The current OSCE Chairperson-in-Office is the Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Sebastian Kurz. The OSCE Chairmanship is held for one calendar year by the OSCE participating State designated as such by a decision of the Ministerial Council. Kurz has outlined his activity in the largest security structure in the world which tries to prevent internal conflicts between members and beyond.
The OSCE comprises 57 participating States and 11 Partners for co-operation (5 Asian and 6 Mediterranean). The network allows a range of operations never experienced before by a network for collective security. Furthermore, these are crucial areas for the future development of the globe and not only at an economic level. The latest action, but certainly not the least relevant, is the 2017 Business Conference for “green” and telecommunication technologies, which will be held in Vienna on January 25. This is a good example of the activities carried out by the OSCE, an international security and stability structure which could potentially replace or otherwise improve the work of other collective security organizations. In a recent interview, Minister Steinmeier, the previous Chairperson, noted that the OSCE has organized as many as 300 major events in Vienna, Berlin, and in the whole region of the organization. In terms of geographic scope, the OSCE truly does represent the world from ‘Vancouver to Vladivostok.’
From Ukraine to Turkmenistan to Armenia, ODIHR – hence the OSCE – has endeavored to observe the proper organization and development of many legislative and local elections and will do so also in the near future: in February, elections will be held in Liechtenstein and, on February 12, in Turkmenistan; on March 15, elections will be held in the Netherlands; in April 2017, presidential elections are scheduled in France and, on April 2, elections will be held in Armenia. Furthermore, in May and June the OSCE will also carry out electoral observation activities in Serbia and Mongolia. It is important to note that ODIHR is the human rights institution of the OSCE. Its mandate tasks ODIHR with assisting governments in meeting their commitments in the field of human rights and democracy. To this effect, ODIHR observes (ie, does not “monitor”) elections, promotes and monitors respect for human rights, and runs democracy assistance projects throughout the OSCE region. In addition, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly also leads election observation missions, and some OSCE field operations carry out elections-related activities, including training for election commission members, media and police, as well as voter education initiatives.
These are all highly sensitive areas where observing the regularity of the electoral process is key to international political legitimacy and hence also to the economic and financial stability of those new governments. Keep in mind that election observation is conducted with a view to assess the electoral process and make recommendations in order to improve it so that participating States meet their commitments in this area. While, initially, the issue may make a cynical proponent of Hobbes or Machiavelli smile, think of what would happen if all these elections were devoid of international legitimacy and certification? The process of democratic maturation would surely be lessened and damaged. There would be the blocking of international funding, destabilizations carried out by various international actors, the “sword jihad” and the economic disruption of those countries, as well as tumultuous refugee migration.
Hence, if Trump’s new US Presidency does not want NATO as a guiding star – an organization that the US President believes, and not entirely wrongly, to be obsolete – or if the EU is only going to be a “general partnership” for individual EU Member States’ interests, only the OSCE will be in a position to convey and meet in a credible way the demands for collective security. This reality should not be disregarded too easily.
The amount of electoral activity and scope of political importance coming before the OSCE should not be underestimated. Next June general elections will be held in France and, on June 18, elections are also scheduled in Albania. On June 26, presidential elections will take place in Iceland, a country which only those who know the full complexion of NATO’s network can understand. We do not know yet when general elections will be held in Germany, while next September parliamentary elections are scheduled in Norway. No matter whether they are democratic countries, it is clear they are essential countries for global balance. In 2017 important elections will be held in Slovenia and Bulgaria even though, once again, we do not know yet the precise dates. In 2017 also the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) will hold its municipal elections, which are crucial in political terms. Finally, in October 2017, presidential elections are due in Kyrgyzstan and parliamentary ones in the Czech Republic. These are all on the OSCE electoral observation activities list and should make everyone understand the importance and impact of the organization.
Hence, during the 2018 Presidency – granted to Italy by consensus via the Ministerial Council – it shall also monitor the efficacy of the electoral process in Ukraine. This means not only with specific reference to elections, but also in relation to the extremely complex issue of intercontinental migration and the relationship with Southern Mediterranean countries. Hence the decisive lines of Italy’s foreign policy and the essential issues for the structure and future of many European countries and many of the other 57 OSCE Member States will be decided between 2017 and 2018, the latter year being under the OSCE Italian Presidency.
One issue which the 2018 Italian Presidency will certainly give great attention to is the solution of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. As we may recall, the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia led to the Armenian occupation of approximately 20% of Azeri territory and military operations ended with the bilateral agreement reached in Bishkek in 1994. Heaven knows how badly this agreement is desired by Russia, which does not want backyard wars on its borders. Indeed, all international resolutions, namely Resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 of the UN Security Council, as well as the others adopted by the UN General Assembly itself, call for the unilateral withdrawal of Armenian forces from Azeri territory. Please note, however, that no Resolution, Declaration, or Decision was taken by the OSCE on this topic so far this year but it could very well be a main topic on the overall 2017 or 2018 agenda.
This will be an interesting test at the strategic level: how can the OSCE make its decisions and negotiated talks credible and enforced? As we have seen repeatedly, the UN “Blue Helmets” are not always effective or comprehensive. They freeze the clash until they are on the field, but unfortunately later everything returns inevitably to the way it was. Hence, during the Italian Presidency, it would be useful for the OSCE – as a collective security framework – to equip itself with an effective system to control decisions on the field. A purely military system is not needed. Rather, a network of “sensors” on the ground would be enough. These sensors could signal to other traditional military structures – ranging from NATO to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, up to individual countries such as Turkey and Russia – the need to assess, control, and prevent undesired or compromising clashes in the new Eurasian framework.
What this truly means is that the large alliances born on the basis of the Cold War are obsolete. NATO is obsolete and will not be taken seriously by Donald Trump’s new US Republican Presidency, even if he does not have the fortitude to try to disband or withdraw formally from the organization. The new US President does not want useless entities standing in his way: if he wants a global agreement with the Russian Federation – and certainly so – he will reach it without, and possibly against, the Atlantic Alliance itself. It is worth noting that the issue does not only lie in the American money spent on European security while the EU and NATO de facto earn a “peace dividend” for which they have not paid a penny. As we might soon see with the new US President, this is not the only problem. The issue is much broader. As Lord Ismay used to say, NATO was established to “keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down.” Today the Atlantic strategic equation is completely different. If anything, the issue is now about keeping the Germans in, the Russians close, and the Americans not aloof or dismissive.
Indeed, Russia has no direct national security interest in keeping the United States out of the regions in which it currently operates and is currently winning the geostrategic game. In Syria, in Central Asia, in new regional wars taking shape across the Middle East, Russia wants to make the United States matter in a positive way – which it would consider a welcome change from Barack Obama’s vision which lacked strategic and logical sense, torn between naïve and disastrous, and was too heavily ideological. “Democratic interventionism” in geostrategically important countries must be done by consensus and not unilaterally. Russia does not want to bear the whole burden of its international operations, which have pulled many chestnuts out of the fire and taken the United States off the hook in Syria at least. In all likelihood, a great peace conference will be held in the Middle East, or, in any case, there will be a network of bilateral and trilateral relations which will redesign a new balance of regional power. Russia will certainly be the final arbiter, after its progress in Syria, as well as the agreements with Israel and the stabilization of the Shiite system along the Iraqi and Jordanian borders. Not to mention Russia extended invitations to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to participate in the upcoming negotiations on Syrian peace.
Some might ask what will or can the OSCE do in this regard, since it is certainly desired by many to have a leading role in Syria, and not only in terms of observing future elections? Unfortunately, the OSCE cannot and will not monitor elections in Syria. Syria is neither a Participating state nor a Partner for co-operation of the OSCE. The Organization therefore cannot conduct any activities in that country. But can the Italian Presidency in 2018 come up with new ideas and a new perception of regional equilibria, capable of providing original and safe solutions? Within the OSCE could it try to ensure the management of migrant flows, as many European and Italian leaders are calling for? It would certainly be good if the Italian Presidency made inroads in making the Russian Federation a more integral and cooperative partner for the OSCE. The organization likes to stress that the Russian Federation is one of the founding participating States of the CSCE and therefore has always been a full-fledged participating State of the OSCE. But when it comes to the desire to see perhaps China have a more participatory or partnership role with the OSCE, there are problems: China, quite simply, cannot become a participating State as it is not part of the Euro-Atlantic region. Turkey is already a member and it should be made more active explicitly within the framework of OSCE collective security action. This is in terms of both migrants and refugees, who should not be a tool to blackmail Germany with EU money, as well as the redesign of arrival lines and, most importantly, the selection of migrants/refugees from the Middle East. Potentially, within the OSCE and the framework of the 2018 Italian Presidency, an important issue will lie in further integrating and progressing the Maghreb countries – at least those not destabilized forever by the silly madness of the “Arab Spring” – into a collective security project for migrant and Mediterranean stability. Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Israel are all OSCE partners for Co-operation, after all, but they cannot become formal participating States.
If, as is likely, the Russian Federation will be present – with two bases in Libya – in the territories controlled by Khalifa Haftar and the Tobruk government – while the West in general and other “humanitarian operators” in specific are still tinkering with Fajez al-Serraj’s Tripoli government – the 2018 Italian Presidency should try to be an influential thought-leader and potential change-agent in order to settle the Libyan issue. This is speaking optimisictally, however, as it has to be stressed that Libya is neither a participating State nor a partner for Co-operation with the OSCE. The OSCE does not have a mandate to deal with issues related to Libya, nor can it take any initiative to convene an international conference on that subject. But that does not mean OSCE leadership cannot be a moral and humanitarian voice for good over this conflict area.
We must remove from this increasingly important collective security organization the impression of it being a Northern-countries-of-the-world-only club, as the incomparable Willi Brandt called them. If Italy succeeds in this endeavor, of being a true thought-leader and change-agent for the world, it will have a chance to replace two declining organizations which have been weakened significantly as of late, namely NATO and the EU, with a new, broad, and credible collective security network. If we remain linked to old orthodox thinking and we are afraid of our own shadows, every effort will be in vain and Italy shall move to a phase for which it is totally unprepared: a nationalized and autonomous foreign and defense policy absent any real consensus or partnership beyond its own borders.