OSCE and the Indivisibility of Security

OSCE and the Indivisibility of Security

By David Morrison

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has 57 participating states in Europe, Asia and North America.

At a conference in Istanbul in November 1999, the OSCE adopted a Charter for European Security, Paragraph 8 of which prescribed the basic principles on which security for participating states was to be based.  It stated:

“Each participating State has an equal right to security. We reaffirm the inherent right
of each and every participating State to be free to choose or change its security arrangements, including treaties of alliance, as they evolve. Each State also has the right to neutrality. Each participating State will respect the rights of all others in these regards. They will not strengthen their security at the expense of the security of other States.”

The final sentence is very important: according to the Charter, signatory States are free to change their security arrangements, including by joining a military alliance, but only if such a change does not undermine the security of other signatory States.  In this, the Charter lays down the principle of the indivisibility of security.

This important principle was restated in another OSCE declaration adopted in Astana in December 2010.  This was called the Astana Commemorative Declaration: Towards a Security Community.  In Paragraph 3, it says

“The security of each participating State is inseparably linked to that of all others. Each
participating State has an equal right to security. We reaffirm the inherent right of each and every participating State to be free to choose or change its security arrangements, including treaties of alliance, as they evolve. Each State also has the right to neutrality. Each participating State will respect the rights of all others in these regards. They will not
strengthen their security at the expense of the security of other States.”

Russia has argued that, in expanding NATO eastwards to the borders of Russia (contrary to the promises made at the end of the Cold War), the West has undermined Russian security and breached the principle of the indivisibility of security set out in these OSCE declarations.  And further eastward expansion is on the books – the NATO website says that it has been “agreed that Georgia and Ukraine will become members of NATO in future”.

In an interview with Russian media on 28 February 2022, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov argued that the West had consistently ignored the principle of the indivisibility of security set out in these OSCE declarations:

“In 2010 in Astana, and before that in 1999 in Istanbul, all presidents and prime ministers from the OSCE countries signed a package that contained interrelated principles to ensure the indivisibility of security. The West “ripped out” just one slogan from this package: each country has the right to choose its allies and military alliances. 

“But in that package this right comes with a condition and an obligation on each country, to which the Westerners subscribed: not to strengthen their security at the expense of the security of others. With its mantra that the NATO open door policy is sacred and no one can say “no” to Ukraine joining the Alliance and that it’s up to Ukraine to decide, the West is, deliberately and openly, refusing even to acknowledge the second part of the commitments. 

“Moreover, when Josep Borrell, Antony Blinken and many other colleagues of ours talk about the importance of sticking to agreed-upon principles in the context of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture, none of them ever mentions the Istanbul Declaration or the Astana Declaration. They mention the Helsinki Final Act and the 1990 Charter of Paris for a New Europe, in which there is no obligation not to strengthen one’s own security at the expense of others. Russia insisted on including this commitment in subsequent OSCE documents.”

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