Field operations enable the Organization to address crises as and when they develop, and can play a critical post-conflict role, helping to reinforce confidence and security-building measures. They foster the administrative capacity of the host countries through concrete projects that respond to people and their needs. These include initiatives to support community policing, minority rights, legislative reform, rule of law, press freedom, and border management. Increasingly, the OSCE is also building networks of professionals to work more efficiently against terrorism, smuggling of small arms and light weapons, and trafficking in human beings.
Mission mandates are determined by the Permanent Council and negotiated with the host government. They may be withdrawn or closed by the host government.
Graduation of multi-ethnic police cadets from the Macedonian police school in Idrizovo, 29 July 2002. (OSCE)
The first two CSCE field missions were the CSCE Missions of Long Duration in Kosovo, Sandjak, and Vojvodina and the CSCE Spillover Mission to Skopje, which were deployed in September 1992. Both missions were tasked with preventing the escalation or outbreak of violent conflicts.
The vast majority of OSCE field operations now focus on:
- good governance
- the promotion of democratic practices
- free elections
- the rule of law
Participants at a regional conference supported by the OSCE Mission to Montenegro on good governance, transparency and ethics at the municipal level, Budva, 3-4 June 2010. (OSCE/ Aleksandar Mrdak)
The OSCE view is that security is a necessary condition for good governance; just as improved government performance enhances both the security of the state and its people. The primary problems facing OSCE missions in recent years have focused less on conflict prevention and more often on implementing the human dimension's principles.
Globalization has increased world-wide economic interaction and greater cultural contact, but it has also facilitated crime, corruption, and environmental degradation on a global scale. Thus, another goal of OSCE missions has been to promote globalization in activities such as commerce and tourism, while providing protection against its undesirable “underside.”
Issues like terrorism, the illegal arms trade, and human trafficking have become high priorities for OSCE field activities alongside traditional measures of confidence-building and conflict prevention.
The creation of a new field operation requires:
- A mandate and budget adopted in consensus from the Permanent Council
- Agreement from the state concerned
- Field operation mandates usually are set for six or twelve months. Extension of a field operation requires a consensus decision by the Permanent Council.
The smallest missions consist of only three or four international staff, with individuals assuming responsibility for multiple aspects of the mission’s mandate.
The largest mission is in Kosovo, with a 2013 staffing ceiling of 166 (seconded and direct hire) international and 437 national (local) personnel.
Ambassador Jean-Claude Schlumberger at the OSCE Mission in Kosovo headquarters, Prishtinë/Priština, 14 September 2012. (OSCE)
A Head of Mission (HoM) serves as the chief officer of each operation, a position normally held by a senior diplomat seconded by a participating state. HoMs are appointed by the Chairperson-in-Office, and must report to the CiO and the Permanent Council. HoMs have considerable freedom of action in managing the day-to-day work of OSCE field operations, which allows them to act flexibly and to adapt to changing conditions.
Larger missions like Kosovo have a Deputy HoM as well as a Chief of Staff. Missions also have political, administrative and public affairs officers, as well as a staff of interpreters/translators. The specialized functional staff varies in size and the roles performed according to the mandate of each particular mission.
Missions also report to the Permanent Council about their activities. Mission activity is supervised and coordinated by the Conflict Prevention Centre, which is part of the OSCE Secretariat located in Vienna. The Conflict Prevention Centre maintains an Operations Centre open 24 hours every day of the year to maintain continuous contact with field missions and to respond to any emergency situation that might arise.
The role of the OSCE mission is not to become an advocate either for the participating state or for organizations engaged in advocacy on behalf of human and minority rights issues. Rather its role is to serve as an ombudsman, as a go-between, assisting these different groups to reconcile their differences peacefully. In performing this function, it must constantly remind governments of their responsibilities undertaken when they signed the various OSCE human dimension documents and, as appropriate, carrying out their own laws to protect human rights. At the same time, it must remind government critics of the necessity of pursuing their grievances through domestic legal channels, and seeking legislative changes when they appear to be necessary.
OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier (l) speaking with the Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova, Ambassador Jennifer Brush, on the bridge over Dniester/Nistru River connecting the towns of Tiraspol and Bender, 18 July 2012. (OSCE/Igor Schimbător)
An OSCE field mission must always be mindful of its position, situated between a host government, non-governmental organizations, and civil society, and the governments of participating states represented in the Permanent Council. Host governments often become irritated with the involvement of OSCE missions into what they consider to be the internal affairs of their own country. Human rights and other activist groups and NGOs may complain that the OSCE is not being sufficiently forceful in representing their grievances and pressing their demands. Participating states hold different positions on these issues, and reflect them vocally in and outside of the PC.
In the final analysis, OSCE officials and personnel, who must support OSCE norms to the fullest extent possible while respecting the sovereign rights of the host government, must carefully balance all of these demands. The failure to do so may cause the state hosting the mission to deny the OSCE access or may cause other participating states to oppose renewal of their mandates. Since the renewal of mandates requires a consensus decision by all participating states, the failure to renew means that a mission must be closed down, even if its continued existence is supported by an overwhelming majority of participating states. This is precisely what happened with the OSCE Mission to Georgia, which had to shut down in 2009 due to objections from Russia
The function and focus of OSCE’s field missions has changed over time. The breakup of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia was accompanied by violent conflicts in the 1990s. As the units within these structures—the 15 union republics of the USSR and the 6 states that composed federal Yugoslavia—broke apart, some formerly autonomous regions within these new states resisted integration with the central governments, typically because a majority of the people living in these regions did not share markers of identity with the nationality of the new state in which they found themselves.
A series of secessionist struggles broke out: in Chechnya in the Russian Federation, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, Transdniestria in Moldova, Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, and Kosovo in Serbia. Violence also erupted in other new states with mixed ethnicities: particularly in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Other states tottered on the brink of collapse, torn by internal conflict, including Tajikistan and Albania. Many other situations also approached violence, but successful preventive action averted large-scale violence: such as in Crimea in Ukraine, and Macedonia in the former Yugoslavia. These potential or actual conflicts were the primary focus of most OSCE field missions between 1992 and 1999. Since then, every Chair-in-Office has sought to address the most pressing issues from these "frozen conflicts."
OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, during a visit to Tbilisi, 21 August 2008. (OSCE/David Khizanishvili)
Between 2001 and 2007, overt violence in the region seemed to have subsided, but this was broken by a short but intense war between Georgia and Russia in 2008. The OSCE’s failure to prevent this conflict, return the situation to the way it was before the conflict, or even maintain its mission in Georgia has raised questions about the relevance of the organization and its norms when a major participating state such as Russia is prepared to use force to advance its interests.
The primary focus of OSCE missions in recent years has focused less on conflict prevention and more on implementing the human dimension of OSCE principles. Of course, the OSCE comprehensive approach to security emphasizes the essential role of human dimension activities in the long-term prevention of violent conflict. The OSCE has operated on the assumption that good governance is not only a value in itself, but is a major contributing factor to peace between states and within states.
The vast majority of OSCE missions now focus on good governance, the promotion of democratic practices, free elections, and the rule of law. Missions must take into consideration that many OSCE participating states are only starting down the road toward democratic governance, as well as the reality that democracy cannot be imposed from outside on countries that have no prior history or experience with democratic practices. Therefore, the OSCE has often taken a gradual approach to socializing political elites and publics to the better practices of good governance.
OSCE missions know that security is a necessary condition for good governance; just as improved government performance enhances both the security of the state and its people. The newer threats to security come from non-state actors involved in terrorism, smuggling drugs and human beings, money laundering, and other criminal activities that cross state borders.
Globalization has brought increases in world economic interaction and greater cultural contact, but it has also facilitated crime, corruption, and environmental degradation on a global scale. Thus another goal of OSCE missions has been to promote globalization in activities such as commerce and tourism, while providing protection against its undesirable “underside.” This does not mean that the threat of mass violence has been eliminated, but does underline that issues like the illegal arms trade, especially the spread of small arms and light weapons - which kill more people every year than weapons of mass destruction - have become a high priority for OSCE field activities alongside traditional measures of confidence-building and conflict prevention.