MEMBERS of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe are making changes that will allow the body to respond more quickly to crises among its 35 member nations. Foreign ministers of the CSCE - also known as the Helsinki process - agreed yesterday to permit members to call emergency sessions of the group.
Such sessions could be requested to deal with issues like a Chernobyl-like disaster, East European refugees moving West, and ethnic tensions that threaten regional security, said delegates to the two-day meeting in Berlin.
The Helsinki process laid the ground work for ending the cold war with its two-decade emphasis on human rights and arms control. The Europeans - and increasingly, Washington - have been pushing for CSCE to become more of a working organization with a higher profile.
At their summit in Paris last November, members agreed to give the CSCE a small headquarters, hold regular meetings (of which Berlin is the first among foreign ministers), and create new offices, such as a conflict prevention center in Vienna. The Berlin meeting was designed further to strengthen CSCE and take up topics of immediate concern.
Ministers cited two examples of the organization's attempts to make itself more relevant. One was the acceptance of democracy's late-bloomer, Albania, as the 35th CSCE member. Another was a joint statement issued Wednesday that supported democratic development, unity, and the territorial integrity of strife-torn Yugoslavia, while emphasizing that the nation's people must decide their own future. It was the first time the CSCE has made a statement on the internal problems of one of its members.
But the main focus here was on improving CSCE's "mechanics" so it can better head off confrontation and build confidence. Among other measures, the ministers agreed yesterday to equip the Vienna office with a register of mediators for settling disputes among and within countries.
The most controversial measure was the procedure to set up a CSCE meeting on short notice to address a "serious emergency situation." The point was to allow a single country or a small number of countries to request an emergency meeting at which high officials of all the CSCE countries would then have to attend. Delegates cited the Soviet Baltic republics as a hypothetical case for an emergency meeting.
"If this mechanism had been in place, then maybe the situation in the Baltics would not have turned out so badly," said a German delegate, referring to the bloodshed by Soviet troops there last winter.
FROM the Soviet viewpoint, however, a meeting on the Baltics would have been meddling in a country's internal affairs, which is prohibited under CSCE guidelines. The Soviets and the Turks wanted all 35 nations to agree on calling an emergency meeting before one could take place - an invitation for the country under scrutiny to veto the idea. The Soviets also wanted the principle of noninterference in internal issues to be upheld.
In the end, it was agreed that any nation could call a CSCE emergency meeting if 12 other nations would second the idea. The principles upholding noninterference were repeated.
But doubt was expressed about the practicality of emergency meetings, since CSCE decisions require unanimity. "There's a certain amount of justified caution," said a senior Canadian official. "There are a lot of countries out there and [CSCE] is a consensus organization. Enabling it to act swiftly is perhaps expecting it to run before it can walk."
The issue of internal meddling also is difficult, since ethnic unrest in one Eastern European country, for example, can encourage the same in other countries or have economic or social repercussions beyond its borders.
The Europeans, meanwhile, were encouraged by much stronger US support for CSCE than shown in the past. Likewise, the Americans were pleased with widespread recognition that the Atlantic link is essential for European security.
In the wake of the Gulf war, the ministers also endorsed halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and they said "restraint and transparency" in trade of conventional weapons and weapons technology was a "priority."