There's a fascinating story up at The Cable about the State Department doing battle with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly over a contract to the International Peace Institute (IPI). That is, fascinating if you are an OSCE geek like me and follow the somewhat obscure doings at the unwieldly 56-country assembly, where the politics are almost never covered in the press like this.
At one level, the story sounds like it's about diplomatic pork, a cushy contract for a conference handed to some friends of friends (Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, the Secretary Generay of OSCE itself, is on the board of IPI). Of course, diplomats can't get very far on pork that has a budget of only $83,400, which might be enough for one or two conferences, given the high cost of dinner, hotel, translation, etc. in Vienna.
But at another level, it's about a lot of other things.
BUDGET-SLASHING CLIMATE IN DC
First, I'm wincing -- ouch, raising *any* budget dispute in *this* climate where Congress is slashing absolutely anything that looks like it might be about "distracting men's minds with foreign peace," i.e. not wars, which they readily approve money for, but things like the UN Human Rights Council. NGOs have already been fretting for months how to admit criticisms of the HRC, but yet convince members to support U.S. activity at the UN (something I totally support myself -- you have to be in the game to win it.)
But if you complain about any one item these days, you risk having *all* funding cut as a particular activity starts to seem shrouded in controversy. I find that exasperating, as these international bodies do need criticizing badly, but trying to convey the subtleties of why they need lots more financial and intellectual support than they get, but critical support is something very hard to convey in a Congressional hearing. Congress should *not* cut any funding for OSCE work -- if anything, they need to realize this is where the international battlefield for hearts and minds is taking place.
Let's remember that it took strong American leadership to get Turkmen dissidents seated at the OSCE Review Conferences last year, for example, and it is the U.S. delegation that takes the lead at the Permanent Council in condemning human rights violations in OSCE member states such as are alarmingly occuring in Belarus now.
But trying to keep the support *with* the criticism is very difficult.
HOSTILE CLIMATE FOR CRITICIZING OSCE
That's something I faced myself in trying to discuss Turkmenistan in a hearing at the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) some years ago -- and at the end, got a reprimand from Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) for criticizing OSCE PA -- a body of which of course CSCE itself is a member -- and in fact, one of the models for membership.
I would argue that not all election monitoring that the OSCE PA does of elections is credible precisely because it has undemocratically elected members -- chief of which is Russia's delegation -- and has opted to monitor some elections that would be better off not blessed by the act of monitoring at all. This is of course the sort of politically-uncorrect truth that diplomats try to avoid saying aloud because it lets you in for an endless wrangle. Yes, Russia's parliamentary elections have been declared flawed by the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) -- and rightly so. (ODIHR opted not to monitor the 2007 elections when their experts faced obstructions and some didn't get visas in a timely manner; OSCE PA did send an observers' delegation, however (although they didn't go to monitor the presidential election). And I suspect that while conditions have only worsened in Russia, we may not see ODIHR doing *that* again, so furious has the Kremlin been over this characterization, and so busy have they been trying to spin it. Indeed, under Lenarcic, ODIHR has now been criticzed as being too timid, and not sufficiently critical of the elections in Moldova, under Russian pressure. And OSCE PA was rapped for its statement of being "delighted" by the Moldovan elections which brought Communists a landslide victory.
MORAL EQUIVALENCE MAGNETIC FIELD
BTW, because of the inherent magnetic field of moral equivalency that always vectors this debate, I have to add this: Making this statement about the inherent flaw of the OSCE PA -- that it has undemocratic members who are state cronies -- doesn't somehow bless the U.S. as a system free of flaws. I find that whenever you try to have this debate, someone is sure to start barking about how the U.S. itself is flawed, and that the 2000 election in particular was suspect. (Indeed, Rep. Hastings commented pointedly that OSCE didn't monitor those elections, and should have been more critical, and enthused that Russian monitors in the 2008 elections were some of the greatest people he had ever dealt with).
You don't have to somehow be unwitting or not admitting of the flaws of American democracy, the need for even-handed monitoring, and even the warmth of Russians even from an undemocratic system to be entitled to criticize the obvious about Russia: with the use of "administrative resources" by incumbents, with the media controlled, with journalists killed or maimed, with NGOs terribly pressured, with demonstrations about basic rights crushed by police, with constant violations -- like one of the former parliamentarians put in jail for 15 days (Boris Nemtsov), and ultimately with no liberal caucus, even a tiny one, remotely possible -- it shouldn't be so hard to criticize Russia's elections as unfair. But it is, for all kinds of lingering Cold War reasons, not the least of which are actual people with actual old line pro-Soviet views in the U.S. Congress as well as in OSCE PA. They were also terribly soft on Kazakhstan and other Russian allies as well.
RUSSIA'S ASSAULT ON OSCE
They [unnamed Western States] are trying to transform the OSCE into a vulgar instrument designed to promote the foreign policy interests of one or a group of countries. And this task is also being accomplished by the OSCE's bureaucratic apparatus, which is absolutely not connected with the state founders in any way. Decision-making procedures and the involvement of so-called non-governmental organizations are tailored for this task. These organizations are formally independent but they are purposefully financed and therefore under control.
Project much? Kazakhstan, carrying water for the Kremlin, rammed through the Astana security summit with a reluctant West (and Eastern Europe) and packed the review meetings with its own state-funded NGOs -- and also limited the space for critical NGOs at the summit itself.
Those few NGOs that still bother with OSCE -- mainly the remnants of the international Helsinki movement in Europe and the former Soviet Union -- are mainly credible groups making the right judgement calls on unfair and unfree elections in CIS states.
DEMOCRACY BEGINS AT HOME
There's much more to this issue, as Josh Rogin's story indicates. Spencer Oliver is absolutely right to question this no-bid contract without any competition.
But Spencer Oliver himself has been in power at OSCE PA for 22 years, and before that had a distinguished career at CSCE for 22 years. I'm all for continuity and institutional memory, but one has to ask, when first OSCE PA decides to extend the General Secretary's term to 5 years and then re-elects the same one, and then when that same gen sec is re-elected unanimously for three more five-year terms, whether we aren't dealing with a kind of Brezhnev situation (although of course the presidency of OSCE PA does rotate more frequently).
Even so, can the OSCE PA ever have anything but unanimous votes for the Secretary General? Does anybody else ever run alternatives for the post for Secretary General at that outfit?Can this body, that is always pointed to as the hope of the democratic will of the people, have more frequently changing management than, say, the presidency of Uzbekistan? Just saying.
Trust me, I realize that precisely because OSCE PA *isn't* democratic in part due to its undemocratic Russian, Kazakh, etc. delegations and the aggressive Russian campaign to reshape OSCE that there is powerful reasoning for making the argument (and a sizeable contingent for making it): better to keep a seasoned American in place, better not to rock the boat, it can and does get so much worse in OSCE, and we could end up with a Russian crony running operations who will undo all this body's good works.
Ok, but sooner or later, the bullet has to be bitten, and better to bite it sooner rather than later. Then...those of good will in the OSCE PA need to find good, democratic, fresh candidates; and they need to get more serious about not seating delegations that are not elected under undemocratic elections so that their overall institution has more credibility. Instead, they could seat non-voting observer delegations from oppressive states with unfair elections that they can recognize as made up of both the phony parliaments and the opposition. (There is some precedent for doing this with the forcibly disbanded Belarusian parliament for a time.)
UPDATE: As Spencer Oliver rightly points out in a comment on The Cable in response to my blog and comment, the Charter of Paris of 1990 mandates that OSCE PA has to be made up of parliamentary delegations from each state. Yes, I get that they are stuck with having to take whatever delegation, even one made up of state-controlled rubber-stampers, that a state sends. Yet what I'm saying is that they need to get serious about changing that. How? They could work toward changing the Charter -- *gasp* although no one ever dares tamper with non-binding charters from this non-legal entity *cough*. That's because they might get something worse -- and I respect that. But the notion of "getting something worse" is predicated on the West remaining supine. Must it?
If Russia wants to get a security charter of Eurasia redrawn, maybe among the prices the West can ask Moscow to pay is an amendment that in order for a a delegation from a country to get seated, ODIHR and OSCE PA must declare an election free and fair. Yes, it's a shocking concept that seems unrealizable, until you start going after it, step by step. Furthermore, shy of an unlikely Charter amendment, you can try other things -- guest delegations from significant oppositions who have failed to democratize parliaments because elections are flawed or hopelessly restricted; hearings in which opposition party leaders and human rights NGOs can speak, and so on.
These are the kinds of questions that I would expect someone like Walter Kemp, whom I don't know, might examine at the IPI, an organization I am familiar with from its New York branch.
And one thing I do know: if we cannot float a hundred even unfeasible proposals including even some that don't appear to be fact-based, we will never be able to get the momentum to reform this failing organization.
WHICH PART OF OSCE REPRESENTS THE BETTER DEMOCRATIC WILL OF NATIONS?
When I questioned OSCE PA at the Turkmenistan hearing back then, I said that at times, ODIHR better represents the will of the people, i.e. because some of the delegations in OSCE PA are not democratically elected, therefore ODIHR, if it follows a human rights mandate, can compensate for that and actually represent the genuine will of states. He objected to my characterization of ODIHR as "the will of the people," as obviously it is an executive body made by states -- and of course some of these states are very oppressive -- how can you speak of the "will of the people" in talking about countries like Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, or Turkmenistan?! That was the implication.
Of course you can't, and Rep. Hastings and others have been on hand to call those non-elections for the shams they were, and that's why they obviously do good work. It takes time and space to unpack the argument for "why ODIHR" and "why not OSCE PA". It has to do with idealizing the role of institutions sometimes to bring them into being as that ideal -- and facing the harsh reality that OSCE PA has plenty of unfairly picked delegations from authoritarian states who are not democratically elected.
My contention about ODIHR -- which I realize is rather a slender reed to place the hopes of "the will of the peoples of the OSCE upon -- is that it is an institution created with a mission specifically devoted to monitoring human rights and elections -- and one created in better days, when Russia and its allies were not so disruptive and destructive. The 1990 Copenhagen Act, for example, on freedom of association and democratic elections, even though signed by the Soviet Union before the coup, was signed by a Gorbachevian Soviet Union in the era of the flourishing nyeformaly that was better than today's Kremlin when it comes to freedom of association. So it stands as a high water mark of "the will of states" that one hopes is not eroded by further debate.
So in that sense, *when* ODIHR is hewing to an impartial, specific human rights mandate under the norms of Copenhagen and the other framing documents of OSCE values, *then* it is "the conscience" and "the will" of the people, in that idealistic fashion. That may have been a bridge too far to attempt to convey in the minute answer you get in a Congressional hearing, and I failed -- as I may fail now in trying to write it out -- because it needs probably 6000 more words of "on the one hand" and "on the other hand" describing the highs and lows of ODIHR over the decades -- and some lows have indeed been low, and real democratically-elected parliamentarians like Rep. Hastings are right to call them out. It really depends on whether one is sort of invoking "the soul of ODIHR" -- what it has been and could and should be -- or "the body of ODIHR," which can be how it actually performs in this or that situation (and obviously, if Putin is unhappy with how ODIHR has been doing its job, frankly, that may be a strong indictator that it *has* been doing its job *right*).
The problem of ODIHR is exactly the one faced by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. When Mary Robinson held that office, she once remarked that she had 192 bosses, many of whom did not wish her well in her mission. ODIHR's head is in exactly that kind of unenviable position, albeit with only 56 bosses -- because the same countries who obstruct progress at the UN obstruct it at OSCE.
HOW CAN REFORM BE BROUGHT ABOUT AT OSCE?
But here's the thing. We never get to have these sorts of open and frank discussion within the OSCE context itself about who is obstructing whom. There isn't a place on the agenda, really, and there aren't even the self-correcting mechanisms that the United Nations has been forced to put in to examine itself after the Rwanda genocide and the Oil-for-Food and other scandal.
If you gave a bid for this much-debated State Department contract, the fact is, probably few would be qualified to take it up in a serious, professional matter. With two or three exceptions, there are no academics who bother to study the OSCE seriously. There are very few existing NGOs that bother with the OSCE enough to sustain conferences -- as someone who has been involved in organizing NGO conferences on the OSCE, I could point out that this problem tends to reinforce itself: because there are no academic centers already taking this up seriously such as to partner with NGOs successfully, NGOs risk just staging one more noble but ignored activity in a sea of think-tank events in Washington, some of them paid for by the very abusive governments (like Kazakhstan) that they'd like to critique -- with far more market share in the policy-making attention economy.
So if a review panel were set up to look at the IPI OSCE project, they might indeed fairly conclude that "no-bid" though it be, this contract was awarded the best way that it could be, to a group already established with a very good track record on examining the United Nations.
Now we come to the tangled web of what is an NGO, what is a GONGO, what is a State -- and of course in our increasingly Snowcrashian world, with new media able to circumvent (Twitter) and undermine (WikiLeaks) states, it's hard to tell them apart.
According to Rogin, Spencer Oliver "also objected to taking important diplomatic functions away from the OSCE's formal structures and giving them to an NGO."
"It looks like they're outsourcing a major diplomatic function of the OSCE chairmanship, which would be a very bad precedent to set."
Hmm. Well, I'm sorry, but I think NGOs do have a role to play in convening diplomats outside of dipolomatic structures that fail as much as the OSCE's fail. Here's a body that couldn't get 52 unarmed police mentors landed in Osh during the pogroms -- the UN can often do at least that much.
I think in fact it's a very, very good idea to have meetings outside of diplomatic structures, with those diplomats, off the record, to try to get them to overcome some of their obstacles to action, and also to have conversations outside the artificial bubble of false reporting that inevitably creeps into the OSCE information stream -- because heads of mission aren't always the most stellar; because they are trying to keep their missions and not lose them; because they aren't even mandated to even meet with human rights activists who might tell them what's really going on (in Uzbekistan, for example).
However -- I definitely opposed the idea of the chair-in-office creating a permanent NGO advisory body because I don't think NGOs should have instituted relationships in this fashion that will inevitably privilege the NGOs and GONGOs with a softer touch that states would like to snuggle with and provide yet another technical means of blocking the more critical and vocal voices.
In that sense I share Oliver's concern about "outsourcing" to NGOs -- there is a lot of that in the world, and not always beneficial.
But that's exactly why I would welcome a credible NGO think-tank that sets up a kind of observatory and serious discussion group outside of OSCE, not formally related to it, to try to bring about some reforms in this body long resistant to reforms (in part due to deliberate sabotage by Russia and its allies, in part due to Western neglect and loss of will in the face of the concerted Russian barrage).
THE IPI'S CREDIBILITY
Now, if the body doing this discussing is funded by the U.S. State Department, does that make it less than credible? Does this make it unable to credibly respond to Putin's Munich speech?
I think the IPI stands on its own over the years as an independent body, and has presided over many a meeting where participants have been free to be critical of the U.S. at the UN and in the world in general. So I don't think that's a fair issue -- and it's really an abstract issue as there are no funders today likely to be willing to put substantial amounts of funding into OSCE-watching (as distinct from watching the individual state members).
Furthermore, the distinguished Vienna Advisory Council created by IPI recently has significant pro-Kremlin Russian presence -- so it's not like this job is being run by, oh, the Chechen-Russian Friendship Society.
Kemp was taken to task by Conservative Canadian Senator Consiglio Di Nino, for saying, in this paper that OSCE PA parachutes in and reads attention-grabbing statements that undercuts long-term monitoring. Was this a reference to Moldova's elections? This could also have referenced the old long-simmering OSCE PA/ODIHR wrangle, whereby those delegations with the CIS parliamentarians on them, not democratically elected, begin to pronounce on situations where the ODIHR has already decided to call as "flawed" -- and among their tools for doing this is not sending a full-fledged monitoring delegation at all from ODIHR.
I would differ from Kemp to say that *sometimes* OSCE PA has done that but other times its parachuting in and reading of *frank* statements has been a blessing. You really have to analyze it country by country.
What I would argue is not so much that OSCE PA's powers be limited in monitoring, but that there be some kind of mechanism to prevent the duality of OSCE having PA monitors that do go to countries anyway when ODIHR has not ruled to send delegations. Indeed, it was my call to make sure on Turkmenistan's "parliamentary" "elections" that OSCE PA and ODIHR get on the same page and not monitor that triggered Rep. Hastings critique of my statement at the Congressional hearing (even though in the end neither monitored the highly manipulated elections in Turkmenistan).
ODIHR has to advertise more forcefully what its various incremental read-outs are: sending limited long-term observation missions before the elections is not a blessing of an election at all, and duplicitious abusive governments have sometimes claimed that it is. A CIS member of OSCE PA who is going in his CIS capacity to make a friendly call about the fake elections of a fellow abusive government is not related to OSCE PA. And both OSCE PA and ODIHR should not be splitting on the issue of whether to monitor at all, as that undermines the force for ODIHR's apt calls.
In the end, the way this internal family dispute of OSCE that has fortunately spilled out into the press is going to be handled is by having the Lithuanian chair handle the grant (I'd like to hear more about that and learn if in fact that will kill off critical discussion), and Ambassador Ian Kelly, the U.S. ambassador to OSCE who has apparently strategically WikiLeaked himself to The Cable, has reassured Spencer Oliver that he will keep tabs on the project to make sure OSCE PA is included in the workshops.
OK, sounds good -- but again, have we just re-opened the prospect that non-democratic OSCE PA members who will serve as stalking horses for the Kremlin line are now going to be able to pack the meeting and prevent a critical assessment of the Astana summit -- just to keep everybody happy?
RUSSIA'S AGGRESSIVE BID TO REMAKE OSCE
Let's remember what this is all about, at the end of the day, after it finishes being about the impropriety of no-bid contracts, the expensive nature of diplomatic conferences, the vicissitudes of OSCE PA monitoring and its long-standing war with ODIHR, and so on: it's about Russia trying to remake the security architecture in Europe, without the human rights dimension.
Soon it will be the 90th anniversary of Sakharov's birth on May 21, 2011, and there will be a conference in Moscow that once again examines the principle of integrating security and human rights, to which Sakharov devoted his life's work. The human rights, intellectual freedom and democracy components of security cannot be jettisoned in favour of the real-politik of a security dictated by either the Kremlin's imperium or the exigencies of the EU's worries about energy security or American concerns to keep NATO's supply route to the war in Afghanistan. This is going to be very hard to keep affirming in the windstorm of war-funding and war-fighting but the $83,000 that that International Peace Institute wants to spend on this strikes me as a small -- and very inexpensive -- enough contribution to ensuring the West doesn't fail again.