Monday, June 13, 2005

Alphabet Soup - Navigating the Maze of International Organizations

Okay, so I've been contacted by PAE-REACT to serve as an STO on an EOM with the OSCE-ODIHR…

Exactly what does all that mean, and how did this happen?

First, some background…

Everyone who's ever known me has always known that I'm a C-SPAN watching geek - and anyone who's been involved in my life recently knows very well how politically aware I am.

Meanwhile, some of you with whom I haven't really kept in touch might be surprised at how my politics have evolved (hint - I just used the word "evolved…"). I'm not the conservative ROTC cadet that I was more than twenty years ago…

Although I've always kept up on politics, I didn't really get involved until fairly recently - shortly after moving to Gig Harbor, Washington a few years ago. Having become active in local politics, I was asked to participate as an observer during the manual-recount of the votes during our very close governor's election here last year. For those of you not in Washington think "Florida - 2000" but without all those "chads" in a governor's election that separated the winner by 129 votes out of nearly three million…

During that episode, I met some people who said "If you think looking over a vote counter's shoulders is fun here, you should try it in Albania…"

So, I'm going to go try it in Albania!

Not quite that simple, of course.

The United States is a member of the OSCE (Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe) - which is a group of 55 countries encompassing most of the northern hemisphere, including the U.S., Canada, Europe, and the former Soviet republics - though not the Middle East or southern or eastern Asia…

The OSCE is involved in a huge variety of projects - from arms control to border management to conflict prevention. Their website is

One of their very important programs is to assist the participating member states in building democratic institutions. This is done by their Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which is active throughout the OSCE area in the fields of election observation, democratic development, human rights, tolerance and non-discrimination, and rule of law.

The OSCE-ODIHR deploys Election Observation Missions (EOMs) to member states whenever those states request an OSCE presence to validate their elections as meeting international standards. Many Americans might be surprised that the OSCE-ODIHR deployed an Election Observation Mission to Ohio during the 2004 Presidential election.

OSCE missions are only deployed when there is a request by the host nation, and when there is a peaceful environment in which a democratic presence has been initially established. They are 100% safe.

So how did I end up on one of these "missions?"

To become a participant, I had to complete a very complicated application process with PAE-REACT….

PAE is a corporation that has a contract to provide staffing for democratization missions, and recruits qualified individuals for placement in a database that is used in hiring Americans to work in various OSCE positions.

REACT is the Rapid Expert and Assistance Cooperation Teams - which was created as a tool to enable the OSCE to deploy civilian experts more rapidly to the field to undertake activities associated with conflict prevention, crisis management and post conflict rehabilitation.

I'll be participating as a short-term-observer (STO) on a typical ten day mission to an OSCE member state to watch them set up polling places, cast their ballots, and count the votes. To get some idea of what my trip may be like, visit the "Week in the Life of an Election Observer" webpage at by clicking on "Photo Gallery" and then use the drop-down menu to choose "A Week In the Life".

On this particular mission, the United States is deploying 37 out of the 400 volunteer STOs to Albania for their Parliamentary election, while at the same time sending a similar number of STO volunteers to Kyrgyzstan for their presidential election.

Each county covers the expenses of their volunteers, including their roundtrip airfare and providing them with a stipend to cover the costs of their accommodations, meals, in-country transportation and pay for their translator. Basically, someone else is making all of the arrangements and paying for everything - all I have to do is the work.

OSCE, ODIHR, PAE, REACT, STOs, EOMs - you should know what they all stand for now.

Extra credit for anyone who knows what C-SPAN stands for - without using Google to look it up!

More Later,


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