TCS Daily

Propping Up An Old Pillar of Democracy

By Richard S. Williamson - July 1, 2005 12:00 AM

The United States needs a strong, integrated Europe, not as a counterweight to U.S. power, but as a proactive partner.

Therefore, it has been disquieting to witness the turmoil in the European Union caused by the French and Dutch "No" votes on the E.U. constitution, followed by the failed E.U. summit earlier this month. It will take time for the European Union to sort out this wreckage.

Fortunately, while the EU works through this crisis, another important European institution seems to have weathered a storm created by Russian obstruction.

Thirty years ago, during the height of the Cold War, East and West found common ground in signing the Helsinki Final Act. It dealt with security and economic issues, as well as important commitments to fundamental principles of democracy and human rights. This ground-breaking agreement has led to others in the Helsinki process and the creation of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The OSCE membership has grown to 55 member states. Every European country is an OSCE member as well as North America and the central Asian countries that had been part of the former Soviet Union. The OSCE's geographic span goes from Vancouver to Vladivastock. This geographic footprint gives the OSCE, as a regional organization, a unique global reach.

More important, the OSCE has a series of commitments made by every member state over the past 30 years. The agreements conclude that "comprehensive security" is not only a consequence of military might and treaty alliances. It is also a result of stability. And stability is only sustainable in societies in which basic human rights are protected and democratic institutions and the rule of law guarantee free and fair elections.

The OSCE established another key principle in the so-called Moscow Declaration. OSCE countries agreed that each member has a legitimate interest in every other members' adherence to their human rights and commitments to democracy.

For years, Moscow found their OSCE human rights commitments inconvenient. More recently they became intolerable. In both the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the OSCE contributed to the advance of freedom.

In these neighboring states, Russia sought to certify elections to prop up regimes friendly to Moscow. In both cases, the OSCE joined others in declaring the elections fraudulent. That's right, an organization in which Russia was a member joined in exposing the fraud in which Moscow had been complicit. In both cases, the international community led by the OSCE emboldened the citizens to peacefully protest the rigged votes and force new elections that were "free and fair" and in which opposition parties won office.

In response, Russia has tried to eviscerate the OSCE. Moscow created a crisis by withholding its support for an OSCE budget. It further demanded a number of institutional changes that would have enhanced Russia's control over the OSCE and weakened the organization's capacity to effectively advance human rights and democracy.

The OSCE's current Chairman in Office, Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, responded by creating a panel of international personalities charged to develop reforms to strengthen the effectiveness of the OSCE. Former Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek chaired this group. I served as one of the panel's seven members, Russian Ambassador NikoliayAfanasievsky was another.

Over five months, our group met in various European capitals, traveled to various OSCE Field Missions in Central Asia and elsewhere, and heard from many experts. Then we set about trying to negotiate a report to which we all could agree.

There were many conflicting views. We had spirited discussions. However, in the end, we reached consensus on our report.

The many structural matters and particular proposals to which we agreed are less important than the report's explicit reaffirmation of the centrality of OSCE human rights commitments. The values that have animated the OSCE for 30 years and the instruments to advance them have been sustained.

Later this month our report will be formally presented to the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna. It will provide a platform for the OSCE to move beyond recent divisions and confrontation and continue its important work to build a sustainable peace through advancing human rights and democracy.

In this continuing mission Europe benefits as do we.


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