ASRC – Opening Session

Annual Security Review Conference: Statement at the Opening Session

As delivered by Deputy Assistant Secretary Kathleen Kavalec
Vienna, June 26, 2018

We welcome the opportunity to participate in this year’s Annual Security Review Conference and look forward to engaging in substantive exchanges on a broad range of issues affecting the OSCE region.

Our panelists have highlighted already the scope and diversity of Europe’s security challenges, some of which have wrought devastating human consequences. Of course, the conflict in Ukraine deserves a distinct focus given the continued loss of life and grinding and degrading humanitarian crisis, not to mention the significant economic and ecological hardship it has caused. But we also continue to see conflicts elsewhere – some of which have lasted for decades – that deserve our attention. We must also confront the changing and difficult security challenges arising from migration, terrorism, and violent extremism. By their very nature, these transnational challenges require the type of international cooperation that forums such as the Annual Security Review Conference can foster. My government also welcomes the inclusion in the agenda of this meeting of a session on the Structured Dialogue, which we have appreciated as a venue for frank discussion on a broad range of security issues. The Structured Dialogue began in 2017 as an opportunity for all OSCE participating States to sketch the main threat perceptions that shape their national security priorities. While that original discussion was illuminating – not least because of the scope of the security challenges identified – we believe that the Security Dialogue has not yet reached its full potential. Looking ahead, we need to shape the Security Dialogue so that it facilitates focused dialogue on the individual issues identified, with the goal of dispelling concerns, exchanging ideas and identifying potential ways ahead.

This is the right venue to make a basic point about the Euro-Atlantic community today. Many OSCE members are wary of the intentions of their neighbors due to provocative rhetoric and aggressive behavior, matched by a lack of military transparency. These conditions fuel mistrust and misunderstanding. They raise tensions, and the risk of conflict. There is far more that we – through this organization – can do and should do to rebuild military transparency and predictability in the OSCE region. The question is, how can we best use this organization to advance our shared goals? We have come with some ideas, most of them familiar. I hope that the dedicated diplomats in this room will join me in offering ideas to address these challenges over the coming days.

I also want to take this opportunity to address some of the issues that Deputy Foreign Minister Grushko raised in his opening remarks:

My government does not accept the view that the voluntary decision of sovereign countries to join a defensive alliance – a right enshrined in the 1999 OSCE Istanbul Summit Declaration – has caused the downturn of relations between Russia and NATO. Let’s be clear: the enhancement of NATO’s deterrence and defense posture in the period after 2014 was a response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. That sad story does not begin in 2014. Russian actions, including the so-called “suspension” without bias of implementation of the CFE Treaty in 2007, its military action in Georgia in 2008, and subsequent actions to legitimate and support with military force the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and most recently its aggression in Ukraine – these actions are what has transformed the European security environment. NATO is a defensive Alliance, and one that has for decades sought to build a relationship based on partnership with Russia. NATO will not return to business as usual with Russia until it fully implements the Minsk agreements, withdraws its forces and ends its support for its proxies in Donbas, and returns control of the Crimean peninsula to Ukraine.

The United States rejects Russia’s assertion that shortcomings in our current European security architecture are the problem. The institutions and the principles are sound. Rather, the problem we face today is the decision by some OSCE participating States to pursue policies that are inconsistent with longstanding principles, norms, and commitments. Russia has repeatedly violated the Helsinki Final Act and the rules-based international system that forms the backbone of European security.

We encourage Russia to change course. Fulfilment of commitments in all three OSCE dimensions, and cooperation, not confrontation, is what will start to dispel the current level of tension on the continent. We urge Russia to work with other parties on measures to strengthen military transparency in ways that address the current security realities, including through Vienna Document modernization. These steps would send a clear signal that Russia seeks to reduce tensions and avoid conflict.

Russian aggression in Ukraine provides the clearest example of what happens when a state decides to set aside basic tenets of international law and core commitments. Respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of neighbors is at the heart of the Helsinki Decalogue. It is long past time for Russia and the forces it arms, trains, leads, and fights alongside to fully implement the Minsk agreements, including a comprehensive ceasefire, unimpeded access for the Special Monitoring Mission, the withdrawal of its forces, and the return to Ukrainian control over its international border with Russia. In the short term, we need to end the intimidation and harassment of Special Monitoring Mission personnel and ensure that these courageous men and women have the highest levels of security possible.

On the case of the use of chemical weapons in Syria and the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister’s suggestion to use UN mechanisms in response, the fact of the matter is that the Russian Federation has blocked all attempts in the UN Security Council to hold perpetrators to account through its multiple vetoes. As for the use of chemical weapons in Salisbury, the United States fully supports the conclusions of the United Kingdom as to who was responsible for this chilling incident.

It is an honor to join you all today. I look forward to a constructive exchange of ideas over the coming days as we work together to overcome our shared security challenges.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.