The Wall Street Journal Europe
September 2-4, 2005

Like those old soldiers in Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s farewell speech, international organizations past their active life never die; they just fade away. But there are two ways of fading away: In honor, like those soldiers, whose integrity and wisdom continue to inspire us; or by sacrificing principle to expediency in untransparent deals to keep a redundant bureaucratic structure alive for its own sake. This is the dilemma confronting the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe now, on its 30th anniversary, as it ponders its future.

The OSCE’s original triple mandate — military security, economic cooperation, democracy-building — is now clearly obsolete in two of those three “baskets.” The successful enlargement of the Euro-Atlantic community — and the desire of remaining “grey-zone” East European countries to join that community — means that NATO and the European Union have taken charge of security arrangements and economic cooperation throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Thus, the OSCE has become redundant as a security and economic organization.

However, the organization does remain relevant in its democracy-building role, specifically through its agency for monitoring elections. Even in its disarray, the OSCE lived one stellar moment last year when its election-observation agency pronounced the Kremlin candidate’s “election” as Ukrainian president a fraud, and went on to validate democratic candidate Viktor Yushchenko’s election in the rerun.

The OSCE faces a two-fold challenge: diminishing relevance, and Russian financial and political blackmail from within the organization. The OSCE’s veto-based system (euphemistically named consensus rule) means that the organization is wide open to that blackmail. Against the backdrop of the OSCE’s redundancy on security and economics, Russia is offering the OSCE a Faustian bargain: If it “reforms” itself per Moscow’s prescriptions, mainly by diluting democratic and electoral standards in the ex-Soviet domain, then the Kremlin will help prop up the OSCE as a security actor, a counterpoise to NATO and the United States.

To underscore its blackmailing power, Moscow made good on threats to block the adoption of the OSCE’s 2005 budget, pending those “reforms.” The chief Russian delegate even threatened that the organization won’t be able to pay the rent for a meeting hall unless it relents. A temporary compromise seems to have been reached in June when Moscow relaxed the budgetary stranglehold in return for some concessions in the security and democracy spheres. OSCE decision makers never publicly discussed either the financial blackmail and its implications, or the political concessions they have made under duress.

The OSCE has suddenly agreed to meet Russian demands that the West had long opposed. For example, the organization will convene a conference at the level of Chiefs of General Staffs to compare NATO countries’ and Russia’s military doctrines. Another meeting will discuss Russia’s would-be role in providing security for pipelines. Meanwhile, as custodian of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), the OSCE has abandoned even the pretense of trying to elicit Russian compliance with that treaty. And, at Moscow’s insistence, the OSCE terminated its Border Monitoring Operation in Georgia on the Russian-imposed deadline, which happened at the same time that Moscow stopped stonewalling on the budget.

Furthermore, the Finnish parliamentarian Kimmo Kiljunen, a marginal figure known to enjoy Moscow’s trust, became highly visibile in July through a double feat at the OSCE. Mr. Kiljunen shepherded through OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly a resolution openly aiming to legitimize the Russian-installed dictatorship in Moldova’s territory of Transnistria. He also led a monitoring mission for Kyrgyzstan’s presidential elections that clearly lowered the OSCE’s accustomed electoral standards.

Last month, the OSCE made public a report it had commissioned from a panel of “Seven Wise Men” on how to reform the organization and ensure its survival. It is a vintage OSCE exercise in avoiding the real issues of
democracy and security in the ex-Soviet domain, playing for time and providing a cover behind which untransparent bargaining with Moscow seems set to continue. Democratic values, and the interests of countries beset with “frozen conflicts,” will be the losers if the OSCE proceeds along this path.

Like a loss-making corporation in the business world, the OSCE needs to downsize and decide where its competitive advantages reside. The organization has clearly proven incapable of functioning as a security actor. Ambitions to continue at least on paper playing that role have turned
the organization into an auxiliary to Russia in places like Georgia and Moldova, and even led it to appease Alexander Lukashenka’s dictatorship in Belarus. If the OSCE wishes to repair its plummeting credibility, it should focus on what it can do well: Election-monitoring and democratic institution-building, thus promoting Western values in the ex-Soviet domain.

The organization’s survival as such is not in serious doubt for now. The question is whether the OSCE will decide to survive with honor.

Mr. Socor is a senior fellow of the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation,
publishers of the Eurasia Daily Monitor.