Dr Daniel Woker, Swiss Ambassador to Australia, was a junior member of the Swiss delegations to the CSCE meetings in Belgrade (1977/78) and Paris (1990).
The EU is the European structure under most scrutiny by governments and academia in the Asia Pacific. It is undoubtedly the most successful supranational experiment of our time. But the willingness to cede national sovereignty for the greater good, which is at the core of the EU, might not be what the generally younger nation-states of Asia need and want at this time in their history.
The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), one of the main elements in bringing about the 'New Europe' after 1990 and still in existence today as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), holds a treasure trove of institutional solutions, procedures and personal experience which might be worth looking at in the quest for a sustainable and all-encompassing Asian structure.
There appear to be two main points which forged a Europe-wide consensus that made possible the convening of a Conference on Security and Cooperation, with near universal participation, in Helsinki in 1972.
First, there was the CSCE's 'conflict and crisis managing' role, at the time a bold gamble by farsighted statesmen and especially diplomats who had to convince their political lords and masters to sit down at the same table with 'the enemy'. Because of the brutal Soviet crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968, both the East (which wanted the world to forget) and the West (which wanted the opposite) came to the conclusion that only truly multilateral action was the most promising way to pull Europe back from World War III.
Certain parallels might be drawn between that situation and the present looming dangers of nuclear proliferation in Asia.
Further, the CSCE allowed countries which did not, at least initially, officially recognise each other (eg. the German Democratic Republic and the vast majority of Western countries, Franco's Spain and some Eastern European countries) to meet on a routine basis to talk, size each other up and develop a culture of dialogue rather than unreflective menace. A certain parallel exists between the divided Germany of the bad old times and the divided Korea of the present.
A second point which helped the CSCE at its inception was its non-exclusive role. The Non-Proliferation Treaty was negotiated in 1968, the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty talks between the US and the USSR started in 1969 and the Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction talks became a serious topic of negotiation between NATO and the Warsaw Pact from 1972 onwards. None of this took anything away from the substance of the CSCE but actually liberated it from certain burdens of the past and made it into a conference of the future.
Direct parallels with the Asia of today do not exist, but in view of a potential 'CSCA', it is important to stress that existing and functioning structures — ASEAN, the East Asia Summit, APEC — would not necessarily and automatically disappear.
Once the CSCE was officially launched with the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, there were three characteristics which set it apart, and again might have appeal for the Asia of today. More on that in a follow-up post.
The views expressed in this post are entirely the author's own and do not have any official character. He gratefully acknowledges the help and support of his old colleague and friend Dr Hans-Jörg Renk, Member of the Swiss Delegations to the CSCE meetings in Helsinki, Geneva, Belgrade and Madrid (1972–1981).
Photo by Flickr user Cabinet Office.