As Ireland prepares to leave OSCE chair, talk turns to relevance of cold war body
The question of how relevant the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe remains in the 21st century hangs over every gathering of the organisation, and today’s OSCE ministerial conference in Dublin will be no different.
The event, the largest international conference ever organised in Ireland, will bring together more than 70 delegations, 55 foreign ministers and over 30 international NGOs for the grand finale of Ireland’s 2012 chairmanship of the OSCE, a body forged during the cold war that now struggles to find its place in a changed world.
Irish diplomats, having witnessed how negotiations at last year’s OSCE ministerial conference in Lithuania got bogged down due to the number of draft decisions tabled, decided to adopt a more streamlined approach for today’s event.
“We were determined to have a much smaller package on the table for Dublin,” says one Irish diplomat closely involved in the process.
“We certainly have that, but whether we are any closer to getting agreement on that small package depends on the dynamics on the day.”
Top of the list of priorities for Irish diplomats is securing approval for the strategic roadmap Ireland has drafted for the OSCE ahead of the 40th anniversary of the organisation in 2015.
“Rather than saying this year [Ireland] has sorted out X, Y and Z, we have offered a blueprint to the OSCE to take a slightly more forward-looking approach,” says the diplomat.
This proposal, known as the Helsinki +40, envisages a working group comprising the three forthcoming chairs – Ukraine, Switzerland and Serbia – which would examine a number of areas where the OSCE needs to change the way it operates.
“At the moment, these are conflict resolution, the need to build the capacity of the OSCE to deal with transnational threats, and strengthening the human dimension in particular and the OSCE institutions,” adds the Irish source.
“The Helsinki +40 decision is the one we want to get out of this conference. We are hopeful that we can get a document that says that the ministers recognise there is an opportunity between now and 2015 to look at a different way of doing business.”
A number of other issues are to be discussed at the RDS meeting today, including several prioritised by the Irish chairmanship: transnational threats, in particular cyber-security; good governance, including tackling corruption and increasing transparency; and protecting the freedom of the media.
Ebb and flow
Because the OSCE operates by consensus, discussions and outcomes at each ministerial conference are shaped by the ebb and flow of relations between its 57 member states.
“Any country that has issues that are extraneous to the negotiations can bring whatever it wants into it,” says one OSCE veteran. “Azerbaijan and Armenia in particular have had a tendency to import their conflict into every other decision, which is why it is so difficult to get agreement on anything.”
At the Dublin gathering, attention is also expected to fall on Ukraine, which will take over the OSCE chairmanship from Ireland. Ukraine has faced criticism from both the EU and the US regarding its flawed October parliamentary elections and the detention of its former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was jailed last year on charges of abusing her office, and others.
The two-day event will feature plenary sessions consisting of five-minute statements from each delegation.
The meat of the gathering will take place on the margins, whether during bilateral meetings between ministers from key participating states or negotiations between ambassadors away from the plenary.
The OSCE ministerial conference is second only to the UN General Assembly in the number of bilateral meetings that take place.
“It’s almost always a given that Russia will be on one side and the US will be the other, closely supported by the EU,” says one source. “They are the three key players in the negotiations.”
Ireland will have a number of bilateral meetings including with the US, Russia, the UK, Serbia and Kazakhstan. There will also be a number of parallel discussions on the so-called frozen conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transdniestria.
Worth watching will be tomorrow’s closing statement by Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore. Drawing Ireland’s year-long chairmanship to an end, he is likely to offer a bracing assessment of whether the OSCE is fit for purpose. “There are tough messages that the OSCE needs to hear,” says one diplomatic source.
“This may not necessarily be the best way of doing business in the 21st century because, the longer it goes on, with what appear to be intractable discussions about issues that are not actually of central importance to the rest of the world and its citizens, the more it will be difficult for it to maintain its relevance.”