Helsinki

“The Helsinki summit of July 30-August 1, 1975, is a classic example of a pivotal event whose short- and long-term consequences were strikingly different, even contradictory.  Although it would eventually play a crucial role in ending the Cold War, its immediate effects were to further weaken detente and damage Ford at home.  One of the largest such meetings ever, the conference included representatives from thirty-five nations and ratified the results of almost three years of intensive negotiations.  Through the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), the Soviet Union sought recognition of its position in Eastern Europe.  The Western Europeans hoped to advance the relative stability that had grown out of detente.  With the United States, they also pushed for human rights and a freer flow of ideas, people, and information.  Out of this melange of often conflicting aspirations emerged by 1975 three sets of agreements, in diplomatic parlance, ‘baskets.’  A security basket included agreements to uphold basic human rights and ‘refrain from assaulting’ the European boundaries established after World War II, a tacit concession to the Soviet position that stopped short of recognition.  An economic basket provided for breaking down inter-European barriers by tourism, expanded trade, and scientific and technical exchange.  A ‘Humanitarian and Other Fields’ basket called for the freer flow of information, ideas, and people through travel, better access to media information, and reunification of families separated by the Cold War.  A ‘Final Act’ provided for monitoring observance of the agreements.  The Soviet Union, Western Europeans, and the United States were unhappy with some of the provisions but accepted the entire package to secure those items they considered most important.” –George Herring, From Colony to Superpower, p. 826-27


Discussion Questions

  • Describe what Herring means above when he calls the short- and long-term consequences of the Helsinki accords as being “contradictory.”
  • How did Helsinki inaugurate a new era of human rights-focused diplomacy and how did such an emphasis further undermine detente?

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