The OSCE has 57 participating states from Europe, Central Asia, and North America, and its area spans from Vancouver to Vladivostok.
East meets West: US President Gerald Ford and USSR General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev (with translator Viktor Sukhodrev at his ear) at Helsinki 1975. Flanking them are Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (l) and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko (r). (Gerald R. Ford Library)
Today's OSCE is the successor to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) established in 1975. The CSCE was largely an arena for East-West debate until the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
The changed environment in Europe in the 1990s made it possible for the Organization, renamed OSCE in 1995, to be used by participating states to deal with the conflicts and threats to regional security and stability resulting from the breakups of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, as well as other threats to regional instability.
As cooperation between Russia and the West has proven more difficult in recent years, the challenges to OSCE playing an effective role in addressing regional problems have increased.
External Partners for Co-operation
The OSCE has also developed two sets of External Partners for Co-operation outside its own region.
- The Mediterranean partners are Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia, and deal with issues affecting the region linking southern Europe with North Africa and the Middle East.
- The Asian partners are Afghanistan, Australia, Japan, Republic of Korea, and Thailand. The Asian states have expressed special interest in OSCE practices that might be applicable to issues and problems facing the Asian region.
The OSCE possesses most of the normal attributes of an international organization: standing decision-making bodies, permanent headquarters and institutions, its own (primarily non-career) personnel system, regular financial resources, and field operations.
As of 2013, OSCE's personnel staffing level is 2,880. This includes 550 persons in its primary institutions, and 2,330 persons in its 15 field missions, including both direct hires and seconded personnel. Its budget is 145 million Euros (about 189 million U.S. Dollars).
Comprehensive view of security
The following three areas are considered by the OSCE to be equally important for maintaining peace and stability:
- Economic and environmental cooperation
- Human rights
The operating basis for OSCE participating states is that all have a common stake in regional security, and should therefore cooperate to prevent crises from occurring, preclude their escalation, and promote post-conflict peace building.
To maintain security throughout its region, the OSCE relies on political dialogue about shared values and develops partnerships with governments, civil society, and the private sector. The OSCE's work is often not reported in the headlines, as the usual approach of the organization is to work behind the scenes to foster discussions that defuse tensions and divert potential conflict.
A flexible tool
The Co-Chairs of the Geneva Discussions (from right) EU Special Representative Philippe Lefort; Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office for Protracted Conflicts, Giedrius Čekuolis; and UN Representative Antti Turunen finalize their communiqué with colleagues, Geneva, 4 October 2011. (OSCE/Frane Maroevic)
With a smaller bureaucracy and less of a history than other international organizations, the OSCE has opportunities to work creatively, and constantly reinvent the ways that it can deal with threats to peace and security, as long as there is a consensus of participating states to act.