The OSCE: Soft Security for a Hard World

Competing Theories for Understanding the OSCE

by Roberto Dominguez (Author)
©2014 Edited Collection 200 Pages
Series: Euroclio, Volume 76


This book explores why the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) remains a largely unknown entity as far as the general public are concerned, despite its significant day-to-day activity not only on the diplomatic front, but also via its 16 field operations.
While the main achievement of its predecessor, the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), was to bridge the East-West divide in Europe during the Cold War, the CSCE was transformed into the OSCE in 1995 to respond to the various challenges generated by the emergence of a multipolar world. Ever since, the OSCE has been involved in diplomacy, empowered with instruments of persuasion rather than coercion. Is the OSCE a significant regional organization in dealing with international security? Has the OSCE been able to reinvent itself to face the post-Cold War world? What type of security is the OSCE providing to its member states? This book provides a variety of answers based on different theoretical perspectives and invites the reader to reflect on the nature of soft power within international relations.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Abbreviations
  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • Introduction: The OSCE as a Security Provider
  • Theories, Security and the OSCE
  • Realist Perspectives: The Missed Opportunity to Create a Pan-European Collective Security Organization
  • Institutionalist Theories: The OSCE in the Western Balkans
  • Social Constructivism: Re-Constructing European Security (1965-1975)
  • Post-Structuralism: Soft Power as Governmentality and Normalization in the OSCE’s Role in Croatia
  • The Copenhagen School: Societal Security and the OSCE’s Human Dimension
  • Soft Power: The Role of Canada in the OSCE
  • The OSCE in the XXIth Century
  • The European Architecture: OSCE, NATO and the EU
  • Conclusion: Interpreting the OSCE
  • Contributors
  • EUROCLIO – Published Books


ANA Afghan National Army
ANP Afghan National Police
BBC British Broadcasting Corporation
CAME Council for Mutual Economic Assistance
CBM Confidence-Building Measures
CEE Central and Eastern Europe
CFSP Common Foreign and Security Policy
CIS Commonwealth of Independent States
CLNM Constitutional Law on the Rights of National Minorities
CoE Council of Europe
COPRI Copenhagen Conflict & Peace Research Institute
CSBMs Confidence and Security Building Measures
CSCE Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe
CSDP Common Security and Defense Policy [formerly ESDP]
CSO Committee of Senior Officials
CW Cold War
DPA Dayton Peace Agreement
EC European Communities
ECA Economic Co-operation Administration
ECMM European Community Monitor Mission
ECSC European Coal and Steel Community
EEAS European External Action Service
ENP European Neighborhood Policy
ESDP European Security and Defense Policy
ESS European Security Strategy
EU European Union
EUMM European Military Monitors
EUPOL European Union Police Mission
FRY Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
FYROM Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia ← 9 | 10 →
HCNM High Commissioner on National Minorities
HoMs Heads of Mission
ICC International Criminal Court
ICG International Crisis Group
ICTR International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
ICTY International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
IFOR Implementation Force
IGOs Intergovernmental Organizations
IR International Relations
ISAF International Security Assistance Force
JLWG Joint Legal Working Group
JNA Yugoslav National Army
KFOR Kosovo Force
KVM Kosovo Verification Mission
LTMs Long Term Missions
LTPP Long Term Planning Process
MAP Membership Action Plan
MOU Memorandum of Understanding
NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization
NGOs Non-governmental Organizations
ODIHR Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights
OEEC Organization of European Economic Co-operation
OEF Operation Enduring Freedom
OHCHR Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights
OHCNM Office of the High Commissioner on National Minorities
OHR Office of the UN High Representative
OMIK OSCE Mission in Kosovo
ORFM Representative on Freedom of the Media
OSCE Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
PfP Partnership for Peace
RFE Radio Free Europe
RFM Representative on Freedom of the Media
RSK Republika Srbska Krajina
SAA Stabilization and Association Agreement
SAMs Sanctions Assistance Missions ← 10 | 11 →
SAP Stabilization and Association Process
SFOR Stabilization Force
SMC Security Model Committee
UK United Kingdom
UN United Nations
UNHCR United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
UNHCHR United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
UNLO United Nations Liaison Office
UNMIK United Nations Mission in Kosovo
UNPROFOR United Nations Protection Force
UNSCR UN Security Council Resolution
US United States
USA United States of America
USSR Soviet Union
UNTAES United Nations Transitional Administration in Eastern Slavonia
WEU West European Union
WMD Weapon of Mass Destruction ← 11 | 12 →

← 12 | 13 →


This book is a welcome addition to the international relations literature on international institutions and the role they can play in today’s world, where national sovereignty remains a dominating idea. The editor deserves credit for the structure of its design, which involves the use of different theories to study the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). These different theories all have something to say about the subject matter. The mosaic of different theoretical perspectives outlined in this book gives us a fuller understanding of the phenomenon under scrutiny.

Realism, arguably the dominant approach for many decades, has helped us understand why the OSCE did not become a collective defense organization. It put its focus on the role of the more powerful participating states, including Russia and the United States, and their different interests, even after the end of the Cold War. This book, from the theoretical standpoint, goes beyond Realism and offers a rich menu of approaches in order to understand the OSCE from a variety of perspectives.

The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) played an important role at the outset of the 1970s in promoting détente between the East and West, getting the post-war borders in Europe accepted (an interest of the Soviet Union) and human rights acknowledged as international concerns. The end of the Cold War was an important event for the CSCE as well as the European Community (EC) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The missions of the CSCE and NATO, were, arguably, largely completed. The EC became the European Union, which now includes the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), and which for the first time was extended to include defense policy. But both the CSCE and NATO adapted to the new situation, taking on new missions. In 1995 the CSCE became an organization, the OSCE, with its broad mission being to promote security, democracy and human rights among and within an increasing number of participating states, expanding from the original 35 states in the 1970s to 56 states. When the CSCE and the EU failed to deal with the emerging crisis in the former Yugoslavia in the early and mid-1990s, NATO stepped in with its hard power and US leadership, demonstrating that the limited soft power available to the former two organizations was insufficient. Although the EU eventually started to develop the capacity to deal with military ← 13 | 14 → conflicts, especially after the Kosovo conflict, NATO has remained an important security provider in Europe and beyond.

The OSCE has survived but has declined in importance. Its budget has also been reduced in recent years. It has the advantage in certain situations of having Russia as a member, but this also puts serious limits on what it can do due to the consensus approach of the organization. The current regime in Russia does not fully share the western commitment to democracy and human rights.

Most of the other theories applied in this book – except for rational institutionalism – move towards more sociological perspectives, with emphasis on norms, identity and ideas. The definition of security is widened and power becomes a more subtle concept. Clearly, after the end of the Cold War, many European conflicts were intra-state conflicts, taking place between different ethnic groups. Realism did not have much to contribute to the study of these conflicts and the new risks and threats that emerged from them. This is where other theories have more to offer: applying these other theories gives us fuller explanations.

The case studies cover different periods and different regions, with many dealing with or touching upon the situation in the Western Balkans. Although the OSCE has not questioned the Westphalian system of sovereign states, it has been able to use soft power in a number of situations and as such it remains a useful organization. One may hope that it can continue to contribute to dialogue, learning and the socialization of democratic norms, so that “good governance” can spread further east beyond the countries that have been able to join the EU as a result of the big enlargements in 2004 and 2007, or even those that may one day hope to join, as is the case of the countries in the Western Balkans.

Finn Laursen

Canada Research Chair of EU Studies and ad personam Jean Monnet Chair

Director, EU Centre of Excellence

Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada
← 14 | 15 →


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (March)
persuasion international relations diplomacy
Bruxelles, Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 200 pp., 4 tables

Biographical notes

Roberto Dominguez (Author)

Roberto Dominguez is a Jean Monnet Fellow of the Global Governance Program at the European University Institute and Associate Professor in the Department of Government at Suffolk University. His recent publications include Security Governance of International Organizations (with Emil Kirchner, 2011).


Title: The OSCE: Soft Security for a Hard World
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200 pages