The Danish Peace Academy


The OSCE approach to security is comprehensive and co-operative. Because decisions are made on the basis of consensus all states participating in OSCE activities have an equal status. An exception exists in that decisions can be taken in the absence of the consent of the State concerned, in cases of clear, gross, and uncorrected violations of OSCE commitments relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms ("consensus minus one"). It was invoked in July 1992 to suspend Yugoslavia from the CSCE.

The OSCE has no legal status under international law and all its decisions are politically but not legally binding. However, having been signed at the highest political level, OSCE summit documents have an authority that is arguably as strong as a legal statute under international law.

The CSCE formally opened in Helsinki on 3 July 1973. Foreign Ministers from 35 States, encompassing the whole of Europe (with the exception of Albania and Andorra) plus the United States and Canada, launched what has come to be known as "the Helsinki process." From 1973 to 1975, experts engaged in what amounted to the first ever multilateral East-West negotiation process. The end result was the Helsinki Final Act. The Act was signed by 35 Heads of State or Government in Helsinki on 1 August 1975.

Follow-up meetings took place in Belgrade (October 1977 - March 1978), Madrid (November 1980 - September 1983), and Vienna (November 1986 - January 1989). In addition, a Conference on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures and Disarmament in Europe was held in Stockholm from January 1984 to September 1986.

The Helsinki Final Act encompassed three main sets of recommendations. The first set was related to politico-military aspects of security: principles guiding relations between and among participating States and military confidence-building measures. The second set concerned co-operation in a number of fields including economics, science and technology and the environment. The third set dealt with co-operation in humanitarian fields such as human rights issues, culture, and education.

Summits are used to set priorities and provide orientation at the highest political level. Between 1975 and 1999 there were five CSCE/OSCE Heads of State or Government summits:

  1. Helsinki Summit (30 July - 1 August 1975): adopted the Helsinki Final Act.
  2. Paris Summit (19-21 November 1990): marked the formal end of the Cold War and began the institutionalization of the CSCE; and welcomed the signature of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE).
  3. Helsinki Summit (9-10 July 1992): ended with the CSCE Helsinki Document 1992, entitled The Challenges of Change; established the Forum for Security Co-operation (FSC) and the Economic Forum; and in response to the Yugoslav crisis, suspended the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as a participating State.
  4. Budapest Summit (5-6 December 1994): adopted the CSCE Budapest Document 1994, entitled Towards a Genuine Partnership in a New Era; changed the name of the CSCE to the OSCE, effective 1 January 1995, reflecting the fact the CSCE was no longer simply a Conference; launched discussion on a Common and Comprehensive Security Model for Europe for the twenty-first century; and adopted the Code of Conduct on politico-military aspects of security.
  5. The Lisbon Summit (2-3 December 1996): endorsed the Lisbon Declaration on a Common and Comprehensive Security Model for Europe for the twenty-first century; and approved a Framework for Arms Control and the Development of the Agenda of the Forum for Security Co-operation.
  6. The Istanbul Summit (18-19 November 1999): adopted the Charter for European Security including the Platform for Cooperative Security; approved the Adaptation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, establishing stricter limits, increased transparency, and lower levels of conventional weapons in the area of CFE Treaty application; and. adopted the Vienna Document 1999 on confidence- and security-building measures.

The 1992 Helsinki Follow-up Meeting established new institutions, including the Forum for Security Co-operation (FSC), the High Commissioner on National Minorities, and the Economic Forum. The post of Secretary General was created at the Stockholm Ministerial Council in December 1992. Meetings became more regular in Vienna, first in the context of the Vienna Group and later the Permanent Committee. Such permanent structures were increasingly necessary as the CSCE was carrying out a growing number and range of tasks, many of which needed daily support. The first OSCE Mission of Long Duration was dispatched to Kosovo, Sandjak, and Vojvodina in the autumn of 1992, and by the end of 1994, there were eight such missions in the field.

The basic priorities of the OSCE at present are:

- to consolidate the participating States' common values and help build fully democratic civil societies based on the rule of law;

- to prevent local conflicts, restore stability and bring peace to war-torn areas;

- to overcome real and perceived security deficits and to avoid the creation of new political, economic, or social divisions by promoting a co-operative system of security.


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