Swedish OSCE Chairpersonship 2021/ Sweden’s Pledge that OSCE Makes a Difference

By Genc Mlloja

Senior Diplomatic Editor

‘Our Commitments. Our Security. Our OSCE!’ This is Sweden’s pledge of its strong engagement to ensure that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) makes a difference during its chairmanship which it took over on January 1, 2021 from Albania as this Balkan country officially concluded the one-year rotating OSCE presidency in Europe in 2020.

The Swedish Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Ann Linde, published a congratulatory message “thanking Albania for the work done” in leading this important international organization. She stressed that although 2020 was a challenging year, Albania succeeded in showing leadership and important decision-making.

Swedish Chairpersonship priorities unveiled

“In a situation where multilateral co-operation and international law are increasingly being challenged, and our agreements and instruments to strengthen security are being questioned, we need to remind ourselves why we designed them in the first place… Sweden is convinced that multilateral cooperation is the best way to address our common challenges. Sweden has shown that we are ready to shoulder our responsibility for the multilateral system,” has said OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and Swedish FM Ann Linde.

Unveiling the 13- page Programme of Swedish OSCE Chairpersonship 2021 before the Permanent Council on January 14 Ms. Linde highlighted the two major commitments of the participating states: defense of the European security order and upholding of the organization’s concept of comprehensive security. Political and economic security, human rights, democracy, the rule of law and equality are interrelated and interconnected among the priorities of a chairmanship taken over against the backdrop of a situation when all the member countries are gripped severely by the Covid-19 pandemic, ongoing conflicts and crises in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Belarus, and the Western Balkans.

Sweden also is at the helm of the OSCE at a historical time when there is a change of presidency in the US where Joe Biden took the reins at the White House on January 20 leaving behind one of the darkest presidency transition in the US history with Capital being assaulted and a former president who pledges to continue the fight in defense of his stolen power by fraud in the 3 November 2020 elections.

In line with her pledge to remain ready to engage directly in conflict resolutions Minister Anne Linde in her capacity of OSCE’s Chairperson started her first mission in Ukraine flying to Ukraine on a two-day working visit on January 19 which has been considered as a sign of Ukraine being a priority on the OSCE agenda in 2021. During her visit, she held talks with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Kyiv discussing a number of topics, including the security situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Donbas and Crimea, efforts to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian conflict peacefully, and support for the OSCE's activities. Linde visited the area of the Joint Forces Operation in Donbas getting personally acquainted with the activities of the OSCE Special Monitoring there.

OSCE in a different world

“Today, we live in a different world in many respects,” it is highlighted in the Programme which details the priorities of the one-year chairmanship opening with a foreword followed by 6 parts namely: Back to basics; A world where common rules are respected is a more secure world; Human security – the inextricable link between the security of states and the security of citizens; Efforts to resolve conflicts must be accelerated, tools to build confidence and prevent conflicts are there to be used; Building resilient and more robust societies to counter threats to human security; About us – the Swedish CiO 2021.

“The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has a proud heritage. That this broad range of countries were able to come together, in times of global antagonism and disagreement, and unite around a set of common principles and commitments, is a historic achievement,” it is highlighted in the Foreword of the Programme.

A glance at the background on the OSCE reveals that the organization brings together 57 participating States in Europe, Central Asia and North America and originates from the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), which was started during the Cold War and made up of a series of meetings in which the participating States worked to reach common commitments on increasing security and maintaining peace in Europe. In 1975, the Helsinki Final Act was adopted, which forms the basis of the European security order, followed by the Paris Charter in 1990. The OSCE was developed into its current form in 1994 when the then ongoing CSCE was expanded to become an international organisation following a decision at a summit in Budapest.

Albania refused to join the OSCE when it was founded as the former communist governance considered it as a creation and tool of the two former superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. The fall of communism brought about a total shift of its foreign policy platform and one of the first steps was membership to the OSCE which happened on 19 June 1991, which was part of a string of diplomatic actions like the establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States, the former Soviet Union, Israel and some other countries and international organizations. As it was mentioned above Albania was at the helm of OSCE during the last year the first term since its membership in the organization. Sweden last held the OSCE Chair in 1993.

The OSCE’s activities are divided into three dimensions of security: politico-military security issues; economic and environmental security issues and the link between human rights and security. The organisation’s mission is to strengthen confidence and cooperation between participating States with the aim of preventing conflicts and also working towards conflict resolution when crises arise.

Go back to basics…

The serious tensions between participating states in terms of ongoing conflicts and views of democracy and human rights have a major impact on possibilities to reach consensus decisions because as a rule they are taken through consensus by the Permanent Council.

But as it is stated in the Swedish priorities as Chair of the OSCE, itsb primary focus will be to go back to basics. “Emphasis will be on the fundamental tasks of the OSCE: to defend the European security order, to uphold the OSCE comprehensive concept of security and to contribute to resolving conflicts in accordance with international law.”

How much will be able Sweden to accomplish such sensible objectives can also be found in what is stated in the priorities platform which reveals that it aims at working on issues to improve the OSCE in such aspects as gender equality, women’s participation in conflict resolution because it believes that it leads to more sustainable peace, and that respect for democratic principles and human rights – including freedom of expression and freedom of the press promote security and lay the foundation for economic growth.

In addition Sweden’s hands are full with serious challenges on top of which is the COVID-19 pandemic that has placed an additional strain on societies of all member countries of the organization. However in this frame no mention is made of any action with regard to the anti- Covid vaccines which has become one of the most important worries as the world is seeing the gap between rich and poor with the latter being far from getting the so much needed supply while the rich are creating large stocks of them. It would have been appreciated if the Swedish OSCE Chair could bring to the table this issue.

In the meantime stress is laid on the fact that international law is being violated, conflicts remain unresolved with outbreaks of violence or ongoing aggression, international obligations regarding human rights, principles of democracy and the rule of law are increasingly being called into question. Likewise it is said that climate change poses an ever-increasing threat and progress on gender equality is slow and uneven. “The Decalogue of the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, the commitments laid down in the Paris Charter of 1990 – together with all other OSCE principles and commitments – constitute the foundation of the European security order. They are the guiding principles that we, the participating States, have jointly committed to observe,” said the Programme. In this frame it lists certain basic principles of international law like sovereign equality, refraining from the threat or use of force, respect for territorial integrity and the freedom of states to choose their own security arrangements, as well as respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

It also draws the attention to the stress placed by Sweden Chairperson on political accountability as an important part of the OSCE’s work.

In part three the Programme points out that relations between states are only one side of security: just as important for people in their everyday lives are factors such as political security, full enjoyment of human rights, democracy, the rule of law, as well as economic and environmental security. It is expressed the worry that over the past years, democratic principles and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms have been increasingly challenged in the organization's region, and the Covid-19 pandemic has augmented the risk of further backsliding. “The right to freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of the media are key elements of the OSCE comprehensive concept of security and will be central priorities in the human dimension. During the Swedish Chairpersonship, we will also underline democratic processes, civic space and participation as central to preserving and promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law.”

In this work, according to the priorities platform, civil society actors play an important role. Issues concerning human rights, democracy, the rule of law and gender equality will be mainstreamed across the agenda. Swedish Chair’s efforts will be carried out in support of, and be complementary to, the important work done by the autonomous institutions, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the Representative on the Freedom of the Media and the High Commissioner on National Minorities. “The Code of Conduct on Political-Military Aspects of Security will guide the Chair’s efforts to highlight the importance of ensuring democratic, civilian control over armed forces.”

The efforts to resolve conflicts must be accelerated, says the Programme according to which tools to build confidence and prevent conflicts are there to be used and the year 2021 marks an opportunity to revisit the existing tools to prevent and resolve conflicts. In this spirit Part 4 of the Programme deals with the contribution to conflict resolution in the OSCE region based on the commonly agreed principles and commitments. “To this end, the Swedish Chair will actively support the OSCE’s existing conflict resolution formats and processes, including through the special representatives of the Chairperson-in-Office. We will promote the unique OSCE field operations.”

As it was mentioned above among the conflicts in the OSCE region, the conflict in and around Ukraine remains the most obvious challenge to the European security order. “As Chair, Sweden recognises the vital importance of the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine and will seek to contribute to the ongoing efforts in the Normandy Format and the Trilateral Contact Group for a sustainable political solution in line with the OSCE’s principles and commitments, with full respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders.”

Include the whole population – implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda and equal rights are vital security interests Twenty years after the adoption of United Nations Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 1325 and its subsequent resolutions, women are still heavily underrepresented in conflict prevention and resolution, and the impact of conflict on women, men, girls and boys is often not fully recognised. This holds also true for the OSCE region.

The Programme predicts that during the Swedish Chair, implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda will be prioritized, and in this frame work will be stepped up to strengthen the OSCE in producing data, analysis and actions – not least related to the conflicts – that take account of gender. “When visiting field operations, the Chairperson-in-Office will pay special attention to their important work in this regard, as well as to women’s rights organisations on the ground. Gender equal societies, where human rights are fully enjoyed by all, are more secure with better prospects for sustainable, resilient and prosperous development. Women are disproportionally exposed to economic vulnerabilities and the security that follows from equal participation in economic life. Economic empowerment is necessary to enable and achieve full and effective political participation by women in conflict prevention and resolution. Sweden will take on the work in the second dimension with this as one important priority. We will focus on women’s economic empowerment and meaningful participation, building on the decision that was taken in Vilnius in 2011.”

The fifth part focuses on building resilient and more robust societies to counter threats to human security from organised crime, terrorism, cyber threats and the destruction of environment. “In the same vein, corruption is a menace that undermines our societies. It fuels organised crime and systematically threatens sustainable development, democracy and security. Sweden will continue the work of previous Chairs to fight corruption and strengthen good governance,” said the Programme.

“Climate change and natural degradation affect millions of women, men, girls and boys around the world and in the OSCE region. More attention needs to be paid to the link between climate change and security. Prevention and peacebuilding need to become climate aware, and efforts to combat climate change should be made conflict sensitive. Cooperation on environmental issues may also have positive outcomes beyond improvement in the local environment. As Chair, we will continue the OSCE’s active role in preventing and countering environmental and climate change-related security challenges,” it is said.

As it has been admitted on many occasions by the Swedish Chairperson the holding of the Chair is not just about what it is accomplished, but how it is accomplished. This means that Sweden is aware of the challenges lying ahead in an era when security in the world is being challenged by increasingly complex threats and it admits that they can only be solved sustainably through international cooperation. In a note of optimism Swedish Chair of the OSCE looks forward to the perspective of dialogue, cooperation, inclusion and respect for agreed principles eying them as ways and means that can bring about a real difference. However time will show if this multilateral platform such as the OSCE will deliver and on top of all if the immensely important objective of going back to basics will ‘really go back’ having as common denominator building security and prosperity for both member states and people.