By Barend Ter Haar.
The prize for the international organization that made the most remarkable contribution to international peace and security in 2014 should go to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). It is a relatively small organization, but with a very wide mandate, encompassing traditional security affairs such as arms control and conflict prevention, but also human trafficking, media freedom, minority rights and protection of the environment.
A unique feature of the OSCE is its membership, a legacy from the early 1970s, when its predecessor the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) was created to provide a forum for dialogue between East and West. As a result, the OSCE does not only include all of Europe, but also Canada, the United States and the central-Asian republics.
This variety is both its strength and its weakness. Its weakness, in comparison with organizations of (more or less) likeminded countries such as the OECD and the Council of Europe, is that the conflicting views of the member states (e.g. on the importance of human rights and rule of law) often make it very difficult to make meaningful progress. Its strength is that these very diverse states have agreed on a number of principles and instruments that can be of great use to prevent or resolve a crisis.
There was no lack of crises in the OSCE-area in recent years. However, the efforts of the OSCE to dissolve them were usually not very successful, mainly because one or more of the involved member states lacked the necessary political will.
This time was different. The possible consequences of the crisis in Ukraine were such that the urgent need of crisis management was felt by all involved member states, including Russia, although that country was at least partly responsible for the aggravation of the crisis.
Apart from the United Nations, already overburdened by conflicts elsewhere in the world, the OSCE is the only international organization that encompasses Ukraine, Russia and the countries of the European Union. Usually it takes weeks, if not months, before an international operation takes shape on the ground. The OSCE managed to start deploying its mission within a few days.
It is difficult to say what would have happened if the OSCE had taken a few months to get seriously involved, but although the OSCE did not prevent Russia from occupying Crimea, nor from intervening in the Eastern part of Ukraine, it seems likely that by reacting so quickly and effectively, the OSCE has prevented the crisis from becoming even worse.
The honour for this achievement should be given to the Swiss chairmanship of the OSCE that made every effort to make its chairmanship into a success, and to the Secretariat that managed to make the best possible use of its limited means.