Perspectives 2030: revisiting the youth-led security initiative one year later5 min read

 In Central Europe, Civil Society, Opinion
In April of 2019, a group of 22 young men and women gathered at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, Austria to rethink and rewrite the meaning of international security. The assembly was the first in a series of meetings that made up an initiative called Perspectives 2030 under the direction of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The motivation behind Perspectives 2030 was the belief that youth are stakeholders – not spectators – in our changing security environment and that they should be the ones responsible for shaping a new, forward-thinking vision of collaboration in Europe, Eurasia and North America. The young participants in the initiative were recognized leaders in their home countries – think tank researchers, nonprofit directors, PhD candidates, activists – capable of bringing a critical eye and fresh perspective to modern challenges in the security arena.  

What did the initiative tangibly achieve? What obstacles did it confront? And has Perspectives 2030 provided an effective model for future youth engagement in the security space? As a researcher that has been fortunate to attend and participate in several conferences and forums targeted at youth, I found Perspectives 2030 exceptionally refreshing in how it empowered young voices and allowed young people to set their own agenda. However, the OSCE faces several bureaucratic and organizational challenges that make it hard to imagine how Perspectives 2030 could really have lasting impact. 

The Recognizable Accomplishments of Perspectives 2030

Perspectives 2030 was sponsored by the OSCE Slovak Chairmanship and coordinated by the Special Representative of the Chair on Youth and Security, a position appointed by the Slovak Chairmanship. The creation of the position itself is a testament to the genuine commitment of the OSCE to enable young people to lead the conversation, rather than just participate in it, a theme that reverberated throughout all the meetings of the Perspectives 2030 initiative. According to member Turan Gafarli, a Researcher at TRT World Research Centre originally from Azerbaijan, “The organization was well prepared in all stages. The debates were fruitful and I really enjoyed the platform that was provided to us.” The structure of the meetings was innovative, involving design-thinking, extensive brainstorming, and open-minded discussion on what might be outdated about the OSCE’s approach to security. 

In the year that has passed since, the group has met two more times, published their discussion paper outlining a vision for a safer future, and presented the discussion paper to the OSCE Secretariat. Before the three meetings, which were spread out over seven months, the participants conducted research on existing security frameworks and collected feedback from their networks about current challenges needing attention. Once they arrived in Vienna, five working groups were formed to discuss the feedback and to brainstorm realistic solutions to the problems highlighted in their home countries. The discussion paper was used as a platform to spotlight the solutions and hopefully reframe security discussions within  the OSCE secretariat. 

The participants embraced the mission of Perspective 2030, best articulated by United Kingdom representative Anneka Shally as, “We are at a tipping point and now is the time to act and collectively make good decisions that will benefit us and future generations.” The efforts by the working group highlighted concerning trends or upcoming obstacles that have yet to be addressed in much official capacity by international governmental organizations, such as the gig economy and the vulnerability of essential energy infrastructure to cyber attacks. The discussion paper also made logical, realistic recommendations, such as encouraging the OSCE to establish guidelines for the ethical development of AI systems within the OSCE area – akin to the European Union’s (EU) Guidelines for Trustworthy AI. 

The Obstacles for Perspectives 2030

Yet, at each turn, the participants confronted palatable limitations that hampered the goals of Perspectives 2030, namely: to use the discussion paper as a way to influence the priorities of the OSCE AND to encourage more dialogue among, and inclusion of, young people in countries of the OSCE region. First and foremost, “our perspectives are just on paper and nothing more,” explains Uliana Ehorova, a participant from Ukraine who works as the deputy of Let’s do it, Ukraine. Perspectives 2030 members are not part of the OSCE decision-making process, and Uliana lamented the lack of youth influence at the local government level. 

The geopolitical diversity of the OSCE region not only made it difficult to represent the wide variety of youth experiences during the Perspectives 2030 meetings, but it also raises important questions about how effective an international body can be when several countries in the OSCE are diametrically opposed to each other’s opinions. The OSCE is a body that takes action after unanimous agreement, a structural fact that hampers progress on security issues. Additionally, OSCE countries have a variety of divergent concerns, making it difficult to focus resources and move mountains when governments concentrate their attention differently. For instance, how can the Perspectives 2030 participants urge their peers to engage in meaningful thinking about the threats posed by disruptive technologies, when a good portion of youth in the OSCE region lives in or near frozen or protracted conflicts? Some priorities fall to the wayside when young people are faced with such physical insecurity.

Maybe more important, though, is the fact that most people are unaware of the OSCE, even in OSCE countries, and many positive efforts of the organization go unrecognized. However, after the discussion paper was published, participants returned to their home countries to present their findings to groups of scholars and activists, in partnership with the OSCE. The presentations enhanced  visibility and positive engagement of the press in a way that helped the branding and recognition of the OSCE. In addition, the participants helped to organize an OSCE-wide Youth Forum at the Slovakia Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bratislava that brought together around 100 youth from the OSCE region. The forum included leadership training to empower young people to spread the message from the discussion paper in their home communities.   

That being said, the organizers of the Perspectives 2030 initiative were candid and transparent about their concerns related to making the OSCE relevant again. What role do international organizations play in a world that is growing increasingly grassroots, decentralized, and localized? When all is said and done, the 22 other men and women that first gathered in the Hofburg one year ago were tremendously thoughtful and inspiring, which makes me more than optimistic about our future.

The featured image for this article was created by Micky Kroell for the OSCE and is used under license CC BY-ND 4.0.

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