OSCE - Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

OSCE: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

Known as on ABBREVIATIONFINDER.ORG, the OSCE has its origins in the situation of the 1950’s, when Europe was divided into an Eastern bloc, dominated by the Soviet Union, and a Western bloc, dominated by the United States. After the end of World War II, no formal peace treaty had ever been signed confirming the new borders in Europe.

The Soviet Union, which through the war had expanded its own territory and also gained a dominant influence over the countries of Eastern Europe, was anxious to have the new borders internationally recognized. The West, on the other hand, did not want to immediately confirm the Soviet sphere of interest in Eastern Europe and was rather cold-hearted about the Soviet proposals for a joint conference on, among other things, border issues.

During the 1960’s, the Soviet Union and its allies within the Eastern Defense Alliance returned to the Warsaw Pact from time to time with new initiatives. Eventually, a proposal for a conference crystallized, which would result in a European security system but also work for expanded trade and technical-scientific cooperation between the European countries.

The West was still hesitant. They first wanted to have the discussions between West Germany and its eastern neighbors about demarcation and normal connections in port. In addition, the Western powers’ defense alliance, NATO, demanded that the East side agree to negotiate cuts in the major military forces in Central Europe.

The political climate in East-West relations became more relaxed in the early 1970’s. The West German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s East policy led to a rapprochement between East and West and more normal relations within Europe.

In 1970, West Germany signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union and later that year a similar agreement with Poland. Two years later, in 1972, the four victorious powers from World War II, France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States, entered into the so-called Berlin Agreement, which, among other things, facilitated West Germany’s communications with West Berlin.

The Helsinki Conference

The new spirit of co-operation paved the way for the Soviet Union’s announcement in the summer of 1972 that the country agreed to NATO’s proposal for negotiations on Mutual Balanced Force Reduction (MBFR).

At the same time, the East side accepted the Western powers’ demand that a pan-European security conference also address issues relating to “freer movements of people, ideas and information” across European borders. The eastern states also agreed that the United States and Canada should be allowed to participate in the conference, as they, as NATO members, had their own forces stationed in Europe and thus were directly involved in European security.

Preparatory preparations for the Security Conference began in Helsinki in November 1972, and preparations for the disarmament negotiations began in Vienna in January 1973.

In the summer of 1973, the security conference itself began, also in Helsinki. Two years later, the 35 participating states agreed on a joint final document, the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, sometimes referred to as the Helsinki Agreement. It was signed at a summit on 1 August 1975 by the Heads of State and Government of all European states except Albania and of Canada and the United States.

The final act was the result of a difficult balancing act between East and West conflicting interests. The Soviet Union got through its demand that all participating countries reaffirm the inviolability of borders and the territorial integrity of states, but the document did not prevent borders from being changed in peaceful forms through democratically made decisions. This became crucial when Germany was reunited in 1990, as well as when Czechoslovakia was divided at the turn of the year 1992/1993.

The most pressing issue during the conference was the demand from the West, especially the United States, that respect for human rights be included in the negotiations. The final act contains ten main principles gathered in a special declaration as well as certain military obligations, for example that a state must notify major military exercises in advance.

The seventh principle, which speaks of respect for human rights, including freedom of thought, freedom of religion and freedom of religion, came to be particularly important for the development of Eastern Europe. The Helsinki Final Act emphasized that respect for human rights is an essential factor for peace and that it is a matter for all Member States to safeguard them.

For social critics in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, that principle became a lever in their struggle for democracy and human rights. They formed groups that monitored how their own governments fulfilled their commitments in the final act, thus paving the way for the revolutionary societal changes in Eastern Europe in the late 1980’s.

The follow-up meetings

Until the end of the 1980’s, three follow-up meetings and a number of expert conferences were held that would examine the states’ compliance with the Helsinki Agreement and also further develop it. However, the bloc policy between the NATO and Warsaw Pact countries had a strong limiting effect, and the groundbreaking results were long overdue. The Security Conference remained a conference without being elevated to an organization with permanent institutions.

Despite the many concrete proposals on how the Helsinki Agreement could be further developed, the final document of the Belgrade Summit (October 1977 – March 1978) was watered down and meaningless. The next follow-up meeting in Madrid, which lasted with some pauses between 1980 and 1983, culminated in a decision to hold a conference in Stockholm on confidence-building and security-building measures.

The Stockholm Conference began in January 1984 in a very cold east-west climate. It ended in 1986, just at the beginning of a new period of relaxation. The conference is considered an important milestone for security policy cooperation.

On the other hand, the two expert conferences in Ottawa in 1985 on human rights and in Bern in 1986 on human contacts yielded less results.

Vienna was the site of the third follow-up meeting, which began in 1986 and lasted just over two and a half years. During the meeting, the political conditions changed radically. Democratization began in the Soviet Union and other eastern states, and relations between the superpowers became increasingly tense. The general thawing in the outside world had a positive effect on the meeting participants’ willingness and ability to agree on measures in both the military and humanitarian areas.

The military results led to the opening of two new negotiations. One built on the Stockholm Conference and was about confidence-building and security-building measures. The second concerned only the NATO and Warsaw Pact states and concerned a reduction of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE).

Another important outcome of the Vienna Summit was the decision on a special reporting mechanism for the monitoring of human rights.

OSCE - Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe