OSCE summit

Mainichi Shimbun, 21 November 1999

The Turkey summit meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) closed Friday after the signing of the landmark Charter for European Security and a modification of an earlier agreement on conventional forces in Europe that reduces previous limits on armaments.

The Charter for European Security strengthens the OSCE's commitment to preventing terrorists acts, human-rights violations and oppression of minority groups, and calls for the creation of rapid assistance and cooperation teams to respond to conflicts.

The precursor to the OSCE, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), was founded in Helsinki, Finland, in 1975. The CSCE adopted the Helsinki declaration to confirm the postwar territorial borders in Europe and was considered to be a symbol of easing tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. By emphasizing the importance of human rights, the declaration also contributed to the eventual downfall of the Soviet Union.

The CSCE provided a venue for heads of state to discuss European security issues. It was renamed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in January 1995.

The OSCE is distinguished from other security alliances such as NATO and the Western European Union because it includes Russia and other former Soviet republics. While the United States and Europe have stressed that NATO is the linchpin of European security, the OSCE will continue to play an important role, particularly because Russia's future is so uncertain.

The signing of the Charter for European Security, which was scheduled for the first day of the summit in Istanbul, Turkey, was carried over to the next day because Russian President Boris Yeltsin had heated exchanges with Western leaders over Russia's handling of the Chechen crisis. Yeltsin emphasized that Chechnya was part of Russia and warned the world community that it has no right to criticize Russia over Chechnya. U.S. President Bill Clinton, French President Jacques Chirac and other Western leaders voiced strong reservations regarding the increase in the number of Chechen refugees and the mounting civilian casualties in the region.

The final summit declaration affirmed Russia's right to protect its borders and condemned terrorism, but also stressed the importance of a political and humanitarian solution to the Chechen conflict.

Although the Russian offensive against Chechnya has generated support among the various political parties and the general public in Russia, the Yeltsin administration must consider the fact that it will squander the good will of the West if it insists on securing a military victory and rejects a political solution.

Ever since a money-laundering scandal linked to the Kremlin was uncovered, the Clinton administration has maintained a certain distance from the Yeltsin government. But further deterioration in the cooperative relationship between the United States and Russia would have a detrimental effect on disarmament efforts and harm European security. The challenge for the OSCE, which aims to play an active role in promoting European security, is to figure out how to deal with Russia while continuing to stress human-rights issues.