The invasion of Ukraine launched by Russia on 24th February changes everything as it will have profound geopolitical and geoeconomic consequences. The political system introduced by the Helsinki Final Act has ended.

Consequently, return to the previous global order that was agreed upon by all the stakeholders of the Act seems a far-fetched prospect. The stability of the region, as well as the world, has become uncertain.

The post–Cold War order, is now over after the Russian assault on Ukraine. Hence, a new security order is going to emerge. By the end of this war, Europe will possibly be back to the Cold War era.

What is Helsinki Final Act

The Helsinki Final Act was the culmination of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and originated in early Cold War discussions. It is a multifaceted agreement signed by 35 nations in Helsinki, Finland.

Principles of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act
Principles of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act

The Act addressed a series of major international issues. In this context, the Act had a far-reaching effect on the Cold War as well as US-Soviet relations. The then Soviet Union initially sought a European summit on security matters in 1954 at the Geneva Conference.

The agenda of the Soviet Union was the formal recognition of the political boundaries in Eastern Europe established after World War II. The US and the other Western nations at that time were reticent to engage in such dialogue as they feared that it might reinforce the Soviet position.

There was also an apprehension of the expansion of communism. Consequently, no headway was made throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Nevertheless, the transition towards a détente during the early 1970s prompted Western leaders to reanalyze the negotiations.

Helsinki Consultations in 1972

As a result, discussions commenced with the Helsinki Consultations in 1972. They continued until the commencement of the official Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in July 1973.

From 1973 to 1975, extensive discourse continued in Geneva, until the stakeholders eventually met again to sign the Helsinki Final Act in Helsinki in August 1975. Every European country besides Albania signed the Act. Likewise, the US and Canada also signed the Act.

Helsinki Final Act: An overview

The Helsinki Final Act dealt with an assortment of problems split into four “baskets.” The first basket incorporated ten precepts encompassing territorial integrity, political and military issues, peaceful settlement of disputes, the description of borders, and the undertaking of confidence-building measures between contending armies.

The second basket underscored economic issues like trade and scientific cooperation. Whilst the third basket accentuated human rights, including freedom of emigration and reunification of families separated by global boundaries, cultural exchanges, and freedom of the press.

Ultimately, the fourth basket standardized the components for follow-up engagements and implementation strategies. The CSCE held further sessions in Belgrade in 1977–78, Madrid in 1980–83, and Vienna in 1986–89, respectively.

Even though the Helsinki Final Act was unpopular in the West initially, it proved to be important at the end of the Cold War. However, some activists resisted the Western compromise on borders that resulted in an official endorsement of the Soviet annexation of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania.

Such a compromise effectively acknowledged the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. Despite such critique, the third basket on human rights and freedoms eventually proved to be significant to dissenters in Eastern Europe as well as the Soviet Union.

Furthermore, human rights activists set up Helsinki Monitoring Groups in the Soviet Union and across Europe to observe the progress of the USSR in implementing the human rights stipulations established in the Act.

These groups followed violations of the Act and brought them to global attention. Similarly, the Belgrade follow-up summit introduced an assessment procedure to follow violators of the Helsinki Final Act along with holding them accountable.

These measures facilitated dissenters to act and speak more openly. The Helsinki Process ushered ampler collaboration between Eastern and Western Europe. Representatives from non-aligned nations operated as mediators to help broker deals between members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Warsaw Pact.

Vienna Review Meeting

Moreover, the Vienna Review Meeting acknowledged the rights of emigration and religious freedom, which allowed open relations between Eastern and Western Europe. In addition, the Vienna engagements ventured a new string of CSCE summits on the Human Dimension.

These summits took place concurrently with, and donated to, across-the-board political and social transformations in Europe. These evolutions assisted in bringing an end to Soviet domination in Eastern Europe as well as the end of the Cold War.

*The legal document can be read here.