The role of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in today's European security architecture

Seminar Paper 2003 28 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: International Organisations


Table of Contents:

Part I: Background Information

1. Introduction
1.1. What is the OSCE?

2. History of the OSCE
2.1. The Helsinki Process
2.2. From the CSCE to the OSCE

3. Organization
3.1. Structures and Institutions

Part II: Instruments and Functions

4. The OSCE approach to comprehensive security
4.1. Instruments
4.2. OSCE Missions
4.2.1. UNMIK in Kosovo
4.3. The Human Dimension
4.4. The Politico-military Dimension
4.5. The Economic and Environmental Dimension
4.6. Cooperation with other International Organizations
4.6.1. Relations with the UN
4.6.2. Relations with the EU
4.6.3. Relations with NATO
4.6.4. Relations with other Organizations

Part III: Evaluation of the OSCE today

5. The role of the OSCE today

6. Conclusions

7. Bibliography

8. Annex

Part I: Background Information

1. Introduction

The idea of seeking security through an international organization is certainly not new. Immanuel Kant envisaged it already over two centuries ago in Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View (1784).[1]Through war, through the taxing and never-ending accumulation of armament… after devastations, revolutions, and even complete exhaustion,” Kant foresaw that “human nature would bring people to that which reason could have told them in the beginning: that humankind must step from the lawless condition of savages into a league of nations to secure the peace.”[2]

The Concert of Europe, the League of Nations, and the UN were all built upon the principle of preserving peace. One can argue about their successes and failures, but the UN is now more than fifty years old and is still an important player in the global security architecture through for instance its peacekeeping operations. The UN Charter states in Article 1 that all members shall be committed “to maintain international peace and security, and to that end, to take effective collective measures” to preserve or restore the peace and Article 24 provides the Security Council with the “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.”[3] The concept of “collective security” was a principle of the League of Nations and is included in the UN Charter as well. It basically means that an aggression against one member state will be regarded as an aggression against the collective and lead to joint action (economic sanctions, military action, etc.) against the aggressor. This concept has so far not been very successful: mainly, but not limited to, because countries are not willing to accept collective action above their national interests.[4]

Besides the UN, there are also regional organizations, which aim at preserving peace and security. One of them is the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), which will be examined in this paper. Is the OSCE successful in its attempt to preserve peace and security and encourage cooperation in Europe? What is its role in today’s European security architecture (NATO, EU, and UN)? And is it still important after the end of the Cold War? This report aims at answering these questions.

The background information in the first part of the paper is mainly taken from the OSCE Handbook, unless otherwise indicated.

1.1. What is the OSCE?

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is “a multilateral institution that led in the transformation of Europe from a system of counterpoised military alliances [NATO and the Warsaw Pact] to one based on common principles for maintaining security and promoting human rights and democracy.”[5]

The post-Cold War OSCE can be described as a "soft security" organization, meaning that it is not a defence alliance and does not possess any military resources (like NATO).[6] The OSCE promotes democracy and free market economies based on the rule of law and respect for human rights. Within its framework of “comprehensive security” (see Part II), the OSCE deals with a wide range of security issues, such as arms control, preventive diplomacy, confidence- and security-building measures, human rights, election monitoring and economic and environmental security.[7]

The OSCE has currently 55 member states: USA, Canada, all European states and the now independent former soviet republics (see OSCE Website for details).[8] The organization is based in Vienna, Austria, but most of its employees work in the field. The OSCE is particularly active in the Balkans and the Caucasus. It is based on the principles of equality among the members and therefore all decisions are reached by consensus. The organization and the missions are funded entirely by its member states. Decisions of the OSCE are politically but not legally binding.[9] However, as they need to be signed at the highest political level they have an authority, which is presumably as strong as under international law.

The OSCE is considered a regional arrangement in the sense of Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, making it “a primary instrument for early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation in Europe.”[10]

2. History of the OSCE

2.1. The Helsinki Process

Before 1995, the OSCE was known as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). The CSCE was established as an inter-governmental diplomatic conference, often referred to as the "Helsinki process", which began during the 1970s as a forum for East-West dialogue during the Cold War.

The idea of a pan-European security conference was initiated by the Soviet Union already in the 1950s. However, the proposals were unacceptable by the “West” for several reasons at that time. In the mid 1960s, the Soviet Union proposed a European security conference where the existing borders in Europe should be recognized and a framework for East-West economic cooperation should be created. In 1969 NATO indicated its willingness to participate in such a conference and as a result, the first informal meeting took place in Helsinki in 1972. It was concluded with the so-called “Blue Book” which outlined a three-stage conference. The CSCE then formally opened in Helsinki on 3 July 1973. During the first stage, the Blue Book was adopted by the Foreign Ministers from 35 States (all European states except Albania plus the USA and Canada). Stage II took place in Geneva between 1973 and 1975 and was mainly a working phase: Experts from the member states negotiated the CSCE Final Act, which was then signed by the member states (Stage III) in Helsinki on 1 August 1975. The Helsinki Final Act covered three main areas of cooperation, the so-called baskets:[11]

Basket I: Security in Europe;

Basket II: Co-operation in the fields of economics, science, technology, and the environment;

Basket III: Co-operation in humanitarian and other fields.

There was also a forth element, which did not receive much attention: security and co-operation in the Mediterranean.

The Helsinki process “gave the Russians in theory what they already had in practice, namely acceptance of the Yalta boundaries.”[12] In return, they committed themselves to respect human rights, thereby legitimizing human rights as an issue in East-West relations. Many Western countries (but also the Soviet Union) thought that human rights provision was just an empty phrase, but actually these helped to open the Iron Curtain a bit further: In the Soviet Union and its satellites, groups were formed to monitor the implementation of the human rights commitments, forcing the soviet government to adhere to its promises.

2.2. From the CSCE to the OSCE

The OSCE emerged in the 1990s from the CSCE. Until the 1990s, the CSCE remained a negotiating body. But the collapse of communism in the 1990s also affected the CSCE: the Cold War was over and the collapse of communism left the transition of several former soviet republics to market economies and democracies. Moreover, the CSCE member states faced warfare in the former Republic of Yugoslavia. To manage these tasks, the CSCE needed to be institutionalized.[13] At the Helsinki Follow-Up Meeting in 1992 the member states agreed to turn the CSCE into the OSCE – a move from being a Conference to becoming an Organization.[14] This decision was finally taken at the Budapest Summit in 1994 and took effect on 1 January 1995. A permanent secretariat was established, new institutions were set up, and the Organization’s decision-making bodies were renamed: Ministerial Council (instead of CSCE Council), Senior Council (formerly the CSO) and Permanent Council (instead of Permanent Committee).[15]

3. Organization

Since 1990 several institutions and mechanisms were developed in order to work more efficiently, such as the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the High Commissioner on National Minorities, the Representative on Freedom of the Media and the Missions and other field presences.[16]

As shown in Figure 3.1., the OSCE budget increased steadily since the end of the Cold War and even trebles in 1998. This is most probably due to the crises in the Balkans in general and particularly the establishment of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo in 1999 (Kosovo mission budget in 2002: 54.2 million €[17]). The OSCE budget reaches its peak in 2000, followed by a slight decline until today. The budget, however, is still significantly higher than immediately after the collapse of communism, which indicates, that the OSCE has not yet fulfilled its tasks as some critics assume. It also shows the member states commitment to the work of the OSCE since the Organization is entirely funded by its members. Yet it should be noted that the OSCE budget is rather low: Germany contributes around 25 million € per year which is less than its contribution to the UN Mission in Sierra Leone alone![18]

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 3.1.

Source: OSCE Website

But although the budget of the OSCE has increased over the past years, less money goes into conflict prevention, than post conflict rehabilitation.[19] Since 1992, the OSCE is allocating most of its financial resources to conflict prevention and crisis management, because experience has shown that these are the areas in which the OSCE performs best while conflict resolution is a rather weak point.[20]

As shown in Figure 3.2., the biggest portion of the budget is allocated to the so-called “large OSCE missions and projects”, referring to the missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 3.2.

Source: OSCE Annual Report 2002, p. 89


[1] Rourke p. 378; Lenzi, p. 48

[2] Rourke p. 378

[3] Bennet, and Oliver, p. 473

[4] Rourke p. 380

[5] Kegley, and Wittkopf, p. 187

[6] UN Guide for Minorities, p. 1

[7] Handbook of the OSCE, p. 1

[8] Atlas der Globalisierung, p. 41

[9] OSCE Handbook, p. 3

[10] OSCE Handbook, p. 3

[11] OSCE Handbook, p. 10

[12] Hurd, D., p. 79

[13] OSCE Handbook, p. 12

[14] OSCE Handbook, p. 15

[15] OSCE Handbook, p. 16

[16] OSCE Handbook, p. 19

[17] OSCE Mission in Kosovo Factsheet

[18] Bettzuege, p. 42

[19] van der Stoel, p. 23

[20] Ghebali (2/2002), p. 27


ISBN (eBook)
File size
806 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
Schiller International University
Organization Security Cooperation Europe European Internationale Organisationen




Title: The role of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in today's European security architecture