Size isn't everything on the international stage, argues Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen

In six months' time, Denmark will be chairing the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE); from November 1995 until May 1996, the country chaired the Council of Europe (COE). What can a small country expect to achieve in the demanding role of chair of these two organisations?

First, it should be clear that there is little chance of pushing through any parochial national interests. The chair has one fundamental function: to facilitate agreement on agenda issues. In the chair, you are faced with all the issues stemming from the many problems facing us today: creating stability and co-operation at a time of political, economic and social transition and of considerable changes in our main forums of co-operation. These challenges determine our agenda.

But as chairman, I also must have overall goals and priorities to guide the day-to-day efforts. Strengthening international co-operation has always been a prime objective of Danish foreign policy. Creating a stable and transparent community of nations based upon common values is essential for a small state. The COE and the OSCE and the values they stand for in our view represent the basic foundations for building a new Europe based on democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. Also, both organisations have proven able to integrate the new independent states and to adjust to the changes in Europe since the end of the Cold War.

The COE is one of Europe's oldest post-war organisations. Its activities have broadened considerably, taking in areas such as assisting the new member countries from Central and Eastern Europe in establishing democratic institutions. The fundamental ideas which form the basis for the COE, however, remain the same.

Since 1989 the number of members has grown from 23 to 39. When our chairmanship began, the COE had just welcomed Ukraine and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as new members. On 28 February I had the honour to welcome Russia as the 39th member. I consider this an important event during our chairmanship, that this large country with its rich cultural heritage should be able to join. We have shown strong support for Russian democracy, and Russia has in turn committed itself to the high standards of the COE (for example, in the area of human rights). We will extend assistance in the difficult process of reform and will, at the same time, monitor compliance with the commitments made by Russia. Another important event during our chairmanship of the COE was the decision to allow observer status to the US.

The OSCE, in the guise of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), was born out of the Cold War and became a key forum for security co-operation during the East-West confrontation of the 1970s and 1980s. Through the active promotion of respect for human rights and freedoms, the CSCE became a major agent in bringing about changes in Europe. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the break-up of the Soviet Union, the OSCE has evolved into a major framework for creating stability, including stability in the many newly-independent states. The OSCE's membership has grown from 33 to 55.

For both organisations, enlargement has emphasised the need to ensure member countries' compliance with their obligations and commitments. It is no secret that problems in this respect do exist in some member countries. In the COE the Committee of Ministers has decided to set up a monitoring system and, during our chairmanship, we have made progress towards creating a workable mechanism in this field. Ensuring compliance with, and implementation of, the OSCE's fundamental values - respect for human rights and democracy - will be a main priority during our chairmanship of the organisation.

In this field, as in others, it is a Danish policy goal to create closer and more effective co-operation between international organisations, not least between the COE and the OSCE. The two organisations cover some common ground in questions of human rights. They complement each other in many ways. This is presently being demonstrated in Bosnia, where the peace plan has assigned both organisations important tasks in securing human rights. Improving co-operation with other international organisations, such as the UN and NATO, and non-governmental organisations is another Danish objective.

The OSCE has developed a range of instruments for dealing with conflicts, from early warning over conflict prevention and resolution to post-conflict rehabilitation. Early warning and conflict prevention is being conducted every day by the OSCE's institutions, and long-term missions to various regions. The OSCE's role in Bosnia - to assist with the holding of democratic elections, monitor human rights and to build democratic institutions - is post-conflict rehabilitation in practice. It is also by far the largest and most important mission the organisation has ever undertaken.

Denmark intends to strengthen the instruments used in preventive diplomacy. We would like to continue to develop and refine the instruments to deal with the many challenges facing the organisation and its member states; this also implies taking a closer look at the institutions to keep them adaptable, flexible and effective.

Our main task will be to bring forward the process of developing a model for European security for the 21st century. At a time of evolving structures of security co-operation - most notably the enlargement of the UN and NATO - we must maintain the OSCE as a comprehensive and inclusive co-operation forum.

Chairing an international organisation such as the COE or the OSCE is demanding, particularly for a small country with limited resources. But we have not hesitated to take on these tasks. In doing so, we are contributing actively to promoting the goals we all share: peace and stability and thus a better world for all.

To TopTo Archive IntroductionTo Contents

©Kensington Publications 1996