The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is the largest regional security organization in the world. Established as an antidote to festering Cold War divisions in Europe, it created a platform for dialogue between east and west, with one overarching aim: peace on the continent.
Today, the OSCE has 57 participating States from within and beyond Europe. It has evolved significantly as an organization, with mandates spanning political and governance support, election observations, field operations, human rights, and issues of social, economic and environmental development.
And, on 1 January, Slovakia took over as its Chair.
We see this as a great honour, but also a great responsibility. The stakes are high. Conflict in Europe is a tragic reality – a reality that Slovakia, which shares a border with Ukraine, cannot hide from. Moreover, all throughout Europe, alarm bells of future instability are ringing – from entrenched nationalist sentiments, to xenophobia, intolerance and hate speech.
It is our firm belief that the OSCE still has an irreplaceable role in bringing the dream of lasting peace in Europe to life. Its effectiveness and relevance, however, is dependent on the political will of its 57 participating states – and, also, on strong leadership.
In assuming this Chairmanship, Slovakia is determined to respond to major regional trends. We have decided to focus on three of them in particular.
First, the alarming trends related to ongoing conflict in Europe.
Unsurprisingly, what is happening in and around Ukraine will be a top priority for us. The situation on the ground is very complex. One thing, however, is certain: after more than five years of conflict, there is little good news to report. Despite the recent recommitment to the ceasefire, hostilities are, again, on the rise. And, people continue to suffer – waiting in line for hours to cross lines of contact; cut off from basic supply of water, electricity or heating; and living in fear of the next spike in hostilities.
These people need to see a durable ceasefire. They need to see urgent improvements in the humanitarian situation on the ground. And, they need to see real steps to implement what is our best and only chance at a political solution: the Minsk Agreements. Our Chairmanship will grab any opportunity for dialogue towards these ends, starting with my immediate trip to the region in January.
Ukraine, however, is not the only home to hostilities in Europe. People elsewhere continue to suffer the adverse impact of protracted conflicts. Though there, at least, some momentum is being seen. Small, positive steps forward are being taken in respect of the Transdniestrian settlement process. When it comes to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, there has been more dialogue and less casualties. And an important platform for dialogue – called the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism – has resumed meeting in Ergneti, Georgia. Our Chairmanship aims to better leverage the OSCE’s reputation as a trust-worthy partner in keeping this momentum going – and, even, increasing it. We also intend to focus on opportunities that we believe are under-utilised, like gender mainstreaming in OSCE field operations, and cooperation between the OSCE and other actors on the ground, in particular the United Nations and European Union.
We cannot, however, focus only on the conflicts of today. We must also respond to another trend, which is the uncertainty surrounding future threats to peace and security.
It is for this reason that Slovakia has chosen the theme “A Safer Future” as a second priority for our Chairmanship.
All over the world, challenges to peace and security have changed rapidly in recent years. More conflicts are now fought within, rather than across, borders. Regular armed forces are, in many cases, outnumbered by non-state actors. And, from climate change to violent extremism, the drivers of conflict are more expansive and complex than ever.
In Europe, we not only have to react to these realities; we have to scan the horizon, for new ones. To Slovakia, this means opening more space for dialogue and contingency planning. All new and emerging threats must be on the table – from energy, natural resources and climate change to cyber threats.
But, we cannot do this without young people. More than 38% of the population in the OSCE area are aged under 28. Beyond Europe, over 600 million young people are living in fragile and conflict-affected areas. Young men and women are already active in all stages of the conflict cycle – in both good and bad ways. Too often the narrative concentrates on their roles as perpetrators or victims. What we don’t always hear about, however, is what young people are doing as agents for peace and positive social change. They are coming up with innovative solutions to tackle challenges like radicalisation and violent extremism, or lack of opportunities or employment. Policy makers must do more to listen and learn. That is why Slovakia aims to focus on bringing young people to the table.
Finally, the third trend we seek to address – and counter – relates to the dangers facing our multilateral order.
It is Slovakia’s firm belief that we cannot combat any major challenges facing Europe – or, indeed, the world – without stronger multilateral cooperation. As diverse as the 57 participating States of the OSCE region are, from Vancouver to Vladivostok we are all experiencing common challenges. And, whether we are talking about terrorism, cross-border conflict or climate change, not one of us can overcome these challenges alone.
We have, however, come up against a paradox. At a time when we are in urgent need of cooperation, we are seeing our multilateral systems under attack. Attempts to weaken the rules-based international system are commonplace. Moreover, the lessons we have learned from history – which tell us that compromise and cooperation are the only way forward – are increasingly ignored.
For peace and stability in Europe, a recommitment to multilateralism is crucial.
Slovakia will only chair the OSCE for one year. So, we know our scope for reaching progress is limited. But if we can play even a small role in strengthening our regional multilateral system, the benefits will be felt by people on this continent for years to come.
The opinions articulated above also do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address pressing foreign, defence, and security challenge.