NATO and the OSCE: Joining Forces to Support the Arab Spring

NATO should seek to encourage a stronger collaborative relationship with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The OSCE has experience with a number of democracy-building options that are outside NATO’s expertise, but key to a stronger relationship with states caught up in the Arab Spring.

The Arab Spring has highlighted the inherent universality of the necessity for decent living conditions, respect for human rights and the implicit right for accountable institutions alongside democratic governance. The protesters from Tunis to Cairo in the past year have reflected these grievances with calls for “bread, dignity and freedom” echoing throughout the Arab world. Since NATO is an expression of the shared values of peaceful coexistence and freedom, as well as regional security amongst it’s community of member states; it stands to reason that as an organization it should have a response package in place to support the long-term transitional process of democratization that is now taking place across North Africa and the Middle East (MENA).

As NATO’s significant arm of responsibility in this area, the Mediterranean Dialogue should aim to contribute to regional security and stability. Its objective should be to support the transformational evolution of these partner states towards the achievement of a more stable environment. This Arab awakening can hopefully begin the process of inclusiveness by allowing a multitude of conflicting voices to come together to achieve consensus in a new democratic Arab landscape.

Though the Mediterranean Dialogue has sought to encourage the dissemination of its core values, mainly the maintenance of security and stability across the Mediterranean and its partner countries in the MENA region; it has nevertheless proved to be incapable of providing a strong support network for the three elemental grievances of the Arab Spring – that of which are improved living conditions, democratic governance and upholding human rights. This is because the Mediterranean Dialogue itself is structured to cope predominantly with the fields of military affairs, crisis management and consultation to combat terrorism.

Instead the Mediterranean Dialogue should seek to encourage a stronger collaborative relationship with the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE), so as to address the three core grievances facing its partner states in the MENA. Under the Istanbul Summit Communiqué of 2004, it states that “NATO and the OSCE have largely complementary responsibilities and common interests, both functionally and geographically.”

By uniting these two regional agencies together in this sphere, it could sufficiently increase NATO’s support in this changing environment. This is because the experience and mandate of the OSCE alongside the logistical support of NATO would enable a more suitable response to the longer-term needs of the MENA partner states. For instance, the OSCE was able to provide assistance in the fields of police reform, the development of election experts and democracy promotion in Afghanistan in 2007. Such an experience demonstrates that the OSCE is an organization that is well placed to deal with civil society groups and electoral development. Furthermore, the OSCE in October 2011 took a practical step in observing the elections in Tunisia. Specifically in statements over the past year, the OSCE has said that it is ready to assist in areas of drafting legislation, migrant management and electoral support.

This is significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, these are areas that are outside the Mediterranean Dialogue’s remit and yet they are also crucial to NATO’s overall aims as it clear that issues such as migration management and legislative development are implicitly linked to regional security and peaceful coexistence. This is especially obvious when we look at the dangers of domestic upheaval in Upper Egypt (the rise of Salafi Islamists is of most notable concern here) affecting already increasing tensions between Egypt and Israel. In order to maintain regional security, NATO and the OSCE must first work towards facilitating domestic stability in these changing societies.

Another cause for stronger collaboration between these two agencies is also the financial weakness of the OSCE, whose present Mediterranean Partners only make voluntary contributions. With the funding clout of the United States behind NATO, a sufficient injection into the budget of a linked OSCE-NATO cooperative response would enable a substantially stronger active solution to assist the needs of the transitional process underway in regional partner countries. In utilizing the expertise of the OSCE in the democratization process, in conjunction with the logistical capabilities of NATO, this is a chance for regional agencies to work together with their regional partners to cultivate an adequate framework for the transition to democracy across the MENA.