Last Tuesday (November 16) at the Brookings Institution, Lithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Audronius Azubalis spoke about the challenges and opportunities facing Europe as Lithuania prepares to assume chairmanship of the OSCE in 2011 and presidency of the EU in 2013. Joining Azubalis as discussants were U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Nancy McEldowney and former US representative to the OSCE Amb. Julie Finley.
Noting a global rise in antidemocratic sentiment, Azubalis opened by taking a critical view toward pragmatic engagement of authoritarian regimes absent conditionality. Pragmatism, he said, has undermined the idea of a coherent global strategy to foster democracy and has emboldened and united autocratic regimes as they learn to manipulate the system. As for the OSCE, Azubalis stressed that the organization should pave the way for a new “European-Eurasian strategic community.” Azubalis suggested that the litmus test for the viability of such a community will be the ability of OSCE members to persevere with negotiations and peacekeeping in conflicts across the Eurasian landmass: Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, and Kyrgyzstan. Azubalis said that the OSCE needed to build up its crisis management infrastructure and be more forceful in support of democracies and the safety of journalists. He also said the OSCE must be prepared to address issues like the transnational drug trade, terrorism, and cybersecurity. Secretary McEldowney agreed, noting that “we are not done” with the work begun with the Helsinki Final Act.
In her remarks, Amb. Finley rebutted that Europe and the United States should stop feeling “uncomfortable” talking to and engaging with organizations like the CSTO and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, as this is a roadblock to progress. She also said that the OSCE should sideline human rights advocacy in exchange for concrete goals, such as completing the Mediterranean Partnership and possibly cultivating Libya as a partner. She stated that the OSCE is “70 percent political” and that if it is to have any importance, heads of state need to view it as important.
Azubalis ended his remarks by focusing on the future of the EU, especially its relations with Russia. First and foremost, the EU needs to be “reinvented,” Azubalis argued. Pragmatism is currently trumping ideals and threatening the foundations of the union. Real engagement with the EU’s eastern neighbors must take place. A new EU foreign policy should include a new security/stability infrastructure and a commitment to emerging democracies in the Eastern Partnerships. A strong and stable European security architecture could serve as a good role model for the world. Transparency about the European security framework must improve, and crisis management needs to become a reality. Perhaps the most important topic, however, is reinvigorating the EU’s relationship with the Russian Federation. “Russia is part of the European family,”Azubalis stressed, and open dialogue on all issues must happen. These issues include non-biased and fair discussions of the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, conflict resolution in Georgia, NATO expansion, and Russia’s military doctrine. Progress may be slow but, Azubalis stressed, “patience is the sister of hope.”