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28 January 2019

“We want to discuss the elephants in the room, but we want to do it on a technical basis of practical solutions,” said Swiss Deputy Foreign Minister and State Secretary Pascale Baeriswyl, in Vienna to address the opening session of Switzerland’s four-month Chairmanship of the OSCE’s Forum for Security Co-operation (FSC) on 16 January 2018. She was joined for this conversation by Matthias Halter, Head of Arms Control and Disarmament Policy in the Swiss Federal Department of Defence, and Claude Wild, Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the OSCE and Chairperson of the FSC.  

You have represented Switzerland in many international contexts including the United Nations in New York. How do you see the OSCE’s Forum for Security Co-operation fitting into the global security architecture?

Pascale Baeriswyl: Our security is currently being challenged on three different levels: we have fragmentation and polarization at the societal level, weakened institutions at the national level and, on the multilateral level, a world order in turmoil. The OSCE is special because it can react on all three levels. It can be very close to the people in the field. For example, during the Kosovo crisis, when Kosovo declared independence – which made it so difficult for other actors to be there and to react –, the OSCE Mission was the only one still working throughout the country, taking care of matters such as minority rights. At the same time, the OSCE can contribute to strengthening institutions on a national level, to build vibrant democracies or keep them alive.

On the third, the multilateral level, I think the OSCE is also in a good position to prepare the field for action, for example in the UN Security Council. Consider the situation in Ukraine, where we have been talking about a potential UN mission. I think the SMM was a wonderful result, which could be achieved through a lot of work, including on the part of the Swiss Chairmanship. Quite possibly at a later point in history we will need some kind of a UN mission to bring about a solution that will be sustainable. The OSCE, with all the tools it has at its disposal, can build consensus – it’s a consensus-oriented organization – and it can also take advantage of the fact that four of the five UN veto powers are in the OSCE. So if you manage to build consensus in the OSCE, the chances of being able to come up with a good solution at the level of the Security Council are much higher. 

I think the OSCE and its Forum for Security Co-operation are very much a best practice example of a regional organization under Chapter Eight of the UN Charter, which should be complementary to the global level. Especially in times of crisis, this kind of working together is absolutely key to keeping our international multilateral order really alive. 

In a time when trust among participating States is low, Switzerland has not shied away from placing difficult topics on the agenda. At the same time, you emphasize practical measures based on existing tools.

Pascale Baeriswyl: It was interesting for me to come here today to listen to how the tensions are tangible. I have been to several multilateral organizations over the past couple of months and all are facing important challenges. You can hear it when participating States take the floor, in how they phrase their interventions. It’s not the same here as in the Council of Europe, it’s not the same kind of crisis as in the United Nations, but it’s very present.

We want to discuss the elephants in the room, but we want to do it on a technical basis of pragmatic solutions. So it’s going to be a fine line and probably in some fields it’s not going to work out and certainly not in four months. But if we can give impulses and a fresh start to some discussions, that will already be a contribution to confidence building and that will be a success.

Claude Wild: Indeed we have been rather bold in taking the risk of including some items that have been avoided so far, such as aspects of modern warfare. By putting that on the agenda we hope to trigger a discussion on the situation in which we find ourselves. We want to face reality with impartiality, and with addressing the issues.

We have a tool – the Vienna Document [agreed confidence- and security-building measures]. Actually, it works only partially – but the parts that do work, we want to make work even better – that is a chance we have. We know that because of political realities, modernizing the Vienna Document in four months is unrealistic. But if we focus instead on implementation of the current document, maybe we can create areas of trust which don’t exist now. For example, the provision in Chapter Four on contacts between military academies: this is part of the Vienna Document, not implemented now. Since it’s difficult to have contacts between general staffs – maybe we can start with military academies, which build the next generation of those who might either co-operate or confront each other.

One new agenda item on which Switzerland has experience to offer is that of private military and security companies (PMSCs).

Claude Wild: We have put PMSCs on the agenda because Switzerland is the depositary of the Geneva Convention, and we have to ask ourselves how modern wars are fought today. Since the 1990s we are seeing more and more armed people on battlefields who are contracted by states but are not part of the armed forces. What is their legal status? Are states obliged to apply international humanitarian law in these cases or not? Who is to be blamed if one of these weapon carriers commits a war crime?

These are questions to which we as the depositary state had to respond. We took the initiative to fill this loophole in international law by appealing to the sense of responsibility of the states, initiating negotiations on the Montreux Document. This is an international treaty, signed by states, who take on the obligation, if they use private contractors alongside their military forces, to engage them in a responsible way, respecting international humanitarian law.

We also took the lead in another document, which is not signed by the states: the International Code of Conduct for PMSCs. It is signed by the companies themselves who are on the market providing their services. They have an interest in knowing that the states that will pay them will look whether they are bona fide or disguised gangsters. They have an interest in showing: we have this code of conduct, we respect this standard.

Having taken the lead in these two documents, going to the private contractors themselves and to the states that employ them, we want to address this with participating States. We hope to have even more states being even more responsible in this area, which is a very real concern in any modern country.

Switzerland also plans to continue discussion on established topics in the FSC, such as small arms and light weapons (SALW) and stockpiles of conventional ammunition (SCA).

Claude Wild:  We should never forget that the weapons of mass destruction most used in the world today are small arms and light weapons. It’s not nuclear weapons. Having that issue, which is largely internal, addressed well – combating the illegitimate trade in these weapons and ensuring their safe storage, particularly in regions where conflict can flare up again – is immensely important. Switzerland is the main donor in Bosnia to the programme of stockpile management, and we are also active in Moldova.

Matthias Halter: Storage of ammunition and SALW needs to be not only secure but also safe. Explosives deteriorate over time and this leads to unwanted explosions, which affect the civilian population. We are very engaged in capacity building to ensure that stocks are safely and securely stored within the civilian environment – to avoid proliferation and to avoid explosions, especially in conflict-ridden countries.

We have developed technical guidelines on how to do this, established at the level of the United Nations. So we want to ask: what are the synergies between the United Nations activities in this field and the OSCE activities, which are based on basically two documents, the SAWL document and the document on SCA. How can we interact between the global level and the regional level? And how could we maybe improve these two documents? They are from 2004 and there have been some developments since then.

How will Switzerland address the topic of gender equality in the fields of peace and security?

Pascale Baeriswyl: More than 18 years after the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, we should end our debate about the “why” and start asking about the “how”.  I think 1325 gives us a wonderful recipe for how to create gender equality: the triple “P”: promotion, participation and protection.

Promotion of female leadership normalizes the way power is exercised. This does not mean that women in power positions always act differently, but statistically speaking it makes a difference if you have diverse teams.

Secondly, you need women’s participation if you want to build peace. Look at the pictures of peace talks regarding Syria. You will see rooms filled with men in leadership positions, and they are forgetting a lot of aspects which a more diverse team could bring to the discussions.

And thirdly, it’s about protection. Often in conflicts women are victimized – maybe not more than men but in a different way. If you look at Eastern Ukraine, the situation of women there may be different from that of men. In order to react to a conflict situation, you need to take into account the various situations of exposure and threat.

You have announced a special session on positive achievements in the framework of the European security architecture.

Pascale Baeriswyl: After centuries of war and conflict, a majority of European countries have chosen peaceful ways to solve their problems and issues. The OSCE participating States showed political will in overcoming the Cold War and have proven their ability to solve wars and conflicts. We will invite high-level former political officials from the OSCE region to speak about their experiences.  The time is right to remind ourselves of our common success stories, from east and west of Vienna, to reengage and to follow up on achievements of the still quite recent past. The aim of this high-level debate will be to elaborate on how conflicts and crises may be overcome and which dynamics could be helpful in re-establishing confidence in the OSCE region.

Switzerland chose the Dufour and Dunant peaks in the Swiss Alps as guiding symbols for chairing the OSCE Forum for Security Co-operation (FSC) during the first four months of 2019. The army general Guillaume-Henri Dufour (1787-1875) is famous for his avoidance of unnecessary bloodshed during the Swiss civil war. Henri Dunant (1828 – 1910) was one of the founders of the International Committee of the Red Cross.