Europe's Peace Machinery the CSCE Is Strengthening Its Organization and Could Face Its First Big Test in the Armenia-Azerbaijan Dispute

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FOR more than two years, political leaders in Europe and North America have promised to move the Conference on Cooperation and Security in Europe (CSCE) closer to the heart of European security affairs. The international forum would no longer merely deliberate over standards of national conduct, but would get more directly involved in emerging and urgent political crises.

Until recently, though, the CSCE has been kept weak, making only modest reforms. Despite its long experience with ethnic issues, for instance, the CSCE was prevented from playing a role in the Yugoslav crisis; that job was grabbed by the European Community (EC), which was not particularly effective.

The CSCE's new initiative in another ethnic clash - between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan - may represent a real turning point for the group. Foreign ministers meeting in Helsinki last week decided to convene a peace conference to deal with the conflict. The ministerial session kicked off a review conference that will continue until early July and will chart the future course of the CSCE. If the reform proposals under discussion are adopted, it will develop into a much stronger organization.

The 11 states who will take part in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace conference have in effect been designated by the 51 CSCE states to serve as a crisis-management team for the dispute, which has already claimed 1,000 lives. The CSCE's large size is both its main virtue and its biggest hindrance. The CSCE is made up of all the countries of Europe, North America, and the Asian portion of the former Soviet Union (Croatia, Slovenia, and Georgia were added last week). This inclusive membership reinforces the perception of the CSCE as a neutral forum, an image that is essential for conflict resolution. French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas acknowledged in Helsinki that the EC was too narrow a group to deal effectively with the Yugoslav crisis and had to pass off to the United Nations.

At the same time, decision making in such a large group is often unwieldy, and moving beyond the CSCE's tradition of consensus is one of the main challenges to the group. Germany is proposing that, as in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, the CSCE appoint an ad hoc steering committee for each emerging conflict. A senior German diplomat pointed out that as the CSCE tries to become more agile and responsive, "you have to have countries who are responsible {for initiatives}." Responding to concerns among smaller countries that they might be excluded, he said membership of these committees would be kept open.

Together with France, Germany is also proposing the formation of a court of conciliation. …