In Between East and West

European Union or European Division: Challenges for OSCE

June 29, 2014

The article originally appeared at the Balkan Security Agenda's analytical blog (


      On 28 June 2014, 100 years have passed since the initiation of the World War I. The world has changed much during the last century, but the very insecurity characterized the European continent still persists today. Whilst the European Union (EU) attempts to complete its dream of a European unification, no inclusive pan-European security organization has emerged in the region. Perhaps, the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is the last remaining hope to realize the inclusive unification of the European security landscape based on mutual respect and spirit of cooperation.


      On 17 June 2014, the OSCE-Japan Conference was held at Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo, aiming to foster inter-regional cooperation to create a safer and fairer world. The two-day conference brought together representatives of 57 OSCE participating States and Asian Partners for Co-Operation (Japan, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, Afghanistan and Australia).[1] Indeed, this year’s conference was held at the critical moment: the Ukrainian crisis remains still unsettled while Euro-skeptic parties rapidly advanced through the recent European Parliament election. Keeping eyes on this trend, the conference extensively discussed prospects for further cooperation between OSCE and Asian Partners, where Fumio Kishida, Foreign Minister of Japan, stressed: “In order to fully ensure the rule of law as well as to promote confidence-building and dispute-resolution through peaceful means, Asia and Europe need to mutually share their wisdom and lessons learnt and make proactive contributions together to these goals.”[2]


      Among the Asian Partners, Japanese contribution to OSCE has been particularly salient. Japan became OSCE’s first Partner for Co-operation in 1992, and since then, it has been always one of top contributors to OSCE’s extra-budgetary projects. In unfolding of the Ukrainian Crisis, Japan expressed its firm financial commitment to support the Ukrainian people affected by the domestic revolution, while during 2009 to 2014, its contribution has totaled some 4.3 million euro, which was mainly directed to projects in Central Asia, Mongolia, Afghanistan and South-Eastern Europe.[3]




      For long, Japan has emphasized the importance of creating an inclusive scheme for European security cooperation that would promote regional stability. To date, OSCE remains the most inclusive European security organization stretching from Reykjavik to Vladivostok. During the Ukrainian Crisis, it has played an indispensable role. While the EU largely remained silent on the nationalistic policy proposed by the revolutionary government in Kiev, OSCE successfully prevented them from adopting the provocative measure to annul the official language status of Russian language in Ukraine, warning that such a move would constitute a grave violation of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.[4]


      Unlike NATO, OSCE also demonstrated its vital potential to offer a neutralized negotiation venue in the re-awaking of the Russian question in Europe. Although skeptical of OSCE’s further expansion, Jeffrey Mankoff, a scholar at the influential U.S. Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), also stressed this point: “Yet merely by virtue of its location, Russia is inextricably linked to European security, and Europe will never be secure as long as it has a frustrated, revisionist Russia on its borders. The existing model of European security, in which NATO is the only game in town (apart from the ineffectual OSCE), cannot fully integrate Russia, and therefore fails to fulfill its most fundamental aim of ensuring the security of its members-not to mention nonmembers like Georgia.”[5]


      OSCE’s key strength is its inclusiveness, meaning that its decision making procedure largely requires consensus among all members. As Mankoff emphasized, NATO cannot fully function as an effective European security organization as long as it excludes important European actors, including Russia, from its decision making process. In this regard, OSCE has a wider potential to evolve into a truly inclusive and effective European security organization: indeed, this has been Moscow’s key proposal for last decade. For example, the most recent Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept specifies that: “Russia views the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as an important instrument for building an equitable and indivisible system of pan-European security, and is interested in strengthening its role and authority.”[6]


      I am well aware of critics that OSCE’s inclusiveness hampers timely and prompt decision making thus brings structural inertia to the organization, as well as that it largely lacks a decisive internal mechanism to bridge the gulf between disputing parties. To some analysts, OSCE seems to be a European version of the failed League of Nations. However, Japanese imperial experience tellingly exemplifies that war happens when a nation chooses to detach itself from a joint decision making process in the international arena. Before starting the World War II, both Japanese Empire and Nazis Germany made withdrawal from the League of Nations. These examples tell us the importance of maintaining an inclusive decision making system where core interest of each nation, both powerful and weak, should be fully respected.




      The era when majoritarian decision making process could determine international security is gone; today, a key remaining challenge in the European security realm is how to guarantee formalized and permanent access to the joint decision making process for important regional actors. Quite possibly, the Crimean reunification may have been unnecessary if Moscow had felt assured that NATO’s further expansion could be blocked through an inclusive joint decision making process. Indeed, the idea of joint decision making is not something new: both Franklin Roosevelt and Hurry Truman were firmly convinced that international peace and security could be durable only by granting permanent position to the USSR and China at the UN Security Council.


      Today, we witness an unfortunate trend of monopolizing decision making power. In this context, OSCE’s inclusiveness is widely seen as a weakness rather than strength, while membership to some European organizations became a political instrument to impose a will of the powerful over the weak, of the rich over the poor. If we are truly committed to global stability and international peace, we need to start from sharing the power to govern with nations of both similar and different values. Historically, the U.S. international leadership since the end of the World War II has been always based on a strategy of shared power –it was America who pushed for the birth of the European Union as a “third force” in world politics and promoted rapid recovery of war-torn states, most notably Japan and Germany, so that these countries could be able to share a part of power to govern the world.[7] On the Western attempt to exclude Russia from the G8, CFR scholar Stewart Patrik and Isabella Bennett also emphasized this point: “…. let’s not kid ourselves. The G7 may be useful for coordinating policies among like-minded countries. But the time is long gone when any of the world’s most critical problems could be resolved within a cozy Western boardroom. Even as the United States and its G7 partners resist unreasonable Russian and Chinese ambitions, they will still need to work with both countries—as well as other big players outside the G7 like India, Brazil, and Turkey—to cope with a slew of transnational challenges.”[8]


      Precisely because the world seems to be heading for a dangerous direction of monopolizing the power to govern, the inclusiveness marshalled by OSCE will augment its significance in international affairs in the days to come. Fundamentally, we can never achieve security by excluding someone who feels insecure. If we truly aspire to build peace, enhance security, and spur cooperation, the logic of exclusion that characterized the last war-torn century must be replaced by a logic of inclusiveness and mutual respect. OSCE stands out, therefore, as an important test for both European security policymakers and its partners worldwide.


[1] OSCE. 2014. Participants of OSCE-Japan conference in Tokyo share experiences in addressing emerging challenges, creating safer world. OSCE Newsroom, 17 June 2014,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Since 19 September 2005, the Charter recognizes Russian as an important native language of many Ukrainian citizens.

[5] Mankoff, J. 2011. Russian foreign policy: the return of great power politics. 2nd Edition. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 277.

[6] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia. 2013. Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation,

[7] Ikenberry, G. J. 2009. After victory: Institutions, strategic restraint, and the rebuilding of order after major wars. Princeton University Press.

[8] Patrik, S.M. & Bennett, I. 2014. Learning to Compartmentalize: How to Prevent Big Power Frictions from Becoming Major Global Headaches. CFR Blog The Internationalist, 4 June 2014,



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