New Energy At the OSCE

We cannot afford to leave the region’s protracted conflicts on the back burner.

Opinion | George Papandreou | December 2009 / January 2010

The year 2009 has been one of great change, taking place amidst even greater uncertainty. Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the resilience of the post-Cold War security system in Europe is being tested. Longstanding conflicts remain unresolved and complex new challenges are emerging: Energy security, organized crime, terrorism, absolutism and fundamentalism, climate change, and cyber crime are acute concerns for every country.

The economic crisis has left many people far less prosperous, and perhaps less inclined to be ambitious in our efforts to address Europe’s security challenges. But we must also keep in mind that crisis brings with it opportunities for change.

This year has also seen a number of positive developments, including a "reset" in relations between two key players in the European security dialogue: Russia and the United States. The European Union has recently taken important steps towards greater cohesion and unity with the appointment of a President and High Representative for Foreign Affairs.

We should celebrate these achievements even as we recognize that serious problems remain to be resolved. There are different perspectives on how Europe’s security architecture should be designed, but we all agree on the urgent need to tackle this critical challenge through constructive dialogue.

It is in this spirit of cooperation and bridge-building that 56 foreign ministers – representing the U.S., Canada, and European countries, including the Russian Federation and the rest of the former Soviet Union – will meet in Athens on December 1-2 on my invitation to discuss the future of European security. The talks mark the continuation of the "Corfu Process," anchored in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which began with an informal ministerial meeting on Corfu in June.

An attempt to address Europe’s unfinished business, the Corfu Process is an opportunity for us to come together to assess the gaps in our common security, to craft more effective responses to existing challenges, and – most importantly – to generate new political will for joint action.

This includes action to preserve arms-control regimes, including the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe; to accelerate the resolution of protracted conflicts; to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms; and to assess and address traditional and new threats.

We cannot afford to leave the region’s protracted conflicts such as the ones in Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria on the back burner, as last year’s war in Georgia made abundantly clear. People living in these areas need peace and stability, not a fragile status quo that could suddenly shatter and turn violent.

Security challenges in neighboring regions also require a joint response. Afghanistan is a case in point. And threats like terrorism, trafficking of arms, drugs, and people, and climate change are borderless and complex. Only a joint response can be effective.

The fall of the Berlin Wall marked the end of an era of mistrust and division, and opened the way for cooperation aimed at a peaceful and stable Europe. Europe has come a long way from those years of division, but we have not yet fully reaped the benefits promised by the wave of change of 1989.

The OSCE meeting in Athens comes at a critical time, when Europeans must move into the twenty-first century more united than ever before. We must take this opportunity to restore the full capacity of the OSCE and make a fresh commitment to an indivisible European security system.


George Papandreou is Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Greece, and the Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).Copyright: Project Syndicate,

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