ISSN 2330-717X

Why Europe Still Needs The OSCE – OpEd

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By Eamon Gilmore

Ireland has taken over the chair at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the largest and most successful regional security body, spanning the Northern Hemisphere from Vancouver to Vladivostok. Although not as well known as the EU or the UN, the OSCE plays a vital role in ensuring the security and stability of Europe and the OSCE region as a whole. During the Cold War, it was a key forum for building confidence and reducing tensions between east and west. Its continuing work on arms control and military transparency remains as central to the security of Europe as it was over thirty years ago.

The OSCE is not just about building confidence on security issues. The great innovation of the OSCE is the notion that security is not just a military matter but one that is linked to a properly functioning economy, a sustainable environment, and the enjoyment of human rights by all. It offered a parallel track to those who saw no alternative to the confrontation between two ideological blocs. Its strong focus on human rights provided succour to those whose rights were abused and contributed to the development of more democratic societies. The OSCE has also made a significant contribution to post-conflict rehabilitation and state building in South-Eastern Europe.

I have been asked many times since taking up my position why Europe still needs the OSCE, over twenty years after the end of the Cold War, and what Ireland can bring to the Organisation. The Cold War may be over but much work needs to be done to build on the OSCE’s goal of comprehensive security. The global financial crisis has had a powerful impact on Europe and has demonstrated the need for collective action, as no one country can deal with the impact of the crisis in isolation. The same applies to the transnational threats the OSCE now deals with. Whether it be organised crime or terrorism, cyber security or trafficking in human beings, no one country can tackle these issues without the cooperation of its neighbours. The OSCE is also to the fore in dealing with the so-called protracted conflicts: we support efforts of the Minsk Group on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, participate in the 5+2 talks on the Transdniestrian settlement and the Geneva International Discussions dealing with the August 2008 conflict in Georgia. Its field operations from Albania to Uzbekistan, including the OSCE Centre in Ashgabat are doing essential work in supporting host countries to better respond to the needs of their people.

Every Irish Government has championed effective multilateralism. We take our membership of international organisations seriously and have a proud history of successful EU Presidencies and election to non-permanent seats at the UN Security Council. Taking over the chair of the OSCE gives firm expression to Ireland’s commitment to the maintenance of international peace and security under the UN Charter, and to respect for international law.

The priorities I outlined in my address to the OSCE in Vienna on 12 January represent an ambitious, but balanced, approach to the challenges we face. I will work together with all participating States of the OSCE to build consensus around a number of decisions that will reaffirm the OSCE’s central role as a guarantor of fundamental freedoms. In particular, I believe that citizens should have the right to enjoy long-standing human rights, such as freedom of expression and freedom of the media, regardless of the form in which they are exercised. I will host an Internet Freedom Conference in Ireland, the Internet Capital of Europe, in June this year to look at this issue. I also intend to draw on Ireland’s unique experience of conflict resolution by organising a conference in April which will present aspects of the Northern Ireland example as a case study.

In the lead-up to the fortieth anniversary of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act that led to the creation of the OSCE, I commit myself to work with the incoming Chairmanships to equip the Organisation to deal with current and future threats. Just as the original text committed Cold War adversaries to a new way of conducting their mutual relations, we must ensure that the OSCE, forty years on, is ready for the challenges of an uncertain world.

Eamon Gilmore is the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland. Since 1 January, he has been the Chairperson-in-Office of the OSCE.

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