With deepening distrust characterizing relations between East and West, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe is experiencing a time of heightened tension not seen since the Cold War. Indeed, the level of dialogue and trust across the 57-country OSCE area has reached historic lows, which some might see as a failure of multilateral organizations in managing the challenges we face.
On the other hand, the situation we’re facing can also be seen as an opportunity to revive the OSCE. We should recall that it was at the height of Cold War tensions that our governments decided four decades ago that in order to reduce the threat of war and meet our common problems, it was necessary to create a forum for dialogue – established in 1975 as the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which later became the OSCE.
Today, the security threats we face are no less significant than they were in the détente era of the 1970s, and the need to work co-operatively is just as urgent in meeting challenges. These include resolving the crisis in and around Ukraine, countering terrorism and addressing cyber threats.
Another significant factor shaping our current time, which was also a central feature of the Cold War, is the threat of nuclear escalation. With brinkmanship and saber-rattling too often replacing dialogue and confidence-building, the erosion of non-proliferation agreements and weapons reductions treaties today poses a central challenge to the OSCE region’s security order.
In light of these developments and the declining trust throughout the OSCE area, it is now more than ever of greatest importance for multilateral organizations to bridge divides and facilitate dialogue between governments, parliaments and non-governmental organizations in security matters.
As rapporteur of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s General Committee on Political Affairs and Security, I intend to raise awareness of these issues at our 27th Annual Session in Berlin on 7-11 July. This year’s Annual Session theme is “Implementing OSCE Commitments: The Role of Parliaments.” The theme reflects the understanding that the OSCE’s effectiveness in ensuring security and co-operation can only be achieved with the support of parliamentarians, who have a unique role to play in adopting and harmonizing legislation, providing oversight of government agencies and ministries, and sharing international best practices.
My report and draft resolution outline commitments in the “first dimension” of the OSCE PA’s work, and further explore the issues of non-proliferation, protracted conflicts, the crisis in and around Ukraine, cyber-security, and counter-terrorism.
Commitments in the politico-military sphere of the OSCE’s work are anchored in agreements such as the Vienna Document, the OSCE Document on Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), and the Code of Conduct on Politico-Military Aspects of Security. These agreements are expressed by a set of confidence- and security-building measures, which aim to ensure the exchange of military information, limitation of levels of military equipment, as well as other activities which may increase transparency and reliability.
Countries throughout the OSCE region continue to face threats posed by extremist violence. The increasing threat to domestic security posed by the radicalization of mainly young people and their recruitment by terrorist organizations represents an imminent risk to the entire OSCE area. Considering this transnational threat, the OSCE promotes a co-operative and co-ordinated approach to countering terrorism at all levels, including co-ordination among national authorities, States, and relevant international and regional organizations.
Risks posed by cyber-attacks are related to countries’ critical infrastructure, such as water supply systems and power grids, the attack on which can seriously undermine a State’s national security. Other threats emanating from cyber-attacks can be seen for instance in the hacking of elections and manipulation of election outcomes. A key focus of the OSCE is therefore on the development of confidence-building measures between governments, to reduce the risks of conflict.
The decline in confidence in nuclear non-proliferation agreements and the increasingly confrontational rhetoric of world leaders in regard to nuclear capabilities is a central issue affecting the OSCE region today. In light of today’s volatile and unpredictable nuclear environment, documents such as the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty are particularly relevant and should be respected by all OSCE participating States.
The situation in Ukraine remains troubling. The OSCE PA has been clear that the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by the Russian Federation was illegal and illegitimate, emphasizing that this crisis can only be resolved through constructive and inclusive dialogue. This requires the implementation of all provisions of the Minsk Agreements by all sides, as this remains the key for a comprehensive peace agreement in the Donbas region. Despite setbacks, the goals articulated in these agreements are still achievable and remain the best path forward for Ukraine and the region.
Protracted conflicts continue to form a central focus of the OSCE’s activities. The organization works to facilitate lasting comprehensive political settlements of existing conflicts and to find peaceful diplomatic solutions. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly assists in this by providing a forum for inter-parliamentary dialogue, organizing contacts between parliamentarians from governments that often have highly strained relations.
It is this dialogue that is needed today more than ever.
Kristian Vigenin is a member of parliament from Bulgaria and serves as rapporteur of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on Political Affairs and Security. Follow him on Twitter: @vigenin