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Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)

Flags of the OSCE and its 57 participating States

Flags of the OSCE and its 57 participating States, © dpa/picture alliance

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The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is the largest regional security organisation in the world. In recent years, it has regained importance as a platform for dialogue between East and West.

The OSCE comprises 57 participating States, including the countries of Europe and the successor states to the Soviet Union, as well as the United States, Canada and Mongolia. The OSCE’s decisions are reached by consensus, i.e. with the approval of all participating States. The decisions in which the participating States commit themselves to common values, ideas and goals are politically, but not legally, binding. The OSCE emerged from the Conference on Security and Cooperation in 1990 with the Charter of Paris.

Beyond its participating States, the OSCE conducts dialogues with partner countries in the Mediterranean region (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan) and with Asian partner countries (Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Afghanistan), as well as Australia. These cooperation partners also attend meetings of the OSCE bodies.

Objectives of the OSCE

The OSCE’s objective is to enhance security in Europe through cooperation and dialogue between the European and the eastern and western neighbouring countries. The OSCE is based on a wide-ranging definition of security that encompasses what are known as the “three dimensions”: 1. the politico‑military dimension, 2. the economic and environmental dimension, and 3. the human dimension of security policy. Core topics of the OSCE in the first dimension include disarmament, arms control and security- and confidence-building, in addition to crisis management and counter-terrorism. The economic and environmental dimension primarily seeks to promote good economic framework conditions for security and stability as well as connectivity among the participating States. The third dimension comprises the protection of human rights as well as the promotion of democratic and rule‑of‑law standards. The comprehensive concept of security enables participating States to build trust in the long term through issues and projects of common interest.

Germany in the OSCE

In 2016, Germany held the Chairpersonship of the OSCE, which rotates annually. Germany therefore hosted the annual OSCE Ministerial Council, which took place in Hamburg. Priorities of its Chairpersonship included military security, counter‑terrorism, economic connectivity and tolerance and diversity. Germany held a conference on each of these topic areas during its Chairpersonship. Moreover, it has worked intensively to expand the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) and to resolve the conflicts in Transnistria and the Southern Caucasus, and has put migration on the OSCE’s agenda.

Germany contributes 11 percent of the current OSCE budget, which makes it the second‑largest contributor after the United States. Moreover, the Federal Government supports OSCE projects throughout the OSCE area with additional voluntary contributions. German staff are to be found in almost all the OSCE missions and institutions. All in all, Germany seconds more than 70 experts to the OSCE. Furthermore, Germany regularly contributes to OSCE election observation missions run by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Since 2002, secondment of personnel has been organised in cooperation with the Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF).

You can also find more information about working at the OSCE here (in German).

Content: Three dimensions, election observation, field missions and project offices

  • The first dimension – the politico‑military dimension comprises security policy and military cooperation within the OSCE, including, in particular, arms control and confidence-building measures as well as crisis and conflict management.
  • Conventional arms control aims to reduce the risk of conflict by restricting weapons systems, exchanging information, verification and military cooperation. It is based on treaties that are binding under international law, such as the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) and the Treaty on Open Skies, as well as the Vienna Document as a politically binding agreement for strengthening security and confidence in the OSCE area. Since 2017, the OSCE participating States have discussed new cooperative approaches to arms control and current challenges to European security in the context of what is known as the Structured Dialogue.
  • The second dimension – the economic and environmental dimension provides a framework for discussions on issues such as corruption and terrorist financing, new technologies (the digital transformation), climate and security, and the economic empowerment of women. The current Polish Chairmanship's focus is on post-Covid-19 recovery, which includes environmental protection and sustainable connectivity. Under the German OSCE Chairmanship in 2016, “good governance” and “connectivity” were particular core topics.
  • The third dimension – the human dimension comprises freedom of the media, minority rights, tolerance, non‑discrimination, the rule of law and combating antisemitism, which are indispensable elements of the OSCE’s comprehensive definition of security. The High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) fulfils an early-warning function with respect to ethnic tensions and conflicts in the OSCE area. The Representative on Freedom of the Media monitors the development of freedom of expression and freedom of the media in the OSCE area and promotes the implementation of OSCE commitments to this end in the participating States.
  • Election observation. The Warsaw-based OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) is one of the most important regional human rights institutions. It promotes democratic elections, respect for human rights, tolerance, non-discrimination and the rule of law.
  • The OSCE carries out election observation missions in OSCE participating States via ODIHR on a regular basis. Over the past ten years, ODIHR has conducted more than 200 such election observation missions. Not only the events on the election day and vote counting are taken into consideration, but also election campaigns including freedom of the media and opinion as well as election law. The results are released to the public in the form of reports.
  • The OSCE’s field missions and project offices report regularly to the OSCE Permanent Council from Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, for example, and provide an objective and nuanced picture of the situation on the ground. Their objectives include helping to ensure that human and minority rights are respected, assisting with building democratic and rule‑of‑law structures, fostering dialogue, especially between ethnic groups, creating modern societal and economic orders and helping to run elections. More about the OSCE field missions
  • The Centre for OSCE Research (CORE) at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg (IFSH) is a unique scientific research unit that supports and evaluates the OSCE’s work.

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