At an event hosted by the Carnegie Endowment, Ambassador Perrin de Brichambaut, secretary general of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), discussed the organization's activities and challenges over the last six years and reflected on current challenges facing the OSCE and the broader Euro-Atlantic community. Carnegie’s Ambassador James F. Collins moderated.

More a Forum Than an Institution

De Brichambaut explained that the OSCE is distinctly different from other international institutions. The OSCE does not have a charter and is more of a forum than an institution, he said.   Additionally, the OSCE encompasses several essentially autonomous institutions—the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the High Commissioner for National Minorities—which have had to invent their own working procedures and work in different environments, all under the oversight of the chairman in office. This complexity demonstrates how very lucky the OSCE has been to overcome its challenges and achieve what it has, de Brichambaut asserted. 

Addressing Diverse Security Challenges

The OSCE’s flexible multilateral security arrangement can help it address diverse security challenges, de Brichambaut said. He described four ways the OSCE approaches security challenges:

  • Flexibility: The OSCE provides participating states with a forum to raise issues at any point in a conflict cycle, including early warning, conflict prevention and resolution, and conflict rehabilitation.
  • Cross-dimensional Approach: Successfully addressing conflicts requires dealing with a wide range of issues, including the economic and human dimensions of a conflict. The OSCE allows participating states to engage on a wide array of dimensions.
  • Multilateral Approach: The OSCE is moving forward on addressing transnational threats like terrorism and human trafficking through a collective approach that focuses on bringing together experts to develop concepts that participating states can implement.
  • Inclusive Decision-making: The OSCE emphasizes awareness-raising and involvement of all  participating states, bringing together experts and states on an equal footing under the aegis of the chairman in office. All decisions are reached through consensus, with the forum steered by a participating state.

Challenges Facing the OSCE

Transforming the concept of cross-dimensional security into coherent policies, and implementing these policies, poses several challenges for the OSCE, de Brichambaut admitted: 

  • Independent Institutions: The different dimensions of the OSCE are addressed in separate fora. For example, there is a forum for the environment, one for security, and another for the economy. While this arrangement has its strengths, it can be a challenge to overcome the independent nature of these OSCE institutions to combine different threads into a common perspective.
  • Host Country Consent: To implement policies within a country, the OSCE needs host country consent. This is not always possible to obtain. The organization currently has seventeen field offices. De Brichambaut explained that two field offices were recently closed—one in Georgia, after the 2008 conflict, and the second in Belarus, following the violence after the December 2010 presidential election.
  • Changing Role: The expansion of involvement by NATO, the EU, and the UN in regional conflicts demonstrates that the OSCE is not alone in its security ambitions. Initially meant to provide the overarching security architecture for member states, the OSCE is now one of several international organizations with a broad focus on multidimensional issues.
  • The New Status Quo: The OSCE has adjusted to the new status quo by combining its work with the activities of other organizations—for instance, collaborating with the EU and UN to address the situation in southern Kyrgyzstan following ethnic clashes there.
  • Protracted Conflicts: The OSCE has also developed a strong commitment to address the human dimension of security and an emphasis on dealing with several protracted conflicts in Moldova, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh.
  • Creating Consensus: When addressing transnational issues, it is challenging to bring all 56 members on board to identify a common problem. Devising a concrete strategy is even more difficult, especially in the long term, as opposed to addressing a given crisis at a given time, de Brichambaut added.

Implementing the OSCE’s Mission

  • Assisting democratic transition: The OSCE uses various tools to assist democratic transitions, de Brichambaut said. These include peer pressure on member countries to work with the forum, behind-the-scenes work by field offices, and election monitoring by ODIHR. In addition, the high commissioner of national minorities, currently Knut Vollebekk, collaborates with local authorities and acts as an early warning for problems. Similarly, Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE’s current representative of freedom of the media, is a vocal advocate for press freedom.
  • Civil Society: De Brichambaut called civil society a key component that strengthens and supports the OSCE. There are rules to ensure civil society has direct access and the ability to offer input to the OSCE fora. OSCE field offices work with local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as partners in developing and implementing their policies. In order to remain vital and effective, and to act as a useful model and source of expertise for countries undergoing transition, the OSCE must continue to work on mobilizing key segments of civil society—including strengthening its network of academics, think tanks, and development and security communities—to contribute to cross-dimensional security. The OSCE would also benefit from a network of Helsinki commissions in key countries, bringing together activists for human rights, democratic transition, and the rule of law, de Brichambaut said.