About the Commission
Print This

CSCE :: About the Commission

From its inception in the early 1970s, the Helsinki process – which includes the original Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), follow-up activities after 1975 and, since 1995, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – has been a multilateral, politically binding security arrangement. Having addressed successfully the challenges of the Cold War, this arrangement has maintained its relevance in the present era of regional conflict, arms proliferation, terrorism and other emerging threats by combining a uniquely comprehensive definition of security with flexibility and innovation of response.

Defining Security Comprehensively

The first of three chapters of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, commonly known as Basket I, deals with “Questions Relating to Security in Europe.” This chapter first sets forth 10 Principles guiding relations between participating States:

Principle I  Sovereign equality, respect for the rights inherent in sovereignty;
Principle II Refraining from the threat or use of force;
Principle III Inviolability of frontiers;
Principle IV Territorial integrity of States;
Principle V Peaceful settlement of disputes;
Principle VI Non-intervention in internal affairs;
Principle VII Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including
the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief;
Principle VIII Equal rights and self-determination of peoples;
Principle IX Cooperation among States; and
Principle X Fulfillment in good faith of obligations under international law.

Some of the principles can be found in earlier international agreements, including the UN Charter, but the “primary significance” which the Final Act gave them all provided a uniquely comprehensive, political-military definition of security, particularly by making respect for human rights and the building of democratic institutions in one participating State a legitimate concern of all others. By committing to apply them “equally and unreservedly,” the OSCE also recognized a linkage between progress in one of these areas and progress in the others, a concrete and significant conceptual contribution to European security. The justification for balancing progress was most explicitly stated in the 1990 Charter of Paris for a new Europe, where the participating States expressed their conviction that “in order to strengthen peace and security among [them], the advancement of democracy, and respect for and effective exercise of human rights are indispensable.”

Early Soviet proposals for a pan-European conference were designed to manipulate the military balance in Europe, divide the United States from its allies and confirm Soviet hegemony over East-Central Europe. The OSCE’s new and unifying definition of security, however, instead formed a basis for ending the Cold War’s division of Europe and for recognizing that severe and continual violations of human rights are often the source of a conflict. Democratic development, therefore, was subsequently made a prerequisite for building a stable peace. Participating States today seek to ensure its realization “from Vancouver to Vladivostok” and to give this definition wider application around the globe.

Building Confidence and Security Through Transparency

The Final Act’s first chapter also contains specific military commitments which, as developed in subsequent documents, enhance European security in modest but very concrete ways. Confidence- and Security-Building Measures (CSBMs) – such as prior notification of troop maneuvers and observation of military exercises – that form the core of this work on military aspects of security overcame barriers of secrecy and diminished the threat of surprise attack or misunderstanding of military activity.

For a few tense years in the early 1980s, OSCE negotiations were the only place where East and West sat at the same table to discuss security matters. The 1986 Stockholm Document not only achieved progress through measures for greater transparency but ushered in a new era of effective, mutually beneficial East-West arms control encompassing both nuclear and conventional forces. The OSCE capitalized on this success in the 1990s by expanding military openness and encouraging further reductions in force levels. A web of interlocking and mutually reinforcing arms control obligations and commitments links the politically binding Vienna Document of 1999 on CSBMs with the related 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) and the 1992 Treaty on Open Skies, both legally binding and negotiated on an East-West basis, to form a framework for arms control. Reinforcing the regime of new measures in the Vienna Document 1999 is an updated mechanism for consultation and cooperation regarding unusual military activities.

An Agreement on Adaptation of the CFE Treaty was also signed in 1999, taking into account realities associated with the break-up of the Warsaw Pact and the demise of the Soviet Union. NATO countries, however, have linked ratification of the agreement to Russia’s implementation of commitments made in parallel with the 1999 Istanbul OSCE Summit to the withdrawal Treaty-Limited Equipment and military forces from Moldova, and the withdrawal or destruction of excess equipment, the closure of two bases and negotiations on remaining Russian bases and facilities in Georgia. To date, these commitments remain unfulfilled, making it impossible for the Agreement on Adaptation to come into force and for additional OSCE States, including some NATO allies, to become parties.

Maintaining a Security Dialogue

The Forum for Security Cooperation (FSC) was established in 1992 to provide constant attention to implementation of existing arms control agreements, including through regular information exchanges, and to strengthen them when possible. The Forum also encourages a dialogue among the participating States on topics of common concern, such as non-proliferation measures, the importance of adhering to international humanitarian law and civil-military emergency preparedness. The adoption of the 1994 Code of Conduct on Political-Military Aspects of Security, which broke new ground by formulating norms on the role of armed forces in democratic societies, was among the FSC’s first notable achievements. The adoption in 2000 of the Document on Small Arms and Light Weapons was a later but even more significant achievement, providing a basis for developing guidelines on dealing with threats such weapons can pose, as well as for providing assistance upon request in securing stockpiles, disposing of small arms and enhancing border controls to reduce illicit arms trafficking.

Security issues are also discussed during the Annual Security Review Conference, the first of which was held in 2003. These conferences provide impetus for bringing new ideas for activity relating to European security into the OSCE framework. Meetings of OSCE foreign ministers and summits of heads of state/government have addressed security issues of paramount concern such as the threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them.

Addressing Regional Conflicts

Regional conflicts erupting in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s have been responsible for the most egregious violations of Helsinki principles since their adoption. In response, considerable effort has been devoted by the participating States to developing early warning of potential conflict, offering “good offices” for bringing conflicting parties together, monitoring borders vulnerable to sources of instability and ensuring that sub-regional arms control and security-enhancing measures are adopted and implemented. A good example of the latter were the Article II, Article IV and Article V agreements originally mandated by the Annex 1-B of 1995 Dayton General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition, the OSCE has contributed to the training of civilian police in several post-conflict situations.

The need to respond to regional conflicts also required the OSCE to become more than a negotiating forum. OSCE field operations, taking many forms, including efforts by OSCE institutions and designated representatives, began in the early 1990s. Significant among them, especially given the ethnic character of regional tensions, was the establishment of the High Commissioner for National Minorities with a specific task to provide early-warning of potential conflict. Field activities, however, take their most visible form as field missions of various sizes deployed at one time or another in places like Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Chechnya, Georgia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Kosovo and Serbia and Montenegro. Since 1992, the OSCE has had the capability to organize unarmed peacekeeping forces, although the need for more robust operations in conflict areas has precluded serious activity in this regard.

Combating Terrorism

The events of September 11, 2001, galvanized OSCE efforts to combat terrorism. An OSCE Charter on Preventing and Combating Terrorism, adopted in 2002, targeted four strategic areas for specific action: policing, border control, trafficking and money laundering. The Action Against Terrorism Unit established in the OSCE Secretariat provides assistance to participating States, often in field activities along with the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, in strengthening the legal framework for combating terrorism. OSCE efforts have sought to strengthen personal travel and document security as well as transport container security. The OSCE has also broadened the application of export controls on man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS).

The Helsinki Commission’s Role

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) is a U.S. Government agency, established in 1976 pursuant to Public Law 94-304, mandated to “monitor the acts of the signatories which reflect compliance with or violation of the articles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe…” While particular emphasis was given to “provisions relating to Cooperation in Humanitarian fields,” today known as the Human Dimension, the Commission also monitors developments regarding the Security Dimension and has similarly sought to encourage greater compliance with commitments adopted by the participating States on the basis of consensus. Activities in recent years have included hearings on combating terrorism and on illegal arms/weapons transfers, briefings on the U.S. chairmanship of the Forum for Security Cooperation and on OSCE police training, as well as attendance at security-related OSCE meetings.



Label for Featured Photo
Featured Photo
Rep. Smith with witnesses at a Northern Ireland hearing. March 16, 2011.