«Addressing the crisis of European security resolutely and comprehensively: Some reflections on the way forward»


Vienna, 17.06.2015 – Closing statement by Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter at the Munich Security Conference "Core Group Meeting" – Check against delivery

Speaker: Didier Burkhalter

Ambassador Ischinger
Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you for inviting me to make this closing statement. This gathering has taken place against the backdrop of worrying signs of escalation in eastern Ukraine. We face a surge in the number of hotspots, heavy weapons, violence, and casualties. There is a real risk of a downward spiral.

We find ourselves at a critical juncture in the Ukraine crisis. This looks all too familiar for those of us who have been involved from the beginning.

If there is no sustainable progress towards a political solution – if we again move from a logic of de-escalation to a logic of escalation – the prospects are bleak. That goes for Ukraine, for the Ukrainian people in the conflict zone who suffer tremendously, and for European security.

How can we escape this vicious circle? None of us has a complete answer. Still, one thing I realized as OSCE chair last year is this: Even though there is an ongoing, pressing need for operational crisis management, we should always keep the big picture in sight. We must invest just as much in strategic as in operational crisis management – in an assessment of why it has come to this and how we can move forward. Gatherings like this Core Group meeting play an important role.

With this in mind, the main message I wish to convey today is this:  Instead of continuing to sequence our crisis management efforts – in the sense of: fixing the Ukraine crisis first and addressing the broader crisis of European security later –, we should deal with these issues in parallel. The Ukraine crisis and the crisis of European security can only be overcome if we consider their interconnections.

There is no doubt: The crisis of European security has become virulent because of its Ukraine-specific dimension: Russia’s response to the Maidan Revolution by illegally annexing Crimea and fuelling conflict in eastern Ukraine have dealt a heavy blow to the Helsinki Principles and provoked a steep deterioration in Russian-Western relations.

It is worth recalling however that there is a bigger context to this: Europe’s post-Cold War order started to show fissures more than a decade before the Ukraine crisis. The spirit of Western-Russian partnership and pan-European cooperative security based on democracy and human rights, which marked the Paris Charter of 1990, the NATO-Russia Founding Act, and the Charter for European Security of 1999, have gradually eroded.

It is important to privilege narratives of this erosion that avoid a simple blame game. The fact is that no consensus on Russia’s role in Europe was ever established. Moscow complained that for all the consultation formats with the West, its position was scarcely taken into account when it came to Western policy decisions.

NATO and the EU for their part had to watch as an economically recovered Russia again began to distance itself from Western institutions and values, be it for foreign or for domestic policy reasons. This strategic estrangement manifested itself in numerous clashes and was felt in our everyday work, in the OSCE and elsewhere.

Mirroring this widening gap on the pan-European level, a crisis of European security also unfolded on the sub-regional level. No common vision could be established for the common neighbourhood of the enlarged EU and Russia. These countries, all characterised by multiple identities, have found themselves between two different integration models. They constitute a major zone of insecurity, and their future is one of the biggest questions for European security.

We should address in parallel all three levels of crisis – the Ukraine crisis, the zone of insecurity in the post-Soviet area between Russia and the EU, and the pan-European level – if we are to make progress on Ukraine and reconsolidate European security as a common project. The OSCE can play an important role on all of these accounts. Progress will however only be feasible if all sides are still interested in a common future based on the normative foundations established after the Cold War.

With this in mind, let me offer some thoughts on the way forward on each of these three crisis levels:

Regarding the Ukraine crisis, imminent de-escalation measures must be ensured by leaders on all sides. More arms would not bring more stability. The only viable way forward is to fully – rather than selectively – implement the Minsk commitments. The Trilateral Contact Group and its working groups remain the appropriate format to advance implementation of these commitments.

On behalf of the Swiss Federal Council, I seize this opportunity to express our sincere gratitude to Ambassador Tagliavini for her outstanding work as Special Representative of the OSCE CiO. Time and again, she has done an exceptional job in facilitating dialogue and preserving and structuring the option for peace. Switzerland is ready to continue its support for the essential work of the Trilateral Contact Group. We also remain strong supporters of the Special Monitoring Mission, which plays a seminal role in efforts to de-escalate the situation.

Ladies and gentlemen

The future of Ukraine between the West and Russia is not part of the Minsk discussions. But the way this question is being handled will have an impact on the Minsk process.

This brings me to the second level of crisis, which concerns the future of the common neighborhood of the EU and Russia. The prospects for these countries would likely improve if a common solution were found to conceive of them as bridges rather than frontiers.

We should aspire for more economic connectivity that reflects the multiple ties of these countries. The current talks between the EU, Russia, and Ukraine are important and will hopefully point to solutions for other countries too.

We are working on a set of proposals on how the OSCE could support efforts to boost economic connectivity. We believe that the OSCE as a platform for inclusive dialogue can have a role in promoting such connectivity issues, which indeed should become a major component of the economic and environmental dimension of the organisation.

There is also the question of security for those countries in the common neighbourhood that are de facto non-aligned today. If these countries are unlikely to get a NATO and EU membership option anytime soon, how can they enhance their security compared to the difficult status quo today?

One option to consider might be whether their security could be strengthened in the coming years if their de facto non-alignment is being transformed into a neutrality status legally recognised by all relevant parties, possibly complemented by non-use of force provisions and security assurances. Any such form of ‘security connectivity’ would obviously have to be sought by the countries themselves. The right of each OSCE participating State to choose its own security arrangements must be vigorously defended.

Finally, two remarks on pan-European security:

First, we should have a dialogue on how to foster common understanding of the Helsinki Principles. There is no need for new rules but rather for improved adherence to the existing rules. The OSCE is the appropriate place for such a dialogue.

And second, it is time to strengthen the OSCE as an anchor for cooperative security in Europe. The OSCE has demonstrated its usefulness as a platform for inclusive dialogue and as an operational responder. Strengthening this bridge between the Euro-Atlantic and the Eurasian region would be a significant step towards reconsolidating European security as a common project.

This morning, the Panel of Eminent Persons on European Security as a Common Project published its Interim Report on lessons for the OSCE to be learnt from the Ukraine crisis.

The report comprises concrete, actionable recommendations on how to enhance OSCE capacity to prevent conflicts, foster operational capabilities and take political action.

I encourage you all to read this valuable report. And I would like to commend you, Ambassador Ischinger, and your co-panelists for your work, which I am sure is not always free from struggle but which is very important to promote discussion on the future of European security.

Switzerland will examine each recommendation carefully and encourage a broad debate. In light of the SMM experience, we also propose reviewing OSCE peace operations. Enhanced OSCE capacities to conduct integrated missions that are still predominantly civilian but provide for the possible inclusion of more robust elements could be a major step in adapting the OSCE to today’s security environment.

Ladies and gentlemen

As we approach the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act, European security is in crisis. This is no moment to celebrate. But the anniversary does provide an opportunity to reflect on the importance of the Final Act and our subsequent commitments to a free and undivided Europe. And it should inspire us to resolutely and comprehensively address the current crisis, rebuild trust, and make sure that we are doing everything possible not to let our continent be divided again.

Address for enquiries:

Information FDFA
Bundeshaus West
CH-3003 Bern
Tel.: +41 58 462 31 53
Fax: +41 58 464 90 47
E-Mail: info@eda.admin.ch


Federal Department of Foreign Affairs