Dialogue, Consensus, Comprehensive Security, Field Action: Why the OSCE Needs a New Impetus Now

The future of European security is at a crossroads. For the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to rise to the challenges of the current crises, the organization must be reformed. This includes the need for an enhanced dialogue within the governing committees in Vienna and improved field operations in endangered regions. Moreover, the OSCE security dialogue must be revived and its role in the concert of international organizations (IOs) needs to be strengthened in order to enhance its interoperability and help it regain international relevance.

The authors of this paper analyse these four subject areas and formulate a package of concrete recommendations. The proposals of this paper do not only address the German OSCE-Chairmanship but also aim at the upcoming Chairs, amongst them Austria.

During this period of renewed confrontation between Russia and the ‘West’, with complex, interlinked conflicts and standoffs in an international environment marked by mutual distrust, diplomacy has become increasingly difficult. The OSCE offers a unique platform for constructive dialogue between 57 countries on various matters, including talks about confidence and security building measures (CSBM). However, in recent years, the OSCE security dialogue has been marginalized by European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) efforts to promote other instruments of international crisis management: sanctions regimes, civilian and military missions and military rapid response forces. The OSCE’s standing in the international community has become relatively weak, and its scope of actions quite limited, which sidelined its role in international conflict management.

Besides its constructive role as a mediator and platform for dialogue on sensitive matters like arms control, it offers great expertise in field operations. The OSCE fulfils a unique role where NATO or EU presence would only increase tensions – especially in the post-Soviet space. The cases of Eastern Ukraine and Moldova show that the risk of conflict escalation is not limited to the protracted conflicts in the quasi-independent states of Transnistria and the South Caucasus. Therefore, the OSCE should be given priority in areas where it excels other international organizations (IOs). To enhance the OSCE’s role in the international arena, structural change must however, also come from within. While the German Chairmanship has set the goal of promoting dialogue, trust and security, these basic principles must first be embraced at the OSCE’s Headquarters in Vienna. Improving the procedures in the decisionmaking bodies and committees is key to increase its efficiency, which ultimately affects it operational capabilities in the field.