The OSCE system: Institutional design and conflict management in the 21st century

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2006

53 Pages, Grade: 1 (A)


Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations

List of Figures

I Introduction
1.1 Object of Research and Structure
1.2 Main Questions
1.3 Method

II General Definitions
2.1 The international state system
2.2 Conflict, Crisis and War
2.3 The difference between a conference and an organization

III The OSCE as an international organization
3.1 International and Regional Institutions in Conflicts and Crises
3.1.1 Different mandates
3.1.2 Security strategies
3.2 Development of the OSCE
3.3 Structure of the OSCE
3.3.1 Budget of the OSCE
3.3.2 OSCE decisions
3.3.3 Mechanisms of the OSCE Conflict resolution mechanisms Conflict prevention mechanisms

IV The OSCE in the 21st century
4.1 OSCE strengths and limitations
4.1.1 Regional issues and missions
4.2 Future perspectives and reform recommendations

V Concluding Remarks


Appendix A: CSCE/OSCE summits

Appendix B: Participating states

Appendix C: Questionnaire: Interview OSCE Vienna

List of Abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt

List of Figures

Figure 1 Negotiating and Decision-Making Bodies

Figure 2 Operational Part of the OSCE

Figure 3 Procedures for Dispute Settlement

I Introduction

1.1 Object of Research and Structure

The OSCE is an international organization, which acts on a regional security level. It is the largest regional security organization in the world with 56 participating member states and is integrating the geographical area of Eurasia and North America. The object of research is to find out how the organization is designed, how it functions in conflict management and what future perspectives of the OSCE look like.

This research is basically divided into two parts (III The OSCE as an international organization and IV The OSCE in the 21st century). After defining the most important terms for this paper, the first part of the research will analyze the institutional design, the structure and the historic development of the OSCE with the aim to go into detail into conflict management mechanisms. Case studies of missions of the OSCE are involved in the research but they are mentioned to supplement the empiric analysis of conflict management of the OSCE.

The second part of the analysis should give a future perspective for the OSCE. The OSCE in the 21st century would be completely different from the OSCE of the 1970s. Therefore in this part the focus is set on an analysis according to international relations theory and international law to show what the differences between the OSCE of the Cold War and the OSCE after 9/11 are. Strength and limitations of the OSCE are shown in order to describe reform recommendations and future perspectives of the organization from a political scientist and international lawyer point of view.

1.2 Main Questions

The central question for this paper is how the OSCE is structured and how conflict management mechanisms in conflict resolution and conflict prevention work?

Furthermore this research should answer following questions:

- What’s the difference between a conference and an organization an why happened this transformation with the OSCE?
- What’s the main purpose of international security organizations and on which concepts are they built upon?
- On which security strategy is the OSCE as an international organization for regional security based?
- What are the most important mechanisms of conflict management of the OSCE and what is the difference between conflict resolution mechanisms and conflict prevention mechanisms in the OSCE system?
- Has the OSCE a legal personality and are decisions (resolutions, reports, decisions etc…) of the OSCE legally binding for the participating states or other subjects of international law?
- What’s the main problem with the OSCE under international law?
- Are the different regional security organizations in Europe interlocking or rather interblocking each other – what has the practice shown in Europe, especially with the co-operation of EU, NATO and OSCE?
- Has the OSCE changed in a world after 9/11 and what are the future perspectives of the organization?

1.3 Method

It is useful to handle this topic based on relevant literature of any kind because the topic as a whole is very theoretical. The sources I will use for this paper seem to be very appropriate to the topic dealing with the OSCE. An overview of the institutional design should be given prior to an empiric analysis of the OSCE conflict management system regarding conflict resolution and conflict prevention. Primary and Secondary literature will be used. Primary literature is basically agreements, accords, decisions, resolutions or reports of the OSCE’s different institutions. Secondary literature in this special case is to a high percentage academic books and publications in newspapers and political science journals.

For supplementing the research I did an online interview via e-mail with officials of the OSCE in Vienna. The questions are related to the topic. The answers of the questionnaire are not of significant importance because one person or unit has answered only one question, but the answers could help to complement the empiric research on this topic. It was not possible to have all the questions answered by one person because the OSCE’s officials were very engaged that experts and not political advisers answer the questions. Therefore they split the questionnaire up and gave the questions to the relevant person(s), they considered to be best capable of answering them. Therefore I had a choice between no interview or an interview split up. This source is implemented in the research as well and answers given, which are mentioned in the text, are marked with footnotes.

II General Definitions

2.1 The international state system

The OSCE is an international organization, which acts as a regional organization within the international state system. Therefore it is important to give a clear-cut definition of the term state system. A more general and very often used definitions is that the state system is “a group of states, that shows common political interests and values, geopolitical affiliation, psychological closeness or ideological community as a basis but there is no binding legal order behind it.[1]

I would like to give a more precise definition of the state system: It is important only to speak of a state system, if the collection (of states) is maximum. That means that the room of transaction between states cannot be contained in another bigger room of the same type. If there would be a bigger and similar room of transaction, the system could only be seen and analyzed as a subsystem. The second important criterion means that the political and diplomatic elite must have at minimum two problems, direct or indirect, of High Politics[2] in international relations like security, capability or power differences or dissimilarities. As I pointed out that problems could also be there on an indirect way (not everybody directly involved but via a third party), the third criterion makes clear that all the political and diplomatic elite must show problems of this fashion.[3]

2.2 Conflict, Crisis and War

The etymology of the word conflict can be described with the explicit or implicit destruction of a social structure between two or more parties. In IR the term conflict should only be used in the social meaning of the word. It is important not do diminish the term conflict with evaluation of something, to reduce a conflict only to some special details or simply to mix it up with the causality of the conflict.[4]

Under International Law (IL) an armed conflict is generally seen as a formal declaration of war. This is a very broad definition but it is still useful because it reduces things to a single common denominator, which is the question of what is a weapon.[5] After 9/11 it is recognized that everything that can be used as a weapon is a weapon under IL.

Conflicts mostly involve more than two parties (states, IGOs, INGOs). Each party is bent on winning the dispute. To become a conflict there must be differences in the interests of the parties, which have to be differences over a longer period of time and differences that must have the capability to spill-over to third parties. But it is most important and generally recognized that a conflict must involve at least one sovereign state with full monopoly of force (subjects of IL).[6] Important within conflicts is the intensity of a conflict. The intensity could differ from a latent conflict to a severe crisis or even end up with war.[7]

It is further important to distinguish between a latent crisis and a severe conflict. The most important criterion for a latent crisis or a smouldering crisis is that the differences in the interests of the parties have been there for a long time but have always been interrupted by periods of time when there was a common interest to find a consensus rather to fight the other party.[8] The Israel-Palestinian Crisis for example has been and still is both, a latent and a severe crisis. If the area of conflict is closely linked to public announcements to threaten the other party or parties with military capability, the conflict could be seen as a severe crisis. This is the last stage before war. If the parties are at this point the chance is relatively little to reach a peaceful conclusion after years of having a conflict and/or a crisis.[9] To complete the definitions in this paragraph a war is per definitionem considered as a large-scale armed hostility among states. This old style Hugo Grotian[10] fashion is still the most important definition of war under IL due to the fact that the two most important elements of war start to break apart: with the rise of Private Military Companies (PMCs) it is not always only the state power with a regular army that is fighting a war but also mercenaries[11] and it is not longer valid that war could only be fought between similarly good equipped parties.[12] If one looks at military technology, asymetric warfare is back on the rise till the breakup of the Soviet Union and can be very well seen with the ongoing Iraq war.[13]

2.3 The difference between a conference and an organization

A conference in the traditional meaning of the word in IRT means a discussion among parties about common topics of international politics or institutional questions. A conference has only an advisory function. It is considered under IL that as long as an organization has no binding effect on the members, it is regarded as a conference. The legal personality is missing. An organization on the other hand could have legal personality with binding decisions on the full-fledged members, if they are in accordance with IL.[14] The aim of an organization is not only the discussion of a certain problem but also the willingness to work on a common interest by co-operation or combination of factors of production, which are usually knowledge, capital, technical know-how or diplomatic advantages.[15]

There are several criteria that an IGO has to fulfill. According to Michael Wallace and David Singer the most important are:

- At least two qualified (subjects of IL) members of the states system must be parties to the organization.
- In a window of minimum ten years an organization has to held regularly plenary sessions.
- IGOs have to have a permanent secretariat and a permanent headquarter, which is based on an headquarter agreement based on Art. 34 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT).
- An IGO can also include next to governments also other actors under IL.
- The administration of the organization must be under the authority of the plenum and not under the authority of a member to the organization.[16]

The next step is to describe the OSCE as an international organization and show the institutional framework of the OSCE and conflict management mechanisms within the OSCE framework.


[1] Brockhaus Encyclopedia under URL: key word: state system.

[2] In IRT High Politics is usually considered as security politics and policies. Low Politics on the other hand deals with economy, culture or Soft Power according to Joseph S. Nye. The structure of these two is usually different. High Politics has an hierarchical order with a clear-cut preferential treatment of values, actors and the means of politics. Low Politics has no clear-cut hierarchical order. Elements can be used interchangeable between and within certain policy measures, actors, values and means. See: Anselm Skuhra (2001), International Relations Theory, Salzburg, p.13.

[3] This definition is my own and is based on my studies of IRT.

[4] Ulrike Wasmuth (1996), Friedensforschung als Konfliktforschung, in: Peter Imbusch, Friedens- und Konfliktforschung, Eine Einführung mit Quellen, Opladen, p.177,178.

[5] Ignatz Seidl-Hohenveldern (1994), Völkerrecht, Köln, Berlin, Bonn, München, p.1825-1835.

[6] Rodolfo Stavenhagen (1991), Ethnic conflicts and their Impact on International Society, 117–132, in: International Conflict Research (1991), p.127.

[7] Ulrike Wasmuth (1996), Friedensforschung als Konfliktforschung, in: Peter Imbusch, Friedens- und Konfliktforschung, Eine Einführung mit Quellen, Opladen, p.18,24-26.

[8] Frank R. Pfetsch (1994), Konflikt und Konfliktbewältigung, Beispiele für Formen zwischenstaatlicher Auseinandersetzungen, Stuttgart, p.17-25.

[9] ibid, p.19.

[10] See Hugo Grotius, The Rights of War and Peace.

[11] Martin Griffiths, Terry O’Callaghan (2003), International Relations: The Key Concepts, London, p.188-191.

[12] Peter Warren Singer (2003), Corporate Warriors, The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, Cornell, p.40-73.

[13] Herfried Münkler (2005), The new wars. Hamburg, p.12-18.

[14] Antonio Cassese (2001), International Law (handbook), Oxford, Chapters 6 and 8.

[15] Brockhaus Encyclopedia under URL: key words: conference/organization.

[16] Michael Wallace, J. David Singer (1970), "Intergovernmental Organization and the Global System: A Quantitative Description”, in: International Organization, 24, 2, p.239-287.

Excerpt out of 53 pages


The OSCE system: Institutional design and conflict management in the 21st century
Diplomatic Academy of Vienna - School of International Studies
NATO and the Politics of Trans-Atlantic Relations
1 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
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This paper deals with the institutional design of the OSCE. The paper includes general definitions such as what constitutes conflicts, crises and wars, shows legal differences between IOs and int. conferences. The development and the structure of the OSCE are explained in part II. Part III deals with the OSCE as a security organization in the 21st century. It analyzes strength and limitations of the organization and will give an analytical analysis of future perspectives and reform recommend...
OSCE, Institutional, NATO, Politics, Trans-Atlantic, Relations
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Harald Löberbauer (Author), 2006, The OSCE system: Institutional design and conflict management in the 21st century, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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