Update: 30.09.2015

The OSCE in brief

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is an institutionalised inter-governmental process primarily between Western and Eastern European states. It was founded in 1975 in the middle of the Cold War by the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) based on the «Helsinki Final Act». Twenty years later, after the end of the Cold War, the name of the CSCE was changed into OSCE.

Today the OSCE has 57 member states, including all 47 member states of the Council of Europe (including Switzerland), as well as the USA, Canada, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Mongolia and the Vatican.

Safety in three dimensions

The OSCE is considered an important regional system of collective security. It is primarily designed for peace-keeping, conflict prevention and conflict resolution, as well as a forum for finding coordinated solutions to challenges in the field of security policy.

The OSCE compartmentalises its activities into the following three «dimensions» based on the «three baskets» of the Helsinki Final Act of 1975:

  • Politico-military dimension
  • Economic and environmental dimension
  • Human dimension

Complex organisational form

In the 1990s the OSCE created permanent structures. Today it features a number of field missions with around 2,300 employees. In addition, it maintains a secretariat and other units and departments with about 540 employees, mainly based in Vienna, Prague and Warsaw.

This institutional apparatus is dependent on such inter-governmental bodies as the Summits of the Heads of State and Government taking place at irregular intervals, the annual Ministerial Council (meeting of foreign ministers) and the Permanent Council in Vienna, which convenes on a weekly basis.

Important OSCE actors in the field of the protection of human rights

Rotating chairmanship

The OSCE Chairmanship rotates every year and the incumbent member state office holder (frequently in co-operation with its predecessor and its designated successor state) takes an important function in setting the agenda, etc. In addition, the annual Ministerial Council meeting is organised by the presiding state.

Over the past few years, the following states chaired the OSCE: Kazakhstan (2010), Lithuania (2011), Ireland (2012), Ukraine (2013). After Switzerland in 2014, Serbia will take over the chairmanship in 2015.

Waning importance of the OSCE in the 21st century

After the collapse of the Soviet Union the OSCE experienced a gradual loss of importance. This is a result of the expansion of the European Union into Eastern Europe, which overlaps in part with the functions of the OSCE in the new member states, leading to redundancies.

The increasing presence of the Council of Europe in the Eastern European countries also brings about duplications in the OSCE human dimension field. And finally, the increasing polarisation between the Russian Federation and the Western states, especially the USA, led to a deadlock in the fields of the «human dimension».


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