Written by Martin Russell.
The OSCE’s origins go back to 1975, when the countries in the two opposing blocs in the Cold War signed the Helsinki Final Act, enshrining principles such as territorial integrity and respect for human rights. The act was followed by a series of follow-up meetings to monitor implementation, in a process known as the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE). Following the adoption of the 1990 Paris Charter envisaging a new post-Cold War European order, in 1995 the CSCE was put on a more permanent, institutional basis and renamed the OSCE.
The OSCE, like the CSCE before it, is based on a vision of ‘comprehensive security’ that encompasses human rights and economic cooperation, as well as traditional ‘hard’ security. However, hopes that the OSCE could become the central pillar of a new post-Cold War order faded as divisions re-emerged, between an enlarged EU and NATO on the one hand, and Russia on the other.
The OSCE lacks the legal powers and the resources needed to live up to its ambition of becoming a platform for pan-European/trans-Atlantic cooperation. With decisions taken by consensus, disagreements between participating states hamper decision-making and prevent the organisation from becoming more effective.
The OSCE plays a useful though limited role in several areas. The organisation has been powerless to resolve conflicts in the post-Soviet region, but its observers are the main source of detailed and reliable information on the situation in eastern Ukraine. OSCE agreements, such as the Vienna Document, help to promote military transparency, and election observation missions have advanced democratic reforms in several countries.
Read the complete briefing on ‘The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE): A pillar of the European security order‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.
Listen to policy podcast ‘Protecting pollinators in the EU’ on YouTube.