The Chances and Limits of the OSCE in Preventing Ethnic Political Crises

  • Erik Siegl


The process of the breakup of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and of the USSR in the early 1990s brought about significant changes in the nature of security risks. Internal conflicts, in most cases with a strong ethnic dimension, were the primary source of destabilization. In its initial stage, the involvement of the CSCE in the settlement of these conflicts was mostly of a reactive nature, in other words, not of a preventive nature. In the course of 1990-1992 there was an institutionalization of the CSCE and instruments of direct preventive involvement were established. Experiences gained during the past decade demonstrate that no international organization is capable of independent prevention, of settling conflicts and engaging in post-conflict stabilization at various levels of escalation. With the help of its operative instruments and the High Commissioner for National Minorities as well as through its long-term missions, the CSCE/OSCE has for the past eight years been dealing with security problems and unstable regions; many of these have for a long time been, and still are, outside the attention or action radius of other international organizations and institutions. Its irreplaceable role can be reflected mainly in monitored regions, so-called early warning, preventive diplomacy and acting as an intermediary in conflicts which have not yet escalated to the stage of an armed conflict.
The OSCE as the only all-European security organization is also an impartial intermediary, accepted by all parties in a conflict which to some extent can balance other, often negative, outside interference. The weakness of the OSCE with regard to crisis prevention and management is the fact that it is not based on any internationally binding document and that it has no instrument of power to be used to impose sanctions against a member state which violates commitments adopted jointly. All documents, signed by all representatives of member states are of a declaratory, legally unbinding character. In the same way, and for the same reason, the two OSCE instruments to prevent internal political conflicts are based on the so-called soft law principle and have no imposing or coercive function. Their recommendations cannot be effectively imposed by the OSCE. In view of these facts, the possibilities of the OSCE are paralysed when settling armed conflicts, ethical and political conflicts where the separation process has reached the ultimate stage, and wherever there is no will to achieve a political settlement of a situation or effective backing of the OSCE activities by its member states.
Despite the mentioned limitations and the absolute unsuitability of deployment in conditions of a severe armed clash, the office of the High Commissioner of National Minorities and the institution of long-term missions represent the major instrument of direct "field" prevention and monitoring of conflicts within a state.

Author Biography

Erik Siegl



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