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The Future Format for Security Negotiations in Europe is up in the Air

May 03, 2023

Discussing peace and the future security order in and around Europe is not something many are interested in doing during what increasingly looks like a war of attrition in Ukraine.

In the Middle East, it took two major wars, 1967 and 1973, with a War of Attrition in between, for Israel and Egypt to come to Camp David in 1978 and, in the following year, agree on what was labelled a Framework for peace in the Middle East. And still, we know now that this was not the end of a painful process towards stability in the region. And the format for negotiations was far more straightforward than is the case in and around Ukraine. The Soviet Union was forced to partially withdraw from Egypt with its 20,000 advisers in 1972. China was not yet a prominent global actor. The negotiations took place not between global powers but between regional actors brokered by the one global actor, the United States, soon to become – for a short period – the only superpower in the world. As one of the main actors in the negotiations, Egyptian President Sadat was looking to establish his future legacy not as a loser but as a promoter of peace while maintaining a policy posture focusing on Egyptian national interests. Israeli Prime Minister Begin was a much more hesitant participant in the negotiations and later initiated the policy of Israeli settlements and authorised new hostilities against Iraq and Lebanon. During the final years of his tenure before his assassination in 1981, Sadat sought to contain widespread protests against the treaty inside Egypt.

We are still only one year into the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, although it may seem like a very long time. The number of casualties is still limited from the global perspective compared to devastating conflicts in many regions where millions have perished, and entire states have been close to implosion. The shock created by the October War in 1973 as a threat to global peace and security, which provided a basis for the Camp David Accords, has not yet come, and will hopefully not come, threatening the use of sub-strategic nuclear weapons.

Pessimism about the future of the OSCE is widespread. Civil society organizations working in the context of the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, are currently and predominantly focusing on regime change in Belarus and, to a certain extent, in Russia. For them and many governments in the Western sphere, nothing less than how to reach victory without compromises for Ukraine is the crucial legitimate issue for discussion. How can decisions be taken by consensus in an organisation, including the Russian Federation? And do not speculations about compromise proposals, as suggested by senior statesmen such as Henry Kissinger at Davos or Tom Pickering in Foreign Affairs, contribute to confusion and a lack of resolve to reach victory? Pickering argues the need for the US to think ahead:

All parties to the conflict have made clear that they believe it is too soon for diplomacy. But at some point, the time will come for negotiations, and it is essential that the United States plans carefully for that day. Failure to do so will condemn Washington to a hurried and poorly thought-through approach to ending the war—a mistake the United States has made in every serious conflict it has become embroiled in since 1945. No war ends without political consequences. Either the United States engages in shaping those consequences to serve its interests, or others will shape the consequences in its stead.

In response, many contributions in the debate on future peace are labelled disinformation.

That is one thing. In addition, there is a fundamental lack of agreement in the West about the future format for a security order in and around Europe. President Macron promotes, with the support of the President of the European Council, the European Political Community concept, which has already resulted in two summits with the participation of up to 45 countries west of Russia, including the southern Caucasus, Turkey, and Ukraine.

The representative of the Russian Federation in the OSCE has another perspective:

Despite the current challenges, we believe that the OSCE has a future. The Organization is still relevant as a platform for peer-to-peer and mutually respectful dialogue and for co-operation. When the Russophobic hysteria passes, we will be ready to restore the work of the OSCE together. But this will have to be done on a new footing, as the traditional approaches have been thoroughly discredited.--

We are convinced that it will definitely not be possible to replace the OSCE with a structure similar in terms of composition and competence. If there is no OSCE, its functions will be partially taken over by another format seeking to occupy an independent “niche” in building a bridge between the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian areas. 

It is not easy to represent the Russian Federation in multilateral fora. This goes for the UN Security Council, where Foreign Minister Lavrov, presiding over the Council, recently made a valiant effort to convince his audience that Russia wishes to promote global multilateralism. He called on those present to respect the principles of the Charter, facilitate genuine multilateralism on the international stage and reform the Council to enhance representation of Asian, African, and Latin American countries. It is a difficult message to sell since Russia, in its negotiations, promotes the notion of the Golden Billion (a West worthy of isolation) and wishes to focus on BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

Normally one would expect the future format for the European security order to include the United States and Russia. This is the cognitive framework established since the Helsinki Accords in 1975 and redesigned to include Central Asia after the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. Still, it is increasingly evident that at least one prominent actor with an increasing stake in European security and cooperation, not least if one includes the Arctic region, is missing – China. It is not yet an observer at OSCE meetings, unlike several US allies in Asia, Japan, and South Korea. A recent survey of views on the way ahead in the perspective of Finland’s upcoming role as chair of the OSCE 2025 summarised:

One of the main questions pertaining to the renewal of the spirit of Helsinki focused on how to make the reinvigorated process attractive to a variety of actors, including Russia and the US. Ideas vacillated from Arctic affairs to climate change and the inclusion of China in the talks.

Realistically, however, clarity is likely to have to await the outcome of the US elections in 2024 and the inauguration of the President-elect of the United States in January 2025 – when the goals and ambitions of the Finnish Chair of the OSCE in 2025 since long will have to be decided. A difficult task for a very competent Finnish diplomacy to be implemented in parallel with Finland’s integration into NATO.


Lars-Erik Lundin