Thursday, December 01, 2005

OSCE Under Threat

Russia, aided and abetted by one or two other countries, is successfully destroying the OSCE's credibility as a security actor, writes Vladimir Socor in EDM:
On November 29, the OSCE's Joint Consultative Group convened to discuss the drafting of its report to the OSCE's year-end conference regarding implementation of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe and Russia's Istanbul Commitments on force withdrawal from the southern flank. The JCG includes the 30 countries signatory to the CFE Treaty (of which the Istanbul Commitments are an integral part), officially referred to as the "CFE community." Its annual report takes the form of a letter to the OSCE's Chairmanship for presentation to the organization's year-end conference, summing up CFE- and Istanbul-related developments during the year. Russia presses for ratification of the 1999-adapted CFE treaty, but refuses to be held accountable on the Istanbul Commitments, although the two form twin parts of one and the same set of 1999 Istanbul documents.

Belarus is the current holder of the JCG's chair, which rotates on a fortnightly basis among the "CFE community's" countries. Traditionally, the JCG's chairing country in late November forwards the report letter to the year-end OSCE conference, after coordinating it with all JCG parties. In this case, Belarus used its position to help Russia block the drafting and sending of that report.

In the November 29 meeting, Spain, on NATO's behalf, proposed that the report letter be drafted and duly forwarded to the year-end conference. The United States took the floor in support of that proposal. However, the Belarusian chairman rejected the proposal on the grounds that there would be no consensus on the document. Russia weighed in to confirm that there would be no consensus, clearly warning that Russia would use its veto power if necessary.

The debate turned farcical when the Russian delegation added the argument that the overall agenda is "too busy" to accommodate discussion on the JCG report prior to the year-end OSCE conference. When the United States meekly suggested that, perhaps, a time slot might be found for that purpose during the year-end conference in Slovenia, the Russian side predicted with sovereign confidence that there would be "even less time" there.

Moscow has found several helpers in this cover up. In 2003, just before the year-end Maastricht conference, Armenia happened to hold the JCG's rotating chair, and it blocked the sending of the report letter without further ado. Armenia acted partly out of self-interest, as it holds a reputedly large arsenal of Russian-supplied heavy weaponry in excess of CFE Treaty limitations. Forward-deployed mainly in areas seized from Azerbaijan, this arsenal escapes OSCE or other international verification and forms one part of the problem coyly designated by the OSCE as "unaccounted-for treaty-limited equipment."

Last year, Luxembourg chaired the JCG just prior to the OSCE's year-end Sofia conference, and it made unnecessary for Russia to use the veto. Luxembourg cited its lawyers' advice that the JCG chair should not draft and coordinate the report letter if there was no consensus within JCG on the document. With Russia poised to block the procedure in the first place, the Luxembourg chair declined to initiate the report letter to the year-end conference. At that time, Luxembourg was one of two appendages (the other was Belgium) to the "Berlin-Paris axis" that was accommodating Moscow on a number of European and international security issues
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