The tripartite approach is suffocating OSCE

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Kairat Abdrakhmanov at the opening of the seventh round of talks on the Syrian conflict settlement in Astana, Kazakhstan, 31 October 2017. [Ilyas Omarov/EPA/EFE]

Kazakhstan’s view is that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) should not be a place where decisions are made by the United States, Russia and the European Union with everyone else reduced to the role of spectators, writes Kairat Abdrakhmanov.

Kairat Abdrakhmanov is the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan.

Nothing better demonstrates the need to rebuild trust and strengthen the effectiveness of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) than the fact that during the annual ministerial council in Vienna earlier this month the Council was able to adopt only a handful of the proposed documents before it. Paying due homage to the effectiveness of the Austrian 2017 chairmanship in the OSCE, one can only lament that the political declaration, that most important among the documents, was among those that failed to garner the needed consensus yet again, for so many years in a row.

This all means that almost three decades after the end of the Cold War and the optimism it brought, heated controversies and conflicts mean the OSCE’s goal of comprehensive and indivisible security for all its 57 participating states remains, unfortunately, out of reach.

The obstacles which need to be overcome to achieve this goal seem and, indeed, remain formidable. But, thanks to Kazakhstan and its President, the OSCE does have a roadmap to guide it. The Astana Declaration, agreed at the OSCE Summit of Heads of State and Government seven years ago this month, continues to provide the best hope for the future.

There was skepticism ahead of the summit, called by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, over what could be achieved. But in the end, the Astana Commemorative Declaration: Towards a Security Community, defined the central mission of the OSCE in the 21st century as the creation of a security community from Vancouver to Vladivostok.  Importantly, it also outlined how progress could be delivered by building on the politico-military, economic and environmental and human dimension.  The Astana Declaration remains the only OSCE consensus document adopted by the heads of state and governments this century.

It was the inability of the OSCE and its participating states to implement the practical measures in the declaration which prevented it from being able to defuse the new tensions which erupted in the OSCE’s area of responsibility. In the absence of rapprochement, trust was weakened. But the Astana Declaration remains the main “compass” for the OSCE, the potential of which is yet to be unlocked.

The Declaration was both a reflection of the priorities and principles which underpin Kazakhstan’s foreign policy and a personal achievement for President Nazarbayev. He started personal negotiations with OSCE leaders well before Kazakhstan’s chairmanship began and his involvement helped lift the summit and mission beyond the diplomatic routine. He knew the vision of sustainable security in Eurasia could not be achieved without the direct participation of political leaders.

As OSCE chair, Kazakhstan also stepped up efforts to settle the protracted conflicts. President Nazarbayev’s credentials were strengthened by the role he played in helping to resolve the intense civil conflict in Kyrgyzstan in April 2010. During this critical period, he alone had the trust of Bishkek, Moscow, Washington and Brussels required for the successful mediation. Kazakhstan’s chairmanship also was instrumental in mobilizing OSCE resources to help stabilize that country.

The motto of our chairmanship, the four “Ts” standing for “Trust, Traditions, Transparency, and Tolerance,” was a comprehensive reflection of the priorities and principles of Kazakhstan as an impartial broker and a responsible participant in international relations. This motto remains relevant in the organization to this day.

It is regrettable that today the OSCE lacks the united political will for such a role. Instead, it has become a sort of common knowledge that decisions are made by the United States, Russia and the European Union with everyone else reduced to the role of spectators. But it is Kazakhstan’s view that much more could be achieved if leadership was shared by countries outside of this tripartite. An expanded group would have a better chance to actively promote rapprochement and heal divisions.

This approach continues to underpin our country’s foreign policy and has repeatedly proven its effectiveness. President Nazarbayev, for example, was personally engaged in facilitating the Normandy Format negotiations on Ukraine, in the successful rapprochement between Russia and Turkey last year, as well as in the Astana Process talks on Syria whose eighth round took place Dec. 21-22 in our capital. The Kazakh leader stressed at the OSCE Astana Summit that “Eurasian security is not a metaphor but a real geopolitical fact,” and that Kazakhstan cannot remain indifferent to the conflicts and controversies in the region.

Time does not stand still. Over the last seven years, new challenges have emerged and old problems have worsened. We have seen increased threats, for example, from the terrorist group Daesh/ISIS, as well as from drugs and human trafficking and the potential for cyber-attacks against critical national infrastructure facilities. But the need for dialogue, co-operation and engagement has never been greater.

Over the last seven years, too, Kazakhstan has significantly strengthened its international credibility thanks to good leadership, sound foreign policy and an ever more professional and experienced diplomatic service. Today our country is considered as an equal, reliable and meaningful partner, whose opinion is invariably taken into account in the international arena. It is credibility and trust which has seen Kazakhstan become the first country from Central Asia to be elected onto the UN Security Council which we will chair next month.

This year has also marked our country’s 25th anniversary of OSCE membership. We remain committed to the aims and success of the organization. In my view, the OSCE must play a leading role in strengthening Eurasian security architecture. If the OSCE and its participating states can recommit themselves to the vision in the Astana Declaration of “a free, democratic, common and indivisible Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian security community stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostok, rooted in agreed principles, shared commitments and common goals,” then it can strengthen its relevance for peace and stability.