«The OSCE’s role in managing and resolving conflicts»

Bern, 01.09.2016 - Potsdam, 01.09.2016 – Remarks and proposals by Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter on the occasion of the informal meeting of Foreign Ministers of OSCE participating States - Check against delivery

Dear colleagues

First of all, I wish to thank the German chairmanship – and Frank – not only for their commitment but also for expressing their conviction that political dialogue on European Security and the OSCE is necessary.

I share this conviction. This is why we also organised political meetings that were ‘as direct as possible’ during our chairmanship in 2014 in Davos, in New York and in Basel, on the margins of the formal Ministerial Council.

Together with Frank Steinmeier and Ivica Dacic, we also launched the Panel of Eminent Persons on European Security to nurture reflection. The title of the Panel’s final report is telling: “Back to Diplomacy”…

To my mind this diplomacy involves both a great deal of honesty and discretion. It is essentially the opposite of ‘twitter diplomacy of public accusations’, a trend that is also found in the Permanent Council of the OSCE in Vienna. Therefore, my first concrete proposal today is this: Less twitter and more listening and dialogue.

What is essential is not to manage but to resolve the conflicts we face. These ongoing conflicts have more than a local dimension: they are one of the major obstacles to European security as a whole. And therefore one of the major challenges that we face together.

Therefore, my second proposal is that we must permanently maintain the common political will to use the OSCE to the maximum.

The OSCE’s instruments are indispensable to deal with crisis situations.

The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, SMM, is a case in point. First, the decision by consensus is a strong political signal that common action remains possible despite our differences. Second, the SMM has become a key instrument to de-escalate an extremely dangerous situation.

The SMM does an excellent job because we have given it a political mandate to address the relevant aspects, the flexibility to adapt, and the political backing of participating States.

Therefore, my third proposal for today is this: We must reaffirm our clear political support for the SMM, continue to provide it with the necessary resources and qualified staff, and insist on the security and freedom of movement of our monitors.

It is equally important that we support the work of the Trilateral Contact Group and the Normandy Format. There is no alternative to fully implementing the Minsk Arrangements, starting with disengagement along the line of contact and a resumption of the ceasefire today, as agreed last Friday.

There are other examples of the OSCE’s value in dealing with conflicts: with respect to the Transnistrian conflict, for example, the German chair has succeeded in bringing together the members of the 5+2 and in resuming talks.

But the fact is that these and other conflicts, such as the Nagorno-Karabakh and Georgian conflicts, remain unresolved. We have been able to manage conflicts, but we have not succeeded in helping the parties resolve them.

Therefore, my fourth proposal is to concentrate the political debate on the measures needed both at the operational and the strategic levels to actually overcome such crises.

First, at the operational level: the OSCE ought to maintain its effective pragmatism, but also to enhance its professionalism.

Let me cite three concrete examples to illustrate:

First, the legal status of the OSCE is not sufficiently clear. The fact that the 57 participating States have not been able to agree to give the OSCE a legal personality – to make it a proper international organisation – was one of the difficulties encountered when we created the SMM in 2014. This lack of a clear status presented difficulties pertaining to the immunity of OSCE personnel and delayed our operations.

Second, the OSCE’s organisational and planning capacities are too limited. There is much that strong chairs and troikas can do. But it is also important to give the Secretariat in Vienna the means to carry out the tasks we entrust to it. For example, surveillance drones should have immediately been put at the disposal of the SMM, but this issue is still proving difficult to resolve.

To conclude with a third operational example: while the early warning capacities for crises are in place, there is a need for better OSCE capacities for early action.  This obviously depends on the political will of host countries. But we can strengthen preventive diplomacy by providing the OSCE Secretariat with better access to funding and expertise for fact-finding missions as well as more capacity for mediation support.

To strengthen operational capacities, Switzerland launched the idea of an OSCE peace operations review to draw lessons from the SMM and to adapt the OSCE tool kit to today’s conflicts without changing the organisation’s major characteristics and its civilian nature.

Therefore, my fifth proposal is to activate the review of OSCE peace operations.

I will now turn to the strategic level for resolving the crises:

All these conflicts have their specific causes. Some go back a long way and are often local. But one major reason why we have not succeeded in resolving conflicts are the broader frictions in European security between Russia and the West. Concretely: there is no shared vision of a regional order; different economic and security conceptions confront each other; and the Helsinki Principles have been violated.

Switzerland is of the opinion that we must address local conflicts and the broader crisis of European security in parallel, based on the principles and norms we all agreed to.

It is our collective responsibility to examine how the countries located between Russia and the EU can avoid having to make black-and-white choices, either yes or no, between East or West.

The report of the Panel of Eminent Persons outlines a series of steps we could take to gradually reconsolidate European security as a common project. All these steps are essentially about rebuilding trust. Two examples:

• We should strengthen economic interaction and connectivity, both across the OSCE area and within conflicts, and bolster the second dimension of the OSCE to this end.
• We should revitalise conventional arms control, at the pan-European and sub-regional level. I congratulate you, Frank, for having taken the initiative in this area.

All these measures are essentially based on trust. The OSCE, thanks to its inclusive nature and cooperative security, is the appropriate place to restore a climate of trust. Therefore, my last proposal is that all our countries undertake to make the OSCE our common platform for addressing the big questions of European security.

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