany hosted the 2016 OSCE Ministerial Council in Hamburg (9 December 2016) © Florian Gärtner/photothek.de

In 2016, Germany held the Chairmanship of the OSCE, which rotates annually. Germany therefore hosted the annual OSCE Ministerial Council, which took place in Hamburg. Priorities of its Chairmanship included counter‑terrorism, economic connectivity and tolerance and diversity. Germany held a conference on each of these topic areas during its Chairmanship. Moreover, it has worked intensively to expand the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) and to resolve the conflicts in Transnistria and the Southern Caucasus and has put migration on the OSCE’s agenda.

Germany is chairing the Contact Group with the Asian Partners for Co‑operation until the end of 2017. It has a Permanent Mission to the OSCE in order to fulfil all of these tasks. Germany contributes just under 11 percent of the current OSCE budget, which makes it the second‑largest contributor behind the United States. The German Government also makes additional voluntary contributions to OSCE projects throughout the OSCE region. German staff are to be found in almost all the OSCE long‑term missions and institutions. All in all, Germany seconds more than 70 experts to the OSCE. Furthermore, Germany regularly contributes 10 percent, sometimes up to 15 percent – which is 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 cooperation with ZIF, the Center for International Peace Operations.

Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF)
Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF) © ZIF

ZIF has trained civilian personal for international missions since 2002, an area that was previously the purview of the Federal Foreign Office. 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 specialists 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. Suitably qualified candidates can find more information on taking part in OSCE missions as election observers or experts on the website of the Center for International Peace Operations. You can also find more information about working at the OSCE here.

Focuses: three dimensions, field missions, engagement in Ukraine

  • Election Observation

    The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), based in Warsaw, regularly conducts election observation missions in all OSCE participating States. Over the past ten years, ODIHR has conducted more than 200 such election observation missions. Not only the events of the election day and vote counting are taken into consideration, but the election period and election law are also monitored. The results are released to the public in the form of reports.
  • The first dimension the politico military dimension – comprises security policy and military cooperation, including arms control in particular, as well as crisis and conflict management.

    Since mid 2017, OSCE participating States have been engaged in a high level Structured Dialogue to address pressing politico military issues in the OSCE area. The aim, especially in view of the crisis between Russia and the West, is to engage in a dialogue and begin to rebuild trust.

    The conventional arms control regime of OSCE participating States is built on binding international agreements, such as the Treaty on conventional armed forces in Europe and the Treaty on Open Skies, as well as on Confidence- and Security Building Measures like those contained in the Vienna Document that aim to enhance military transparency. The principle underlying these efforts is that, by promoting the exchange of information and military cooperation, the risk of conflict is reduced.

  • The second dimension, the economic and environmental dimension, provides a framework for discussions on issues such as combating money laundering, corruption and terrorist financing. With good governance and connectivity, this was also one of the focuses of the German OSCE Chairmanship in 2016. The position of Co-ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities (CoEEA), who chairs an annual implementation meeting, was established in 1997.
  • The third dimension, the human dimension, comprises activities in the area of freedom of the media, minority rights, tolerance, non‑discrimination, the rule of law and combating anti‑Semitism, which are indispensable elements of the OSCE’s comprehensive definition of security. The High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) is tasked with issuing early warnings and taking immediate measures in the event of minority issues that have the potential to lead to tensions between a number of states. The Representative on Freedom of the Media (RFoM) observes the development of working conditions in the media and the status quo of freedom of the media in the OSCE area. The RFoM contacts the participating State in question and other parties directly in order to prevent possible restrictions to the freedom of the media at an early stage.
OSCE observers by the destroyed bridge in Sloviansk, Ukraine
OSCE observers by the destroyed bridge in Sloviansk, Ukraine © dpa/picture alliance

  • The OSCE’s field missions and project offices report regularly to the OSCE Permanent Council from Ukraine, Moldova and Tajikistan, for example, and are able to provide an objective and nuanced picture of the situation on the ground. The objectives of their project work include helping to ensure that human and minority rights are respected, assisting with building democratic and rule‑of‑law structures, fostering dialogue, especially between ethnic groups, creating modern societal and economic orders and helping to run elections. The missions are established by the OSCE Permanent Council, i.e. with the agreement of all OSCE participating States and in consultation with the host countries. As a rule, the missions have between five and forty international and other local employees. The OSCE currently has 14 field missions in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Kosovo, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine (2) and Uzbekistan. More information on the OSCE’s field missions
OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine
OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine © dpa/picture alliance

  • The OSCE’s work in Ukraine

    The largest mission currently is the Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, which comprises 1082 employees (of whom 651 are international observers from 44 participating States – as of June 2017). This unarmed mission primarily observes the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, including with mobile patrols, drones and video surveillance, and reports from throughout the country as an independent observer. The OSCE in Ukraine is also represented by a Project Co‑ordinator’s office in Kyiv (PCU). Austrian diplomat Martin Sajdik, Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, attends 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. Germany was able to achieve steps towards improving the humanitarian, economic and security situation in eastern Ukraine during its Chairmanship. The conflict remains unresolved, however.

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