OSCE Summit in Astana – A Promising Beginning

The first OSCE summit in eleven years finished with the adoption of the Astana Commemorative Declaration on 2nd December 2010. With negotiations that ran into the small hours, the declaration re-affirmed the organisation’s existing values and has not only set the stage for revitalising the OSCE, but also for providing renewed impetus on global security co-operation. Although it did not provide the series of key action items and agreement on important issues that host country, Kazakhstan, would have wanted, this should be considered as an important new dawn.

oca73President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, was upbeat in his tone as he thanked weary diplomats for their work. “We have reconfirmed our support to the comprehensive approach to security based on trust and transparency … and on the full-fledged observation of human rights, basic freedoms and the rule of law,” he said. “We intend to raise the level and quality of security and understanding between our states and peoples.”

oca74A hint of what was to come was given earlier on the second day of the summit when Italian Premier, Silvio Berlusconi, made an almost heartfelt plea as one of the longest serving members of the OSCE for leaders to agree an action plan. He took the floor before the plenary session broke for a longer-than-expected lunch on the second day of the conference. His presence at the summit was despite a potential vote of confidence in his leadership in Italy. Then, a final press conference due to be held by the President himself, was delayed hour after hour in the hope that a resolution would be reached.

When there was agreement, a full twelve hours later than scheduled, many leaders expressed their disappointment. The mention of current conflicts and disagreements such as in Georgia, the Nagorno-Karabakh region and the Moldovan breakaway region of Transdniestr appeared to have inflamed opinions and may have prevented agreement. Western powers would not accept an action plan that excluded these disputes. Prior to the summit, Russia had made it clear that it had grave reservations on including mention of these conflicts.

oca72Nevertheless the event itself, held in Astana, Kazakhstan’s glistening modern capital, was historic and Kazakhstan must be congratulated in bringing together the 56 nations of the OSCE to revisit what the organisation stands for. The outcome may not have been the legacy that Kazakhstan would have hoped would cement their leadership, but it has played its part in reinvigorating the organisation and bringing together the OSCE states around one table. The lack of an action plan should in no way reflect negatively on the Kazakh chairmanship, rather the inability of 56 governments to find a pragmatic solution.

For some, the fact that this summit occurred well beyond the confines of Europe provided the opportunity to criticise Kazakhstan. Things are changing, however, and Kazakhstan is leading the charge. “Eurasian security is not a metaphor, it is a strict geopolitical fact,” continued Nazarbayev. As global security becomes ever more closely entwined, this expansion and inclusion of Europe’s neighbours will be critical to future success in maintaining peace and order. Kazakhstan’s position has also been of great importance given recent events in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and nearby Afghanistan. In particular Kazakhstan’s sensible approach towards dealing with the Kyrgyz crisis was only really possible due to its intimate knowledge of the people and politics. Few other countries would have been able to show the same sensible, realistic and rapid thinking as Kazakhstan.

oca7The history of the OSCE dates back to 1975, during the Cold War, when 35 Heads of State gathered together in Helsinki, Finland, to conclude two years of discussions and sign a politically binding document committing them to sit down in the future at one table and discuss openly a whole range of international issues, including human rights and civil liberties. The last OSCE summit was held in Istanbul in 1999, at the dawn of the twenty-first century. There the OSCE’s co-operation with other international and regional organisations was defined. However, since then the role of the OSCE has become less well defined amongst a myriad of international organisations emerging.

Despite the Wikileaks crisis, politicians (including 26 heads of state) from across the globe attended, showing a genuine attempt to re-invigorate the OSCE. Notable inclusions were Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Hamid Karzai and Rosa Otunbaeva. Greek premier, Petros Efthymiou, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, stated in his opening address, that, “it is no secret that today the OSCE is facing an identity crisis…Thus we find ourselves here, in Astana, contemplating Hamlet’s proverbial question at Elsinore Castle: “To be or not to be” – or even how to be?”

The Astana Commemorative Declaration has, however, has made a public call for an action plan to be developed under the leadership of future chairmanships based on the work begun by Kazakhstan during its chairmanship. This will start with Lithuania next year, Ireland in 2012 and Ukraine in 2013.

For the Central Asian countries, their attendance at the summit and ability communicate their own concerns and issues, was also a significant and important step forwards. That Kazakhstan has helped bring the region to the front of the international agenda by hosting the summit will undoubtedly help raise the profile of these once littleknown former Soviet republics.

“We realize that the way to a true Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian community with united and indivisible security will be long and thorny,” Nazarbayev concluded, hiding perhaps his disappointment that the summit delegates had not achieved more. It is unlikely that a two day summit could really have produced such concrete agreements on sensitive action from so many participants, but what it has left is a clear task for the next chairman, Lithuania, to start the long road towards a more focused and action-orientated OSCE that will leave the world with better security and greater human freedom. Surely that is a highly commendable conclusion to Kazakhstan’s chairmanship.