How creative diplomacy has averted a collapse of the OSCE – until now
The OSCE is currently faced with a number of challenges that could potentially jeopardize its future existence.
The Vienna-based organization, which was created as a platform for dialogue between East and West during the Cold War, is more negatively impacted by the Russian war against Ukraine than any other international institution.
NATO has seen a revival of its core mandate of collective defense and deterrence. The war has also forced EU member states to close ranks and maintain unity while working out common positions on sanctions and defense and becoming independent from Russian gas.
But the OSCE is severely weakened.
At the core of the OSCE’s mandate is the idea that Euro-Atlantic security can be maintained via cooperation and dialogue among 57 participating states, which must be on equal footing. These include a very diverse group of states: The United States, Canada, all European states and those of the former Soviet Union, including Russia.
Breakdown of cooperative security
But this concept of cooperative security has all but broken down since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The war has made clear that cooperative security between Russia and the West can only function as long as all major players have an interest in it and consider it useful.
Furthermore, the OSCE is more vulnerable to external geopolitical developments than other international institutions. According to the OSCE’s rules, practically all decisions must be adopted by consensus of the 57 participating states.
Since Russia opposes many decisions, the organization is blocked and unable to deliver on its core mandate.
Moscow, often supported by its only ally Belarus, has vetoed the renewal of the mandate of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, the adoption of the OSCE budget for this year and for last year, and the approval of Estonia as OSCE chair for 2024.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto has even warned of a possible collapse of the OSCE.
“If there is no chairman in 2024 and there is no consensus on this issue, then next year will be the year of the destruction of the OSCE as an organization,” he told Finnish broadcaster Yle.
Similarly, Marko Mihkelson, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Estonian Parliament, said in a tweet that with Russia “blocking Estonia from becoming the chairman of the OSCE by 2024, a legitimate question arises – isn’t the OSCE at the end of its existence?”
But while it is true that the core mandate of the OSCE has been severely hollowed out, OSCE participating states have shown resilience and creativity in overcoming many obstacles.
Who will chair the OSCE in 2024?
Every year a different country takes over the political leadership of the OSCE. The process of applying for the OSCE chair is done via a lengthy political consultation process. If all goes well, that process usually leads to unanimous agreement on who will chair the organization.
In November 2020, Estonia launched a bid to take over the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2024. But the approval of this bid has been blocked by Russia.
Given this ongoing logjam, Austria has voiced its willingness to step in as chair for 2024 if no consensus is reached on the Estonian candidacy. Other countries, including Kazakhstan, have voiced similar readiness. Another option that is being looked into is a prolongation beyond 2023 of the current chairmanship of North Macedonia.
Negotiations are ongoing on this issue and no decision has been taken yet. But the readiness of other states to assume responsibility shows that solutions could possibly be available on short notice.
Finland joins OSCE troika on ‘ad interim basis’
But in addition to the important role of the OSCE chair, there is also the OSCE troika – a key body comprising the present, previous and incoming OSCE chairs. The troika ensures continuity of OSCE activities and is a key support mechanism for the chair-in-office, currently North Macedonia.
Given the fact that there is no incoming chair for 2024, the current chair of North Macedonia found an innovative way to prevent a breakdown of the OSCE troika.
North Macedonia sent a letter to all OSCE participating states on February 1, 2023, informing them that Finland had accepted to join the OSCE troika as incoming chair “on an ad interim basis, pending designation of the Chairpersonship in 2024.”
Finland had previously been chosen by consensus to assume the OSCE chair in 2025.
The internal letter, seen by SHR Monitor, “notes with regret” that OSCE states have not been able to agree on a chair for 2024 thus far.
“In light of this, I wish to inform you that, as a necessary remedial response, the Chairman-in-Office, Minister of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia, Mr. Bujar Osmani, under his overall responsibility for executive action and co-ordination of current OSCE business, has exceptionally requested that Finland join the Troika as an interim measure, until such time as the designation of the Chairpersonship 2024 is made,” the letter states.
According to OSCE diplomats, no state has actively voiced opposition to the suggestion in this letter, meaning that the OSCE currently has a functioning troika, even if it has no agreed-upon chair for 2024.
Yet, a major complicating factor are the mandates for OSCE top leadership posts, which will all expire at the end of this year.
They including OSCE Secretary General Helga Schmid, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Teresa Ribeiro, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Matteo Mecacci, and High Commissioner on National Minorities Kairat Abdrakhmanov.
The renewal of their mandates must be done via consensus. But how this consensus will play out is currently highly uncertain, OSCE diplomats with knowledge of the matter say. If the mandates are not prolonged, all of the OSCE’s main institutions will be without leadership as of next year.
A negotiation on a package of new candidates takes time and usually involves a careful balancing out of geographical, gender and political interests, a complicated process that is unlikely to succeed in the current geopolitical circumstances.
Extra-budgetary contributions to mitigate lack of money
Russia has also refused to agree to the 2022 and 2023 budget proposals of roughly 138 million euros — a level that has remained unchanged for the past 10 years.
Without an approved budget, the OSCE can only function in a limited mode as it receives provisional monthly allotments based on the previously agreed-upon budget of 2021. According to the OSCE’s financial regulations, the OSCE is not allowed to implement new projects or activities during this time.
In an effort to circumvent this paralysis, OSCE participating states have instead made increasing use of so-called extra-budgetary contributions. These are pledged by individual states to specific projects outside the OSCE’s core budget.
One example is the recently launched OSCE Support Program for Ukraine.
Under the 28.7 million Euro program, which is being implemented over a three-year period spanning August 2022 to July 2025, the OSCE will put into place a number of projects aimed at enhancing democracy, good governance, human security, the rule of law and human rights, and addressing the effects of the war in Ukraine. The projects are also focused on mitigating risks to the environment, such as those caused by chemical hazardous waste, and on building demining capacities in Ukraine.
Russia does not support these activities as they have not been approved by consensus by the OSCE Permanent Council or other OSCE decision-making bodies.
But for the majority of OSCE participating states, these measures have helped to prevent a complete collapse of the OSCE and a standstill of the organization’s activities.
They are nonetheless interim solutions.
The future of the OSCE continues to remain uncertain, and the organization may indeed lose for good its main role as a place to improve security via dialogue and cooperation among non-likeminded states.