Helsinki Accords

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Erich Honecker (GDR, left) and Helmut Schmidt (FRG) at the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe held in Helsinki in 1975

The Helsinki Accords, Helsinki Final Act, or Helsinki Declaration was the final act of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe held in Finlandia Hall of Helsinki, Finland, during July and August 1, 1975. Thirty-five states, including the USA, Canada, and all European states except Albania, signed the declaration in an attempt to improve relations between the Communist bloc and the West. The Helsinki Accords, however, were not binding as they did not have treaty status.[1]


The Accords' "Declaration on Principles Guiding Relations between Participating States" (also known as "The Decalogue") enumerated the following 10 points:

  1. Sovereign equality, respect for the rights inherent in sovereignty
  2. Refraining from the threat or use of force
  3. Inviolability of frontiers
  4. Territorial integrity of States
  5. Peaceful settlement of disputes
  6. Non-intervention in internal affairs
  7. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief
  8. Equal rights and self-determination of peoples
  9. Co-operation among States
  10. Fulfillment in good faith of obligations under international law

Ford Administration

When U.S. President Gerald R. Ford came into office in August 1974, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) negotiations had been underway for nearly two years, and would continue through July 1975. Although the USSR was looking for a rapid resolution, none of the parties were quick to make concessions, particularly on human rights points. Throughout much of the negotiations, U.S. leaders were disengaged and uninterested with the process. In an August 1974 conversation between President Ford and his National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Dr. Kissinger commented on the CSCE that "we never wanted it but we went along with the Europeans ... [i]t is meaningless—it is just a grandstand play to the left. We are going along with it."[2]

In the months leading up to the conclusion of negotiations and signing of the Helsinki Final Act, the American public, in particular Americans of Eastern European descent voiced their concerns that the agreement would mean the acceptance of Soviet domination over Eastern Europe and incorporation of the Baltic states into the USSR. President Ford was concerned about this as well and sought clarification on this issue from the U.S. National Security Council.[3] The U.S. Senate was also worried about the fate of the Baltic States and the CSCE in general. Several Senators wrote to President Ford requesting that the final summit stage be delayed until all matters had been settled, and in a way favorable to the West.[4]

Shortly before President Ford departed for Helsinki, he held a meeting with a group of Americans of Eastern European background, and stated definitively that U.S. policy on the Baltic States would not change, but would be strengthened since the agreement denies the annexation of territory in violation of international law and allows for the peaceful change of borders.[5]

According to Ford, "The Helsinki documents involve political and moral commitments aimed at lessening tension and opening further the lines of communication between peoples of East and West. ... We are not committing ourselves to anything beyond what we are already committed to by our own moral and legal standards and by more formal treaty agreements such as the United Nations Charter and Declaration of Human Rights. ... If it all fails, Europe will be no worse off than it is now. If even a part of it succeeds, the lot the people in Eastern Europe will be that much better, and the cause of freedom will advance at least that far."[6] The speech, however, did not have much effect. The volume of mail against the Helsinki agreement continued to grow.[5] The American public was still unconvinced that U.S. policy on the incorporation of the Baltic States would not be changed by the Helsinki Final Act. Despite protests from all around, Ford decided to move forward and sign the agreement.[7]

Soon after the return from Helsinki, A. Denis Clift of the National Security Council urged Secretary Kissinger to support the creation of a quarterly report by the NSC Under Secretaries Committee on Helsinki Final Act compliance. Clift believed that the administration needed to be prepared for criticism from American Eastern European ethnic groups and media if the signatories are not in compliance. Kissinger and President Ford agreed and an order was issued to the committee.[8]

Reception and impact

The document was seen both as a significant step toward reducing Cold War tensions and as a major diplomatic boost for the Soviet Union at the time, due to its clauses on the inviolability of national frontiers and respect for territorial integrity, which were seen to consolidate the USSR's territorial gains in Eastern Europe following the Second World War. Considering objections from Canada, Spain, Ireland and other states, the Final Act simply stated that "frontiers" in Europe should be stable but could change by peaceful internal means.[9]:65 U.S. President Gerald Ford also reaffirmed that US non-recognition policy of the Baltic states' (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) forced incorporation into the Soviet Union had not changed.[10] Leaders of other NATO member states made similar statements.[9]:65

However, the civil rights portion of the agreement provided the basis for the work of the Moscow Helsinki Group, an independent non-governmental organization created to monitor compliance to the Helsinki Accords (which evolved into several regional committees, eventually forming the International Helsinki Federation and Human Rights Watch). While these provisions applied to all signatories, the focus of attention was on their application to the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies, including Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Hungary, Poland, and Romania. Soviet propaganda presented the Final Act as a great triumph for Soviet diplomacy and for Brezhnev personally.[9]:65

According to the Cold War scholar John Lewis Gaddis in his book "The Cold War: A New History" (2005), "Leonid Brezhnev had looked forward, Anatoly Dobrynin recalls, to the 'publicity he would gain... when the Soviet public learned of the final settlement of the postwar boundaries for which they had sacrificed so much'... '[Instead, the Helsinki Accords] gradually became a manifesto of the dissident and liberal movement'... What this meant was that the people who lived under these systems — at least the more courageous — could claim official permission to say what they thought."

Chancellor of Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) Helmut Schmidt, Chairman of the State Council of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) Erich Honecker, U.S. president Gerald Ford and Austrian chancellor Bruno Kreisky

Albania refused to participate in the Accords, with its leader Enver Hoxha arguing that, "All the satellites of the Soviets with the possible exception of the Bulgarians want to break the shackles of the Warsaw Treaty, but they cannot. Then their only hope is that which the Helsinki document allows them, that is, to strengthen their friendship with the United States of America and the West, to seek investments from them in the form of credits and imports of their technology without any restrictions, to allow the church to occupy its former place, to deepen the moral degeneration, to increase the anti-Sovietism, and the Warsaw Treaty will remain an empty egg-shell."[11]

The Helsinki Accords served as the groundwork for the later Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), established under the Paris Charter.

Signatory states

In French alphabetical order:

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Heads of states, heads of governments and leaders of ruling parties

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  1. Encyclopedia Britannica. Helsinki Accords. Available at:
  2. Ford, Gerald; Kissinger, Henry; Scowcroft, Brent (August 15, 1974). Wikisource link to President Ford–Henry Kissinger memcon (August 15, 1974). Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library. Wikisource. Wikisource page link p. 5.  Wikisource link <templatestyles src="Noitalic/styles.css"/>[scan]
  3. Parallel Archive
  4. Parallel Archive
  5. 5.0 5.1 Parallel Archive
  6. Ford, Gerald (July 25, 1974). "Wikisource link to Statement". President Ford–Eastern Europe Advocates memcon (July 25, 1975). Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library. Wikisource. Wikisource page link pp. 6–22.  Wikisource link <templatestyles src="Noitalic/styles.css"/>[scan]
  7. Parallel Archive
  8. Parallel Archive
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  10. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  11. Enver Hoxha. The Superpowers. Tiranë: 8 Nëntori Publishing House. 1986.

External links