Confusion blights Helsinki talks: Consensus is causing trouble at the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, a process in need of a mission. Annika Savill, Diplomatic Editor, reports from Helsinki

THE WORLD'S richest democracies started the week by talking to each other at a summit which seemed to have outgrown its usefulness. They ended it by talking to the world's newest democracies at a summit which seemed to have outlived its purpose.

The verdict among seasoned observers of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) last night was that the Helsinki process, which started in 1975, had some difficulty in finding a useful role in the post- Communist world. 'It was a jolly useful thing as a bridge during the Cold War,' said one observer. 'Now, it just seems to be a duplication of what the UN does but without the clout.'

Take, for instance, the original plan to send observers to Nagorny Karabakh. Having announced on Thursday that agreement had been reached in principle to send 100 such observers, this fell through yesterday because of differences among the parties involved.

The Baltic states failed to secure a deadline from President Boris Yeltsin on the withdrawal of Russian troops from their soil. Considering the ructions within the largely unoccupied ex- Soviet military establishment, it did not look as if they would get one in a hurry.

The summit agreed to appoint a high commissioner for national minorities but failed to name one and could not say when one would be appointed. It is to be a 'person of international standing', so we can expect a long fight to ensue over what member states take that to mean.

The 76-page blueprint for a safer world failed to include a mention of the Yugoslav crisis, because, since the parties could not agree on Nagorny Karabakh, what used to be Yugoslavia could not be included either.

The root cause of all these failures, world leaders now admit, is one of the very principles upon which the CSCE is founded: the rule of consensus. John Major, the Prime Minister, yesterday outlined the CSCE's new role as 'fire- fighter': this included early warning of conflict, protection of minorities, and peace-keeping. He went on: 'I wouldn't wish to make exaggerated claims.'

The CSCE's new role was similar to that of the United Nations but 'lacks the sharp edge which the Security Council gives to the UN'. It relied upon consensus, which meant it 'depends on peer pressure', Mr Major said. President Francois Mitterrand went one further and called for the abolition of the consensus rule. 'This conference must adapt,' he declared.

At any summit, self-interest overshadows the agenda. Consider, for example, President Yeltsin's comments yesterday: 'Russia acutely recognises the danger of aggressive nationalism which is now replacing the ideological confrontation of the past. An epidemic of this disease could spin out of control and quickly grip an enormous number of people and entire states.'

Much of this disease is now gripping the Commonwealth of Independent States. Mr Yeltsin's recipe to keep it in check, it emerges, is to let his own unemployed army do the 'peace-keeping'. Yesterday Andrei Kozyrev, Mr Yeltsin's Foreign Minister, held private talks with his Swedish counterpart, Margaretha af Ugglas. Ms Ugglas revealed that Mr Kozyrev had expressed an interest in Russia benefiting from Sweden's longstanding experience of peace-keeping, and in its UN training facility, where, Ms Ugglas also revealed, Japanese would-be peace-keepers were being trained.

'All this is about Russian units, which are already in place but which have nothing to do, being able to call themselves peace-keepers,' said a European delegate. Another official added: 'It has the added advantage of Mr Yeltsin getting outside help in getting his army's wages paid.'

And if you have trouble distinguishing between the concepts of 'peace- keeping' and 'peace-making', take comfort from the fact that world leaders do not seem to be able to do so half the time either. What did not come out in the transcripts of President George Bush's speech on Thursday, but which can be heard loud and clear if you listen to the tape carefully, is that he called for a 'Euro-Atlantic peace-making, er, peace-keeping capability'.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital