Why the OSCE matters

What is the OSCE and why does it matter to the United States?

The U.S. Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) represents the interests of the United States in the OSCE. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is the world’s largest and most comprehensive regional security organization – with 57 participating states spanning the globe from Vancouver to Vladivostok and 11 additional partner countries. The OSCE is a major forum for discussing and taking action on vital issues of peace, security and human rights in Europe and Central Asia. Collective security and stability are sought through consensus-based agreements.

A legacy of the historic 1975 Helsinki accords, the OSCE is a political and public diplomacy forum in which the United States works together with Europe on global challenges, to find pathways to build a Europe whole, free, and at peace, to meet new challenges, to resolve protracted conflicts in the OSCE region, and to encourage democracy and respect for human rights. In the aftermath of the August 2008 war in Georgia, and Russia’s calls for a new approach to security in Europe, the OSCE is expected to play an even larger role in shaping the evolving debate on European security in the future.

In the OSCE, the 57 participating States have agreed in principle that true security and mutual confidence among States includes transparency within each State as to the operation of its political system and respect for OSCE norms of human rights, rule of law, media freedom and democracy. This recognition that real political and military security in the Trans-Atlantic/European/Central Asian region must be built on a foundation of open-society commitments makes the OSCE unique in its approach to military and political security.

The United States values the OSCE as a vehicle for effective multilateralism. Through close work with the OSCE’s 18 field missions, as well as other international organizations and regional security institutions, the United States promotes democratic transformation, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, arms control, regional stability and post-conflict reconciliation, confidence and security building measures, economic prosperity, and sustainable environmental policies. The OSCE also has a role to play in helping to combat terrorism and other emerging security threats.

The main decision-making body of the OSCE is the Permanent Council (PC). It convenes weekly in Vienna, Austria, to discuss current developments in the OSCE region and to make collective decisions.

Through the U.S. Mission to the OSCE, the U.S. engages in the three separate multilateral bodies that oversee international arms control agreements within the framework of the OSCE:

  1. The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), through its Joint Consultative Group (JCG), with delegations from 30 states;
  2. Oversight of the political-military (pol-mil) dimension of the OSCE and its Confidence and Security Building Measures (CSBMs), through the OSCE’s Forum for Security Cooperation (FSC), with delegations from all 56 states. This includes the Vienna Document 1999; and,
  3. Implementation of the Treaty on Open Skies (OS), which allows military overflights and photography of its members’ territory, through the Open Skies Consultative Commission (OSCC), with delegations from 34 states.

At the same time, the U.S. Mission also uses the Forum for Security Cooperation, including its weekly “Security Dialogue,” to enlist allies and partners in advancing our broader European security strategy priorities. Any decision in any of the arms control arrangements is only on the basis of consensus of all States Parties or participating States.

The U.S. has specific goals within the OSCE:

  • Enhancing political and military security across the OSCE region, including prevention of a gradual re-militarization of Euro-Atlantic security
  • Implementing and verifying compliance with arms control agreements
  • Strengthening the OSCE’s conflict prevention and resolution capabilities
  • Promoting implementation of OSCE commitments in all three dimensions: the politico-military dimension, the economic and environmental dimension, the human dimension
  • Supporting democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms
  • Combating new threats to security such as terrorism, intolerance, and trafficking of persons
  • Directing greater attention and resources to Central Asia through programs promoting democratic institutions and practices, improving border security, expanding existing police assistance programs, and encouraging economic and free market development so that peace, security, just governance and democracy may be achieved.
  • Preserving the OSCE’s effectiveness

OSCE field missions play an important role in advancing these objectives. OSCE institutions like the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) and the Representative on Freedom of the Media (RFOM) also contribute greatly to the OSCE’s effectiveness.