It’s easy to be bewildered by the alphabet soup of multilateral security and political organisations to which Europeans are affiliated and which makes up the ramshackle architecture of global co-operation.
There’s the 57-member Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) whose 19th ministerial conference Dublin has just hosted to mark the end of our one-year chairmanship. And there’s the EU (27 members), Nato (28), and its Partnership for Peace (22), the Council of Europe (47), the United Nations (193), and then the late, unlamented Western European Union (final demise 2011). One could arguably also include the Commonwealth and the G8.
Building this house from scratch no architect worth his salt would have created this monstrosity. And yet, each has in its own right, despite imperfections, a raison d’être – if they did not exist it would probably be necessary to invent them. Or reinvent them, as Ireland is trying to do in setting out a road map for reform of the OSCE for its 40th anniversary in 2015. The one radical option not likely to be on the table, however, would be its merger with the organisation which most closely mirrors its membership and whose broad purposes most closely overlap, the Council of Europe. More’s the pity.
Both organisations continue to play crucial roles in benchmarking human/democratic rights, press freedom, and election standards in the new post-Stalinist states. And, in particular, the OSCE is also involved in important mediation efforts in post-Soviet “frozen conflicts” – Georgia’s secessionist South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Armenia and Azerbaijan’s dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, and Moldova’s breakaway Transdniestria. The Irish chairmanship is reported to have presided over significant progress on the latter.
Such arduous, tediously slow but subtle work will win few plaudits, certainly none at home, and does relatively little to promote the State’s standing internationally, no matter what Ministers might say. But it is important, worthwhile work that vindicates core values in Irish foreign policy, a real expression of the meaning of what some call “active neutrality”.
Irish foreign policy is based on the idea of replacing the anarchy and dangerous volatility of traditional bilateral relations between states with a rules-based multilateral order. It is epitomised by the development and strengthening of the UN as an expression of the will of the peoples of the world and a means of enforcing collective security. In the creation of a new global order it behoves those committed to it to engage, lead, and expend the necessary resources . This is not an act of vanity.
To suggest, as did Jim Roche, PRO of the Irish Anti-War Movement , that it is ironic that neutral Ireland “should be hosting such a collection of warmongers and abusers of human rights,” is to miss the point entirely.