What the OSCE can learn from other international organizations

OSCE Network event in Vienna

(c) Austrian National Defence Academy

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is in an acute crisis. Russia’s war against Ukraine violates fundamental principles of the organization. Russia is also making it difficult for the organization to run its operations: many OSCE activities require consensus from all 57 participating States, and Russia is using this rule to stop activities it does not like. But not only Russia is undermining the vitality of the OSCE. Armenia and Azerbaijan, for instance, use negotiations over the OSCE’s annual budget to push through their interests in the conflict over Nagorno Karabakh.

To discuss how other international organizations have coped with war and institutional dead-lock, the OSCE Network of Think Tanks and Academic Institutions co-hosted an in-person event in Vienna on 24 October. The event was organized together with the Austrian National Defence Academy and supported by the Austrian Federal Ministry of European and International Affairs and the German Federal Foreign Office.

Following opening statements by Ambassador Florian Raunig of Austria and Argyro Kartsonaki (CORE/IFSH Hamburg), members of the OSCE Network shared insights from their academic and policy work. Mette Eilstrup-Sangiovanni (Cambridge University) showed that the Secretariat of the League of Nations found creative ways to deal with aggression by some of its member states; practices such as exploiting a flexible mandate also have relevance for the OSCE. Hylke Dijkstra (Maastricht University) argued that features of the OSCE such as the relatively large size of the Secretariat favored the OSCE’s ability to cope with pressure from participating States. Stefan Wolff (University of Birmingham) underlined potential cooperation among participating States in the organization’s second dimension, which focuses on environmental and economic security. Elissa Jobson (International Crisis Group) moderated the event and also explained how the African Union has dealt with dispute such as the one over the Western Sahara.

In their concluding remarks, Cornelius Friesendorf (CORE/IFSH Hamburg) and Colonel Hans Lampalzer (Austrian National Defence Academy) called for continuing conversations between and among governments and civil society on how to preserve the OSCE in times of war. The event was attended by over 70 government officials, OSCE representatives, staff of other international organizations, and researchers.