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OSCE: Strains and Renewal in the Security Community

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On 1 August 2015, the Helsinki Final Act, the birth certificate of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) turned 40.

The Final Act signed in Helsinki’s Finlandia Hall was the result of three years of nearly continuous negotiations among government representatives meeting for the most part in Geneva, Switzerland as well as years of promotion of better East-West relations by non-governmental peace builders.

Basically one can date the planting of the seeds that grew into the OSCE as 1968 in two cities: in Paris and Prague. The student-led demonstrations in Paris which sent shock waves to other university centers from California to Berlin, showed that under a cover of calm, there was a river of demands and desires for a new life, a more cooperative and creative way of life.

In Prague, the Prague Spring of internal reforms and demands for a freer European society was met by the tanks of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact in August. Yet some far-sighted individuals saw that 1968 was a turning point in European history and that there could be no return to the 1945 divisions of two Europes with the Berlin Wall as the symbol of that division. Thus, in small circles, there were those who started asking “Where do we go from here?”

A Security Community: A Halfway House

In 1957, Karl W. Deutsch (1912-1992) published an important study Political Community and the North Atlantic Area (Princeton University Press). Karl Deutsch was born into a German-speaking family in Prague in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His family was active in socialist party politics and became strongly anti-Nazi. Seeing what might happen, Deutsch and his wife left Prague in 1939 for the USA where he became a leading political science-international relations professor. I knew Karl Deutsch in the mid-1950s when I was a university student at Princeton, and he was associated with a Center on International Organization at Princeton. It was there that he was developing his ideas on types of integration among peoples and States and that he coined the term “security community” to mean a group of people “believing that they had come to agreement on at least one point that common social problems must and can be resolved by processes of peaceful change.” For Deutsch, the concept of a security community could be applied to people coming together to form a State: his approach was much used in the 1960s in the study of “nation building” especially of post-colonial African States. A “security community” could also be a stage in relations among States as the term has become common in OSCE thinking. For Deutsch, a security community was a necessary halfway house before the creation of a State or a multi-State federation. Deutsch stressed the need for certain core values which created a sense of mutual identity and loyalty leading to self-restraint and good-faith negotiations to settle disputes.

Core values established and quickly disappeared

During the negotiations leading to the Helsinki Final Act, a set of 10 core values or commitments were set out, sometimes called the OSCE Decalogue after the “Ten Commandments”. “Sovereign equality, respect for the rights inherent in sovereignty and non-intervention in internal affairs” set the framework as well as the limitations of any efforts toward a supranational institution. The two other related core values were “the territorial integrity of States and the inviolability of frontiers.”

The core values were not so much “values” as a reflection of the status quo of the Cold War years. By the time that the Charter of Paris for a New Europe was signed in November 1990, marking the formal end of the Cold War, “territorial integrity and the inviolability of frontiers” as values had disappeared.

The 1990s saw the breakup of two major European federations − that of Yugoslavia and the USSR. Most of the work of the OSCE has been devoted to the consequences of these two breakups. Yugoslavia broke into nearly all the pieces that it could with a few exceptions. I had been asked to help support the independence of Sandzak, a largely Muslim area in Serbia and part of Montenegro. I declined, having thought at the time that with a few modifications the Yugoslav federation could be kept together. I was wrong, and the OSCE is still confronted by tensions in Kosovo, renewed tensions in Macedonia, an unlikely form of government in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as social issues of trafficking in persons, arms, drugs and uncontrolled migration.

The breakup of the Soviet Union has led to a full agenda of OSCE activities. The republics of the Soviet Union had been designed by Joseph Stalin, then Commissar for Nationalities so that each republic could not become an independent State but would have to look to the central government for security and socio-economic development. Each Soviet republic had minority populations though each was given the name of the majority or dominant ethnic group called a “nationality”.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union, there have been recurrent issues involving the degree of autonomy of geographic space and the role of minorities. The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh had already started before the breakup, but continues to this day with its load of refugees, displaced persons and the calmer but unlikely twin, the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. Moldova and Transdniestria remain a “frozen conflict” with a 1992 ceasefire agreement. The armed conflicts in Chechnya and violence in Dagestan highlighted conflicts within the Russian Federation. The 2008 “Guns of August” conflict over South Ossetia between Russia and Georgia showed that autonomy issues could slip out of control and have Europe-wide consequences.

A Cloudy Cristal Ball

Predictions, especially about the future, are always difficult. In 2013, the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, the then Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Leonid Kazhara, said “ We wish to contribute to the establishment of the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian security community free of dividing lines, conflicts, spheres of influence and zones with different levels of security…There is a pressing need to, first of all, change our mindsets from confrontational thinking to a co-operative approach. I am confident that Ukraine, with its rich history, huge cultural heritage and clear European aspirations is well placed for carrying out this mission.”

Today, Ukraine’s rich history has a new chapter, recreating old dividing lines and spheres of influence. The shift in “ownership” of Crimea indicates that “territorial integrity of States” is a relative commitment. The large number of persons going to Russia as refugees and to west Ukraine as internally-displaced persons recalls the bad days of displacement of the Second World War. NATO has dangerously over-reacted to events in Ukraine.

It is not clear that the current leaders of the 57 governments of the OSCE have the wisdom or skills to lead to a renewal of the Security Community. Yet when one looks at the photos of the government leaders who did sign the Helsinki Final Act 40 years ago, there are few faces indicating wisdom or diplomatic skills so perhaps all is not lost today. Very likely, as in the period between the events of 1968 and the start of government negotiations in 1972, there will need to be non-governmental voices setting out new ideas and creating bridges between people.

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Election Monitoring in 2018: What Not to Expect

Alina Toporas

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This year’s election calendar released by OSCE showcases a broad display of future presidential, parliamentary and general elections with hefty political subjecthoods which have the potential of transforming in their entirety particularly the European Union, the African Union and the Latin American sub-continent. A wide sample of these countries welcoming elections are currently facing a breadth of challenges in terms of the level of transparency in their election processes. To this end, election observation campaigns conducted by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Council of Europe, the Organisation for American States (OAS), the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division, the National Democratic Institute, Carter Center and even youth organisations such as AEGEE and Silba are of paramount importance in safeguarding the incorruptibility of election proceedings in fraudulent and what cannot be seen with the naked eye type of fraudulent political systems, making sure elections unfold abiding national legislation and international standards.

What exactly does an election observation mission supposed to accomplish?   

An election monitoring mission consists of operational experts and analysts who are all part of a core team and are conducting their assignments for a period of time varying between 8 and 12 weeks. Aside from the core team experts and analysts, there can be short-term or long-term observers and seconded observers or funded observers. Joining them, there is usually a massive local support staff acting as interpreters and intermediaries. Generally, an election observer does not interfere with the process, but merely takes informative notes. With this in mind, it is imperative of the observer to make sure there isn’t any meddling with votes at polling stations by parties and individual candidates; that the people facilitating the election process are picked according to fair and rigorous benchmarks; that these same people can be held accountable for the final results and that, at the end of the day, the election system put in place by the national and local authorities is solid from both a physical and logical standpoint. Oftentimes, particularly in emerging democracies, the election monitoring process goes beyond the actual process of voting by extending to campaign monitoring.

In practical terms, the average election observer needs to abide by certain guidelines for a smooth and standardised monitoring process. Of course, these rules can vary slightly, depending on the sending institution. Typically, once the election observer has landed in the country awaiting elections, their first two days are normally filled with seminars on the electoral system of the country and on the electoral law. Meetings with candidates from the opposition are sometimes organised by the electoral commission. Talking to ordinary voters from builders to cleaners, from artists to businesspeople is another way through which an election observer can get a sense of what social classes pledged their allegiances to what candidates. After two days in training and the one day testing political preferences on the ground, election day begins. Since the early bird gets the worm, polling stations open at least two hours earlier than the work day starts, at around 7am. Throughout the day, observers ask voters whether they feel they need to complain about anything and whether they were asked to identify themselves when voting. Other details such as the polling stations opening on time are very much within the scope of investigation for election monitors. Observers visit both urban voting centres and rural ones. In the afternoon, counting begins with observers carefully watching the volunteers from at least 3 metres away. At the end of the day, observers go back to their hotels and begin filling in their initial questionnaires with their immediate reactions on the whole voting process. In a few weeks time, a detailed report would be issued in cooperation with all the other election observers deployed in various regions of the country and under the supervision of the mission coordinators.   

Why are these upcoming elections particularly challenging to monitor?  

Talks of potential Russian interference into the U.S. elections have led to full-on FBI investigations. Moreover, the idea of Russian interference in the Brexit vote is slowly creeping into the British political discourse. Therefore, it does not take a quantum physicist to see a pattern here. Hacking the voting mechanism is yet another not-so-classic conundrum election observers are facing. We’re in the midst of election hacking at the cognitive level in the form of influence operations, doxing and propaganda. But, even more disturbingly, we’re helpless witnesses to interference at the technical level as well. Removing opposition’s website from the Internet through DDOS attacks to downright political web-hacking in Ukraine’s Central Election Commission to show as winner a far-right candidate are only some of the ways which present an unprecedented political savviness and sophistication directed at the tampering of the election machinery. Even in a country such as the U.S. (or Sweden – their elections being held September of this year) where there is a great deal of control over the physical vote, there is not much election monitoring can do to enhance the transparency of it all when interference occurs by way of the cyber domain affecting palpable election-related infrastructure.

Sketching ideational terrains seems like a fruitful exercise in imagining worst-case scenarios which call for the design of a comprehensive pre-emptive approach for election fraud. But how do you prevent election fraud? Sometimes, the election observer needs to come to terms with the fact that they are merely a reporter, a pawn which notwithstanding the action of finding oneself in the middle of it all, can generally use only its hindsight perspective. Sometimes, that perspective is good enough when employed to draft comprehensive electoral reports, making a difference between the blurry lines of legitimate and illegitimate political and electoral systems.

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Can Europe successfully rein in Big Tobacco?

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Photo by Mateo Avila Chinchilla on Unsplash

In what looks set to become the ‘dieselgate’ of the tobacco industry, a French anti-smoking organization has filed a lawsuit against four major tobacco brands for knowingly selling cigarettes with tar and nicotine levels that were between 2 and 10 times higher than what was indicated on the packs. Because the firms had manipulated the testing process, smokers who thought they were smoking a pack a day were in fact lighting up the equivalent of up to 10, significantly raising their risk for lung cancer and other diseases.

According to the National Committee Against Smoking (CNCT), cigarettes sold by the four companies have small holes in the filter that ventilate smoke inhaled under test conditions. But when smoked by a person, the holes compress due to pressure from the lips and fingers, causing the smoker to inhale higher levels of tar and nicotine. According to the lawsuit, the irregularity “tricks smokers because they are unaware of the degree of risk they are taking.”

It was only the most recent example of what appears to be a deeply entrenched propensity for malfeasance in the tobacco industry. And unfortunately, regulatory authorities across Europe still appear unprepared to just say no to big tobacco.

Earlier this month, for instance, Public Health England published a report which shines a positive light on “tobacco heating products” and indicates that electronic cigarettes pose minimal health risks. Unsurprisingly, the UK report has been welcomed by big tobacco, with British American Tobacco praising the clear-sightedness of Public Health England.

Meanwhile, on an EU-wide level, lawmakers are cooperating too closely for comfort with tobacco industry executives in their efforts to craft new cigarette tracking rules for the bloc.

The new rules are part of a campaign to clamp down on tobacco smuggling, a problem that is particularly insidious in Europe and is often attributed to the tobacco industry’s own efforts to stiff the taxman. According to the WHO, the illicit cigarette market makes up between 6-10% of the total market, and Europe ranks first worldwide in terms of the number of seized cigarettes. According to studies, tobacco smuggling is also estimated to cost national and EU budgets more than €10 billion each year in lost public revenue and is a significant source of cash for organized crime. Not surprisingly, cheap availability of illegally traded cigarettes is also a major cause of persistently high smoking rates in the bloc.

To help curtail cigarette smuggling and set best practices in the fight against the tobacco epidemic, the WHO established the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005. The first protocol to the FCTC, the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, was adopted in 2012 and later ratified by the EU. Among other criteria, the Protocol requires all cigarette packs to be marked with unique identifiers to ensure they can be tracked and traced, thereby making smuggling more difficult.

Unsurprisingly, the tobacco industry has come up with its own candidates to meet track and trace requirements, notably Codentify, a system developed by PMI. From 2005 through 2016, PMI used Codentify as part of an anti-smuggling agreement with the EU. But the agreement was subject to withering criticism from the WHO and other stakeholders for going against the Protocol, which requires the EU and other parties to exclude the tobacco industry from participating in anti-smuggling efforts.

The EU-PMI agreement expired in 2016 and any hopes of reviving it collapsed after the European Parliament, at loggerheads with the Commission, overwhelmingly voted against a new deal and decided to ratify the WHO’s Protocol instead. Codentify has since been sold to the French firm Impala and was rebranded as Inexto – which critics say is nothing but a front company for PMI since its leadership is made out of former PMI executives. Nonetheless, due to lack of stringency in the EU’s draft track and trace proposal, there is still a chance that Inexto may play a role in any new track and trace system, sidelining efforts to set up a system that is completely independent of the tobacco industry.

This could end up by seriously derailing the EU’s efforts to curb tobacco smuggling, given the industry’s history of active involvement in covertly propping up the black market for cigarettes. In 2004, PMI paid $1.25 billion to the EU to settle claims that it was complicit in tobacco smuggling. As part of the settlement, PMI agreed to issue an annual report about tobacco smuggling in the EU, a report that independent researchers found “served the interests of PMI over those of the EU and its member states.”

Given the industry’s sordid history of efforts to prop up the illicit tobacco trade, it’s little surprise that critics are still dissatisfied with the current version of the EU’s track and trace proposal.

Now, the CNCT’s lawsuit against four major tobacco firms gives all the more reason to take a harder line against the industry. After all, if big tobacco can’t even be honest with authorities about the real levels of chemicals in their own products, what makes lawmakers think that they can play a viable role in any effort to quell the illegal cigarette trade – one that directly benefits the industry?

Later this month, the European Parliament will have a new chance to show they’re ready to get tough on tobacco, when they vote on the pending proposal for an EU-wide track and trace system. French MEP Younous Omarjee has already filed a motion against the system due to its incompatibility with the letter of the WHO. Perhaps a ‘dieselgate’ for the tobacco industry might be just the catalyst they need to finally say no to PMI and its co-conspirators.

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Bureaucrats’ Crusade: The European Commission’s Strategy for the Western Balkans

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The European Commission set a target date of 2025 for some of the Balkan countries to join. However, Brussels sees only Serbia and Montenegro as actual candidates. The door formally remains open to Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia, but these countries have been put into a grey zone with no time frames and road maps. They have been put on hold with no tangible prospects for membership, left without any explanation of what makes them less valid candidates than Serbia and Montenegro, with these two being as poor, illiberal and undemocratic as the remaining four.

With a dose of instant cynicism, one might conclude that Serbia and Montenegro have been rewarded for their military aggressions on Bosnia and Kosovo, and Serbia’s permanent pressures on Macedonia, whereas the latter ones have been punished for being the former’s victims. However, a more careful look at the population structure of the four non-rewarded countries reveals that these, unlike Serbia and Montenegro, have a relative excess of Muslim population. So far, there have been dilemmas whether the European Union is to be regarded as an exclusive Christian club, bearing in mind the prolonged discriminatory treatment of Turkey as an unwanted candidate. After the European Commission’s new strategy for the Balkans, there can be no such dilemmas: the countries perceived by Brussels bureaucrats as Muslim ones – regardless of the actual percentage of their Muslim population – are not to be treated as European.

The resurrection of this logic, now embodied in the actual strategy, takes Europe back to its pre-Westphalian roots, to the faraway times of the Crusades or the times of the Siege of Vienna. It also signals the ultimate triumph of the most reactionary populist ideologies in the contemporary Europe, based on exclusion of all who are perceived as „others“. It signals the ultimate triumph of the European ineradicable xenophobia. Or – to put it in terms more familiar to the likely author of the strategy, the European Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn – the triumph of Ausländerfeindlichkeit.

Now, what options are left to the practically excluded Balkan countries, after so many efforts to present themselves as valid candidates for EU membership? There is a point in claims that some of their oligarchies, particularly the tripartite one in Bosnia-Herzegovina, have never actually wanted to join the EU, because their arbitrary rule would be significantly undermined by the EU’s rule of law. It is logical, then, that the tripartite oligarchy welcomes the strategy that keeps the country away from the EU membership, while at the same time deceiving the population that the strategy is a certain path to the EU. Yet, what about these people, separated into three ethnic quarantines, who believe that joining the EU would simply solve all their political and economic problems, and who refuse to accept the idea that the EU might be an exclusive club, not open to them? What are the remaining options for them?

They cannot launch a comprehensive revolution and completely replace the tripartite oligarchy by their democratic representatives. Still, they can press it to adopt and conduct a multi-optional foreign policy, oriented towards several geopolitical centers: one of them may remain Brussels, but  Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Ankara, Tehran, and others, should also be taken into account. For, a no-alternative policy, as the one which only repeats its devotion to the EU integrations without any other geopolitical options, is no policy at all. In this sense, the presented EU strategy has clearly demonstrated the futility of such a no-alternative approach: regardless of how many times you repeat your devotion to the EU values, principles and integrations, the EU bureaucrats can simply tell you that you will never play in the same team with them. However, such an arbitrary but definite rejection logically pushes the country to look for geopolitical alternatives. And it is high time for Bosnia-Herzegovina’s people and intellectual and political elites to understand that Brussels is not the only option on the table, and that there are other geopolitical centers whose interests might be identified as convergent with the interests of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Still, all of them should first demonstrate the ability to identify the interests of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which means that they should first recognize it as a sovereign state with its own interests, rather than someone else’s proxy.

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