AT its summit last week, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) tried to reshape itself into a body that can move more swiftly on issues relating to peace and security in Europe.
Instead, it became clear how difficult it is for the 52-member Conference to do anything quickly. Including all the countries of Europe, plus the former Soviet Union, the United States, and Canada, the CSCE is weighed down by the mass of its own membership.
Nothing highlighted this more than the decision taken on the fringes of the CSCE summit by NATO and Western European Union (WEU) foreign ministers to send ships and planes to monitor the United Nations embargo against Serbia and Montenegro.
After a hastily arranged meeting Friday morning, the WEU (whose nine members also belong to NATO) announced it would deploy at least five-to-six ships, four aircraft, one support ship, and helicopters off the Yugoslav coast. In another ad-hoc meeting shortly following, NATO announced it, too, would deploy a maritime monitoring force. The two efforts will be coordinated.
Contrast this to the CSCE's adoption of a separate declaration on the Yugoslav crisis, passed in the closing minutes of the two-day summit here in Helsinki. Serious preparations for this summit began three months ago, yet even after endless talking, it looked like disagreement on the wording of the statement would prevent its passage.
What was accepted is weaker than recent declarations issued by the European Community and the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations. Unlike the EC and G-7 statements, the CSCE Yugoslav declaration said nothing about supporting the humanitarian effort in Bosnia-Herzegovina by military means if that proves necessary. Delegates compromise
Delegates to the summit point out that the Conference was able to agree on a three-month suspension of Yugoslavia from the CSCE, but even this was a compromise.
Member states such as the US and Germany want Belgrade kicked out for good, and not let back in until it lives up to CSCE principles.
Members at the summit voiced remarkably strong criticism of the CSCE and said the Conference must evolve from a loose forum well suited to the demands of the cold war but ill-equipped to handle the challenges of post-Communist Europe.
Canadian External Affairs Secretary Barbara McDougall criticized the CSCE as incapable of taking decisive action. "We have to mean what we say," she said.
German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel told reporters that the two main problems of CSCE are its size and its rule of decisionmaking by consensus, even though this was modified last January to consensus-minus-one. He said people have set their sights too high for CSCE. This is a tone markedly different from that of Foreign Minister Kinkel's predecessor, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who considered CSCE the ultimate organization to unify East and West Europe.
The Helsinki document, however, does add some new teeth to the organization, most important being the ability to call up peacekeeping forces. The Conference has no peacekeeping forces of its own, but NATO and the WEU have have declared themselves ready to assist the CSCE if asked.
The Helsinki document describing changes in the organization also creates the position of a CSCE high commissioner on national minorities, whose job is to detect and defuse ethnic conflicts before they explode. Keeping in line with the philosophy of crisis-prevention, the summit participants decided to dispatch fact-finding missions to Kosovo, Sendjak, and Vojvodina. Symbolic naval force
Although the WEU and NATO moved quickly on their decision to deploy maritime observers to the Adriatic, summit delegates admitted that this is largely a symbolic gesture since the majority of embargo violations are not taking place in the Adriatic at all, but over land and on the Danube River.
Still, they called it a first step which "mounts the pressure." The delegates emphasized that the maritime mission is to monitor the embargo only. Enforcement would have to be approved by the United Nations Security Council.
British Prime Minister John Major said the WEU, in cooperation with NATO, is launching a feasibility study to see whether it is possible to open a land corridor in Bosnia-Herzegovina for convoys delivering humanitarian aid. He voiced his own doubts about the ability to secure such a corridor, however, calling it an "acutely difficult" task given the terrain of the area.
Germany's problems with its Constitution and its inability to deploy troops outside the NATO area surfaced again at the summit.
A member of the WEU, Germany could technically take part in the maritime mission because it will be located in international waters, in which case the "out of area" rule does not apply, say German officials.
Yet Germany has decided not to send any ships to the Adriatic for now, because it wants to fully examine the constitutional feasibility of such a move.
Kinkel said it is getting increasingly difficult for Germany to withstand outside pressure to change its constitution - a move which would not enjoy wide public support in Germany.