The first day of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe summit in Kazakhstan produced consensus on the need to address security threats. But as participants prepared for the final day of the gathering, deep divisions remained on key democratization issues, including human rights standards.
OSCE officials and leaders of the 56 participating states were quick to embrace calls to revitalize the organization, where mistrust has undermined cooperation in recent years. “It is no secret that today the OSCE is facing an identity crisis,” Petros Efthymiou, the president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, told delegates bluntly.
Other officials agreed that the organization currently finds itself at a critical stage. “The OSCE is a mirror of the state of security in greater Europe,” its Secretary-General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut said, and “what I see troubles me.”
OSCE core principles have been neglected, de Brichambaut asserted, and “lack of trust between participating states has reduced the capacity of the organization to respond to crises and adapt to emerging threats.”
Attendees largely concurred on the nature of the trans-national security threats they face – unresolved conflicts within and beyond OSCE borders; terrorism and extremism; arms and drug trafficking; and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
As this year’s chairman of the OSCE and the summit host, Kazakhstan is eager to see the gathering produce substantive results. That goal, however, may be difficult to reach, given the differences that were apparent during the summit’s first day. The summit concludes December 2.
The dispute between Tbilisi and Moscow over the separatist territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia – which Russia recognizes as independent – attracted a lot of attention on December 1. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev got things started with a verbal attack on Georgia amid a call for the OSCE to design joint-conflict regulation principles. “The use of military force, as the leadership of Georgia tried to do in South Ossetia in August 2008, is absolutely impermissible,” Medvedev said pointedly.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton countered Medvedev’s attack with warmer words for Georgia, “whose sovereignty and territorial integrity the United States strongly supports.” She expressed the hope that Georgia’s olive branch on the non-use of force against the breakaway regions “can help us break new diplomatic ground.”
Delegates also called for renewed focus on Afghanistan, as well as fresh efforts to find political settlements to the long-standing conflicts over Nagorno-Karabakh and Moldova’s breakaway Transdniester region.
The need for reconciliation in the wake of recent political and ethnic strife in Kyrgyzstan was also discussed. Several participants lauded Kazakhstan’s role in promoting the return of stability in southern Kyrgyzstan, while failing to note that peace there remains shaky: Kyrgyzstan was the scene of further violence ahead of the summit, with at least four people killed in a shootout in the south and an explosion in the capital Bishkek injuring at least two this week alone.
Western leaders raised the issues of democratization and human rights issues, and Clinton reserved her strongest criticisms for the failings among member states to uphold democratic values. “[W]e must address serious shortcomings in implementing our commitments to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms,” she told delegates.
In a bid to ensure that these issues are not overshadowed by summit discussions about security threats, Clinton met with civil society activists in Astana on November 30, listening to their concerns about the erosion of civil liberties in Kazakhstan.
Particularly vocal criticism has been levelled at Astana over democratization this year due to its position as OSCE chair. Rights activists and international organizations have accused Astana of failing to address rights abuses at home even as it runs an efficient OSCE chairmanship – which was widely praised at the summit as energetic and well-organized.
At a news conference on the sidelines of the summit, Clinton said that during a bilateral meeting with President Nursultan Nazarbayev she discussed how the United States can work with Kazakhstan to make it a “stable, secure, democratic and prosperous nation that is a leader in the region and beyond.”
Directing the summit agenda firmly toward security, Nazarbayev made some specific proposals for how the OSCE can reform to meet new challenges in “the changed paradigm of European security.”
He proposed broadening the OSCE’s areas of focus, creating a new economic security dimension to address the challenges arising from the global financial crisis, and a new religious tolerance dimension to promote tolerance.
He also proposed setting up several new OSCE bodies – an Ecological Forum to address environmental issues; a ministerial council “to coordinate the fight against trans-national crime, drug trafficking and illegal migration;” and a Security Institution, which he proposed locating in Astana, to warn of future threats such as financial crises or localized conflicts.
Delegates, who are due to adopt a final declaration that outlines the future shape of the OSCE and the means for tackling threats to member states, must “show the wisdom and courage of true leaders and reach consensus on the important issue of strengthening security and cooperation,” Kanat Saudabayev, the OSCE chairperson-in-office and Kazakhstan's foreign minister, said.
The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly president also urged action. “There is no doubt how much lies at stake here in Astana – and we don't have the luxury to let it fail,” Efthymiou said.
Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer specializing in Central Asia.