The OSCE peace-making experience - What lessons and challenges for the EU?

10 December 2012

“This is a pivotal moment in Ireland’s foreign relations. Our presidency of the OSCE [Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe] is coming to an end and our EU Presidency is about to begin,” said Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamon Gilmore.

The legacy of the Northern Ireland peace process had shown that leaders must be prepared to take risks if they are to resolve conflicts. Civil society involvement, implementation and delivering the economic benefits of peace all played crucial roles too, he said.

“Ireland’s experience isn’t itself a recipe for conflict resolution elsewhere, but it helped those from other areas to gain an insight into how to solve a seemingly intractable conflict,” Gilmore said.

Gilmore said that the Irish EU Presidency would focus on the EU’s role as a peacemaker, and its conflict resolution and mediation capacities.

Pádraig Murphy, Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office for the South Caucasus, said Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker’s assessment of the euro zone’s troubles could equally apply to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. “Everyone knows what needs to be done, but no-one can figure out how to be re-elected if they do it,” he said.

“The demonisation of each side by the other is very dangerous, and raises questions regarding the ability to reach a settlement. The credibility of any settlement is compromised if there is demonisation by politicians or the media,” Murphy warned.

“Conflict resolution will be a priority of Ukraine’s OSCE chairmanship. We consider the OSCE as a unique platform that allows all members to convene in order to address common problems,” said Andrii Deshchytsia, Special Representative of the incoming Ukrainian Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe Chairperson-in-Office on Protracted Conflicts.

Deshchytsia said Ukraine would support the current frameworks for resolving all three frozen or protracted conflicts: in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, in Transdniestria, and in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“The OSCE provides a framework for dialogue, but who can play a more concrete conflict resolution role? The EU? The USA? Russia? It depends very much on their ambitions,” he said.

The European Union is renowned for overcoming the scars of conflict at home and for helping to do so abroad, said Gunnar Wiegand, Director for Russia, Eastern Partnership, Central Asia, Regional Cooperation and OSCE at the European External Action Service.

The EU aims to contribute to solving conflicts via its Neighbourhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership, Wiegand said, arguing that the absence of conflict provides an environment that is conducive to economic development.

Moreover, the EU has no interest in seeing conflict escalate in the South Caucasus given the region’s importance as an energy hub, the EEAS official explained.

The OSCE’s record on conflict resolution is patchy, while the EU’s Eastern Partnership is problematic because it has a small budget, was watered down by member states and offers no perspective of future EU membership, therefore giving governments in the region less incentive to carry out reform, said James Nixey, Eurasia Programme Manager at Chatham House.

Russia is a key player in the OSCE and in the context of these protracted conflicts. Russia tends to play a leading role in the region, and it is concerned about the potential for conflict. From this point of view, it wants to see the conflicts settled and is highly motivated to cooperate with the EU and other actors in this regard, said Dmitriy Danilov, Head of the European Security Studies Department at the Institute of Europe, Russian Academy of Sciences.

At the same time, there are difficulties organising genuine cooperation between external players, for example between the EU and Russia, said Danilov. “The EU is suspicious of Russia’s aims for its traditional sphere of influence. But there are controversial perceptions on both sides. The EU’s ‘neighbourhood’ terminology is rejected by Russia,” he said.

The Minsk process has totally failed to influence the situation on the ground in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the peace process remains fragile and unsupervised, said Dennis Sammut, Executive Director of the London Information Network on Conflicts and State-Building.

He said that efforts to take confidence-building measures on the ground had been rejected by one side or the other. But at least all-out war had been prevented, he added.

While some believe the Minsk Group has prevented war from breaking out, others believe that is rather because neither side really wants war yet. For some, the Minsk process has become a fig leaf behind which international actors and indeed all parties can hide their intransigence, Sammut said.

“The EU is engaged [on Nagorno-Karabakh] and is ready to be engaged even more,” said Maciej Popowski, Deputy Secretary-General for Inter-institutional Affairs at the European External Action Service.

Nevertheless, at present there is no alternative to the Minsk process: and the EU doesn’t have a place at the Minsk table, said Popowski. “What kind of EU contribution could we expect? It’s not as simple as ‘the EU turns up with money and changes things’,” he said.

“Civil society can play a range of roles in the conflict resolution process, from the grassroots right up to Track 1, and from trauma counselling to high-level mediation,” said Denis Matveev, Adviser (Black Sea and Central Asia Programme) at the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI).