OSCE | Talking About Terror

Turkey’s Deputy Foreign Minister takes his turn chairing the OSCE Forum for Security Cooperation in Vienna. But Ankara’s role in the Middle-East and questionable human rights at home may not make his job easier.

Vienna is the unobtrusive hub of a major force for world peace: The OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) covers a broad spectrum of arms control, human rights, mass migration and freedom of the press. In practice this means minimizing and defusing conflict, as currently in Eastern Ukraine. Despite its name, the 57 OSCE member states stretch from Europe across the Asian territories of the former Soviet Union. Altogether, it’s unwieldy, its tasks often Sisyphean. But somehow it works.

The OSCE’s Forum for Security Cooperation (FSC) is a hardnosed pragmatic gremium where hostile parties can meet and hammer out workable solutions, often directly at the point of conflict. On January 15, the member states assembled at the Hofburg to hear the incoming Chairman, Turkey’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Önal, set out his agenda for 2020. Turkey itself is closely involved in several OSCE trouble regions: occupying Syria’s northern Kurdish enclave, sending troops into Libya’s explosive civil war and imprisoning critical journalists – something hardly compatible with the international community’s understanding of human rights.

“Distrust, lack of transparency, hybrid threats, conflicts and crises”

That morning, it was the usual quiet bustle before an international conference: purposeful looking young men and women in slim cut suits discreetly ushering first-time diplomats to their places, the delegates behind their national name cards, their faces a studied mix of expectation and incipient boredom. A common denominator is elusive – sleekly gray European diplomats, hard faced women from the former Soviet Nomenklatura, and eager young managers from all countries, prototypes for Hollywood’s next business thriller. 

The star of the day, Önal himself, was perfectly cast as a political heavyweight. With a look reminiscent of Austria’s new Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler, he is a man you would move aside for; his address (in good English) was delivered in a firm, level voice, with no attempt at theatrics:

“The current security environment is unfortunately characterized by distrust, lack of transparency, hybrid threats, conflicts and crises. Violations of fundamental principles of international law and established diplomatic practice are no more exceptions to the rule. New military technologies are on the rise.” This is a good no-nonsense analysis of the current situation, begs the question as to what can be done about it. The cliché-filled follow-up was disappointingly familiar: “It is time to engage in meaningful discussions in a frank and constructive manner and draw lessons from our experiences.”

Whether the ensuing discussion was lively or a routine exchange of prepared statements has not yet leaked out of the Hofburg. But the next day brought the announcement that Turkey’s Constitutional Court had ruled against the government’s blocking access to Wikipedia as a violation of freedom of expression, triggering an immediate lifting of the ban. Physician heal thyself.

(Foto credit: OSCE/Ghada Hazim)

Simon Ballam
English, studied in NY and worked in London, Düsseldorf, NY, Fankfurt, Prague and Vienna. This covered stints in market research and the film industry, international advertising coordination and strategic planning. Currently business school lecturer and journalist.

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