OSCE: A New Chance to Offer Peace to Europe?

14/11/2016 18:00

OSCE: A New Chance to Offer Peace to Europe?

Hannes Swoboda

To whatever part of the world, especially in our neighbourhood, we look, we find a crisis. In Europe itself we have a multiple economic, social and political crisis. The election of Mr. Trump in the US is for many signalling an - until now - unknown challenge coming from that last world power. Besides, Russia has at least an economic crisis due to the combined effect of decreased oil and gas prices and some sanctions. Turkey is in a crisis of democracy and we find elements of a civil war especially in the east of the country. The Middle East as a whole is characterized by a nearly unprecedented crisis. In addition the refugee crisis is affecting many countries in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. And terrorism is affecting our neighborhood but also spreading into our main cities. 

Europe seems to be in the centre of all these crises and to be affected by nearly all of them. We should not hope that our neighbors, allies and counterparts will try to improve our situation and solve our problems. Maybe on the contrary some may even enhance the challenges and dangers for European security. Therefore, Europe has to come out of this dreadful situation by gaining strength and unity especially concerning the vital questions of foreign and security policy.



Europe is not consisting only of the European Union, which will become smaller, once Britain will leave and in some way it is already halfway out. The EU has to look with a critical and open minded attitude at the developments of the last years especially after the break down of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union and of communism as a dangerous and challenging force was seen and interpreted as a big victory of the "West". But the West - including the majorities in the successor states outside Russia - wanted more. They wanted a clear transformation of the societies of these countries according to the model of the West, a model which was even more liberalized and deregulated due to the victory of the "West" over the "East". It should be stated clearly, that European unification meant an accession to the EU and in principle to NATO to avoid a way back to the old order. The unification was to be realized according to the principle: "the winner takes it all” and the winner was the West. The West decided the criteria and principles of building a new Europe.

Yes, the West made some offers but they have been mostly based on existing Western institutions. As long as Russia was weak and looking for a new role in the world concert of bigger countries, Russia accepted to play a minor role in the shadow of the West. But things changed with rising incomes from oil and gas and with the rise of Putin as long term leader of the country. These changes were not so visible from the beginning and the West has been blinded by its expansion of the EU and NATO.

In addition two principles of organizing the world's order have been opposing each other. The West argued, every country may choose its international allies, as they choose their governments in free and fair elections. Russia became more and more insisting on the spheres of influence in - as they called it - the "Near abroad". But de facto, the democratic choice of the countries of the former Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc was a choice which extended the sphere of influence of the West: the European Union and the US. This meant that the sphere of influence of Russia was heavily shrinking. A re-balancing of the power structure in Europe and the Caucasus without (!) an offer to include Russia in a wider economic, political and security structure was a vital mistake.

While there were some offers from the Russian side to think about a security arrangement in Europe - not knowing how serious and realistic these offers were - they were never tested by the West. Still, if we want to regain peace and stability in Europe, ideas and proposals for a new security structure beyond existing alliances must be developed. And yes, we do need a dialogue across the dividing line between the West and Russia. Dialog is not in contradiction to deterrence against unilateral actions. What has been agreed commonly upon from Helsinki to Paris and Budapest cannot just be put aside. But a new thinking about the Common European House will be necessary.


Primarily, we must reduce tensions and the danger of incidents between military forces of the West (NATO but also Sweden, Finland etc.) and Russia. The forces and some of the military activities are too close to each other and small incidents may raise new confrontations. We need new transparency and verification initiatives and therefore a modernization of the Vienna Document. We also need contact from one military to the other military to prevent unintended conflicts.

Secondly, disarmament should be anew on the agenda of the OSCE as the German foreign minister Steinmeier proposed. This concerns foremost the conventional arms. In addition to that we need also new negotiations between the US and Russia concerning nuclear arms.

Thirdly, the economic connectivity between the EU and Russia should be re-established. We should find ways to phase out sanctions as soon as possible. The best way to do that would be not only to implement the Minsk agreements but also to agree on long term procedures to deal with Crimea and the non-governmental controlled areas of Eastern Ukraine. Internationally observed referenda about the future of all these areas could be a way out.

The basic ideas of an economic free trade area between Vancouver and Vladivostok or at least between Lisbon and Vladivostok should be put on the table again. Negotiations between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union and countries associated to either or both of these unions should start to find a joint way forward.

Many of these proposals seem not realistic today, but we should start thinking in terms, which could change the reality before the reality is deteriorating our security situation in Europe. And with a new president Trump it may be, that we have to take things into our own - European - hands. Looking to the feelings and attitudes of many of our voters in Europe we should be aware of their interest in security and not we should not let new tensions arise.


Security as overriding issue in the minds of Europe's population must guide us also concerning migration into our continent. Migration as such is not endangering our security. Migration is a permanent element of developments in all parts of our world. But with globalization, especially of information via social media and the still vast gap in income and wealth, especially between the neighboring continents of Europe and Africa, migration will stay on the agenda. That will be so even after actual wars in the Middle East would stop, which will not happen very soon anyway.

Migration has to respect the interests and wellbeing of the countries which are "attracting" refugees. These are basically countries with nationally organized welfare states and new conflicts of sharing the welfare with the newcomers will automatically arise. On the other hand we must recognize the hardship and special situation of the refugees and we have to respect the basic norms of solidarity as expressed in international humanitarian law. If the migration flows are too big - without being able to define that in exact numbers - it would be no longer possible to keep the balance between respect for the "original“ populations interest and human solidarity for refugees. I speak of refugees and not of economic migrant - as difficult it is to make that definition.

One main element of a successful refugee and migration policy is to help to reduce the push factor. That means we must help to avoid wars, hunger and deprivation due to climate change etc. This can only be done by development partnerships with the countries concerned while being aware that sometimes these governments themselves are contributing to the push factors by ruthlessly exploiting their countries and its resources. However,  there is no other way to avoid mass migration and the dreadful consequences of supporting criminal gangs and death in the Mediterranean Sea.

In Europe itself we should establish a reasonable and practicable system of solidarity. While it would be wise that all countries should take refugees according to their size and economic power it would be much better to handle this issue much more flexible. A refugee fund with financial contributions from all member countries and donations to those countries which receive and care for refugees would be much more realistic and feasible.


The challenges for our security in Europe by a more assertive Russia, long term conflicts in our neighborhood and partly in connection with these conflicts, stronger refugee and migration pressures cannot be avoided. It is a question of how we can manage these threats. As the new US president Trump will not be willing to have that close relationship with Europe, the EU has to develop a more common and coherent strategy. Just to follow the ideas and ways of the past is not enough. New and stronger challenges ask for new and more concise strategies. The OSCE could be one of the instruments to develop and implement this new comprehensive strategy. Let's not forget it's the only organization where East and West permanently discuss issues concerning European security. Certainly, for the moment only small steps can be done. Besides, when looking at the dangers and possible confrontations, a preventive policy is urgent. But at the same time we have to start to think about a more comprehensive European strategy in order to prevent a further split through Europe.

What should be added to the official presentations of government’s position is to enlarge the security dialogue also by including the civil society. The success of negotiations on the fight against climate change at the conference in Paris in December 2015 was at least partly due to the strong and constructive involvement of the civil society. One should consider how to improve peace and security policies by civil society’s engagement.