Old east-west divisions endure since 1975 accords
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.
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