Why the OSCE Is Indispensable for Security in Europe

03.02.2016 - Interview

Contribution by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, published on www.huffingtonpost.com on 3 February 2016.

Contribution by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, published on www.huffingtonpost.com on 3 February 2016.


We currently face what is perhaps the most serious threat to peace and security in Europe since the end of the Cold War. We are fully aware of what it means to assume the Chairmanship of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in these difficult times, and of the responsibility we will bear for Europe.

The motto we have chosen for our OSCE Chairmanship is renewing dialogue, rebuilding trust and restoring security. We will work hard for these priorities. Trust in Europe has been greatly diminished over the past few years. It will be difficult to rebuild - but there is no way around doing so! I would like us to be able to say to future generations that we did everything possible to maintain peace on our continent.

But can such a large, diverse organization as the OSCE really foster peace and security in Europe? I actually think it has quite a few advantages over other international organizations. The process of the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the OSCE's predecessor in the 70's and 80's, has taught us that it is all the more important not to break off dialogue between participating States in times of deep distrust and growing uncommunicativeness between East and West. The fact that the OSCE has now become the largest regional security organization in the world shows just how contemporary this approach is.

It is also important to realize that without the OSCE, there would be no chance of any success under the Minsk peace process. The OSCE has made a crucial contribution to initiating a political process with the potential to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, through its Monitoring Mission and the key role the organization plays in the Trilateral Contact Group. This has raised the entire organization from a kind of Rip van Winkle slumber and put it back on the international security policy stage - and just at the right time in my opinion.

The conflict in Ukraine, in spite of all the suffering and instability it has brought to the region, has also shown just how indispensable the OSCE is for security in Europe. Without the Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, we would not have made as much progress as we did on military de-escalation and withdrawing weapons, no matter what the setbacks have been. We must now waste no time in making the necessary decisions on the Mission's mandate and budget so that the monitors can continue their important work.

We can already say that the current mandate of the OSCE's Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has proven its worth. It gave the mission all the scope it needed to fulfil its tasks. The monitors were able to respond flexibly to the developments on the ground and to meet new demands as they arose. We therefore advocate the mandate's extension.

Unfortunately, the crisis in Ukraine is not the only unresolved conflict in the OSCE territory. I do not want to adopt the kind of fatalism that labels the unresolved conflicts in Transdniestria, Nagorno-Karabakh and the Southern Caucasus as “frozen”. Each year they continue to bring hardship to the people affected and stagnation to the regions involved. We want to stabilize the ceasefires, build trust and improve the day-to-day lives of the people by taking small but tangible steps, such as improving economic exchange.

As regards the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, armed clashes along the line of contact and the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan give us cause for concern. Germany is campaigning for an intensification of the negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group. One important step to this end would be the creation of a mechanism to investigate violations of the ceasefire.
In Transdniestria, we are seeking a comprehensive settlement that recognizes the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova and grants special status to Transdniestria.

In Georgia, too, the situation is not straightforward. Nevertheless, progress has recently been made as concerns practical cooperation between the parties to the conflict. We want to maintain this momentum and underpin it with confidence-building measures and humanitarian action.

Unfortunately, we are all aware of the fact that there are other pressing issues on the international agenda that will shape the work of our Chairmanship at the OSCE. The appalling attack in the heart of Istanbul and last year's acts of terrorism from Paris to Beirut have made it painfully clear that the threat of international terrorism affects all of us. It is also clear that no country can quash this threat on its own. In the coming years we thus have to strengthen the counter-terrorism capabilities of all 57 OSCE states. Switzerland and Serbia, our predecessors in the Chairmanship, have done important work in this field. We want to build on this - for example by hosting an international anti-terrorism conference in Berlin this summer.

Another issue that has kept us on our feet is the refugee crisis. By now, it has become obvious that we will not make headway with national strategies alone - as hard as it may be to reach agreement in Europe, we have to keep on looking for joint solutions. Within the OSCE, we are united by our common interest in combating the causes of the crisis and in improving border management in the OSCE area. We will build on this common ground over the course of the year.
In the long term, integration will be a huge task for society. That is why it is so important to act with determination against intolerance, discrimination and xenophobia in the OSCE area right now. The German Chairmanship will focus on these issues specifically, in part because of our responsibility for our past.

Last but not least, defending human rights and fundamental freedoms is right at the top of our agenda as well. We will work to ensure that existing obligations are duly complied with by all OSCE states - including ourselves, of course.

Good governance also remains a key criterion for sustainable economic exchange - and both are crucial for building trust. We therefore want to engage in dialogue with businesses at an economic conference in Berlin in May, and find out from them how we can strengthen economic ties in the OSCE area in a sustainable way - this would ultimately be of political and economic benefit to us.

A year passes by quickly. The month of January has already witnessed the first OSCE events chaired by Germany, such as the Permanent Council in Vienna and the Conference on Cyber Security in Berlin. In December, we will meet with the OSCE Foreign Ministers in Hamburg and take stock of our year at the helm. I hope that we succeed in persuading the OSCE to take constructive action again. We have to do more than simply “manage” the status quo!
In addition, as the country holding the Chairmanship, we will seek to foster consensus within the organization. But obviously, consensus cannot be reached unless the participating States are willing to compromise. It would be a success for us all if everyone in the OSCE were to play their part.

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