TCS Daily

Sofia Snafu

By Ruslan Konstantinov - December 16, 2004 12:00 AM

If you think of the United Nations as the most useless and ineffective international organization of all, think again. Take the notoriously unproductive discussions characterized by the lack of any result; take the totally pointless expenses paid by the taxpayers of a number of countries; then add not just five members with a right of veto, but dozens, including Belarus. Welcome to the world of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The OSCE's 12th Ministerial Council (a conference of the foreign ministers of the European and Central-Asian countries, and those of the U.S. and Canada) just ended in Sofia, Bulgaria. It produced nothing, not even a declaration, forget about practical results. To be fair, this is becoming a tradition for the OSCE and should not come as a surprise. Each member-state can impose a de-facto veto, since unanimous decisions are required. Andorra can. San Marino can. So can Liechtenstein. This time, as well as the last time, it was not any of these tiny but prosperous states, it was Russia. Russia can do it and why not? There is no efficient mechanism in the OSCE that can urge anyone, probably with the exception of Slobodan Milosevic a few years ago, to respect the will of the vast majority of its members. Even though, due to the events in Ukraine, there was in fact something troublesome going on in Europe, the OSCE failed to react adequately.

So, it comes quite naturally that very few take the OSCE activities seriously anymore. Even Euronews, the French news network known for its breathless coverage of multilateral gatherings, paid almost no attention to the pathetic fate of the event in Sofia. The only coverage dealt with Colin Powell's comments on Ukraine. He just happened to be in Sofia for the meeting, but his comments on Ukraine could have come from anywhere - even Foggy Bottom. In fact, the OSCE's Ministerial Council got no attention whatsoever, except from the media of the host country. Not much is happening in Bulgaria, so some local media coverage is normal.

Perhaps, after all, the OSCE event was not so useless for everybody. Besides giving a boost to the Bulgarian media; it also provided good business for the hotels in Sofia, even though the non-OSCE hotel guests, who had taken the liberty to visit Sofia with their cars, had to make alternative arrangements, since the hotel parking lots were unavailable for several days due to security concerns. The same goes for on-street parking downtown. Whoops! If you think that is inconvenient, wait till you read this: the government of Bulgaria imposed a day off in the host city during the event - not just for the government's bureaucrats, but also for those working elsewhere. An enforced weekday off that will have a lot of people working on the weekend.

Irrelevant arrangements for an irrelevant organization. Even the anti-globalists did not show up. They realized a long time ago that there is nothing going on at OSCE events. True, the OSCE may have been relevant during the Cold War, but what kind of goal does it serve now? If it is just about more endless unproductive discussions, we have the UN. It would make much more sense to have a small unit coordinating the monitoring of elections in the vulnerable parts of Europe, rather than a heavily bureaucratized organization with offices in six cities throughout Europe, plus a pompous Ministerial Council and Parliamentary Assembly.

Besides, keeping a check on some disturbing trends in Russia and a few of its neighbors can be much more effectively handled through direct pressure from Washington and Brussels. Finally, the OSCE fails to face the true danger of the post-Cold War world, the one that tries to destroy the civilized way of life: Islamic fundamentalism. Not only with terrorism, which is its most evident expression, has this primitive doctrine already managed to pose a significant threat to OSCE's domain. Just think of the growing number of neighborhoods in the cities of Western Europe where respect for human rights and individual dignity, pursuit for knowledge outside the Koran, and women's rights are virtually non-existent. The OSCE does not deal with emerging security threats like this; it would rather have another gathering void of results.


TCS Daily Archives