Bolstering the OSCE’s Conflict Cycle Toolbox | Statement to the 2016 ASRC

OSCE emblem at the entrance to the Hofburg Congress Center, Vienna. (USOSCE/Colin Peters)

Thank you to both of our speakers, Ms. Heidi Grau for providing a kind of framework for action, and General Rio for also giving us an example of one of the things that Ms. Grau talked about, which was making sure that we are doing our best to import the expertise of potential partners, etc., and use that in thinking through our approach. I think it was a really nice, complementary set of remarks.

I think, from the United States’ perspective – and thank you, also, to the EU for that wide-ranging statement that covered much of what we would like to say as well. I think the last two, two-and-a-half years, have shown us the importance of continuing to invest in and update and improve the OSCE’s abilities with respect to what we call the ‘conflict cycle’, and we’re glad that there is a session on this today. We had the session yesterday on the protracted conflicts, and it is important to focus on real situations, but this gives us an opportunity to think more generally about what we might need in the future. And obviously our past experience can inform our thoughts about what we might need in the future, and we’re glad to have this opportunity.

One of the things that we think is critical going forward is that the early action, the rapid response capabilities, are improved. And that can go across institutions, it can be the Secretariat, it can be field missions, it can be the independent institutions, but one of the things, for example, that has been proposed and that we would support is enhancing the Secretary General’s ability to do rapid investigation and reporting so that the Permanent Council can be kept aware of situations that may be unfolding, and that can be addressed through mediation or other means before they become an actual conflict.

I fully agree with Ms. Grau on the role of the institutions. Obviously the High Commissioner on National Minorities, in her mandate, is to respond at the earliest sign. And I think we need to recognize that, as the EU said, this a cross-dimensional mandate. There is a huge first dimension element of the HCNM’s mandate. We need to recognize and support both with resources and with top quality personnel, as Ms, Grau said, her office and that institution.

The Representative on Freedom of the Media also has a role to play. It seems to be empirically true that restrictions on freedom of expression and the use of propaganda as a hybrid war tactic go hand in hand. Therefore her reporting can be an important early warning sign, as obviously the work of ODIHR can be as well, to threats to our comprehensive security.

Ms. Grau mentioned the use of field missions. Our organization will be more ready to respond to and to prevent conflict if field missions are more empowered, not less empowered, to report early on situations that they see arising in the countries in which they work. Usually, and I think this is important, there is a kind of taboo in talking about what is called ‘political reporting’ in this organization. The information that field missions transmit is most often not anything that anybody couldn’t figure out from spending some time reading the news, etc., but it is an important common basis for us to start a discussion here about how we might best respond. They’re not secrets, it’s just the beginning of a conversation, so that we can mobilize and be supportive of maintaining stability and peace, rather than watching a situation get out of control. So I think it’s really important that the field missions are empowered in that way.

A few notes on some of the other comments made here today: I think the point about making sure we have our assets ready – ready to call on, ready to deploy, expanding the range of experts with whom we can get quick input and expertise – General Rio’s presentation was a good example of the kind of expertise that would be needed if we were thinking about a police mission or something like that. The OSCE is a Chapter VIII organization, and there have been recent efforts to link up with the UN and DPKO to get expertise from them, and it’s unfortunate that those efforts were reportedly blocked by the influence of some delegations in New York, because this is a Chapter VIII organization and we should have connections and be able to draw on the expertise that sits in the UN.

In terms of the resources point that Ms. Grau made, we fully support investing more resources in the conflict prevention and conflict cycle toolbox. I think one of the analyses we should do is which capacities are those that we should invest in in having in-house, and which capacities are those that we can have on-call and contract when needed, both in terms of expertise as well as other assets.

With respect to the comments on mediation, that’s one of the examples where there is a strong sense that you need not only top quality mediators, who are often people of distinction in the international community who may or may not be on the OSCE payroll, so to speak, but may be willing to be conscripted, but you also need the support – and we’ve seen that obviously in the work of the special representatives, both Heidi Tagliavini and Martin Sajdik, that you need a support team to help mediators as well.

We concur entirely with the EU’s points about gender equality and the importance of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, as well as the OSCE’s own commitments in that regard, and we would urge that participating States move forward at the earliest opportunity with the Addendum to the Gender Action Plan, which is long overdue.

Two other final points: one, it has been suggested and it hasn’t been raised yet today, but it has been suggested in the past that one of the things the OSCE lacks in the ability to carry out non-legal investigative missions. I think we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of that to reducing the incentive to escalate conflict. If the OSCE had a better capacity to deploy investigative teams to look into incidents before they become conflicts, it would reduce the incentive for ‘another side’ to – not trusting that there will an investigation – to escalate that conflict. And I think developing an OSCE investigative capacity and mandate will be a real contribution to the conflict cycle toolbox.

Ms. Grau mentioned the legal personality, and while there are a number of options that have been proposed for the legal personality, the U.S. continues to see that the 2007 convention is already done, there’s nothing but political will that is stopping that from being the solution to having a legal personality, to solving the problems of legal personality, for the OSCE, and we would strongly support an effort to see that convention be used, since it has been completed.

One last point: I think we should see this conversation also in tandem with the conversation about confidence building measures and conventional arms control that was held yesterday. Obviously the updates to the Vienna Document can be a complement to the other kinds of conflict cycle toolbox tools that we have, and we shouldn’t see those as separate efforts, but rather as something that moves forward together and is able to deliver in the name of peace in our region best when we move forward with both of those things together. And therefore the efforts to modernize the Vienna Document should also be seen as a complement to this conflict cycle toolbox discussion.

Thank you very much.

As delivered by Ambassador Daniel Baer at Working session III of the 2016 OSCE Annual Security Review Conference, Vienna