Can the OSCE Facilitate Greater U.S.-Russia Collaboration?

Mar 30, 2018 | Erica Symonds

As one of the few security organizations counting both the United States and Russia as members, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is well positioned to help improve relations between the two. In the 1980s and 1990s, the organization bridged divisions between Eastern and Western Europe on security issues. Could it foster cooperation on security matters between the United States and Russia today and bring the two together in less controversial areas as well? In a series of posts, students and scholars at CISSM will explore the potential for cooperation within the OSCE framework.

U.S.-Russian security cooperation is certainly on the mind of OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger. While in Washington recently, he identified the many policy areas where the organization is working to de-escalate tensions, rebuild trust, and seek common ground among participating states. Among the relevant areas for cooperation were combatting terrorism, violent extremism, cyber threats, trafficking, and migration, issues which even the strongest powers cannot resolve alone. 

We “need to replace the cycle of political rhetoric and distractive tit-for-tat actions with positive reciprocity and confidence building measures,” noted Greminger. Détente and dialogue should be seen as “a complement to deterrence” rather than appeasement, he said, while citing the OSCE’s work in Ukraine, Moldova, and Macedonia as examples of its successful efforts to prevent further escalation, normalize situations, and deescalate tensions. 

Though the strength of the OSCE has traditionally been working on international security issues such as arms control, conflict prevention, good governance, border management, human rights, democratization, and gender equality, the U.S., Russia, and other participating states could seek compromise on less-divisive issues in order to rebuild trust and eventually work toward greater cooperation on more complex matters. Along the road to improving bilateral relations, the U.S. and Russia could also strengthen international collaboration on a range of OSCE issues to improve communication channels, information sharing, and other confidence building measures to strengthen norms for a more secure world.