Some experts outside the government believe the Bush Administration may have overdone it in keeping CSCE weak.
"The most significant threat to peace and stability in Europe comes from the ethnic, religious and national rivalries in the liberated countries (of Eastern Europe)," said Robert Hunter, a former National Security Council expert on Europe. "The CSCE summit will set up a conflict resolution center, but it is nothing but a talking shop. It has no capacity for conciliation, mediation or arbitration. That is woefully inadequate."
Ridgway said it is beyond CSCE's ability to resolve ethnic conflicts that, although suppressed by communism since World War II, have festered for centuries.
"It's unfair to ask the CSCE to do that, but that is what many people will be using as the first judgment of whether or not CSCE is a worthwhile organization," she said.
The crisis center, officially to be known as the Center for the Prevention of Crises and located initially in Vienna, is intended to exchange information on the movement of military forces by member nations.
A communications network will be set up to serve as a low-level hot line over which complaints about unusual or threatening military maneuvers can be immediately discussed.
In time, the center may take on efforts to mediate political disputes, especially ethnic and national conflicts in Eastern Europe.
Overall, CSCE will have a decided Eastern-looking focus. Western European leaders agreed to put the organization's headquarters in Prague as recognition of the democratization process in the formerly Communist nations of Eastern Europe.
Viewed from the West, CSCE is eclipsed by NATO and the European Community, both far stronger institutions. But CSCE is the only regional organization that has extended its membership to Eastern Europe. With the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact defense alliance, CSCE is about all the East Europeans have to hold on to.
The planned election monitoring agency is aimed specifically at Eastern Europe.
"Nobody is really concerned about monitoring elections in France and Germany; it pertains to states that are emerging from their Communist and dictatorial past," Sonnenfeldt said.
Ridgway said that some Eastern European leaders are already referring to CSCE as a transitory organization, a way-station to a larger and more powerful Europe-wide organization. Under CSCE's rules, it is difficult to see how the institution could evolve in that direction as long as Washington objects.
CSCE operates by consensus, meaning that all 34 nations must approve any action. Critics charge that the procedure--which gives veto power to such politically insignificant states as San Marino, Malta and the Vatican--will immobilize the organization, preventing it from taking on controversial matters.
The CSCE summit participants also must decide if the organization needs a legislative apparatus. Some European nations are proposing a new "Assembly of Europe" to include legislators from all 34 countries.
The basis for this is the existing Council of Europe, a largely ceremonial gathering of representatives of 21 nations--essentially the CSCE membership, with the exception of the United States, Canada, Finland, the six nations of the Warsaw Pact and the mini-states, such as Monaco and the Vatican.
A later meeting of lawmakers from all countries will decide the matter.