On April 18th 2016, the United States Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Daniel B. Baer, led a discussion with diplomats, journalists and civil society members at the German Marshall Fund in Brussels (GMF), in cooperation with the U.S. Mission to the European Union (USEU), on the OSCE’s role in the Russia/Ukraine crisis.
The OSCE, founded in Helsinki in 1975, offers a comprehensive approach to security that encompasses politico-military, economic and environmental, and human aspects. It therefore addresses a wide range of security-related concerns, including arms control, confidence- and security-building measures, human rights, national minorities, democratization, policing strategies, counter-terrorism and economic and environmental activities. All 57 participating States (including the United States) enjoy equal status, and decisions are taken by consensus on a politically, but not legally binding basis.
The OSCE currently has a Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine, observes the Russian-Ukrainian borders in and Gukovo and Donetsk, and co-ordinates OSCE sponsored projects in Ukraine in areas such as media freedom, good governance, and elections.
The EU is not an official independent member of the OSCE, but still works very closely with the organization. All EU member states are also OSCE members, and since 2006, the EU has received a seat next to the country holding the rotating EU presidency.
— US Mission to the EU (@US2EU) April 18, 2016
Ambassador Baer’s talk at GMF, presented the USEU press team with the opportunity to ask him a number of questions on the OSCE, its role in managing the Ukraine crisis, and its relationship with the United States. Ambassador Baer’s responses can be found below.
How effective do you think the OSCE is in engaging in World and European Affairs?
I think the OSCE is a lot like the UN or any other international organization; it’s only as effective as its members want it to be. And in the last couple of years I think the OSCE has been impressively effective in rallying both the political will and the resources to be the largest sustained international presence…to be the eyes and ears of the international community in Ukraine after Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. So, in that respect, I think it has demonstrated its ability to be very effective, and it continues to be an effective platform for the United States and our partners to engage with all 57 countries that are participating States in the OSCE, including Russia.
How important do you believe the OSCE contributions are in managing the Ukraine crisis?
I think the OSCE’s contributions have been important in a number of dimensions, operationally it’s the eyes and ears of the international community on the ground through the Special Monitoring Mission.
I think also politically it has been useful in that the Special Representative of the Chairperson in Office (ed. Martin Sajdik) has been leading the Trilateral Contact Group with Russia and Ukraine to try to develop diplomatic solutions that can resolve the conflict peacefully. Also, at a higher level of international politics the commitments that we have all taken independently and freely in the OSCE apply to all of us: the commitment to not move borders by force, the commitment to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other participating States, and so on. Those commitments remain the backdrop for our engagement with Russia to try to get Russia to come back to the table and to respect the rules of the international order, rather than undermine them.
What does the United States try to achieve through the OSCE concerning the Ukraine crisis?
The United States tries to achieve several things. First, and foremost, we want to see an end to the conflict that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We have used the OSCE to express our strong support for the Ukrainian reform agenda, for Ukrainian journalists and civil society, and for Ukraine’s European choice. That choice is not only the policy of the Ukrainian government, but that was validated by tens of millions of voters across Ukraine in several elections since the former President Yanukovych fled the country. I think we also use the OSCE with respect to Ukraine to reinforce our commitment to a Europe that is whole, free and at peace, and that is respecting the rules of the international order.
Besides Russia/Ukraine, in which other areas can the OSCE have an important impact? Why/how?
The concept behind the OSCE—that we should address security in a comprehensive way, that we should pay attention to human rights, to the openness of our economies and protection and security of environmental resources as well as to traditional conceptions of so-called “hard” security or politico-military security—remains as valid today as it was forty-one years ago when leaders met in Helsinki and signed the Helsinki Final Act. The OSCE can work across all three of these dimensions — it has not only operational capacity on the ground in many places across the OSCE but it also has independent institutions, as well as the political platform here in Vienna to exchange views about how we can best advance security in all three dimensions. And that is a real resource for collective problem-solving, and we live in an era that more and more of the problems that we have are the problems that don’t affect only one country, and problems that one country acting alone can’t solve. So platforms for collective problem-solving are only growing more valuable.
What issues does the U.S. consider the OSCE to have been particularly effective in advancing/solving?
The US sees the OSCE as having served a valuable role across a number of issues. Obviously, for many people the OSCE is associated with arms control and confidence and security building measures that have been fundamental to maintaining and helping to reinforce trust and build transparency in the politico-military dimension. But I think many people around the world know the OSCE brand because of the unique aspect of the OSCE as a security organization which adds the incorporation of human rights and fundamental freedoms as a security issue into the agenda of the organization. And so I would say that the work in particular of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in setting the gold standard for international elections observation; the work of the Representative on Freedom of the Media for being not only an expert support to states who are in good faith working to try to develop the legislation and protection for media freedom in their countries, but also being a watchdog and calling out where we as governments are falling short on our commitments, has been crucial and has made the OSCE area more safe. Similarly, the High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) has been an important early warning mechanism, because one of the bellwethers of whether our human dimension commitments are being met is whether they are being met for individuals that are part of national minority groups; that is true across the OSCE region. The HCNM has been an invaluable diplomatic institution for engaging with participating States and with members of minority communities in trying to find ways to make sure that their rights are protected which as a result makes the state and the neighborhood more stable.
U.S. Mission to the OSCE: https://osce.usmission.gov
EU Delegation to the OSCE: http://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/vienna/eu_osce/index_en.htm
The USEU Press section would like to thank Ambassador Baer for his contribution.