The United Nations (UN) was founded in 1945 at the end of World War II as an international organization open to membership by all peace-loving states. Unlike the OSCE, the UN is a legally binding organization—all states that sign and ratify its Charter are obligated to fulfill the commitments contained therein.
All OSCE participating states except the Holy See (Vatican City) are members of the UN.
Chapter VI of the UN Charter deals with the “pacific settlement of disputes,” and calls upon all states to pursue peaceful means such as negotiation and conciliation to resolve any dispute that might endanger international peace and security.
The Charter gives primacy to the Security Council to deal with such disputes. The Council consists of 15 members, including the "permanent five," each with veto power, with the other ten elected for two-year periods. The presidency of the Council rotates monthly. The Charter also acknowledges that under certain conditions conflicts may be submitted to the International Court of Justice or to the General Assembly for resolution.
Chapter VII of the UN Charter on “action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression” deals with overt situations where violent conflict appears imminent or has already broken out. Responsibility for Chapter VII activities is lodged primarily with the Security Council, which may apply sanctions against violators or authorize the use of force by some or all members of the United Nations to enforce security collectively within the international system.
Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter explicitly recognizes the role of regional arrangements for dealing with peace and security. In Article 52 it specifically requires member states to “make every effort to achieve pacific settlement of local disputes through such regional arrangements or by such regional agencies before referring them to the Security Council.” However, enforcement actions undertaken under regional arrangements generally require authorization from the Security Council.
Since 1995, the OSCE has viewed itself as a regional security organization under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, and has accepted an obligation to keep the Security Council informed of activities that it undertakes or even contemplates undertaking for the maintenance of international peace and security.
UN role in security
A United Nations Preventive Deployment Force (UNPREDEP) peacekeeper is shown monitoring the border of The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. 23 October 1998. (UN)
The UN role in the security field has evolved considerably since the Charter was adopted in 1945. Perhaps most important has been the development of UN “peacekeeping” operations, falling between pacific settlement of disputes and actual engagement of military forces in a full-scale collective security mission.
Originally these operations consisted largely of the interposition of UN “blue berets” between combatants after a cease-fire had been agreed upon, intended largely to prevent a resumption of direct hostilities. Since the end of the Cold War, however, UN operations have also entered into “peace-making” and “peace enforcement” in Bosnia-Herzegovina and elsewhere, as well as providing military assistance for complex humanitarian emergencies. These missions may place UN forces in situations where they may have to engage in combat operations rather than police lines of division between parties that have previously agreed to a cease-fire.
Preventive diplomacy has been identified as a principal area of activity for the UN Secretary General and his staff of special emissaries, thereby giving the UN a special role in the same domain where the OSCE is also active.
This conflict prevention function has generally been performed by senior UN officials based in New York or Geneva rather than by missions permanently stationed in the field, as has generally been the case for OSCE activity on conflict prevention. Of course, a number of UN agencies such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN Development Program maintain offices in many countries throughout the world and often play an indirect, and at times even a direct role in conflict prevention. In some specific cases, the UN and the OSCE have worked together to prevent the re-ignition of violence in post-conflict situations. An example is when the Head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo serves under the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).
Other UN agencies
In addition to the Security Council, there are a number of other UN agencies and programs that work in the peace and security field, and some of these frequently overlap with the areas normally covered by the OSCE.
At the presentation of the human rights common core document, organised by the OSCE Mission in Serbia, Ministry of Human and Minority Rights and the United Nations, Belgrade, 22 November 2010.(OSCE/Milan Obradovic)
- UN Secretary General’s “Good Offices”
- International Court of Justice
- UN Commission on Human Rights
- Election Assistance Unit
- UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
OSCE overlap with UN
Many of the functions that have been created in the OSCE, especially since 1990, overlap with and are analogous to functions of the United Nations. This naturally raises the question about when states will turn to the UN versus those occasions when they should utilize the OSCE to deal with particular threats to international peace and security.
One key determinant in states’ consideration is their influence in the organization under consideration and the likelihood of using it to achieve their goals. There is also the view that efforts to deal with threats to peace should originate at the regional level before coming to the UN, while efforts to take enforcement action should generally be launched with specific authorization by the UN Security Council.
In general the OSCE participating states have sought to obtain UN authorization for their major activities. At the same time, states have found that the OSCE can play a useful role by relieving an overburdened UN from having to assume too many responsibilities for peace maintenance in the OSCE area, allowing it to concentrate on other global regions.
Dealing with the continuing effects of the 2008 war in Georgia
Participants at the 18th round of the Geneva Discussions on the August 2008 conflict in Georgia, 14 December 2011. (OSCE/Frane Maroevic)
In accordance with the 2008 ceasefire agreement brokered by the French EU Presidency that ended the war in Georgia, international discussions were started in Geneva under the sponsorship of the EU, UN, and OSCE. Participating in the talks were representatives from the U.S., Russia, Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In addition, an Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism was established by the Geneva Discussions, meeting in Ergnetti (located geographically between Georgia and South Ossetia), co-facilitated by the EU Monitoring Mission and the OSCE.
Achieving common goals
Cooperation between global and regional organizations to maximize their impact and achieve common goals is desirable. Overlap also occasionally occurs. It is essential that efforts be undertaken cooperatively so that neither, each with financial and personnel limitations, wastes valuable resources in duplication of effort or, even worse, by competing to get the limelight in any particular region experiencing tensions and conflict. Overall, the record of UN-OSCE cooperation is largely positive.