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Mongolia and the OSCE: From Partner to Participating State?

Walter Kemp
Analysis 06 February 2012

Mongolia wants to become the 57th OSCE participating State. It made this intention clear in a letter to the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on 28 October 2011. In the letter, the Foreign Minister of Mongolia, Gombojov Zandanshatar, declared the readiness of his country to accept in their entirety all the commitments and responsibilities contained in the Helsinki Final Act, the Charter of Paris, and all other OSCE documents. This letter was officially welcomed in a decision (no. 12) of the Vilnius Ministerial Council last December. This year’s Chairmanship, Ireland, was tasked to take forward this request at the earliest opportunity.

Should Mongolia become an OSCE participating State? Why not? Mongolia is keen to join (at a time when some participating States have lost enthusiasm for the Organization). Every state has the right to choose its security arrangements (if the existing members agree). Mongolia probably lives up to OSCE commitments at least as well as most participating States. It is a land of great potential between Russia and China. And the OSCE would strengthen its Eurasian credentials.

But there is a bigger question here, which has nothing to do with the merits of Mongolia’s application. What does the “E” in OSCE stand for? Europe, Eurasia, Everywhere? How big could the OSCE become? Some may say it is an Organization for European security: but where does Europe start and end? Others may say it is for countries that share “European” values: but do all OSCE states really share those values? Others may say that it is an organization for countries that share an interest in European security, which is why Canada and the United States are part of the OSCE after all. Fine, but perhaps China, Israel or countries of North Africa share an interest in European security. The criteria for becoming an OSCE Partner for Cooperation are even vaguer.

Diplomats will say that every application for becoming an OSCE participating State has to be judged on its own merits. Fair enough, and at the end of the day Mongolia will probably get in (which is good for Mongolia and good for the OSCE). But it would be useful if, in the process – or at least for the future – there would be a debate on where the OSCE area is, how far it can grow, and clear criteria for membership. Otherwise, it will be hard to build a Security Community if you don’t where the borders are and who is part of it.

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