Think About the OSCE

by Joshua Foust on 12/9/2007 · 5 comments

In 2010, history will be made: for the first time ever, a former SSR will become the chairman of the organization most recently known for monitoring elections (or not, in the case of Russia) than for doing anything involving security. There is a variety of opinion about the value of such a decision, however.

Ms. Boyd breaks it down like this:

the OSCE member states can make this a win-win for everyone–sticking up for transparency and elections as always and making this a reputational issue for the new chair. At the same time, they could stop talking for a minute and listen to some of the things that Kazakhstan may have to say, and increase their range of knowledge.

Steve LeVine, on the other hand, sees this as a major fumble:

Whichever the case, the OSCE — financed in large part by the U.S. — has played a hard-fought, 16-year role as Europe’s official conscience.

Until now. The OSCE has bafflingly jeopardized its reputation as Europe’s premier human rights watchdog in order to satisfy an understandable if misguided campaign by Kazakhstan for the prized chair of the organization…

If the OSCE states wished an example from the former Soviet Union, why not choose Ukraine? For all its flaws, it has been holding truly competitive presidential elections for some 13 years. Or better yet, how about Georgia? There, Mikheil Saakashvili has actually stepped down from the presidency in order to run in a snap election next month.

There are a couple of reasons to disagree with LeVine’s analysis, starting with his own caveats: By nominating a country not renown for its human rights abuses—Kazakhstan’s, though still bad by Western standards, are by far the least of the region’s worries—the OSCE creates an incentive for the other FSSRs to clean up their acts as well. Similarly, Kazakhstan is the only FSSR that combines a relatively moderate human rights record with a stable government, which is something neither Ukraine nor Georgia can boast. Similarly, Saakashvili’s rather harsh crackdown and emergency rule, however noble his intention in resignation—speak poorly to his country’s trustworthiness as an OSCE chair.

But Ms. Boyd’s take as a win-win is not exactly right either. The OSCE is taking a huge chance on Nazarbayev—Rakhat-gate remains a serious concern, as does the country’s rather violent relationship with its dissidents. Similarly, given that legitimate countries with admirable records of reform, including Ukraine and Georgia (serious and legitimate cases can be made for their inclusion on the chairmanship), have not yet had the chair, the OSCE had a chance for an appropriate half-way solution. Why they chose one of the more controversial candidates remains a bit baffling.

In all, it seems a bit slapdash. With luck, the OSCE chair will provide some good domestic pressure to make Nazarbayev lossen his grip a bit, and perhaps allow a decent parliamentary election sometime. Holding one’s breath until it happens, however, would not be an appropriate reaction.

Subscribe to receive updates from Registan

This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

For information on reproducing this article, see our Terms of Use


Steve LeVine December 9, 2007 at 12:11 pm

Josh, I don’t understand your equivocation. How can someone lead Eurasia’s key election watchdog when it itself has never held a fair election? The line is simple: run a fair election, then you can be chair; otherwise you’ve got zero moral authority with others. Bonnie Boyd’s position is similarly problematic — this isn’t about being pristine (who is?). We are talking about an organization one of whose very reasons for existence is to help ensure electoral fairness; Kazakhstan’s ascendance to the chair makes a mockery of that. Best Steve

Steve LeVine, author
The Oil and the Glory

Joshua Foust December 9, 2007 at 9:54 pm

Steve, I disagree. The OSCE has cachet only so far as its member states can throw it… which means it operates at their pleasure. I think the calculation was made that by conceding to Kazakhstan the chairmanship in 2010 (to the best of my knowledge, neither Georgia nor Ukraine were requesting a term as chairman), they might be able to pressure the country into actually enacting the reforms it eternally promises. It may be a totally naïve idea, but it isn’t without totally without merit.

Dolkun December 10, 2007 at 5:13 am

Joshua, to rephrase what you just said, by conceding the chair, the OSCE will pressure Kazakhstan. This may not be naive, but it is original

Jamie Maddox December 10, 2007 at 2:01 pm

Let’s talk about Nazarbaev’s motivations behind assuming the chairmanship. Every action he’s taken, especially in the last year, only furthers to consolidate his own power. I hardly think that this development will lead him to ‘come to his senses.’ Chairing the OSCE is more about Kazakhstan’s reputation in Central Asia (and beyond) than any moves to become more democratic. What will stop Kazakhstan from taking the opportunity to side with Russia and pressure the OSCE to address the ‘security and stability’ issue at the expense of democracy and human rights in the future? The OSCE’s precarious position means that this is no time for a country with very questionable practices to take the lead.

ak December 10, 2007 at 5:59 pm

naive indeed. With this mindet, osce chairmanship is a joke, rewarding countries with poor records with chairmanhip.

Previous post:

Next post: