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Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe Case Study

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Updated: Nov 14th, 2020

The present report is focused on the identification and explanation of an international organisation’s role in the establishment and proliferation of norms, regimes, and changes in international law. The organisation selected for this report is the OSCE (the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe). Based on a case study, the organisation’s activities and views will be explored with reference to the effects produced in these key areas.

Organisation Overview

The OSCE is known to be one of the most influential and active human rights organisations in the world, and its actions have brought about significant change and advancement in this field (Manton 2006). The organisation is focused on the promotion of respect for human rights and its attention spread across territories of all the states included in the OSCE. In particular, the primary objectives of the organisation include: the establishment of standards for human rights, prevention of violations, monitoring of situations affecting human rights, and the provision of consultations and aid to member states attempting to adhere to the established norms (Manton 2006). The major issue concerning the actions of the OSCE is the fact that its legally binding status is dismissed by many international lawyers specialising in human rights (Manton 2006).

There exist both constructivist and rationalist approaches to the potential impact that the OSCE can have on its member states in need of guidance, change, and assistance (Warkotsch 2007). Both of these perspectives focus on the exploration of the organisation’s potential in influencing norms and laws at the international level, but their conclusions tend to differ significantly. In particular, when it comes to the rational perspective, the organisation’s ability to impact on the internal dynamics of its member states is based on such activities as reinforcement and encouragement of the desired outcomes and actions.

Moreover, the effectiveness of the measures taken by the organisation, and its impact, is seen as dependent on the balance of costs and benefits that exists at both the domestic level and in the international arena, in correlation with the subject state’s compliance with the established norms (Warkotsch 2007). The constructivist point of view, however, focuses on the perception of the roles of the international norms for the subject state, their legitimacy, and domestic value, as the major aspects that determine the response of the aforementioned state to the projected anticipations of the OSCE (Warkotsch 2007). In this way, the accomplishments and barriers faced by the organisation are evaluated, based on either or both of these perspectives in regard to the proliferated norms, regimes, and international law.


The concept of “norm” does not refer only to the settings of law and international relations but also can be found in such studies as politics, economics, and sociology. The concept has a broad scope and refers to the sets of behaviors and rules that are viewed as effective and useful. Norms can also evolve and transform over time; in particular, Finnemore and Sikkink (1998) view the development of norms as a phenomenon of a cyclic and patterned nature that forms in accordance with the behavioral logic that dominates certain periods of the formation lifecycle.

Warkotsch (2007) studied the actions of the OSCE in the countries of Central Asia in the mid-1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, of which these countries used to form a part. The proliferation of norms in these state territories began with the establishment of OSCE offices in their capital cities for the purposes of crisis prevention, rehabilitation, and early detection of potential conflict (Warkotsch 2007). Practically, the norms encouraged by the organisation were traditionally aimed at the reconstruction of the domestic dynamics through the establishment of governmental arrangements and the provision of consultation and stimuli for change (Krasner 1982).


When it comes to the establishment of regimes, this process is much more complicated and complex than that of norm proliferation because it aims at a more fundamental change that affects not only the outcomes of a certain interaction but the very manner with which the subject state is expected to treat the matter under discussion (Krasner 1982). The external incentives model, as well as socialisation, with the help of reinforcement, were used by the OSCE in its missions in the countries of Central Asia. In these tasks, the organisation was determined to encourage the states to implement the preferred regimes through the process of bargaining; the incentives, costs, and disadvantages were explained to the state representatives with the objective of orientating their future behaviors in the desired direction. However, the OSCE agents did not provide sufficient support or intervention necessary to produce a direct impact on the targeted states, something that is integral to the success of the external incentives model (Warkotsch 2007).

International Law

The organisation’s attempts to impact on international law, as well as to generate the norms with which its member states agree, have been heavily criticised by the Russian Federation, with the support of some Central Asian states. In particular, Zaum (2013) noted that the Russian Foreign Affairs Minister, Sergey Lavrov, expressed concerns in regard to the organisation’s willing participation with various NGOs who could have a negative impact on the member states of the OSCE, as well as their projects and promoted norms, and his fear this association could push away the states who were in disagreement with the points of view of these NGOs. In addition, it was noted that the authorities of the Russian Federation, supported by the representatives of some CIS states, demanded that the laws aimed at the cooperation with, and inclusion of, NGOs in the affairs of the OSCE should be made stricter, as is similar to those of the United Nations (Zaum, 2013).


To sum up, it is possible to conclude that the actions and vision of the OSCE are based on the application of ‘soft power’ and non-intrusive diplomatic relationships. However, the fact that the organisation chooses to engage in matters such as armed conflicts and human rights violations complicate its missions (Greene 1997). In addition, when it comes to the specific case of the countries of Central Asia, the OSCE has spent a lot of time and effort on the promotion and encouragement of their vision, behaviors, and norms in these states. However, the successful implementation of the planned actions was slowed down significantly due to the authoritarian regimes in those countries, enforcing the old-fashioned models of power, and preventing the compliance with the newer models of power that require the reorganisation of the entire political and economic foundation of each state.


Finnemore, M & Sikkink, K 1998, ‘International norm dynamics and political change’, International Organization, vol. 52, no. 4, pp. 887-917.

Krasner, S 1982, ‘Structural causes and regime consequences: regimes as intervening variables’, International Organization, vol. 36, vol. 2, pp. 185-205.

Greene, O 1997, ‘International standards and obligations: norms and criteria for DCAF in EU, OSCE and OECD areas’, in M Hadzic & P Flurri (eds), Sourcebook on security sector reform: a collection of essays, Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of the Armed National Defence policy, Government of Zimbabwe Printers, Harare.

Manton, E 2006, , Web.

Warkotsch, A 2007, ‘The OSCE as an agent of socialisation? International norm dynamics and political change in Central Asia’, Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 59, no. 5, pp. 829 – 846.

Zaum, D 2013, Legitimating international organizations, OUP Oxford, Oxford.

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