On Central Asia: Panel urges heads of state summit for OSCE members

Report by Will Storey–RFE/RL

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has become almost completely outdated and is in need of renovation.  That sentiment, exhorted by a panel of experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Tuesday, stems from a call by several OSCE members for a summit of the heads of state in 2010.  The summit would reexamine and revamp a number of treaties that, having been written at least a decade ago, are generally seen as obsolete and out of touch with the realities of European relations.

The roughly thirty attendees of the roundtable discussion had few questions for the panelists, who generally concurred that of the major conflicts in which the OSCE has played a role, it has underperformed in nearly all of them.  Jon Chickey, of the National Defense University, claimed that the summit, should it convene, must revisit the Vienna Document and the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE).   The former, signed in 1990 and last updated in 1999, was designed to bolster trust throughout the region by increasing military transparency.  The latter, signed in 1990 and amended in 1996, establishes quantifiable limits of conventional military equipment and called for destruction of excess weaponry.  Both were enacted while the dregs of the Cold War mindset still lingered amongst the member nations, and, according to the panel, fail to account for contemporary political realities.

“Neither of these documents are going to be ready for revision this calendar year,” stated Chickey.  He reiterated, however, the need for the OSCE to take the time to modernize them in a context that accounts for the recent activities of Russia (which suspended the CFE in 2007 and engaged in conflict with Georgia, an OSCE member, in 2008) and the possible ramifications of the war in Afghanistan.  “Documents are instruments,” he explained, “not ends in themselves.”

Fellow panel member and Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, Ariel Cohen, agreed and elaborated that the OSCE is altogether ineffective as an international body.  He urged for the organization to focus on crisis prevention and efficient deployment of “interveners”, specifically citing the organization’s response to the violence in Kyrgyzstan.  Stating that many if not all of the members of the OSCE stand to benefit from its improvement, he “hope[s] all the members will draw a lesson from Kyrgyzstan and cooperate.”

The government of Kazakhstan, which has chaired the OSCE since January, was represented at the panel by Ambassador to the United States, Erlan Idrissov.  “It is high time for the OSCE…to take Eurasia seriously,” he said in reference to the necessary steps the organization must take to remain pertinent in the future.  He elaborated that the “Four T’s”, (trust, tradition, transparency, and tolerance), upon which the OSCE was founded, need to continue guiding it into the future.  He concluded with a “sincere call to major actors to see opportunities.”

According to Janusz Bugajski, the panel’s moderator, the decision to hold a summit this year will be made some time in the third week of July.

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