OSCE for Conflict Prevention
Since the 1990’s, the OSCE has increasingly focused on trying to prevent and resolve conflicts in various parts of Europe, especially in parts of the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia. The goal is to prevent conflicts as much as possible or prevent them from escalating through early action.
At an earlier stage, Russia wanted to give the OSCE a central role in what was then called “the new European security architecture”. The Russian proposal was for the OSCE to have a leading role in security work, preferably superior to other organizations such as NATO. This was not heard for. NATO countries wanted the OSCE to focus on “soft” issues, such as conflict prevention and warning and mediation.
However, the Security Charter adopted at the Istanbul Summit in 1999 was added in part on Russian initiative. It addresses the common instruments that the OSCE already has or wishes to create in order to further develop its cooperation in order to prevent or resolve conflicts and to promote the building of democracy after a conflict.
The charter sets out the framework for co-operation with other organizations and states that the co-operation shall take place on the basis of, among other things, community of values and the ability to complement each other. It also includes various measures to improve the OSCE’s ability to respond quickly to crises. The presidency bears the brunt of the rapid shuttle diplomacy and fact-finding that conflict prevention work often requires. A large part of the work takes place in direct contacts between the President of the OSCE and the states concerned, with ongoing reporting to the Permanent Council.
The High Commissioner for National Minorities also plays a significant role with his silent diplomacy and his attempts to create a dialogue between the parties in an incipient conflict. The minority commissioner’s efforts – mainly in the Baltics, Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Central Asia – are widely perceived as examples of successful conflict prevention diplomacy.
In response to Russia’s criticism of the OSCE’s work in the early 2000’s, a working group of “seven wise men” was appointed in 2005 to review the OSCE’s activities and formulate a vision of how the organization should function in the future. However, the draft OSCE Legal Status Convention negotiated in 2007 was not adopted, due to the continuing disagreement over the future orientation and working methods of the OSCE. Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Belarus wanted to reduce the influence of the President-in-Office and the various OSCE institutions and instead increase Member States’ control over their activities. The EU and the US, in turn, considered that such a change would hamper the OSCE’s ability to work on issues as central as democracy and human rights.
Increasingly important for conflict prevention activities are the field missions, ie groups that are deployed to try to mediate or prevent local conflicts from developing into open conflicts. According to softwareleverage, the OSCE established the first field missions in 1992. Today, they are present in 18 countries in the Western Balkans, the Southern Caucasus, Ukraine, Moldova and Central Asia. Sweden participates actively in the field work.
As a rule, the missions are staffed by a number of diplomats, sometimes reinforced by the military, lawyers or economists. Each field mission has its agreed mandate that is adapted to the situation in the area. It can be about training police officers or trying to create a better understanding between different ethnic groups. But it can also apply to military tasks such as monitoring cuts in military forces and weapons or keeping an eye on borders.
The OSCE’s by far the largest field effort has been made in the Balkans. The 1995 peace agreement in the former Yugoslavia, the so-called Dayton Agreement, provided the OSCE with key tasks in building sustainable peace and a functioning civil society.
In Bosnia, OSCE representatives were tasked with overseeing general elections, contributing to arms control and ensuring that human rights were respected. From 2002, the tasks were expanded to coordinate the country’s education strategy, help reform the education system and promote integration between ethnic groups by creating a single, uniform curriculum for the whole country.
In 1996, the OSCE launched a campaign in Croatia. Among other things, it aimed to help refugees return, contribute to the integration of national minorities into society and promote the general development of democratic institutions. One of the most important tasks was to monitor and assist the Croatian police in their work. In 2007, the field mission was completed and transformed into an OSCE office in the capital Zagreb. The office’s task is to oversee war crimes trials and promote the return of refugees.
The largest and most complex OSCE operation concerns Kosovo. In 1998, some 2,000 people were sent to Kosovo under an agreement between the OSCE and the Yugoslav government. They would monitor, among other things, that there was a ceasefire in the province, that Serbian security forces did not harass the civilian population and that refugees could return home. As the fighting between the Kosovo Albanian guerrilla movement UÇK and the Serbian forces worsened and NATO prepared a bombing offensive against Yugoslavia, OSCE representatives had to leave Kosovo temporarily.
The OSCE returned after the end of the fighting in the summer of 1999. The task then became to help build democracy, organize elections and train a national police force in Kosovo. The operation in Kosovo is the OSCE’s largest, and it still involved many hundreds of people in 2015. One of the most important tasks of the mission is to help build institutions and to safeguard the rights of Serbian and Roma minorities.
The OSCE has also worked to resolve the conflict in Chechnya. In April 1995, a so-called support group, consisting of six diplomats and an officer, was stationed in the Chechen capital Grozny. Among other things, it tried to bring about a dialogue between Russian and Chechen representatives to end the fighting. Following the armistice in August 1996, the group helped organize the presidential elections in Chechnya in 1997. The outbreak of new fighting in the autumn of 1999 forced the support group to leave Chechnya.
In Georgia, where the two attempts by the two provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia had sparked armed conflict, the OSCE was forced to suspend its peacekeeping efforts after the Russian invasion in 2008, when Russia refused to extend the OSCE mandate.
As early as 2005, Russia halted the OSCE’s surveillance of Georgia’s border with the troubled small Caucasian republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan, all of which are part of the Russian Federation.
The OSCE has made the longest-running mediation effort in the conflict over the Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh enclave in Azerbaijan. The conflict has been going on since 1988, claiming many thousands of lives and forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee, but since May 1994 there has been a fragile ceasefire.
As early as the spring of 1992, the then ESC (later the OSCE) began its mediation efforts in a small group of Member States, called the Minsk Group after the decision to designate the Belarusian capital as the seat of a peace conference on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The presidency is today divided between Russia, France and the United States.
Attempts at mediation have so far not led to a lasting peace settlement.
Since March 2014, the OSCE in Ukraine has been working to try to monitor the border with Russia and facilitate a dialogue between the parties to the conflict that erupted after Russian-speaking separatists in the east took up arms against the Ukrainian state with Russian help. The mandate has been gradually extended and applies until 31 March 2016. If necessary, the OSCE may deploy a maximum of 1,000 observers in the area.
In practice, ongoing acts of war have severely restricted the freedom of movement of observers. They have limited access to the border crossings and can only get there with escorts of separatists.
The OSCE led the negotiations on the two ceasefire agreements concluded in Minsk, Belarus in September 2014 and February 2015, respectively.
From the Ukrainian side, the OSCE Observatory has been criticized for being a significant part of Russia’s staff. Among the Western powers, the observers’ difficult working conditions in rebel-controlled areas have been noted, including OSCE personnel being abducted on a couple of occasions.