Small country, global player 

From the war on Europe’s doorstep to the volatile Middle East and the tense Taiwan Strait, Malta's OSCE chairpersonship in 2024 presents a daunting challenge, demanding deft diplomacy and unwavering leadership amidst the escalating tensions.

Malta has a long and storied history of punching above its weight in global affairs.

In 1565, the Knights of St John and the Maltese, led by Grand Master Jean Parisot de Valette, heroically defended the island against a massive invasion by the Ottoman Empire, one of the most powerful forces in the world at that time. The siege of Malta lasted for four months and resulted in a decisive victory for the defenders, who repelled the Ottomans’ formidable army and navy. This victory was a turning point in the region, as it prevented the Ottomans from gaining control of the western Mediterranean and challenging the naval supremacy of European powers such as France and Spain.

In the same manner, from 1941 to 1943, Malta emerged as a formidable fortress, weathering a relentless offensive from the Axis powers. Its strategic location, astride crucial supply routes to Axis forces in North Africa, made it a vital target for the Nazis and Italians. The Maltese people, alongside a small contingent of British forces, displayed unwavering resilience and determination. Their resistance proved crucial to the Allied war effort. Had Malta fallen to the Axis, the consequences for the Allies would have been dire. The disruption of Allied supply lines would have severely hampered their efforts in North Africa, allowing the Axis forces to gain a significant advantage. Rommel’s Afrika Corps could have been adequately supplied, potentially leading to a victory at the Battle of El Alamein and opening the way for an Axis advance into the Middle East.

From Helsinki to Skopje 

In 1975, Malta asserted its voice on the world stage during the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE – renamed the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe in 1995, after the Cold War ended). The conference was attended by 35 states from Europe, North America, and the Soviet Union, as well as three neutral and non-aligned countries – including Malta. The conference was the culmination of a series of negotiations that had been taking place since the mid-1960s, and it was the first time that the United States and the Soviet Union had met on a major international forum since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

Malta’s Prime Minister of the time, Dom Mintoff, refused to back down from his demand that the Conference address the security concerns of the Mediterranean region. His unwavering stance led to the inclusion of a dedicated chapter on the Mediterranean in the Helsinki Final Act, a groundbreaking agreement that marked a significant step forward in East-West relations. It was the first time that the two superpowers had agreed to a common set of principles for security and cooperation in Europe. The dedicated chapter recognised the Mediterranean region’s unique challenges and the need for dialogue and cooperation to address them. Mintoff’s diplomatic prowess demonstrated that small countries can play a significant role in shaping international agreements and safeguarding regional security.

After nearly five decades, Malta’s long-standing commitment to neutrality has once again been recognised as a valuable asset to global peace and stability. In a remarkable display of international consensus, Malta was unanimously elected to serve as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). In the beginning of December, in the North Macedonian capital, Skopje, Malta was then elected to be the chair-in-office of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). This remarkable achievement, particularly in the context of ongoing geopolitical tensions, underscores Malta’s unique position as a trusted mediator and peacemaker.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has observed, quite rightly, that “nothing happens in a vacuum”. This observation raises intriguing questions about Malta’s recent successes in international diplomacy. Why was Malta’s UNSC resolution for a humanitarian pause in the war in Gaza the only one to gain traction in the Council, while four previous resolutions failed to secure consensus? And why was Malta the only country on which the OSCE’s Member States could unanimously agree to chair this valuable organisation that continues to play an important role in promoting peace, security, and democracy in Europe and Eurasia?

Principled realpolitik

To gain a deeper understanding of Malta’s current foreign policy, we must examine the practical considerations and power dynamics that underpin its realpolitik stance.

In a remarkable demonstration of diplomatic acumen, Foreign Affairs Minister Ian Borg has enhanced the credibility of Malta’s foreign policy by navigating the complex terrain of neutrality while unequivocally supporting Ukraine’s struggle for sovereignty. It is imperative to uphold this moral distinction between the aggressor and the victim, and Malta’s approach exemplifies this principle.

Malta’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Ian Borg

Malta takes the helm of the OSCE for a year on 1st January 2024. It will be a year that will be marked by a gathering storm of conflicts across the globe. From the war on Europe’s doorstep to the volatile Middle East and the tense Taiwan Strait, Malta’s OSCE chairpersonship presents a daunting challenge, demanding deft diplomacy and unwavering leadership amidst the escalating tensions. The OSCE chairpersonship also presents a golden opportunity for our diplomats to refine their diplomatic expertise and cultivate their global connections. Our Permanent Mission in Vienna, helmed by Ambassador Natasha Meli Daudey, is poised to play a pivotal role in this endeavor, fostering international collaboration and strengthening Malta’s diplomatic standing.

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