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OSCE

Volume 707: debated on Wednesday 4 February 2009

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are the implications for the future effectiveness of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe of the ending of its mission in Georgia.

My Lords, we continue to work actively with other OSCE participating states to support the efforts of Greece as chairman-in-office to agree a new mandate for the OSCE mission in Georgia. The mission will not finally close until June, and, with political will on all sides, we believe a new deal could be agreed before that. We call on Russia, the only state that rejected a compromise in December, to negotiate constructively.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I understand that the OSCE believes that if there is no mandate by the end of February, it will have to start withdrawing members of the mission from Georgia. There is a more general question here: the Russian Foreign Minister has said that, in his opinion, the OSCE has failed and has to be replaced, along with NATO and various other organisations, in favour of the Russians’ very unclear proposal for a new European security organisation. Do Her Majesty's Government believe that we need to keep the OSCE going, or are we open to these unclear Russian suggestions that we have some new conference or other to talk about what we might do instead?

My Lords, I reassure the noble Lord that, while we take with great respect proposals from the Russian Foreign Minister and others on new security arrangements in Europe, because Russia obviously has a real stake in such arrangements, in our mind they should not be at the expense of tried and proven institutions such as the OSCE and NATO.

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that, alone of the 56 participating states, Russia refused to have the roll-over in December and that equally it is putting obstructions in the way of the EU monitoring mission by insisting that it enters South Ossetia from the north? Will he be very wary of such attempts by Russia, which are presumably a thinly disguised attempt to promote recognition of the breakaway provinces, which, I think, are currently recognised by only Hamas and Nicaragua?

My Lords, I reassure my noble friend that we are well aware that there is a Russian bear trap in all this, with an intention to use the arrangements of groups of observers, whether they are from the OSCE, Europe or the UN, to achieve de facto recognition. For us, that is a red line. We want to make sure that there is effective observation of what is happening but that the territorial integrity of Georgia is not compromised.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister is skilful in avoiding Russian and other bear traps, but is not the problem that Russia really wants two OSCE missions, one for what it recognises as Georgia and one, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, rightly divined, for Ossetia? Is there any basis on which one could negotiate over this? Could the Minister enlighten those of us who perhaps should know better exactly what the highlight aims, gains and benefits of the OSCE missions will be in future?

My Lords, the Greek chairman has made a compromise proposal which would retain a united mission with headquarters in Vienna and two field office subsidiary missions, one in Georgia and one in South Ossetia. By doing that, we would preserve the idea of one mission, but it would be able to operate in both areas. We have urged the Russians to accept this compromise like the rest of the membership. However, the OSCE is more than just these observation missions. Through its different human rights activities and national minority rights activities, it has many other means, in addition to field observation, by which to continue to involve itself in this situation.

My Lords, is the Minister being, unusually, a little bit complacent and pretending in a way about the OSCE? It has done a marvellous job in the past; seemingly, however, more and more people now think that it has reached the end of the road, bearing in mind how marginal it looks in comparison with the increased security co-ordination activity between the EU and NATO. Why not wind it up and, if necessary, fold some of the jobs into the EU-NATO structure and proceed on the basis of a more modern world, without annoying the Russians too much?

My Lords, I hope that I do not give away a confidence when I say that the new United States Secretary of State in her meeting yesterday with our Foreign Secretary in Washington mentioned the OSCE as part of what she saw as the critical architecture of security and observation in the region. Although the EU and NATO have enormously important roles to play, the attractiveness of the OSCE has always been the places that it can reach because of the breadth of its membership. However, the noble Lord is quite correct: if that breadth of membership becomes the right of one country to veto its missions and effectiveness, we could see a diminution of that important organisation’s utility.