Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Switzerland: Windows of Opportunity - Switzerland’s Chairmanship of the OSCE in 2014

Source: ISN

Windows of Opportunity: Switzerland’s Chairmanship of the OSCE in 2014

In today’s Question and Answer presentation, the CSS’ Christian Nünlist outlines the challenges Switzerland is likely to face as the OSCE’s chairman in 2014. He also considers how Bern’s stewardship might benefit its broader diplomatic efforts in the long run.

By Christian Nünlist for ISN 

Has Switzerland always had a vested interest in the work of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)?

Yes. In 1973, Switzerland was among the founding members of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), the predecessor of today’s OSCE. And from the outset, Switzerland was determined to make its diplomatic presence felt. High-level Swiss diplomats such as Edouard Brunner mediated between NATO and the Warsaw Pact and helped to shape the landmark Helsinki Final Act signed on 1 August 1975. This defined the set of principles for peaceful coexistence in Europe that both sides of the OSCE could agree upon. Accordingly, Switzerland has been committed to the OSCE from the outset, especially when it comes to promoting human rights among member-states.

Will 2014 be the first time that Switzerland has led the OSCE?

No. In fact, Switzerland will become the very first member-state to hold the chairmanship for a second time. Its first chairmanship back in 1996 received widespread acclaim in what was heralded at the time as a very successful year for the OSCE. With Swiss Foreign Minister Flavio Cotti at the helm, the OSCE was responsible for the implementation of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement that brought an end to conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This was followed by the organization of elections in 1996 that added to the security and stability of the Balkans.

Did Switzerland actively seek the 2014 OSCE chairmanship?

Not at all. In the fall of 2011, Switzerland was approached by Western countries and asked to compete against the Serbian bid for the 2014 chairmanship of the OSCE. Many Western policymakers felt uncomfortable about a Serbian OSCE presidency and raised particular concerns regarding Belgrade’s policies towards Kosovo. It was also argued that after the ‘controversial’ presidencies of Kazakhstan (2010) and Ukraine (2013), it was time to have a Western member-state leading the organization. However, not only was Bern opposed to campaigning against a fellow OSCE partner, it also introduced the new and innovative concept of a “double presidency”, with Switzerland leading the organization in 2014 and Serbia the following year. This arrangement was given the green light by then 56 members of the OSCE in February 2012.

What are the main priorities for Switzerland’s and Serbia’s chairmanships of the OSCE in 2014/15?

In December 2011, at an OSCE foreign ministers meeting in Vilnius, Switzerland and Serbia presented a one-page document entitled “Principles of Cooperation”. It outlines their six priorities for their joint presidency: 1) institutional reform; 2) crisis mediation; 3) resolving ‘frozen’ conflicts; 4) confronting transnational threats; 5) enhancing cooperation within civil society; 6) and promoting region-to-region cooperation. It was also confirmed at this meeting that Switzerland would appoint a Special OSCE Representative for the West Balkans for both years.

On 2 July 2013, the foreign ministers of Switzerland and Serbia presented the priorities for their OSCE presidencies in greater detail at a special meeting of OSCE ambassadors in Vienna. Out of the ten topics discussed, five seem to be particularly important: 1) reconciliation in the Western Balkans; 2) dialogue and confidence-building in the Southern Caucasus; 3) conventional arms control in Europe; 4) tackling transnational threats such as terrorist financing; 5) and institutional reform ahead of the 40th anniversary of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act in August 2015 (the so-called “Helsinki plus 40” process).

How confident is Switzerland that it can make a significant contribution to addressing these issues and concerns?

Switzerland’s Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter is trying to keep public expectations low regarding the final outcome of the Swiss chairmanship. Swiss diplomats are well aware that serious tensions within the OSCE, particularly between the United States and Russia, are making progress in an organization driven by consensus extremely difficult. Creative Swiss diplomacy will try to build bridges, find compromises and face-saving formulas. However, progress will only be possible if all member-states decide to move ahead with the vision of a “common security community from Vancouver to Vladivostok” (as established by the OSCE Astana Declaration in December 2010) and do not block progress because of singular interests, particularly in frozen conflicts.

Next year, the OSCE “troika” of past, present, and future chairs will consist of Ukraine (2013), Switzerland (2014), and Serbia (2015). All three countries are either neutral or non-aligned states. They are not members of NATO, the European Union (EU), or of the Russian-sponsored alliances in the East. So for three consecutive years, the fate of the OSCE will be in the hands of bridge-builders and neutral go-betweens. If they fail to achieve consensus between East and West ahead of the OSCE summit planned for 2015, it will be extremely difficult for future chairmanships to finish the task of reforming the OSCE and overcoming the current political deadlock.

In the early 1970s, East-West relations were far more complex, given that the Cold War blocs were locked in an ideological struggle. That said, the neutrals and non-aligned helped to shape compromise solutions in the CSCE negotiations and creatively bundled so-called “package deals” with incentives for parties on both sides. Maybe it is time for new a “package deal” to overcome the inertia that complicates the work of the OSCE in the early 21st century.

What would the ideal ‘package’ look like? Could Switzerland use its chairmanship to influence the development of a ‘package deal’?

It is important to note that the OSCE/CSCE was never a community of likeminded states sharing the same values. Instead, it was an innovative dialogue project between the two opposing sides of the Cold War. With this in mind, one of the organization’s most important tasks was to help overcome differences through confidence-building and consensus-seeking. Rather than trying to pretend that all 57 OSCE member states from Vancouver to Vladivostok today share the same (Western) values, Switzerland could try to return to the ‘package deal’ tactic that worked so well in the 1970s. For instance, one would need to make the Russians happy by making progress towards a new conventional arms control agreement. In return, Moscow would need to accept the Western insistence on the implementation of basic human rights principles. Each side would profit in the dimension that it thinks is most important within the OSCE, but would allow the other side a face-saving solution.

What benefits will Switzerland derive from its second spell as Chairman of the OSCE?

The upcoming chairmanship will provide a great challenge, not least in terms of personal resources within the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (EDA). Yet, the chairmanship will also raise the profile of Switzerland’s traditional role as a negotiator and mediator, not to mention its policy of active neutrality. As the Acting Chairman of the OSCE, Didier Burkhalter will have the rare opportunity to regularly meet high-level global policy-makers including US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. With a little bit of luck, Switzerland’s diplomatic efforts will help to resolve ‘frozen’ conflicts in the West Balkans, Southern Caucasus or Transnistria.

For Switzerland, close cooperation with Serbia during the preparation and implementation of the OSCE double-presidency will also strengthen its profile as an impartial mediator in Southeastern Europe, an image that was tarnished after its acceptance of Kosovo’s independence in early 2007 angered Belgrade.
And last but not least, the complex adventure that will be the “OSCE presidency 2014-15” will train a new generation of Swiss diplomats in high-level international diplomacy – an experience that will prove highly useful in a few years, when Switzerland will be preparing for an even more complex foreign policy adventure with the UN Security Council candidacy. And because Switzerland is not member of NATO or the EU, opportunities such as chairing the OSCE for one year are not only very rare, but also must be grasped whenever possible. 

Christian Nünlist is a Senior Research Fellow at the Center of Security Studies (CSS) and head of its think tank team “Switzerland and Euro-Atlantic Security”.