Prague, 18 August 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), born in the days of the Cold War, is starting to take a fresh look at where its efforts can be most useful.
Despite its name, the Vienna-based body includes the five states of Central Asia and the three South Caucasus republics among its members.
Current Chairman-in-Office Solomon Pasi has several times in recent weeks spoken of the desirability of greater OSCE involvement in the sensitive Central Asian and Caucasus regions.
OSCE spokesman Mikhail Evstafiev told RFE/RL that Pasi sent a letter to member countries earlier this summer in which he signaled his intention to push through various reforms aimed at equipping the OSCE to better face contemporary challenges.
"The OSCE chairman-in-office [Pasi] also indicated that he would welcome discussing with the states of Central Asia and the Caucasus how they could benefit from the OSCE's invigorated activities. And he also hoped to see greater involvement by the CIS states in steering the bodies of the OSCE, including the chairmanship," Evstafiev said.
Evstafiev noted that Kazakhstan is interested in taking over the rotating office of OSCE chairman, and that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev will be visiting the organization's Vienna headquarters in early September.
Pasi also suggests moving the OSCE's two biggest annual meetings eastward -- namely, the Economic Forum and the Human Dimension conference on rights and democracy. The first should move to Central Asia, and the second to the Caucasus.
Pasi said the OSCE's Economic Forum "can be of far more use" to Central Asia, because Central European members already have other possibilities for help in their development, such as the European Union. The same logic applies to relocating the Human Dimension meetings.
"You are dealing with authoritarian regimes. You are dealing with strong leaders. You are dealing with lack of economic integration, lack of regional cooperation. Also, at the same time, a lot of the issues which worry the Central Asian states are of a regional dimension." - Vatanka
A regional expert with the U.K.-based Jane's security publishing group, Alex Vatanka, told RFE/RL that it makes sense for the OSCE to increase its focus on those countries -- presently on the periphery of Western institutions -- because any insecurity in those regions will impact on Europe. But he said it will not be easy.
"You are dealing with authoritarian regimes. You are dealing with strong leaders. You are dealing with lack of economic integration, lack of regional cooperation. Also, at the same time, a lot of the issues which worry the Central Asian states are of a regional dimension. They are not problems which can be solved single-handedly. For instance, the terrorism issue of Uzbekistan cannot really be dealt with alone by [President Islam] Karimov's regime. No matter how tough [his] policies become, he would need to deal with his neighbors in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, to try to get to grips with the situation," Vatanka said.
Vatanka said any initiative by the OSCE must also take into account the characteristics of each country. "On every issue, on every level, you have variations within the eight states -- meaning the three Caucasian states and the five Central Asian states," he said. "There is, for instance, a big difference between [for example] where Kazakhstan is likely to go because of its oil and gas wealth and because of its slightly more liberal [approach] than [for example] Turkmenistan."
Vatanka said pressure gradually applied by the West can pay off in terms of inducing more democratic behavior on the part of reluctant regimes. He pointed to Turkey, which has been trying to enter the European Union for 40 years. "It took Turkey decades and decades before it started seriously taking on board the criticism they were facing, on such issues as minority rights for the Kurds, or providing more transparency, or removing the death penalty," he said. "It took many decades, but now Turkey is finally on the path, and you could hope for that kind of situation with the Central Asian states or the South Caucasian states."
Another regional expert who would welcome increased OSCE involvement is Sabine Fraser of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. Fraser spoke with RFE/RL today from the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.
"This is part of the trend that the OSCE has been involved in during the past few years -- that is, to strengthen their presence both in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Of course, this is a positive trend, to move towards greater engagement in the Caucasus and Central Asia," Fraser said.