Interview With Lamberto Zannier, Secretary-General of the OSCE

Lamberto Zannier, a career Italian diplomat, became Secretary-General of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the world’s largest regional security organization, on July 1st, 2011.

In this interview, Mr. Zannier discusses the organization’s role in solving frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space as well as lessons and experiences the OSCE could share with neighbors in the Mediterranean and the Middle East that are in transition.

The interview was conducted by Francesco Mancini, IPI’s Director of Research.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):

Interview Transcript:

Francesco Mancini (FM): Ambassador Zannier, thank you much for being with us today. You are the new Secretary-General of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Why do we need an OSCE? What’s the value added nowadays?

Lamberto Zannier (LZ): Well, the OSCE is a comprehensive organization in Europe. It includes all European states; it has a trans-Atlantic dimension, it has a Eurasian dimension. It encompasses, from a geostrategic point of view, all relevant players for Europe. It stretches well beyond the E.U. It includes the countries of the Balkans, the countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, including the central Asian countries.

It’s an organization that is still very relevant in addressing the security challenges we have today in Europe, being inclusive. It’s a flexible organization in many ways that looks at security in a very broad way including in the fold of its security concept. Not only the traditional political, military tools but also the tools for promoting human rights and democratic institutions–tools that have proven their value in the transition processes over the last twenty years. And including also economic issues–issues of security in the economic field, energy security, something we are dealing with now. So I would say it is relevant for the current security challenges in our region.

It is well connected with the United Nations. It operates as a regional organization under chapter eight of the UN charter. It’s an organization that on the one hand, yes, an intergovernmental organization, but it’s an organization that is very capable of reaching the individual, looking at the issues of the freedom, the dignity of the individual in the society and the problems of the individual in the society. The other end also looks at regional challenges as such, the larger trends, and issues that need to be dealt at that level.

FM: In the past, Russia has been quite critical of the OSCE. How would you assess the perception of the OSCE today east of Vienna?

LZ: Yes, Russia has been critical of the OSCE. I would say Russia has been critical in the OSCE. Russia is a member state of the OSCE and within the OSCE, it did not always find the kind of responses to security challenges it would’ve wanted to see. This is because there are different visions of the how the OSCE should operate and what its priority should be. That’s part of the way in which the OSCE operates. The OSCE is a broad framework within which there are different agendas clashing with each other.

At some point yes, it’s true, because at some point, the OSCE was focusing very much on issues of transition.  It started focusing more closely in terms of assistance and promoting the OSCE values and principles in countries that were going through processes of transition and those were countries mainly to the south and east of Vienna. So this was perceived as a regional imbalance.

I think we are moving beyond that now because we are looking—of course, we are still carrying out a number of activities in that mold because the work is not finished—but we are looking at a broader agenda. An agenda that is more global in nature. An agenda to which each of the participating states contributes and where each of the participating states participates on an equal footing; whether it’s a matter of developing new tools to fight against terrorism or organized crime, or the kind of security challenges we have in front of us, whether we discuss strategies for this, strategies for the OSCE to assist in developments that are taking place on its border, whether it’s Afghanistan or North Africa.

FM: In several parts on the post-Soviet space, keep moving east, there are still tensions. What can OSCE do to reduce them? Do you see any chance of resolving some of those so-called frozen conflicts in that part of the world?

LZ: Well, there are a number of situations which are still there; they’ve been there for an extended period of time. Solving a conflict requires not only the necessary tools—in the OSCE we have developed quite an array of tools to improve the performance of the organization in early-warning and in conflict prevention.

Often when you find a situation where the two sides–sometimes even more than two sides–to a conflict don’t show the necessary political will to move towards a resolution, in a way, keeping the conflict frozen or letting it be protracted is the least of the evils in a way because at least you avoid an active conflict where you will have casualties, repercussions in the broader regional context. So in a way, it’s a way of controlling situations while we work on the margins to try and create the conditions for a resolution of this conflict.

Some areas there has been progress, in others there has been less progress. For instance, now on the issue of Moldova-Transnistria there is some positive news, there is agreement to revive a mechanism of negotiation that involves all the relevant parties, and there is hope that this will lead to progress towards the resolution of this conflict, which is what we all of course would like to see. We are putting in place all possible efforts to move in that direction.

In other cases the conditions are simply not there. The sides are not ready, so what we do, we try to strengthen the tools, including through monitoring on the ground, to avoid spillover, so to avoid the restarting of an active conflict.

FM: Let’s move back to the Mediterranean area: the OSCE can, in some way, be an example of a regional arrangement for other parts of the world. Given what is happening in the Arab world and in North Africa, do you think there are specific lessons from the OSCE that can be shared with Mediterranean neighbors and the Arab world at large?

LZ: In terms of the example, I don’t think that there is a blueprint of how you should create a regional set up, a regional mechanism. I think one key factor has to be regional ownership of these processes, and in each context it’s different, and in each context you have to take into account the local dynamics, the political conditions, and the specificities of the situation.

What we have done in Europe could, however, be seen as an example of an operation that has, over time, been successful. The OSCE has been very much part of a process of transition.  It has also encouraged this transition in Europe, in our context. And we have learned lessons through that–some bitter lessons, and there are some positive ones. These lessons, we don’t consider them as exclusive to us, so we are really willing to share them with whoever is interested.

When it comes to areas adjacent to the OSCE where we feel developments could also have an impact on our own security, we are a bit more active in inviting countries to take into account the experiences we have accumulated. We have certain capacities to transfer some of these lessons, and to have them taken into account with possibility to train people to build capacity. So, the offer is on the table, but of course in a situation of full respect for the autonomy and freedom of decision of the countries concerned.

There can also be structural responses–for instance, we have partnerships both with Afghanistan and with a number of countries in North Africa and the Middle East. These are structural partnerships that can be used in a very operational manner to transfer some of the expertise and to share some of the experiences.

FM: Thank you very much, Ambassador Zannier. It’s been a pleasure to have you with us.

LZ: Thank you very much.