Belgium at the helm of the OSCE Forum for Security Co-operation

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Hadja Lahbib

Foreign Minister Lahbib takes the floor at the security dialogue on Women, Peace & Security. Beside her, Belgian Permanent Representative Nagant de Deuxchaisnes who chairs the security dialogue. © FPS Foreign Affairs

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has developed the world's broadest regime for arms control, disarmament and measures for building confidence and security. Fifty-seven countries from the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian regions are members. For more details, please see OSCE: a unique forum for dialogue and joint action.

Within the OSCE, the Forum for Security Co-operation (FSC) is a crucial body. Member state representatives discuss military stability and security within this forum on a weekly basis. 'Security dialogues' are also organised, i.e. round tables on politico-military topics prompted by current events.

Russia blocking

Unfortunately, the war in Ukraine is hampering operations since the OSCE insists on making all decisions by consensus. This is undeniably a strength because it gives decisions broad support. But it can also turn into a weakness when countries that do not wish to cooperate abuse the consensus rule to block everything, as is currently the case with Russia.

From May to August, Belarus chaired the FSC. This ally of Russia did not want to break ranks and limited its activities to the bare minimum. Therefore, no security dialogue took place. With Belgium coming to the helm, member states expect our country to pick up the pace.

Greater focus on Ukraine

In any case, during the Belgian presidency, the war in Ukraine will receive a great deal of attention. Indeed, the Russian attack on Ukraine directly contradicts the basic OSCE principles, such as respect for the sovereignty of states (see 'The ten principles of the Helsinki Final Act' in summary article). Belgium, as chair of the FSC, will emphasise the importance of these basic principles and continue to express support for Ukraine.

In fact, the situation in Ukraine has been on the FSC agenda since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Our country will host 5 security dialogues during its presidency, all of which will have a link to Ukraine. Ukrainian speakers will be able to share their experiences in the field.

One of the security dialogues will deal with 'Children and Armed Conflict', a topic close to our country's heart since many years. It also came up during the membership of the UN Security Council. Children are too often victims of conflict in unacceptably horrific ways.

The topic of 'Women, Peace and Security' is also high on the agenda. This is demonstrated by the personal participation of Minister of Foreign Affairs Lahbib, among other things. Our country believes that women should be able to participate fully, equally and meaningfully in the armed forces. In addition, they should be involved at all levels in conflict prevention, management and resolution.

Another thorny issue is the relationship between 'conflict and the environment'. After all, military activities have an obvious impact on the environment. In Ukraine, for example, the bombing has caused wildfires and polluted soil and waterways. In turn, environmental problems can give rise to further conflict. This can include the pollution of soil, air and waterways in border areas.

Our country would also like to focus on the 'explosive remnants of war', an underestimated problem. Belgium is well positioned for this theme as around 250 tons of WWI explosives are still cleared from our territory every year, more than 100 years after the event.

Few opportunities for compromise

All countries continue to meet (Russia included) in both the FSC and the Permanent Council, the weekly meeting of the Permanent Representatives. However, there are currently few opportunities for compromise. Ukraine, the EU and its member states, and NATO allies are unflinching in their references to the atrocities that Russia is committing in Ukraine. For its part, Russia states that it is only protecting its own innocent citizens and blames Ukraine for all the wrongdoing.

Although Ukraine will be given a great deal of attention, our country does not want to lose sight of the other conflicts. Thus, the current affairs section also regularly covers the grievances of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Belgium would also like to boost the internal functioning of the OSCE by forging links between the FSC and various committees of the Permanent Council.

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