Old east-west divisions endure since 1975 accords


OSCE SUMMIT:Tomorrow Ireland hosts the 19th ministerial council meeting of the OSCE, a body set up to be a bridge across the divided world during the cold war

One could argue that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, whose most important annual summit starts in Dublin tomorrow, is in urgent need of a new name.

A cursory glance at the 57-nation group reveals that it does much more than promote security in the traditional sense, is not always a model of international co-operation, and stretches far beyond Europe to encompass the US, Canada, the former Soviet Union and now Mongolia.

The OSCE was created as a bridge across the great geopolitical rift that divided the world – and, most starkly, Europe – during the cold war, inspired by the belief that nations are less likely to lob nuclear warheads at each other if they regularly meet around a table to discuss their differences.

Détente between Washington and Moscow in the early 1970s was conducive to the creation of a security body spanning the hostile eastern and western blocs, and talks in Helsinki in November 1972 laid the foundations for meetings that culminated, in summer 1975, in 35 states signing the so-called Helsinki Accords.

The signing summit now looks like a who’s who of cold war leaders: Leonid Brezhnev came from the Kremlin, Gerald Ford from the White House, Helmut Schmidt and Erich Honecker represented the two Germanys, Pierre Trudeau came from Canada, and Nicolae Ceausescu arrived from Romania and Josip Broz Tito from Yugoslavia.

Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave signed Ireland up to what until 1995 was known as the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE).

East-west divide

Presaging countless disagreements, its creation was celebrated for very different reasons in east and west.

Across the Soviet bloc, the Helsinki Accords were depicted as a personal triumph for Brezhnev, because they committed signatory states to respect the post-1945 borders of Europe and – by extension – Kremlin domination of the continent’s eastern nations.

Brezhnev himself called the agreement “a necessary summing up of the political outcome of the second World War”.

The US, Canada and western Europe focused on how the accords enshrined respect for self-determination and human rights, including the freedom of speech and belief that were clearly at a premium across the communist bloc; in theory, signatory states could no longer deflect criticism of how they treated their citizens by insisting that it was a strictly internal affair.

Speaking in Helsinki, the west German chancellor also made it clear that he hoped that at least one European border – that dividing the two Germanys – would sooner or later be eradicated.

“Frontiers are inviolable, but one must be able to change them by peaceful means and agreement,” Schmidt said.

“It remains our aim to work for a state of peace in Europe in which the German nation will regain its unity through free self-determination.”

The CSCE provided a unique forum for east-west dialogue during the cold war and helped reduce tension by fostering co-operation in a range of areas, including between militaries which began notifying each other of exercises, inviting observers to watch manoeuvres and swapping information on budgets and deployment of troops and weapons systems.

New raison d’être

The CSCE also provided a framework for talks that led to the signing in 1990 of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, which set limits on the amount of weaponry and military vehicles that Nato and Warsaw Pact states could deploy between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural mountains.

If the CSCE was a creature of the cold war, the collapse of communism could have rendered it redundant.

But instead, the bloody chaos that erupted in parts of the crumbling Soviet Union and across Yugoslavia in the 1990s gave it a new raison d’être.

Along with the new task of helping develop democracy and civil society in the old communist bloc, the transformation of Europe’s political landscape called for major changes in the old CSCE – prompting its transformation into the Vienna-based institution known as the OSCE.

Like its forerunner, the OSCE operates across three so-called baskets or dimensions, relating to security, economic and environmental issues, and human rights and democracy.

Far from withering away in the post-cold war world, the OSCE has expanded its mission to now tackle everything from peacekeeping to election monitoring, arms control to protection of free media and the environment.

The old east-west divisions remain, however, and often stymie agreement and action in an organisation that takes decisions by consensus.

Agreement elusive

Ex-Soviet states grouped around Russia accuse OSCE election monitors of delivering biased judgments on their ballots and doing the bidding of the US and EU, and last year’s ministerial meeting in Lithuania was soured by a row between Moscow and Washington.

Almost 40 years after that historic signing ceremony in Helsinki, accord can still be elusive between nations stretched out across the globe from Vancouver to Vladivostok.

OSCE: Striving for democracy and peace together with Nato

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) interlinks and overlaps with other major international bodies such as the European Union, United Nations and Nato in areas that include conflict prevention and resolution and development of democracy and civil society.

The European Community signed the Helsinki Accords which, in 1975, established the basis for today’s OSCE. In recent years, the EU has expanded its joint work with the OSCE around the Balkans and former Soviet Union, where Brussels is seeking so-called stabilisation and association agreements with potential member states.

The OSCE maintains close relations with the UN through regular high-level meetings and co-ordinated activity on the ground, with particular focus on security issues such as arms control, border management and projects to combat trafficking and terrorism.

Co-operation between the OSCE and Nato has developed over many years, and was intensified by shared efforts to stabilise the countries of the former Yugoslavia following the wars of the 1990s.

Counter-terrorism measures now represent a significant area of joint work between the OSCE and Nato. After its 2004 Istanbul summit, Nato noted that the organisations “have largely complementary responsibilities and common interests, both functionally and geographically”. Daniel McLaughlin