The Valdai International Club has hosted an online discussion in connection with the 45th anniversary of the signing of the Final Act of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in Helsinki.
The signing of the Helsinki Act is traditionally considered a pivotal point in the development of Europe’s international politics, an event that could create a foundation for an undivided regional security system. According to a commonly recognized point of view, the first and only large-scale Cold War-era agreement between the East and the West secured the easing of tension and eliminated many reasons that could cause a global war on the continent. However, after the OSCE failed to acquire the status of a universal organization in the sphere of regional security and cooperation after the end of the Cold War, division lines in Europe remained intact. Was the Agreement truly meaningful for peace in Europe or was it but an episode of the Cold War and each of the parties involved tried to use it for their own gains?
In the words of Program Director of the Valdai Club Timofei Bordachev, the signing of the Helsinki Final Act is an event of historic importance which is interpreted differently depending on individual preferences. Some people believe that the Helsinki Act should be considered a great achievement for European security. Thei opponents view the document as the start of a strategic defeat of the USSR in the Cold War. “At present, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is experiencing hard times following the activities of our European and American partners, who pursue a joint agenda in Europe, blocking any alternative views”, – the expert said.
Russia’s permanent representative in OSCE Alexander Lukashevich has said that the signing of the Helsinki Accords is the triumph of collective reason. “It is impossible to agree that it was a defeat of the Soviet Union. In spite of the ideological situation of 1975 and preparatory steps, we can say that it was the triumph of Soviet diplomacy. That this organization, originally designed to maintain peace on the continent, transformed before our very eyes into a structure cultivating suspicion and confrontation in Europe, is another matter”, – he said.
The Russian diplomat reminded the participants in the discussion that the United States was the main opponent to the development of the CSCE into a full-blown functional organization. It is the United States, he says, that prevented the principles of equal cooperation in Europe which were put forward at the OSCE summit in Paris in 1990 from taking effect. “Originally, the Helsinki Final Act was drafted without the participation of the USA, or less so, Canada. It was only in the final stage that they resolved to do so, since without global players it would be impossible to build a structure that would be accepted by all European countries” – Lukashevich explained.
The Russian representative referred to US President George Bush Sr., who said as he addressed a news conference after a CSCE summit in Brussels on December 4th 1989: “If today I signal to you, Europeans, that the Cold War is over, then the question arises: what are you, the United States, doing in Europe with your troops?” The US president extended his ideas as he received German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Camp David on February 24th 1990: “CSCE cannot replace NATO as a western deterrent in Europe and a fundamental foundation for the presence of American troops in Europe. If it happens, we will have a real problem.”
“All these positions are well-known, when we remind American and European politicians about them they fall silent. There are no comments, because these statements speak volumes about what has been happening within the OSCE over the past decades”, – Lukashevich underscored.
It was Russia that initiated reformatting the Conference into a full-fledged Organization and creating a matrix of European security with due regard for new challenges and threats. Members of the OSCE assumed mutual commitments on military restraint and institutionalization of the European collective decision-making process. All this was implemented “on paper”, despite resistance from the USA and some members of the EU. They adopted Security Charter and Security Platform, based on cooperation. Interinstitutional cooperation on the basis of a central element. They are trying not to remember about it now.
“The year 2019 marked the jubilee of the European Security Charter. Moscow’s proposal to reaffirm these principles ran into misunderstanding and was dumped without preliminary consideration. Hence, the OSCE principles do not work any more. This is the more so sad given that all participants in the OSCE summit in Astana in 2010 reiterated their intention to take further steps to promote the Helsinki Accords and passed a decision at the head of state and government level to create a single and undivided security system in Europe, Euro-Atlantic and Eurasia on the basis of cooperation and dialogue. Unfortunately, western powers treat all this as an “archive” long put on the shelf. Should the current principles persist, OSCE is in for no good”, – Lukashevich concluded.
Rein Mullerson, Honorary Professor at Tallinn University, believes that the main reason behind the crushed hopes of building a new world order stems from the fact that international forces has lost the balance of strength. At the time unipolarity, which came after the disintegration of the USSR, the USA came to believe in their omnipotence and global might. “Power ruins personality while international is powerless because there is no force behind it”, – the expert said.
Is there a way out of the situation? Rein Mullerson sounds sceptic. “Washington is against the principles of a multipolar world and is in favor of previous positions. This does nothing to promote cooperation”, – the Estonian analyst said.
Alexander Rar, Director of the German-Russian Forum, sounded less categorical. He described the Helsinki Final Act as a re-creation of Yalta Agreements but with an injection of liberal values and without a division into the winners and the losers. If successful, such an approach, based on the “changes through trade” principle, could lead to the formation of a common foundation of legitimate “soft” security in Europe. However, at the end of the 1970s, after the arrival of Soviet troops in Afghanistan, the Cold War resumed with a renewed vigor while the thaw of the second half of the 1980s led to the unilateral dominance of the United States and its allies, who, having taken advantage of the opportunities before them, began to build a system of European security which would serve their needs. All this has disabled the OSCE, which has come to serve as an instrument to control the political processes in countries which aspire to become part of “Greater West”.
In spite of such a sad outcome, it would be a shame if the OSCE disappeared completely. According to A.Rar, the rapidly changing international situation may present the organization with new opportunities. However, a new effective security architecture for entire Europe will require partnership with the Eurasian Economic Union and a real, not verbally declared, implementation of the “Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok” principle.
Should Russia be part of European balance or is this agenda, along with the OSCE, part of the past? Professor Istomin of the applied analysis department of the Moscow Institute of International Relations says Moscow is consistently pursuing the policy of building an inclusive bloc-free security architecture which would enable Russia to enjoy equal status with western partners. The signing of the Helsinki Final Act helped our country to achieve a lot in this area and create a regular negotiating platform to this end. However, the mere signing of the document was not enough to settle the long outstanding fundamental issues. As for the thaw of the 70s, it became possible thanks to the processes taking place outside Europe, rather than to the Helsinki Conference. At present, the “European” direction is neither the most promising, nor the only possible for Russia. However, the EU and relations with Brussels preserve their value, even though many features of the European system are extremely unpleasant for Moscow, while the legacy of ideological and bloc confrontation has yet to be overcome.
From our partner International Affairs
Iceland’s Historic(al) Elections
The morning of September, 26 was a good one for Lenya Run Karim of the Pirate Party. Once the preliminary results were announced, things were clear: the 21-year-old law student of the University of Iceland, originating from a Kurdish immigrant family, had become the youngest MP in the country’s history.
In historical significance, however, this event was second to another. Iceland, the world champion in terms of gender equality, became the first country in Europe to have more women MPs than men, 33 versus 30. The news immediately made world headlines: only five countries in the world have achieved such impressive results. Remarkably, all are non-European: Rwanda, Nicaragua and Cuba have a majority of women in parliament, while Mexico and the UAE have an equal number of male and female MPs.
Nine hours later, news agencies around the world had to edit their headlines. The recount in the Northwest constituency affected the outcome across the country to delay the ‘triumph for women’ for another four years.
Small numbers, big changes
The Icelandic electoral system is designed so that 54 out of the 63 seats in the Althingi, the national parliament, are primary or constituency seats, while another nine are equalization seats. Only parties passing the 5 per cent threshold are allowed to distribute equalisation seats that go to the candidates who failed to win constituency mandates and received the most votes in their constituency. However, the number of equalisation mandates in each of the 6 constituencies is legislated. In theory, this could lead to a situation in which the leading party candidate in one constituency may simply lack an equalisation mandate, so the leading candidate of the same party—but in another constituency—receives it.
This is what happened this year. Because of a difference of only ten votes between the Reform Party and the Pirate Party, both vying for the only equalisation mandate in the Northwest, the constituency’s electoral commission announced a recount on its own initiative. There were also questions concerning the counting procedure as such: the ballots were not sealed but simply locked in a Borgarnes hotel room. The updated results hardly affected the distribution of seats between the parties, bringing in five new MPs, none of whom were women, with the 21-year-old Lenya Run Karim replaced by her 52-year-old party colleague.
In the afternoon of September, 27, at the request of the Left-Green Movement, supported by the Independence Party, the Pirates and the Reform Party, the commission in the South announced a recount of their own—the difference between the Left-Greens and the Centrists was only seven votes. There was no ‘domino effect’, as in the case of the Northwest, as the five-hour recount showed the same result. Recounts in other districts are unlikely, nor is it likely that Althingi—vested with the power to declare the elections valid—would invalidate the results in the Northwest. Nevertheless, the ‘replaced’ candidates have already announced their intention to appeal against the results, citing violations of ballot storage procedures. Under the Icelandic law, this is quite enough to invalidate the results and call a re-election in the Northwest, as the Supreme Court of Iceland invalidated the Constitutional Council elections due to a breach of procedure 10 years ago. Be that as it may, the current score remains 33:30, in favor of men.
Progressives’ progress and threshold for socialists
On the whole, there were no surprises: the provisional allocation of mandates resembles, if with minor changes, the opinion polls on the eve of the election.
The ruling three-party coalition has rejuvenated its position, winning 37 out of the 63 Althingi seats. The centrist Progressive Party saw a real electoral triumph, improving its 2017 result by five seats. Prime-minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement, albeit with a slight loss, won eight seats, surpassing all pre-election expectations. Although the centre-right Independence Party outperformed everyone again to win almost a quarter of all votes, 16 seats are one of the worst results of the Icelandic ‘Grand Old Party’ ever.
The results of the Social-Democrats, almost 10% versus 12.1% in 2017, and of the Pirates, 8.6% versus 9.2%, have deteriorated. Support for the Centre Party of Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, former prime-minister and victim of the Panama Papers, has halved from 10.9% to 5.4%. The centrists have seen a steady decline in recent years, largely due to a sexist scandal involving party MPs. The populist People’s Party and the pro-European Reform Party have seen gains of 8.8% and 8.3%, as compared to 6.9% and 6.7% in the previous elections.
Of the leading Icelandic parties, only the Socialist Party failed to pass the 5 per cent threshold: despite a rating above 7% in August, the Socialists received only 4.1% of the vote.
Coronavirus, climate & economy
Healthcare and the fight against COVID-19 was, expectedly, on top of the agenda of the elections: 72% of voters ranked it as the defining issue, according to a Fréttablaðið poll. Thanks to swift and stringent measures, the Icelandic government brought the coronavirus under control from day one, and the country has enjoyed one of the lowest infection rates in the world for most of the time. At the same time, the pandemic exposed a number of problems in the national healthcare system: staff shortages, low salaries and long waiting lists for emergency surgery.
Climate change, which Icelanders are already experiencing, was an equally important topic. This summer, the temperature has not dropped below 20°C for 59 days, an anomaly for a North-Atlantic island. However, Icelanders’ concerns never converted into increased support for the four left-leaning parties advocating greater reductions in CO2 emission than the country has committed to under the Paris Agreement: their combined result fell by 0.5%.
The economy and employment were also among the main issues in this election. The pandemic has severely damaged the island nation’s economy, which is heavily tourism-reliant—perhaps, unsurprisingly, many Icelanders are in favor of reviving the tourism sector as well as diversifying the economy further.
The EU membership, by far a ‘traditional’ issue in Icelandic politics, is unlikely to be featured on the agenda of the newly-elected parliament as the combined result of the Eurosceptics, despite a loss of 4%, still exceeds half of the overall votes. The new Althingi will probably face the issue of constitutional reform once again, which is only becoming more topical in the light of the pandemic and the equalization mandates story.
New (old) government?
The parties are to negotiate coalition formation. The most likely scenario now is that the ruling coalition of the Independence Party, the Left-Greens and the Progressives continues. It has been the most ideologically diverse and the first three-party coalition in Iceland’s history to last a full term. A successful fight against the pandemic has only strengthened its positions and helped it secure additional votes. Independence Party leader and finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson has earlier said he would be prepared to keep the ruling coalition if it holds the majority. President Guðni Jóhannesson announced immediately after the elections that he would confirm the mandate of the ruling coalition to form a new government if the three parties could strike a deal.
Other developments are possible but unlikely. Should the Left-Greens decide to leave the coalition, they could be replaced by the Reform Party or the People’s Party, while any coalition without the Independence Party can only be a four-party or larger coalition.
Who will become the new prime-minister still remains to be seen—but if the ruling coalition remains in place, the current prime-minister and leader of the Left-Greens, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, stands a good chance of keeping her post: she is still the most popular politician in Iceland with a 40 per cent approval rate.
The 2021 Althingi election, with one of the lowest turnouts in history at 80.1%, has not produced a clear winner. The election results reflect a Europe-wide trend in which traditional “major” parties are losing support. The electorate is fragmenting and their votes are pulled by smaller new parties. The coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced this trend.
The 2021 campaign did not foreshadow a sensation. Although Iceland has not become the first European country with a women’s majority in parliament, these elections will certainly go down in history as a test of Icelanders’ trust to their own democracy.
From our partner RIAC
EU-Balkan Summit: No Set Timeframe for Western Balkans Accession
On October 6, Slovenia hosted a summit between the EU and the Western Balkans states. The EU-27 met with their counterparts (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo) in the sumptuous Renaissance setting of Brdo Castle, 30 kilometers north of the capital, Ljubljana. Despite calls from a minority of heads of state and government, there were no sign of a breakthrough on the sensitive issue of enlargement. The accession of these countries to the European Union is still not unanimous among the 27 EU member states.
During her final tour of the Balkans three weeks ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the peninsula’s integration was of “geostrategic” importance. On the eve of the summit, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz backed Slovenia’s goal of integrating this zone’s countries into the EU by 2030.
However, the unanimity required to begin the hard negotiations is still a long way off, even for the most advanced countries in the accession process, Albania and North Macedonia. Bulgaria, which is already a member of the EU, is opposing North Macedonia’s admission due to linguistic and cultural differences. Since Yugoslavia’s demise, Sofia has rejected the concept of Macedonian language, insisting that it is a Bulgarian dialect, and has condemned the artificial construction of a distinct national identity.
Other countries’ reluctance to join quickly is of a different nature. France and the Netherlands believe that previous enlargements (Bulgaria and Romania in 2007) have resulted in changes that must first be digested before the next round of enlargement. The EU-27 also demand that all necessary prior guarantees be provided regarding the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption in these countries. Despite the fact that press freedom is a requirement for membership, the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the EU to make “support for investigative and professional journalism” a key issue at the summit.”
While the EU-27 have not met since June, the topic of Western Balkans integration is competing with other top priorities in the run-up to France’s presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022. On the eve of the summit, a working dinner will be held, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called for “a strategic discussion on the role of the Union on the international scene” in his letter of invitation to the EU-Balkans Summit, citing “recent developments in Afghanistan,” the announcement of the AUKUS pact between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which has enraged Paris.
The Western Balkans remain the focal point of an international game of influence in which the Europeans seek to maintain their dominance. As a result, the importance of reaffirming a “European perspective” at the summit was not an overstatement. Faced with the more frequent incursion of China, Russia, and Turkey in that European region, the EU has pledged a 30 billion euro Economic and Investment Plan for 2021-2027, as well as increased cooperation, particularly to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Opening the borders, however, is out of the question. In the absence of progress on this issue, Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia have decided to establish their own zone of free movement (The Balkans are Open”) beginning January 1, 2023. “We are starting today to do in the region what we will do tomorrow in the EU,” said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama when the agreement was signed last July.
This initiative, launched in 2019 under the name “Mini-Schengen” and based on a 1990s idea, does not have the support of the entire peninsular region, which remains deeply divided over this project. While Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro are not refusing to be a part of it and are open to discussions, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, who took office in 2020, for his part accuses Serbia of relying on this project to recreate “a fourth Yugoslavia”
Tensions between Balkan countries continue to be an impediment to European integration. The issue of movement between Kosovo and Serbia has been a source of concern since the end of September. Two weeks of escalation followed Kosovo’s decision to prohibit cars with Serbian license plates from entering its territory, in response to Serbia’s long-standing prohibition on allowing vehicles to pass in the opposite direction.
In response to the mobilization of Kosovar police to block the road, Serbs in Kosovo blocked roads to their towns and villages, and Serbia deployed tanks and the air force near the border. On Sunday, October 3, the conflict seemed to be over, and the roads were reopened. However, the tone had been set three days before the EU-Balkans summit.
German Election: Ramifications for the US Foreign Policy
In the recent German election, foreign policy was scarcely an issue. But Germany is an important element in the US foreign policy. There is a number of cases where Germany and the US can cooperate, but all of these dynamics are going to change very soon.
The Germans’ strategic culture makes it hard to be aligned perfectly with the US and disagreements can easily damage the relations. After the tension between the two countries over the Iraq war, in 2003, Henry Kissinger said that he could not imagine the relations between Germany and the US could be aggravated so quickly, so easily, which might end up being the “permanent temptation of German politics”. For a long time, the US used to provide security for Germany during the Cold War and beyond, so, several generations are used to take peace for granted. But recently, there is a growing demand on them to carry more burden, not just for their own security, but for international peace and stability. This demand was not well-received in Berlin.
Then, the environment around Germany changed and new threats loomed up in front of them. The great powers’ competition became the main theme in international relations. Still, Germany was not and is not ready for shouldering more responsibility. Politicians know this very well. Ursula von der Leyen, who was German defense minister, asked terms like “nuclear weapons” and “deterrence” be removed from her speeches.
Although on paper, all major parties appreciate the importance of Germany’s relations with the US, the Greens and SPD ask for a reset in the relations. The Greens insist on the European way in transatlantic relations and SPD seeks more multilateralism. Therefore, alignment may be harder to maintain in the future. However, If the tensions between the US and China heat up to melting degrees, then external pressure can overrule the internal pressure and Germany may accede to its transatlantic partners, just like when Helmut Schmid let NATO install medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe after the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan and the Cold War heated up.
According to the election results, now three coalitions are possible: grand coalition with CDU/CSU and SPD, traffic lights coalition with SPD, FDP, and Greens, Jamaica coalition with CDU/CSU, FDP, and Greens. Jamaica coalition will more likely form the most favorable government for the US because it has both CDU and FDP, and traffic lights will be the least favorite as it has SPD. The grand coalition can maintain the status quo at best, because contrary to the current government, SPD will dominate CDU.
To understand nuances, we need to go over security issues to see how these coalitions will react to them. As far as Russia is concerned, none of them will recognize the annexation of Crimea and they all support related sanctions. However, if tensions heat up, any coalition government with SPD will be less likely assertive. On the other hand, as the Greens stress the importance of European values like democracy and human rights, they tend to be more assertive if the US formulates its foreign policy by these common values and describe US-China rivalry as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. Moreover, the Greens disapprove of the Nordstream project, of course not for its geopolitics. FDP has also sided against it for a different reason. So, the US must follow closely the negotiations which have already started between anti-Russian smaller parties versus major parties.
For relations with China, pro-business FDP is less assertive. They are seeking for developing EU-China relations and deepening economic ties and civil society relations. While CDU/CSU and Greens see China as a competitor, partner, and systemic rival, SPD and FDP have still hopes that they can bring change through the exchange. Thus, the US might have bigger problems with the traffic lights coalition than the Jamaica coalition in this regard.
As for NATO and its 2 percent of GDP, the division is wider. CDU/CSU and FDP are the only parties who support it. So, in the next government, it might be harder to persuade them to pay more. Finally, for nuclear participation, the situation is the same. CDU/CSU is the only party that argues for it. This makes it an alarming situation because the next government has to decide on replacing Germany’s tornados until 2024, otherwise Germany will drop out of the NATO nuclear participation.
The below table gives a brief review of these three coalitions. 1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism and 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism. As it shows, the most anti-Russia coalition is Jamaica, while the most anti-China coalition is Trafic light. Meanwhile, Grand Coalition is the most pro-NATO coalition. If the US adopts a more normative foreign policy against China and Russia, then the Greens and FDP will be more assertive in their anti-Russian and anti-Chinese policies and Germany will align more firmly with the US if traffic light or Jamaica coalition rise to power.
|Issues Coalitions||Trafic Light||Grand Coalition||Jamaica|
1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism. 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism.
In conclusion, this election should not make Americans any happier. The US has already been frustrated with the current government led by Angela Merkel who gave Germany’s trade with China the first priority, and now that the left-wing will have more say in any imaginable coalition in the future, the Americans should become less pleased. But, still, there are hopes that Germany can be a partner for the US in great power competition if the US could articulate its foreign policy with common values, like democracy and human rights. More normative foreign policy can make a reliable partner out of Germany. Foreign policy rarely became a topic in this election, but observers should expect many ramifications for it.
Taliban Takeover and Resurgence of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan
As a Security and International Relations student and someone who lived in Afghanistan, I believe that the withdrawal of the...
Israel-Bhutan peace agreement and its affect on China’s influence
First: The relationship between (political normalization agreements between Israel and the Emirates and the State of Bhutan or the Kingdom...
The Khalistan nightmare
After several postponements, the “Punjab Referendum Commission has announced to hold the “Punjab Independence Referendum on October 31, 2021. The...
Saudi Arabia and Iran want to be friends again
Eventually the ice-cold relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia began to melt. The two countries sat at the negotiating table...
UN chief condemns ‘ongoing military coup’ in Sudan
UN Secretary-General, António Guterres on Monday condemned the “ongoing military coup” in Sudan, saying Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and all other officials, “must be released immediately.” Long-time ruler...
‘No time to lose’ curbing greenhouse gases
Last year, heat-trapping greenhouse gases reached a new record, surging above the planet’s 2011-2020 average, and has continued in 2021,...
Resource Curse and Underdevelopment Give Way to Mass Unrest and Political Instability in Sudan
As reported October 25 by the reputable state media, Al Arabiya, Sudanese army and a cross-section of its population have...
Defense3 days ago
Will India be sanctioned over the S-400 Air Defense System?
Intelligence3 days ago
Sino-Russian regional activities after Afghanistan
Economy3 days ago
Sustainable Agriculture in Modern Society
East Asia3 days ago
Importance of peace in Afghanistan is vital for China
Americas4 days ago
America’s Two-Tiered Justice System
International Law2 days ago
The End of the West in Self-annihilation (Intentionality, Directionality and Outcome)
Africa3 days ago
Muscle Alone Will Not Be Enough to Release Nigeria from a Perpetual Stage of Instability
Africa Today4 days ago
‘Overzealous’ security services undermining South Sudan peace