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Tuesday, 1 August, 2000, 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK
OSCE: 25 years bridging Europe
OSCE stage one Helsinki meeting
OSCE genesis began with the Helsinki Consultations in 1972
By south-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the OSCE, is marking the 25th anniversary of a conference that led to its establishment.

OSCE
OSCE: 25 years putting Europe together
The 1975 Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, the CSCE, was the culmination of years of negotiations between the Cold War adversaries.

The conference produced the Helsinki Final Act - the document that was widely seen in the 1970s as one of the key achievements of the policy of detente - bringing East and West together during the Cold War.

The Soviet Union's objective was to get international recognition for the post-war borders in Europe, including the Soviet conquests of 1945 and the division of Germany.

Claims and concessions

The West was eventually prepared to swallow that - after all it was not going to challenge those borders through the use of force - nor had it done so during the darkest days of the Cold War.

OSCE Lisbon meeting
The OSCE has now 55 member states
In return Western countries were trying to extract some concessions on human rights which - if respected by the Kremlin and its allies - would have undermined the position of the Soviet bloc's ruling regimes.

But the communist rulers had no intention of abiding by these undertakings.

True, dissident organisations that emerged in Eastern Europe - Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia was the most prominent example - could take their governments to task for failing to honour their human rights commitments. But the impact they made was relatively small.

Whatever the intentions of the participants, the Helsinki Final Act, signed in August 1975 appeared to satisfy both sides. Thereafter the 35-nation conference - which brought together virtually all European countries, except for Albania, plus the United States and Canada - met periodically, but without making much substantive progress.

The various follow-up conferences on human rights and boosting trade produced few results; and talks on the reduction of conventional arms dragged on for years.

Perestroika push

It was only with Mikhail Gorbachev's arrival on the political stage in Mosocw in the mid-1980s and then with the collapse of communism in Europe that the CSCE really came into its element. It provided the framework for reducing conventional armed forces at the end of the Cold War.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Austrian Chairperson-in-office of the OSCE
And for the past decade it's been one of the key organisations spearheading democratisation, protecting human rights and trying to resolve regional conflicts across Europe. With the break-up of the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia, its membership has expanded to 55 countries.

To show its increasing importance and its more permanent structure, five years ago the CSCE's members renamed it the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Conflict prevention and crisis management

The OSCE, as the only pan-European organisation, has been focussing its attention on conflict prevention and crisis management. As a relatively small organisation, based in Vienna, it's more flexible than the United Nations - and is more focussed on Europe.

But it has no peacekeeping contingents - and in terms of its responsibilities it's not replaced either the UN or Nato.

OSCE observers
The OSCE has played an essential role in the Balkans
One organisational weakness it shares with Nato is the requirement of consensus in its decision-making. One member-state, however small, can obstruct the entire organisation's work.

There are a very few exceptions to that rule in cases that are deemed "clear, gross and uncorrected violations" of OSCE commitments by a member country.

This "consensus-minus-one" principle - in other words, taking a decision without the consent of the country concerned - was applied in the case of Yugoslavia - Serbia and Montenegro - which was suspended in July 1992.

But this rule can only be applied in a very limited range of circumstances, and thus the OSCE's powers - when compared to those of the UN - remain relatively weak.

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