I thank our host for organizing this timely debate on European security and the role of the OSCE. I have two main points to make:
• First, our common challenge: the crisis of European security has become more complex, and is also linked to greater political uncertainty.
• Second, the way forward: there ought to be more inclusive political dialogue to advance common action, reduce this uncertainty and rebuild trust. The Hamburg decision to have a structured dialogue in the OSCE presents an opportunity to move in this direction, and I will make some proposals in this regard.
Let me start with European security:
The Ukraine crisis erupted three years ago at a time when Switzerland held the OSCE Chairmanship. The OSCE was quick to respond and has helped de-escalate the situation, especially thanks to the Special Monitoring Mission the 57 participating States agreed to deploy. But the conflict remains unresolved.
During our Chairmanship, it already became quite obvious that the Ukraine crisis was related to a broader crisis of Europe’s liberal security order. This broader crisis came to a head with the illegal annexation of Crimea, but it had been in the making for years.
The notion of Western-Russian partnership and cooperative security, which marked the Paris Charter of 1990 and the Charter for European Security of 1999, has gradually eroded. There has been growing disrespect for shared norms and commitments. The consensus of the 1990s that human rights and democracy are foundations of security in the OSCE area has faded. There has also been strategic estrangement. This has negatively affected security instruments like conventional arms control in Europe.
On top of these developments, there is now a great deal of political uncertainty about European security, especially with respect to the future role of the US in Europe and to US-Russian relations. There is also uncertainty as regards Brexit and the outcome of elections in a number of European countries this year. The question of how relations between Europe, the US and Russia will evolve is of strategic importance, but there are no clear answers at this stage.
Against this background, the OSCE has ever more vital roles to play. Switzerland has long regarded the OSCE as a major anchor of European security. It is a Swiss foreign policy priority to strengthen the OSCE both as a platform for inclusive dialogue and as an instrument for common action. We are grateful for the Austrian chair’s efforts to make progress on both accounts.
Switzerland has made the case for dialogue on core issues of European security for some time now. Until recently, there has been limited appetite for such dialogue. To provide food for thought, Switzerland – together with Germany and Serbia (with you, Ivica) – launched the Panel of Eminent Persons on European Security as a Common Project. The Panel held its first meeting on the margins of the Munich Security Conference two years ago. It produced two reports that are worth reading.
There has been some progress lately on two of the issues that the Panel addressed.
First: conventional arms control in Europe has returned to the agenda. Germany took the initiative last year, which Switzerland supported. We have joined the group of like-minded countries that was set up. Switzerland considers arms control a vital ingredient of cooperative security. In the context of current tensions, the lack of effective arms control and related confidence and security building measures in Europe is a major risk in itself.
Second: some positive steps have been taken in line with the Panel’s call for a return to diplomacy. Within the OSCE, efforts are under way to ensure more ministerial involvement and more informal forms of ministerial discussions. We had a good informal ministerial meeting in Potsdam, and Austria will host a follow-up meeting this summer in Vienna. We welcome this as there really is a need for political leadership to address the issues at hand.
At the Hamburg ministerial meeting last December, the 57 ministers agreed on “launching a structured dialogue on the current and future challenges and risks to security in the OSCE area”. This is an important step forward that may go some way towards helping to reduce the strategic uncertainty that we are all confronted with.
The Austrian chairmanship is currently holding consultations in Vienna on what this structured dialogue should look like. Switzerland has also given this matter some thought. So let me conclude with four points about this dialogue from a Swiss perspective – two on substance to bolster common action, and two on form to bring the dialogue to fruition:
First, we propose that conventional arms control and CSBMs should be on the agenda of the dialogue. The idea for this structured dialogue emerged out of discussions on whether and how to take up the issue of arms control. While this remains a controversial subject, we believe it must not be put on the backburner.
At the same time, and this is my second point, Switzerland welcomes the fact that the mandate of the dialogue is broad and flexible. Comparing threat perceptions will provide a good basis for efforts to find common ground on a series of issues. I am thinking in particular of cyber security and terrorism or violent extremism. Advancing cooperation on challenges where we do have common interests can help rebuild trust.
Third, this dialogue should be informal, and it should be led by an experienced and dynamic figure. This will lend it the necessary flexibility and convening power.
Fourth, and last, high-level participation and engagement from capitals is key. Some previous OSCE processes like Helsinki + 40 lacked the involvement of capitals, which is one of the reasons they floundered. Involvement from capitals could include officials, academics, and even foreign ministers. The informal OSCE ministerial meeting this summer could be a first opportunity to review the discussions and give critical impulses.
The founding fathers of the CSCE opted for dialogue despite persistent differences. The result was enhanced security for all. It is this kind of spirit that should guide us as we are called to address the many challenges we are confronted with. Switzerland is ready to support the setting up of this new structured dialogue process, and to contribute with our expertise and ideas.