Skip to main content


Back to Resources

Implementation of the OSCE code of conduct during COVID-19

30 January, 2024



Beyond the human tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis disrupted economic and social systems in ways that exposed many of the inherent fragilities and risks of an interconnected world. Health crises such as this blur the line between public welfare and national security, as the trend over the past decades has been to gradually expand the roles and responsibilities of the armed forces for the purposes of internal security in emergency contexts.

However, armed forces must always comply with national constitutional frameworks and international norms on the use of force, such as those originating from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The 1994 OSCE Code of Conduct on Politico-Military Aspects of Security, which provides normative guidance for the deployment of armed forces in emergencies, was thus applicable to the COVID-19 crisis.   

This study examines the internal use of armed forces to manage the pandemic between 2020 and 2022, and the responses of OSCE participating States in these years to the 2009 code of conduct questionnaire (and with it the 2010 Reference Guide, referred to collectively as the Information Exchange mechanism in this text).

It also references a 2020 report by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, entitled "OSCE Human Dimension Commitments and State Responses to the Covid-19 Pandemic", which provides more information on the participating States that declared a state of emergency in response to the pandemic and the restrictive measures they adopted.  

The nature of the COVID-19 pandemic was such that it represented security challenges for all participating States, and the OSCE can serve as a platform for dialogue and information sharing about the best practices developed in addressing these challenges.

Yet, few participating States have made full use of the Information Exchange mechanism, raising the question of how they can be encouraged to do so, in order to prepare more effectively as a collective for future security challenges.

Over the past decades, the deployment of militaries for internal security purposes has led to a gradual expansion of the roles and responsibilities of security sectors.