The OSCE (which stands for Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe by ABBREVIATIONFINDER.ORG) aims to prevent wars between European states, promote economic co-operation and safeguard human rights, the rules of democracy and the rule of law in the member states.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) was created once upon a time to alleviate the military tension between Eastern and Western Europe and thus prevent war between the European states. Today, the OSCE is largely committed to safeguarding human rights, the rules of democracy and the rule of law in the Member States. The human dimension of the concept of security has come to the fore.
Security has taken on a new and broader meaning after the end of the Cold War. The risk of a new major war between European states has diminished. At the same time, old conflicts and new conflicts within the countries have surfaced, since the fall of the communist dictatorships and the emergence of new nation-states from the disintegrated states of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.
The main task of the OSCE has been to prevent internal armed clashes and other violence, to manage crises and to contribute to the emergence of democratic legal societies. It is in a way an ungrateful work, because when the OSCE manages to prevent a conflict from breaking out, it does not attract any attention in the mass media. Silent diplomacy also has no impact on television.
The OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities works to ensure that conflicts between ethnic groups do not degenerate into open conflicts. This is done primarily through contacts directly with interested parties and has given good results but few newspaper headlines.
Because prevention work must first and foremost be carried out on the ground, the OSCE today has several thousand staffs deployed in different countries to deal with these countries’ security problems and to help build sustainable democratic societies.
Some so-called field missions have been able to be phased out, because the situation has improved in the countries where they have been. Other missions have been added and deal with political as well as legal, economic, humanitarian and military issues in areas that need to recover from severe conflicts and crises.
Election monitoring in countries that until recently were one-party states has become an important part of the OSCE’s activities. Criticism by OSCE election observers is rarely appreciated by the regimes concerned, but it helps to create standards for free, fair elections. This in turn strengthens the democratization process in former dictatorships.
At the same time, election observation has become a source of discord within the OSCE. Russia and several other countries from the former Soviet Union believe that the election monitors are not impartial and that they make accusations of electoral fraud too quickly, especially against former communist countries.
Russia and its allies instead want to emphasize the military-political dimension of OSCE co-operation. The military policy work in the form of confidence- and security-building measures also continues. The aim is to increase transparency about military conditions in the member states and thereby reduce the risk of conflicts rooted in mistrust and misunderstanding.
There has been a lively exchange of information between the OSCE member states since the early 1990’s, and large quantities of munitions have been scrapped under the Convention on the Armed Forces of Europe (CFE).
As the military threats today have taken on a different character than during the Cold War, the OSCE is now focusing heavily on reducing the number of small arms in circulation. The OSCE has also adopted a military policy code of conduct which states, among other things, that the armed forces in a country must be under democratic control.
Following Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014, and shortly thereafter Russian support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, the OSCE came to play an active role in trying to stop the fighting and protect the civilian population (read more in the Activities).
The end of the Cold War
The upheavals in Europe during the transition from the 1980’s to the 1990’s became a turning point for the European Security Conference, then called the ESC. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the collapse of the Soviet Union opened up new political possibilities and raised expectations of a future of democracy, peace and cohesion in Europe.
The ESC was at the center of events. At the Paris Summit in 1990, the so-called Paris Charter for a New Europe was adopted . The participating countries declared that they did not see each other as enemies and would never start a war against each other. This historical document sealed the dissolution of the communist Eastern bloc, and all participating states professed both political democracy and human rights as well as the market economy.
But the end of the Cold War did not, as had been hoped, put an end to European conflicts and contradictions. On the contrary, the 1990’s became a period of political crises and armed conflicts in Europe.
The Paris Summit decided to provide the ESC with an organizational base by setting up three permanent secretariats in Prague, Warsaw and Vienna. At the Council of Ministers’ meeting in Stockholm in 1992, a Secretary General was appointed based in Vienna to coordinate the secretariat work.
At the turn of the year 1994/1995, the ESC was renamed the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
During the 1989–1990 optimistic spirit of the year and a half, the NATO and Warsaw Pact states had succeeded in negotiating the significant CFE agreement (Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe). This meant that both sides, but in particular the Warsaw Pact, greatly reduced their armed forces in Europe. During the Paris Summit in 1990, the Pact Heads of State and Government signed the agreement, but before it could enter into force, the Warsaw Pact was dissolved.
The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. This created some uncertainty about the validity of the agreement, but after a new summit in Helsinki in July 1992, the CFE agreement was considered provisionally in force.
The transformation in the Eastern Bloc meant that the number of members increased markedly. When the two German states merged on 3 October 1990, the number of members decreased from 35 to 34, but it was not long before Albania – which had previously been outside the co-operation – requested and was admitted.
As a result of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, an additional 17 new participating states were added rapidly. The next addition came when Czechoslovakia at the turn of the year 1992/1993 was divided into two states, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. As a result of a tenacious dispute with Greece over its name, Macedonia had to make do with being an observer for a long time, but became a full member in 1995.
At the beginning of 2009, the OSCE had 56 Member States. In the Mediterranean and Asia, the OSCE also has eleven so-called partner states with which the organization cooperates. In 2012, the organization got its 57th member when Mongolia joined.