“Addressing the Crisis of European Security: The Way Forward and the Role of the OSCE”


New York, 25.09.2014 - Statement by the President of the Swiss Confederation, Mr. Didier Burkhalter, delivered at the high-level week of the 69th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations - Check against delivery

Speaker: OSCE CiO, Didier Burkhalter (2014); President of the Swiss Confederation, Didier Burkhalter (2014); Didier Burkhalter; Swiss representative to the UN

Ladies and gentlemen
Esteemed colleagues

Welcome to this side event organised by the OSCE Chairmanship. We have invited you to this meeting to discuss the crisis of European security.

The OSCE stands for enhancing the security of all participating States through dialogue, confidence-building, shared commitments, and cooperation. As our common security has been rapidly deteriorating in recent months, the Swiss Chairmanship considers it important that we address this issue collectively.

As representatives of OSCE participating States or security organisations, you have come here to hold a first informal discussion on whether and how we can reconsolidate European security as a common project. I am grateful for your participation – and for any input you make.

The crisis in and around Ukraine concerns us all. It is a tragedy for the Ukrainian people. It is also a blow to pan-European security. The violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia have repercussions that go far beyond Ukraine. They call into question central pillars of international order and the foundations of European security as defined in the Paris Charter on the basis of the Helsinki Final Act. Let me also recall that the security assurances for Ukraine in the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 referred explicitly to the Helsinki principles.

Disregard for the post-Cold War rule book and for international law is just one way of how the crisis of European security is manifesting itself. There are also the more than 3000 victims and the humanitarian misery caused by the military confrontation in eastern parts of Ukraine. And there is the growing political divide between Russia and the West, with all its economic and security ramifications.

This crisis of European security has not occurred overnight. It predates the crisis in and around Ukraine. The consensus on European security and the cooperative spirit of the 1990s have gradually unravelled.

There were disputes over NATO enlargement and ballistic missile defence, the erosion of the conventional arms control regime in Europe, disagreements about the legitimacy of a series of military interventions, and controversies over declarations of political independence. There were accusations of broken promises, and there were growing deficits in implementing OSCE commitments, especially in the human dimension. All this led to an erosion of trust and a weakening of pan-European security which was felt in our everyday work, in the OSCE and elsewhere.

Now that the developments in Ukraine have aggravated the erosion of European security, we should make dealing with this crisis a strategic priority. Failure to do so today could well mean that we are confronted with ever bigger divisions in Europe tomorrow, to the detriment of all. If Russia and the West go separate ways, it will negatively affect the stability of Ukraine, the security of the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian regions, and cooperation on peace and security matters at the global level. The disruptive potential of a spilt between Russia and the West is large.

I have not come here with any blueprint as to what exactly reconsolidating European security would entail. We will have to figure this out collectively, and I am well aware that this will take time.

But I know this: The Helsinki principles and the OSCE commitments are not up for renegotiation – the issue here is how to ensure more effective adherence and implementation. Also, we should not aim at a major overhaul of Europe’s security architecture. Rather, debates should focus on possibilities to reconfirm, refine, reinvigorate, and perhaps complement existing elements of cooperative security in Europe.

In the face of the ongoing crisis in and around Ukraine, the question is how best to proceed. The Swiss Chairmanship proposes three avenues to address the crisis of European security:

The first and most imminent priority must remain our continuing efforts to help stabilize the situation in Ukraine. The Minsk Protocol and the related Minsk Memorandum that was worked out at the highest levels in Kyiv and Moscow provide a basis for moving towards a political process to resolve the crisis. While some progress has already been accomplished, it is important that all parties continue to take steps to implement all commitments agreed in Minsk.

The Special Monitoring Mission, within the limits of its civilian mandate and its maximum size of 500 monitors, is supporting the implementation of the two Minsk agreements and adapting to the changing monitoring needs. For the SMM to be able to make an effective contribution in this context, two things are indispensable: the security and freedom of movement of its monitors; and the ongoing support in terms of additional experts and funding by you, the OSCE participating States. As a result of the Minsk-related additional activities, the SMM’s budget has grown by an extra 30 Million Euro until March 2015.
The OSCE and the Swiss Chairmanship will continue to engage in, and support, international diplomacy and formats such as the Trilateral Contact Group. We are also ready to assist the inclusive political dialogue within Ukraine that the Minsk Protocol envisages. The OSCE will continue to pursue a broad approach in assisting Ukraine.

Ukraine faces many challenges. Political stabilisation and economic support must be advanced in parallel. The need for gas and trade arrangements, for administrative reform, and for reconstruction and environmental rehabilitation measures in the conflict-affected areas also figures high on the agenda. And there is the Crimea issue, which must be settled on the basis of international law.

Getting this complex agenda right is essential both for Ukraine and for European security. It requires careful timing and close coordination among the many actors involved. With its inclusive participation and comprehensive approach, the OSCE could assist Ukraine and the international community in bringing everyone to the table in an effort to join forces in the processes of stabilisation, reconstruction, and rehabilitation.

The second of my proposed three avenues to address the crisis of European security is to feed the lessons learnt from the crisis in and around Ukraine into the ‘Helsinki+40’ process. In my view, enhancing the OSCE’s capacity to act must be an essential part of reconsolidating European security.

In the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997, both sides committed to strengthening the OSCE and to creating a common space of security and stability with no spheres of influence limiting the sovereignty of any state and with no state being isolated. Current developments underline the importance of finally implementing this commitment and of empowering the OSCE as an anchor of cooperative security in Europe.

The OSCE’s engagement in the Ukraine crisis has demonstrated the relevance of the organisation as a forum for dialogue, as an operational responder, and as a normative intermediary to remind States of their commitments. But this engagement has also shown the importance of further improving the OSCE’s conflict cycle toolkit. For instance, we should further build up the OSCE’s mediation capacity, and we should encourage more active use of this capacity.

The OSCE also needs some institutional reforms to remain fit for purpose. The budget process should be simplified, and we really should have a bi-annual budget. Moreover, after ten years of zero nominal growth, we should finally allocate financial and human resources to the OSCE that are commensurate with its tasks.

For all this to materialize, strategic guidance from political leaders is required as to where the OSCE should be heading. This is what ‘Helsinki+40’ in the context of the Ukraine crisis must be about.

Finally, as a third avenue, I propose to launch a reflection process on how to address the broader crisis of security and cooperation in Europe. The OSCE could serve as a platform and hub for such an endeavour, and any such reflection process is bound to also feed into the ‘Helsinki+40’ discussions. But the focus of this avenue will be wider, and outreach to security stakeholders outside the OSCE will be key.

How can States recommit to the normative foundations of European security as reflected in the Helsinki Final Act and the Paris Charter? What measures could be adopted to rebuild confidence and reduce perceptions of threat? How can former cornerstones of pan-Europe security such as conventional arms control be rebuilt? What will it take to render security in Europe indivisible and reduce the risk of further tension?

These are complex questions with no easy answers. They are, however, essential for the future of the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian regions. And I am convinced that common answers can be worked out over time if we address such questions in a genuine dialogue that avoids old mantras and stereotyped narratives.

One way of starting such a reflection process could be to set up a Chairmanship-commissioned high-level panel of eminent persons with representatives of all regions of the OSCE. Over a period of approximately six months, and with the assistance of the OSCE academic network, the panel could produce a report that would take stock of the current situation and propose a set of recommendations concerning the next steps to be taken.

It is important that such a panel be provided with opportunities of interacting with the political level – with us. All of you could contribute to this by including representatives of this panel into security events that your ministries are organising. Once the panel has issued recommendations, debates at ministerial level could be organised to take stock and decide on next steps and follow-up phases of the reflection process.

Dear colleagues

I have outlined why the Swiss Chairmanships thinks that the crisis of European security must be addressed. And I have sketched out three avenues of how we could proceed. I now look forward to hearing your views on European security. And with that I hand over to Secretary General Zannier to open the discussion.

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Last update 26.01.2022

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