Vienna has become the first line of defence in diplomacy

Published 14 November 2018 in:

Hofburg. Photo: Mats Samuelsson

During the second half of this year, Sweden holds the chairmanship of the Forum for Security Cooperation (FSC) within the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). After a few quiet years during the 1990s, the OSCE has once again become a stage for world politics.

“For Sweden, this is a question of our national security. We depend on the European security order and, as a small and militarily non-aligned country, we must stand by our principles and commitments. We are on the front line here,” says Ulrika Funered, Ambassador and head of Sweden’s OSCE Delegation in Vienna.

At the Hofburg Imperial Palace in central Vienna, there is a chapel, museums, the imperial library, the Imperial Treasury, the Austrian National Library, the Austrian National Theatre and the Spanish Riding School. But the 57 flags flying above the courtyard stand for something else. They symbolise the 57 participating States of the OSCE, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which holds its meetings, negotiations and discussions here.

The OSCE has its roots in the Cold War and the tensions between East and West, but the organisation was founded with the vision of a ‘Europe whole, free and at peace’.

The OSCE was established in 1973 as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). Ever since the 1950s, there had been talk of the need for a European security organisation, but the Cold War prevented any meaningful progress before discussions began in November 1972. The first important document, the Helsinki Final Act, was signed in August 1975 by well-known personalities such as Helmut Schmidt, Erich Honecker, Gerald Ford and Bruno Kreisky.

After a few quiet years during the 1990s, the OSCE has once again become a stage for world politics:

“Are Europe’s borders set in stone? Or can they be altered using military force? That’s the key question,” says Colonel Johan Huovinen, military adviser at the OSCE Delegation, posted by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

The OSCE has 57 participating States. Not just European countries are included – the United States, Canada and countries in northern and central Asia are also part of the OSCE. These 57 states cover large areas of the northern hemisphere.

Consensus is required to take decisions. All 57 states have to agree. The difficult security policy situation in Europe is clearly reflected in an increasingly difficult cooperation climate within the OSCE. The deadlock is all-encompassing and it is almost impossible to agree on anything.

“The OSCE’s normative role is being challenged. And by that I mean the regulatory framework we have – the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris – on territorial integrity, the inviolability of borders and every country determining its own security policy orientation. This is under threat. But the uniquely broad concept of security we have is also being challenged. This includes internal and external security, promotion of democracy and human rights, as well as the environment and climate. Above all, we are seeing developments often going backwards in terms of human rights and democracy in the region. Human rights and democracy, as well as military policy, are under pressure” says Ambassador Funered.

Ulrika Funered. Phoyo: Micky Kroell/OSCE

Ulrika Funered. Phoyo: Micky Kroell/OSCE

For Sweden, this is a question of our national security. We depend on an international regulatory framework that also includes the European security order. And as a militarily non-aligned country, we must stand by the international regulatory framework, principles and commitments.

“Sweden is perceived as consistent and principled. We are a clear voice for holding onto a rules-based world order, principles and commitments. This may be perceived as us being hostile towards Russia, but we repeatedly explain that it’s about our national security policy interests,” says Ambassador Funered.

Is there anything that Sweden can do during our chairmanship of the FSC this year? Can we untangle the deadlock?

“Our aim with this chairmanship is to be as open and transparent as possible, while remaining principled and consistent. Everyone knows where we stand on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and when it comes to principles. We also highlight the Nordic-Baltic region and security issues that are important to us.

“We actually have the most complicated chairmanship this year. During our chairmanship, all possible decision texts in the politico-military dimension are prepared and negotiated ahead of the Ministerial Council in early December. All current conflicts will affect the text negotiations,” says Ambassador Funered.

Sweden recently held a highly relevant security dialogue on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to non-state actors.

The main speaker was Jan Eliasson, UN Deputy Secretary-General in 2012–2016. After the meeting he talked in an interview about his view of the major challenges and opportunities the world is facing – such as protracted conflicts, the threat of climate change and the hardening political climate of debate, with clear polarisation as a result.

But he sees positive signs nonetheless. Jan Eliasson raised the trend towards gender equality as providing especially important hope for the future.

“That women will experience full gender equality, finally, for the first time! I see this as one of the biggest promises in history.”

He also warned about missing opportunities for making the most of young people’s idealism by not including them in democratic processes.

“We have to learn not just to work for young people. We also have to work together with young people,” said Jan Eliasson.

“If our societies do not make the most of young people’s ideas and dreams, we will have a generation that no longer accepts the institutions we have built.”

Despite the gathering storm clouds, Eliasson is still optimistic about the future:

“I’m still an optimist, albeit a more worried one.”

Watch and listen to the full interview on the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute website.