The OSCE’s Reform Failures in Central Asia

by Joshua Foust on 4/13/2011

The Open Society Foundation’s Central Eurasia Project released this week a scathing report on the OSCE’s police reform efforts throughout Central Asia. Its findings are devastating:

  • Police reform programs have mostly failed to actually reform the police, and OSF charges that they have compromised OSCE ideals by indirectly supporting human rights abuses and high-level corruption.
  • The OSCE has no clear criteria for determining the kind of political environment in which police assistance programs might be effective or appropriate. This reflects the lack of an overall strategy for police assistance programming in the organization. The result has often been ad hoc projects of dubious value.
  • The OSCE’s emphasis on “common threats” glosses over local differences on security issues, and becomes an excuse for regimes to abuse their people. The OSCE also ignores the extent to which regimes are involved in transantional criminal networks.

And so on. David Lewis, the report’s author (who used to work for the International Crisis Group), recommends the OSCE reorient its approach so that it emphasizes the protection human rights, along with a host of better evaluation methods. These sound great, but I’m curious, given the way the OSCE has remained so passive-aggressive toward Kazakhstan in particular—its report on last week’s election notwithstanding—how likely any of this is. Much like the ICG’s reports, these recommendations all make imminent sense but have almost no chance of being enacted.

One of the reasons for this is the focus on security threats, rather than ideals like constrained police forces, healthy political systems, or human rights. In this regard the OSCE largely mirrors the United States (another OSF paper details the U.S.’s focus on security issues above anything else in its post-2001 engagement in Central Asia). Both the OSCE and the U.S. seem more likely to shift their focus to Fred Starr’s pet project, the “New Silk Road” idea of transnational trade and transportation development—however fraught that may be in reality.

Unfortunately, interest-based calculations come into play with this sort of thing. Even the OSCE has interests, usually broadly defined by its constituent member states. Trade brings the promise of direct, material benefit to donor countries; marginally improved human rights records do not.

Bonus: Joshua Kucera digs up Donald Rumsfeld’s one-liners about Central Asia from 2002 and realizes—with no small amount of disappointment—that U.S. policy there has not improved.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1849 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. 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

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