Crafting European security: The Helsinki Final Act
The Helsinki Process, a 22-month diplomatic effort culminating in the Helsinki Final Act, brought together 35 States in an environment of mutual respect at the height of the Cold War. Its genesis lay in initiatives from both sides of the former dividing line in Europe.
The countries of the Warsaw Pact Organization wished to avoid further conflict on the post-war boundaries of European states. The United States and the Soviet Union had both, in 1972, concluded the first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, and given hope for a stable bi-polar world. European States had seen the mutual benefits of the Ostpolitik regime initiated by West Germany’s Chancellor, Willy Brandt, in reaching over the Berlin Wall. The possibilities of East-West co-operation had materialized, the stage was set for a comprehensive agreement on European security.
The preparatory talks for the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe began in late 1972 and ran until June 1973. The final recommendations of these discussions were known as the Blue Book. This document laid out the agenda of the negotiations which were to take place at Ministerial level in July of that year, and at expert level from September 1973 until July 1975, concluding with a Summit in Helsinki in July and August.
That the negotiations took so long is testament to the painstaking nature of gathering consensus between 35 States on such a pioneering text. It forged co-operation on the future relationship between states, economic freedoms across political borders, respect for the environment and linked together European security and basic human rights.
It was at a solemn Summit to sign the Act that US President Ford noted: "History will judge this Conference not by what we say here today, but by what we do tomorrow – not by the promises we make, but by the promises we keep."