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One year on: Is the war creating an existential crisis inside the OSCE?

Article by Prof Stefan Wolff

February 24, 2023

One year on: Is the war creating an existential crisis inside the OSCE?

Russia’s illegal and unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine has fundamentally changed the dynamics of the Euro-Asian and Euro-Atlantic security order. It poses the gravest threat to security in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) region and to the organisation itself. As a consequence, the OSCE is far from able to play an effective role in dealing not only with the challenge of the war in Ukraine but also with a number of other threats to the security of its participating States and their societies. In fact, the war in Ukraine simultaneously paralyses and consumes the organisation in ways that prevent it from fulfilling its mandate as a provider of comprehensive and cooperative security in the Euro-Asian and Euro-Atlantic space.


This is particularly problematic because the war in Ukraine is not the only security challenge for the OSCE and its participating States. Threats that pre-date the beginning of the war continue to exist, including the unresolved protracted conflicts in Moldova and the South Caucasus; ongoing boundary disputes in Central Asia; challenges related to violent extremism and radicalisation leading to terrorism (VERLT); and persistent risks emanating from violations of human and minority rights. 


New threats have emerged that directly relate to the war in Ukraine or are exacerbated by it, such as those related to food and energy security, trade, the still uneven post-pandemic recovery, and endemic problems with corruption. Yet other threats have acquired new prominence on the political agenda, such as the climate emergency. In addition, there are new security issues facing participating States and their societies from outside the OSCE region, such as those related to the crisis in Afghanistan.


By not being able to perform its role as a platform for dialogue and joint problem-solving, the narrative of the OSCE as being ‘useless’ in dealing with the very issues it was meant to manage constructively becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the organisation’s participating States are in danger of condemning it to a slow and agonising death.

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