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quarta-feira, 8 de janeiro de 2020

Acordo de Helsinque e o fim da Guerra Fria: Book review Roundtable

H-Diplo Roundtable XXI-21 on The Final Act: The Helsinki Accords and the Transformation of the Cold War

Amazon.com presentation: 

 The first in-depth account of the historic diplomatic agreement that served as a blueprint for ending the Cold War
The Helsinki Final Act was a watershed of the Cold War. Signed by thirty-five European and North American leaders at a summit in Finland in the summer of 1975, the agreement presented a vision for peace based on common principles and cooperation across the Iron Curtain. The Final Act is the first in-depth account of the diplomatic saga that produced this historic agreement. Drawing on research in eight countries and multiple languages, this gripping book explains the Final Act’s emergence from the parallel crises of the Soviet bloc and the West during the 1960s, the strategies of the major players, and the conflicting designs for international order that animated the negotiations.
Helsinki had originally been a Soviet idea. But after nearly three years of grinding negotiations, the Final Act reflected liberal democratic ideals more than communist ones. It rejected the Brezhnev Doctrine, provided for German reunification, endorsed human rights as a core principle of international security, committed countries to greater transparency in economic and military affairs, and promoted the freer movement of people and information across borders. Instead of restoring the legitimacy of the Soviet bloc, Helsinki established principles that undermined it.
The definitive history of the origins and legacy of this important agreement, The Final Act shows how it served as a blueprint for ending the Cold War, and how, when that conflict finally came to a close, the great powers established a new international order based on Helsinki’s enduring principles.


Book review Roundtable: 
by George Fujii
H-Diplo Roundtable XXI-21
Michael Cotey Morgan.  The Final Act: The Helsinki Accords and the Transformation of the Cold War.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018.  ISBN:  9780691176062 (hardcover, $35.00/£30.00).
6 January 2020 | https://hdiplo.org/to/RT21-21
Roundtable Editors: Thomas Maddux and Diane Labrosse | Production Editor: George Fujii

Contents

Introduction by Vladislav Zubok, London School of Economics and Political Science
Michael Cotey Morgan has written a well-researched and important book that makes us revisit an unfinished discussion about the causes of enormous changes in Europe, from the Cold War divisions to the collapse of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet implosion. Morgan locates the starting point of all this in the Helsinki Final Act. In his view, the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) is an event in European history that is comparable in significance to the Treaty of Westphalia, the Congress of Vienna, and the Yalta conference. It marked the beginning of the erosion and crumbling of the Soviet Communist order and set Western liberal order on the track of unexpectedly quick victory.
The author’s ideas stem from historiography produced after Daniel Thomas published his book, The Helsinki Effect. The book is also a response to Sarah Snyder’s influential book on the “transnational network” of human rights activism that she claimed significantly contributed to the collapse of Communism.[1] “Helsinkiphilia” became almost a fad among theorists in International Relations, who tend to ascribe the end of the Cold War bipolarity to ideational and normative causes. Some of us, who grew up during the Cold War and under the hollow ideocracy of the Soviet regime, remain sceptical of this trend, particularly on the impact of non-government human rights activism. The recent return of power-politics and the crisis of the liberal international order substantiates this scepticism. In his book, Morgan is less ebullient than his predecessors. “The Helsinki Final Act,” he concludes, “did not cause the end of the Cold War…nor was the collapse of communism in Europe inevitable” (253). Still, the book in many ways remains loyal to the trend. One of Morgan’s major assumptions is that Communism fell and the Soviet Union dissolved to a great extent because of transportation and transplantation of Western ideas, norms, and concepts to Eastern Europe and into the minds of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his enlightened advisers (236-237). We will return to this assumption later.
The book addresses three questions: why was the CSCE created, why did the Final Act take the shape that it did, and how did it influence the Cold War? (4) In answering these questions, Morgan carried out impressive research: he worked in many archives in many European languages, encased his findings in an impressive historical framework, and articulates his concepts with nuance and clarity. The book elevates the almost-forgotten CSCE process to the major development that shaped European history and global international affairs. This process, Morgan claims, grew out of a massive crisis of legitimacy that shook the West and the East. It was, however, the Soviet side that was more active than Western side, and General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev who set the process in motion. In a sense, the book argues, Brezhnev offered a deal to Western countries, one that involved reaching an ‘eternal peace’ with the Soviet Union, which would no longer be a revisionist power but instead would be a major stake-holder in an international order. This vision, if realized, could have led to a ‘one order, two systems’ combination.
Morgan considers this proposal to have been an illusion that was never really feasible. Yet it was this illusion, as his book demonstrates, that accounted for Soviet concessions, without which the Helsinki Final Act would have never taken its revisionist shape. Namely, it became a set of norms based on the non-use of force and on a strictly Western liberal interpretation of human rights inside sovereign states. After 1974 the U.S. government, which had initially been dismissive of the CSCE, supported the process. The West, acting as a team, then turned the Soviet proposal “into a tool for waging cold war by other means” (10) and ultimately into a weapon to undermine communist regimes. The Soviet leaders were deceived: instead of reaping the benefits of modernisation from rapprochement with the Western developed economies, they fell into a trap. In their search for an elusive and illusory partnership with the West, they accepted a set of Western-promoted norms of international legitimacy that directly threatened the Soviet geopolitical assets that had been conquered in 1945.
The H-Diplo roundtable discussion of the book, as should be expected, produces a gamut of opinions. Gottfried Niedhart read Morgan’s book through critical lenses. For him, Morgan clearly overrates the Helsinki effect as a single factor. The review challenges the book on its main conclusions to all three questions. First, Niedhart doubts that the CSCE was a response to a “crisis of legitimacy” in the West. Second, “there was no finality in the Final Act,” as it was not a milestone, but only an episode in the messy and complex process of European detente. Finally, there is no sufficient proof that the Final Act was a crucial factor in undermining Communist regimes or that it influenced Gorbachev when he consented to the reunification of Germany inside NATO in May-July 1990.
In contrast, James Cameron, Jonathan Hunt, and Rósa Magnúsdóttir admire the book without reservations. For Cameron it is a “perfectly balanced treatment of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act;” even “the 100-plus pages of footnotes is a joy in itself.” Hunt declares that Morgan “filled the residual ditch” in the historiography of the international human rights and claims that “the sheer breadth of archival research on display brings every individual spark into sharper relief.” Cameron and Hunt believe that Morgan’s research offers a final confirmation of the narrative that had been mapped out by Thomas and Snyder. Both reviewers credit Morgan with a discovery of how the Western countries translated the Soviet project of the European conference into “an almost complete victory for the West.” They do not mention the fact that this thesis was first advanced and explained by Richard Davy in a seminal article in 2009. [2]
Morgan’s praise for Western diplomatic victory in the CSCE process reads almost like a textbook explanation of the advantages that democratic free countries have over closed societies: free discussion and diversity brings out the best of creativity. In this account, Western allies outperformed the Soviets even in a quarter where authoritarians usually have a natural advantage: patience and perseverance (254). I wonder, however, how much of this praise is deserved? Or perhaps in this particular case the Western democracies had an unusually mellow opponent? Morgan and two of the reviewers dwell on the remarkable phenomenon of Soviet negotiating behaviour at the CSCE. It was not a usual Andrei Gromyko-style steadfast and dogged Soviet diplomacy. Brezhnev’s bizarre fixation on the success of the conference was linked to his search for domestic legitimacy, which was framed in terms of international agreements and treaties. As a result, Morgan writes, the Soviet leader “was reluctant to drag negotiations out” (255). This is an understatement: relentless pressure drove Brezhnev and his allies to produce a speedy conclusion of the conference. Cameron wonders why the authoritarian leader of the Communist regime “was willing to run far greater risks in his attempts to prove the Soviet regime’s domestic and international legitimacy than any leader of democratic West.” Hunt agrees that Brezhnev’s concessions left “fatal chinks in the Warsaw Pact’s armour,” using the words “poetic,” “ironic,” “perverse,” and “striking” in his description of the strange need of Brezhnev’s Soviet Union for Western legitimation. Perhaps, Hunt wonders, it was “the halting humanization of Soviet society after Stalin’s death” that explains this anomaly. He even concludes, in an echo of the thoughts of George Kennan, that “the seeds” of the fall of the Soviet Union were “planted over a decade before in ways that were quasi-intentional.”
Morgan does admit that he could not fully resolve this mystery and refers to the paradoxes of Soviet power in the 1970s. Apparently, he concludes, Brezhnev and his colleagues concluded that the Soviet Union had enough sovereignty and authoritarian controls to stave off external pressures. Morgan believes it was a failure of imagination and a failure of Brezhnev’s strategy. He quotes from Soviet recollections that even the KGB head Yuri Andropov supported the ratification of the Final Act. Andropov’s attitude should be fleshed out more, however. Andropov, as well as some Soviet diplomats, like the liberal-leaning negotiator in Geneva Anatoly Kovalev, wanted a new foreign policy to pave the way for domestic reforms. The principles of the Final Act were deliberately included into the new ‘Brezhnev’ Constitution of the Soviet Union (1977). The biggest problem, however, was how to synchronize the two currents of change: the idea of a new Europe and domestic Soviet reforms. Andropov was one of very few who saw the severity of the problem: Soviet state and society would not be prepared to handle greater openness and freedoms, as stipulated in the Final Act, for at least another decade (189).
Was the Final Act a force that planted the seeds for rapid Communist self-destruction? On this I would share some of Niedhart’s scepticism. The road from 1975 to 1985, and even from there to 1989, was fuzzier and messier than Morgan’s narrative suggests. If Brezhnev’s energy in peace-making had been coupled with reformist courage, the history of the Soviet Union and Europe might have proceeded differently. The Soviet failure to reap any economic benefits from ‘common European space’ should also be qualified: European détente made possible the construction of a massive and profitable system of oil and gas pipelines—a major achievement. Last but not least, the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev was the strangest accident in Soviet history. The last ten pages of the book includes a fast-moving summary of how Gorbachev used the Helsinki principles as a justification for dismantling of Stalinist structures and practices inside the Soviet state and society. In 1986-1987, apparently with Gorbachev’s consent, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze proposed to sceptical Western states the holding of a human rights conference in Moscow (244). Gorbachev argued with more conservative colleagues that in order to have a real détente with the West, one had to release dissidents, support glasnost, and open up Soviet society and economy.
Morgan, justifiably, sees this as validation of centrality of his subject. Yet he also acknowledges “a utopian element” in Gorbachev’s behaviour (240). It was the failure of Gorbachev’s strategy and his wrong-footed reforms—not the failure of Brezhnev’s strategy—that account for the rapid collapse of the Soviet outer and inner empire. Instead of preparing the Soviet people for a ‘shock of the global.’[3] Gorbachev’s policies magnified this shock, fatally destabilized the Soviet regime, and unleashed the forces that not only overthrew the already eroded Communism, but shattered to pieces the Soviet state. In a bittersweet irony of history, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) human rights conference did take place in Moscow in September 1991, yet it was the time when the Soviet Union was breaking up into fifteen independent states, and in most of them, not only political, but elementary economic rights and safety, could not be ensured or protected.
Morgan mentions China only a few times in the book. China, however, posits a challenge to the normative explanations for the fall of Communism. The Chinese Communist leadership always resisted—and resists even more today—the principles of international legitimacy based on the Final Act. The Chinese resistance to Western norms puts the turn of Brezhnev and Gorbachev in even sharper perspective. Perhaps more attention should be paid to the fact that Brezhnev and Soviet elites viewed themselves as Europeans and, in contrast to China, regarded a possible ‘return’ of the Soviet Union to a European concert of nations as historically natural. After all, Brezhnev’s pet project was a European conference, one which was in part aimed against China.
On the final pages of his book Morgan considers the Charter of Paris for a New Europe in November 1990 as the true end of the Cold War (253). Yet normative lenses were not the only one used at the time. The Bush Administration, acting in the spirit of superpower politics, deftly transformed the idea of a collective European security and liberal order into a U.S.-led global liberal order. In January 1992, George H.W. Bush declared in his State of the Union address: “The biggest thing that has happened in the world in my life, in our lives, is this: By the grace of God, America won the cold war…..A world once divided into two armed camps now recognizes one sole and pre-eminent power, the United States of America.” Bush praised generations of Americans who contributed to this victory. He did not mention the impact of Helsinki Final Act. [4]
To conclude, I agree with the reviewers that the book makes for an excellent and thought-provoking reading; it also gave an impetus to fascinating discussions. Morgan’s book enriches historical debates about the end of the Cold War. It cautions against a linear approach to the complex interrelationship between sovereignty, peace, security, and legitimacy in Europe and the world. Human rights liberalism, like all other “isms,” has peaked in its capacity to influence global affairs. The future that we face now may be less charitable than the history of 1975-91 in providing near-miraculous gifts to humanity.
Participants:
Michael Cotey Morgan is Associate Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He received a BA from the University of Toronto, M.Phil. from the University of Cambridge, and Ph.D. from Yale University. He is the author of The Final Act: The Helsinki Accords and the Transformation of the Cold War (Princeton University Press, 2018), and is currently writing a book on the geopolitics of information from Gutenberg to Zuckerberg.
Vladislav M.  Zubok is Professor of International History at the London School of Economics and Political Science. His books include A Failed Empire: the Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev (University of North Carolina Press, 2007), Zhivago’s Children: The Last Russian Intelligentsia(Belknap Press, 2009), and The Idea of Russia. The Life and Work of Dmitry Likhachev (I.B. Tauris, 2017). He is currently finishing a book entitled “Russia Destroys the USSR.
James Cameron is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. An international historian, his work uses newly declassified documents to explore the lessons of the Cold War for today’s nuclear arms control regime. He is the author of The Double Game: The Demise of America’s First Missile Defense System and the Rise of Strategic Arms Limitation (Oxford University Press, 2017).
Jonathan Hunt is a lecturer in modern global history at the University of Southampton, having received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in 2013. He is finishing a book on the international history of nuclear nonproliferation from the Manhattan Project to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. His edited volume, The Reagan Moment: America and the World in the 1980s, with Dr Simon Miles of Duke University, is under contract with Cornell University Press.
Gottfried Niedhart is professor emeritus of modern history at the University of Mannheim. He has published on English and German history and on the history of international relations mainly in the 20th century. His publications on East-West relations during the era of détente include (co-edited with Oliver Bange), Helsinki 1975 and the Transformation of Europe, (Berghahn Books 2008) and Entspannung in Europa. Die Bundesrepublik Deutschland und der Warschauer Pakt 1966 bis 1975 (Oldenbourg Verlag 2014). Together with Oliver Bange he organised a research project on the CSCE, the German question, and the Warsaw Pact, which was published in a special issue of the Journal of Cold War Studies 18:3 (2016).
Rósa Magnúsdóttir is Associate Professor of History at Aarhus University in Denmark and most recently the author of Enemy Number One: The United States of America in Soviet Ideology and Propaganda, 1945-1959 (Oxford University Press, 2019) and coeditor (with Óscar J. Martín Garcia) of Machineries of Persuasion: European Soft Power and Public Diplomacy during the Cold War (De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2019). Her research covers the cultural Cold War quite broadly, though with a focus on transnational exchanges. She is currently writing a couples-biography about Icelandic Communists and has started a new project on Soviet-American intermarriage during the Cold War.


Review by James Cameron, King’s College, London
Once seen as a decade of stasis and decline, the 1970s is now viewed as a period of transition, during which the old certainties of the early Cold War were challenged and new centers of power began to emerge.[5] While neither witnessing nor preordaining the transformative upheavals that would mark the later 1980s and early 1990s, the economic, political, and ideological reconfigurations of the 1970s in many ways laid the groundwork for them. Michael Cotey Morgan’s richly sourced, judiciously argued, and perfectly balanced treatment of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act is an outstanding contribution to this literature that deserves a wide readership among historians of the Cold War, members of the public, as well as contemporary policymakers struggling to wrest control of today’s myriad crises.
The Helsinki Accords were the work of many hands. One of the most impressive aspects of The Final Act is the way in which Morgan threads together the motivations and strategies of a broad range of states from both sides of the Iron Curtain. This is an extremely difficult task given the logistical and linguistic hurdles involved, and Morgan should be praised for crafting a truly balanced account, with Soviet and East European voices sharing equal space with their Western counterparts. Morgan brings the Warsaw Pact participants to life with telling quotations from Communist archives. Mining the 100-plus pages of footnotes is a joy in itself.
Whereas previous scholars have focused on various aspects of the Helsinki Accords, Morgan’s work tackles the conference and the resulting agreement “in the round” (5).[6] The Final Act examines the negotiation of all three of the Accords’ main issue areas, or ‘baskets’ as they were known in conference jargon: security, economic and scientific cooperation, and humanitarian issues. Morgan agrees with the established view that the most significant areas of the agreement were Baskets One and Three. Unlike some of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (CSCE) critics then and since, Morgan argues that Basket One’s provisions on borders did not in fact legitimize the permanent division of Germany and Europe, but instead established rules by which international boundaries could be changed. Morgan agrees with scholars such as Sarah B. Snyder and Daniel C. Thomas that the Helsinki Accords’ clauses on human rights provided inspiration and opened space for a transnational network of activists, and eventually General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, to push for the transformation of Soviet and East European domestic politics.[7]
As Morgan notes, in its final form the Final Act represented an almost complete victory for the West. Even before Mikhail Gorbachev’s ascendancy in Moscow, Western governments, as well as activists on both sides of the Iron Curtain, used the human rights and other provisions to keep Communist regimes on the back foot. Yet the conference was Moscow’s idea, championed by none other than Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, crusher of the Prague Spring and promulgator of the doctrine that asserted the right of the USSR to unilaterally intervene in Eastern Europe to enforce Soviet-style socialism. Even as the more dangerous aspects of the Helsinki Accords became clearer during the negotiations, the Warsaw Pact stuck with the CSCE – the Kremlin even pressing for the rapid conclusion of the conference. With hindsight this chain of events seems inexplicable. Morgan’s most important contribution is the judicious way in which he unravels this mystery.
For Morgan, the key issue motivating the negotiation of the Helsinki Accords was legitimacy. The 1960s saw a widespread crisis of legitimacy that transcended the Cold War divide. Internationally, both the United States and the Soviet Union had to contend with newly restive allies that demanded greater autonomy from their respective superpower sponsors. Gaullism and the Prague Spring were the most high-profile manifestations, but Morgan shows how widespread this desire was. In response to Polish requests to democratize the organization’s military structure,  Marshal Ivan Konev asked, “What do you imagine? That we would make some kind of NATO here?” (28). Yet Morgan shows that the Soviet political leadership took these challenges seriously. On the home front, the United States reeled from the fallout of Vietnam, while economic growth slowed in both East and West. People questioned Cold-War orthodoxy on both sides, and the post-war economic boom that had underpinned governments’ claims to domestic legitimacy seemed to be running out of steam.
Leaders of many various political stripes grasped for East-West détente as one means to resolve their difficulties, but Morgan underlines how different their conceptions of that process were. While President Richard Nixon and Brezhnev shared a focus on stability built on a balance of power, the West European leaders, French President Georges Pompidou and German Chancellor Willy Brandt, placed greater emphasis on trade and human contacts as a way to “overcome” the Cold War (51). Brezhnev revived an old Soviet proposal for a European security conference as the cornerstone of his Peace Program, designed to legitimize the post-war map of Europe, but Morgan shows how the final shape of the Conference was the result of a great deal of pushing and pulling, both between the Soviets and Western governments as well as within NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
Morgan argues that it was the West’s ability to encompass a greater diversity of viewpoints that ultimately gave it a decisive edge. The Nixon and Ford administrations may have denigrated the West Europeans’ insistence on human rights issues in private, but by and large Washington let them press their claims—in part because the U.S. saw the Conference as of only marginal significance compared to issues such as triangular diplomacy and arms control. The Soviet Union exerted more sway over the Warsaw Pact, relying on negotiating tactics that had served it well in bilateral superpower forums with the West such as the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks—principally an unyielding adherence to a position in the hope of wearing the other side down. However, it was the Soviet negotiators, under pressure from an impatient Kremlin, who eventually yielded in the face of a generally united Western front on fundamental matters of principle such as the qualified nature of sovereignty, the changeability of borders through peaceful means, the importance of human rights, and a series of related issues, including the freer flow of information, foreign travel, and emigration. Moscow did attempt to “defang” the West European position on human contacts in concert with the United States and Finland, but the effort rendered meagre results (182).
Why did the Soviets press ahead, even as the conference turned against them? Morgan points to several factors. Brezhnev had invested a vast amount of his political capital in a successful outcome, sending some of the Soviet Union’s most senior diplomats to the talks whereas Western states often dispatched relatively junior officials. The CSCE was intended to be the capstone of Brezhnev’s Peace Program, cementing the territorial results of the Great Patriotic War, which itself was in the process of being turned into a touchstone of the regime’s domestic legitimacy. Failure to secure agreement would have been a huge blow to Brezhnev’s standing within the Soviet elite, as well as his legacy as a peacemaker. Some of Brezhnev’s advisors encouraged their boss to press ahead, believing that the liberal principles embodied in the Final Act would push the USSR to revive the regime through controlled political reform.
Brezhnev also calculated that the Soviet government would be able to contain the consequences of Helsinki, using its monopoly on official media to push a narrative that emphasized the Final Act’s affirmation of sovereignty and inviolability of borders at the expense of human rights. Soviet reaction to Western criticism was to hug the Act closer, incorporating the principles guiding relations between signatories into the country’s 1977 constitution. “Notwithstanding the barrage of foreign and domestic criticism,” Morgan argues, “the Kremlin still relied on the Final Act as an indispensable tool for bolstering its legitimacy” (226). The reader is left with the impression that Brezhnev was willing to run far greater risks in his attempts to prove the Soviet regime’s domestic and international legitimacy than any Western leader. Inextricably linked to this legitimacy campaign, the Helsinki Final Act played a more important role in Soviet politics than it did in any capitalist country.
Under pressure from both governments and new non-governmental organizations, the Brezhnev regime nevertheless stuck to its interpretation of the Act. The key shift came with Gorbachev, whom Morgan portrays as embracing the Western conception of the Act through the political liberalization of glasnost and New Thinking’s emphasis on common security. Yet The Final Act shows that disagreements over the interpretation of Helsinki persisted until the end of the Cold War. Gorbachev argued against the rapid reunification of Germany on a Western basis, proposing a pan-European approach that he argued was more in keeping with the spirit of the CSCE. Moscow eventually acquiesced, however, to the East Germans’ right to self-determination and the peaceful change of borders.
Morgan sees the 1990 Paris Charter, which affirmed the Western interpretation of Helsinki, along with the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, and the reunification of Germany, as providing the basis for “a single international [post-Cold War] order” (253). Morgan mentions Russia’s turn away from this consensus in the years following 1991, but the book’s conclusion left this reviewer wondering about the broader post-Cold War failure to build a robust pan-European security architecture. Gorbachev hoped that the CSCE could serve as the basis of a new organization that could supersede NATO and the Warsaw Pact, or at least subordinate them to a new structure, but Morgan shows how resistant the United States and others were to any limits on NATO’s autonomy. Russian President Boris Yeltsin continued to press his own version of Gorbachev’s vision in the 1990s, with the same meagre results. The CSCE became the OSCE, but its influence remains limited. A truly pan-European security organization with significant powers might well have been unworkable, but nevertheless we feel its lack today. Russian actions in Ukraine delivered a major blow to the Final Act, including its provision on the inviolability of frontiers. Instead of a common security space we face a newly divided Europe, in which the limits of each side’s sphere of influence are tested in ways reminiscent of the Cold War. At the same time, many states are facing new crises of legitimacy, often fueled by a backlash against some of the liberal principles embodied in the Final Act. Morgan’s excellent book offers today’s policymakers an instructive tale of how leaders in the midst of upheaval grasped an opportunity to stabilize the international system and lay the groundwork for a better world.


Review by Jonathan Hunt, University of Southampton
In her 2006 American Historical Association Presidential Address, Linda Kerber declared us “all historians of human rights.”[8] In the thirteen years since, what had been a budding field has flowered fully, with a wellspring of monographs, articles, speeches, interventions, and provocations replotting the gardens of privileges and immunities commonly avowed to belong to every human being by birthright. Along the way, the field has transformed from a self-congratulatory epic of self-evident rights expanding in concert with the mediated empathy found in modern novels and the legal tenets in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), to a more modest tale about the rise of human rights activism in the 1970s, when lost Cold War utopias gave way to a ‘last utopia’ best exemplified by Amnesty International’s crusade against torture, cruel and usual punishments, and arbitrary arrest and detention.
Michael Cotey Morgan’s The Final Act: The Helsinki Accords and the Transformation of the Cold War fills in a residual ditch in the field: how thirty-five European and North American delegations negotiated over the course of six years, thousands of meetings, and a small forest of paperwork to produce the pièce de résistance of European détente—the Helsinki Final Act—which carved Western notions of civil and political rights into the constitution of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE). To establish the scale of Morgan’s achievement is to describe the complexity of the diplomatic proceedings that he recounts. The text of the Final Act alone ran to 22,000 words, while heads of state and of government who trekked to the Finnish capital on 29 July 1975, numbered such that the host city and government were nearly overwhelmed by the pageantry.
Morgan reaches back to the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia and the 1815 Congress of Vienna for summits of like pomp, circumstance, and moment. Yet the company is as striking for its contrasts as for its commonalities. The Helsinki Final Act’s most original features, after all, were the normative commitments these two precursors (hobby horses of classical realist) left largely unspecified. If each of these pan-European parleys were, at bottom, struggles “over the constitutive principles of international order and legitimacy” (6), the Helsinki process is most noteworthy for how it elevated universal principles predicated on individual dignity and fulfillment into measuring sticks for all organized European societies.
Morgan is a consummate chronicler of relations between the capitalist and Communist worlds, as well as within them. While the friction within each geo-ideological bloc will surprise few scholars of Cold War détente, the sheer breadth of archival research on display brings every individual spark into sharper relief. The Final Act is international history at its boldest – multi-archival, -lingual, and -national—even if it is primarily preoccupied with European affairs, apart from a sizeable digression into the People’s Republic of China’s economic approach to East-West interdependence. It is to this work’s credit that statesmen as (self)-important as U.S. President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, with their archly conservative notion of superpower-led détente, serve as potential spoilers rather than as self-anointed saviours of the negotiations.
On the contrary, it was the transformative agendas adopted by West German chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt, British Prime Ministers Harold Wilson and Edward Heath, and French presidents George Pompidou and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing that triumphed in Helsinki. Morgan evaluates trans-Atlantic relations within the context of European integration (in all its vicissitudes) and Brandt’s Ostpolitik, with the divided German nation at the broken continent’s heart.
Morgan’s presentation of the dynamics at work in the Eastern bloc, in which Soviet leaders could shape but never dictate policy, is just as commanding. In his telling, the Helsinki process unfolded against crises of legitimacy across the industrial “North” and an international economic reckoning, brought on by the collapse of the Bretton Woods system as well as the oil weapon in Persian Gulf hands. The talks in Helsinki and Geneva were therefore complexly ‘two-level games,’ with negotiators and their bosses, including the undemocratic attendees, profoundly mindful of how the fruits of their labours would be consumed by their home audiences.
The CSCE would never have met without Leonid Brezhnev’s enthusiastic sponsorship. Morgan injects color into the grey hues in which the Soviet general secretary is typically painted. In place of Brezhnev’s vanity and insecurity, Morgan highlights the origins of his commitment to peace in the continental slaughterhouse of the Great Patriotic War. His investment in peace talks that he hoped would cement Europe’s post-1945 borders led to concession after concession to Western demands, leaving fatal chinks in the Warsaw Pact’s armour. NATO may have forsworn military rollback in the talks, but the potential for internal dissent to redraw Europe’s maps and alliances was another matter altogether. In a bid to “reap the rewards of globalization” (11), which East European governments hoped would modernize their economies, Brezhnev and his comrades effectively dug their own graves, as Western investment would leave them in hock to investment banks once the ‘Volcker Shock’ turned United States Treasury bonds into magnets for global investment in the 1980s.
The Final Act should be judged not only against the vast literature on the North American and European experience of the Cold War, to which it makes a signal contribution. The Helsinki Final Act was insufficient for bringing the Cold War to an end. For decades hence, graduate seminars will debate its necessity, and Morgan’s authoritative work will serve as a new touchstone for debates about how soft power and normative influences catalysed the revolutionary convulsions from which a new world order would arise after 1989.
But scholars must also think about where this congress of Helsinki fits into our narratives of a half-century of human rights work and neoliberal globalization. The status of human rights in the final document was as often implicit as explicit. The sub-section affirming “[r]espect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief” mirrored kindred articles in the UDHR. Brezhnev consented to them even though the Soviet Union and its partners—Belorussia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, and Yugoslavia—had long abstained from adhering to the non-binding UDHR.
Even more interesting, the UDHR’s follow-ons, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) which were adopted in 1966 and ratified by the Soviet Union in 1973 (at the behest of chief Soviet negotiator Anatoly Kovalev) entered into force one year after the Helsinki Final Act, in 1976. Given that these covenants reflected divergent liberal and socialist rights packages, which had forced the United Nations to split the post-UDHR proceedings in two in the first place, it is surprising that Kovalev and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko would not have worked harder to incorporate elements of the CESCR into the Helsinki Final Act, at least as poison pills with which to parry Western demands for the inclusion of major elements of the rival civil and political rights covenant. I and others eagerly await Francine Hirsch’s forthcoming book, Soviet Judgment at Nuremberg: A Cold War Story, to flesh out the history of how the Eastern bloc engaged with new formulae in international law: crimes against humanity, genocide, and human rights. Further work is needed on how the Soviet Union and its allies conceived of and pursued their conceptions of basic rights, duties, and imperatives in international fora.
It appears poetic that the idealism of Marxist-Leninism and the halting humanization of Soviet society after Stalin’s death led Brezhnev and his diplomats to value a peace of legally inviolable borders more highly than Moscow’s longstanding reluctance to adhere to norm-based covenants. It is ironic that for however much anti-Communists like Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs Richard Perle or Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger disparaged the idea of trusting Moscow enough to verify arms pacts in the 1980s, the Kremlin vested considerable significance in international law. It is perverse that when Soviet diplomats accepted that borders would be ‘inviolable’ rather than ‘immutable,’ they in essence repudiated the Brezhnev Doctrine, which had sanctioned armed intervention whenever a Warsaw Pact member strayed from Marxist-Leninism’s primrose path.
It is striking that political, civil, and religious freedoms proved so deeply corrosive for one-party, central-planned empires and nation-states in the 1970s and 1980s. Where Samuel Moyn’s recent Not Enough maintains that the florescence of human rights in the 1970s obligingly dovetailed with a state-change in the relationship between states and markets as neoliberal practices went global after 1971, Morgan’s work suggests not one, but two parallel processes, at least in the Eastern bloc. The first was the increasing humaneness of Soviet-style Communism. The most surprising character in this narrative is Kovalev, who saw the Helsinki process as a means “to reform the Soviet Union and humanize the socialist system” (255). He found willing ears in Mikhail Gorbachev and his circle of cosmopolitan reformer socialists. This indicates that Gorbachev’s ‘new political thinking’ had already been set in motion by the time the future general secretary arrived in Moscow from Stavropol in 1974. For all that was unforeseen in the fall of the Soviet Union, the seeds of glasnost, perestroika, democratization, human rights, and demilitarization had been planted over a decade before in ways that were quasi-intentional.
The second is how we think about human rights in conjunction to human capacities. In the modern world of information overload and choice tyrannies, it’s easy to forget the virtues of open societies, Henri Bergson’s famous distinction, elaborated by Karl Popper, between societies closed to iconoclasm and those in which individual shoulders bear primary responsibility for ethical choices.[9] (We hear echoes of this in The Final Act’s Chapter Six, “The Closed Society and Its Enemies”). One can read human rights narrowly, as Moyn and other critics are wont to do. Or one can read human rights as a subset of liberal doctrines, in which case such a distinction falls away. The Helsinki Final Act’s humanitarian clauses aimed to enhance cultural exchange, information sharing, trade relations, and travel and emigration opportunities, with a view toward building human capacity throughout the Eastern bloc and Europe more broadly. The Final Act offers a view of human rights as a cornerstone of the liberal tradition and implies that liberal norms helped transform Eastern Europe and Russia for the better. Those messages can no longer be taken for granted, if it ever could. No matter one’s views on historical objectivity or liberalism’s fate in the Age of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, today, the liberal tradition can use all the bold, judicious champions it can find.


Review by Rósa Magnúsdóttir, Aarhus University
The Final Act: The Helsinki Accords and the Transformation of the Cold War is a truly international history of the process that led to the signing of the Helsinki Accords in 1975 and its aftermath.[10] The Helsinki Accords were the outcome of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE); in the book, Morgan analyzes the process which was initiated by Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, negotiated for almost three years by hundreds of diplomats, and finally signed by thirty-five European, Soviet, and North American heads of state. The Final Act debunks the many myths and simplifications about the Helsinki agreement that have surrounded it since 1975 and is an extremely valuable contribution in the current reevaluation of the late Cold War.
The book is organized chronologically around three main questions: “Why was the CSCE created in the first place? Why did the Final Act take the shape that it did? And how did it influence the Cold War?” (4). Morgan argues that while the CSCE’s significance was underestimated at the time, the Final Act proved very consequential for Europe and its place in the international system, and that the 1975 Helsinki Summit should therefore claim its prominence as the successor to the 1815 Congress of Vienna or the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. This emphasis on the importance of the CSCE and the resulting European order also elevates the West and the role some key Western actors, such as West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, French President Georges Pompidou, and U.S. President Richard Nixon, played in the process but Leonid Brezhnev is also in the midst of the narrative, which takes into account the context of the Cold War.
One of the most astonishing thing about the Helsinki process is how many diverse actors were involved. The dominant actors were the United States and the Soviet Union, but the dividing Iron Curtain did not govern the process. Morgan does a great job of showing how the hundreds of diplomats involved in negotiating the process could advance and retreat at different points in time; indeed it comes out very clearly how diplomatic the process actually was. The preparatory talks took longer than anyone had suspected, with delegations arriving in Geneva in September 1973 and completing their work in July 1975. Chapter 4, “The Meaning of Security,” discusses the workload, bureaucracy, tactics, personalities and brings out “the mixture of tedium and exhilaration that characterized life at the CSCE” (114). The Western media was not very interested in the preparatory talks but the Soviet and Eastern bloc media, as instructed from above, discussed the overall process in a positive light, criticizing the “Western governments for demanding too much” (112). The Soviet delegation in Geneva was by far the largest one, with Anatoly Kovalev leading a team of experienced negotiators who proved themselves to be invested in improved East-West relations. The major negotiators from the Western side often sent junior diplomats, mainly to signal that they “would be prepared to walk away if the Soviets refused to compromise” (113). 
By focusing on all the different actors involved, Morgan debunks the myth of the Helsinki Process being solely a bilateral, superpower project. Even if the process and the outcome of the Helsinki agreement greatly influenced the way the Cold War developed, giving the West an upper hand on pretty much “every significant point,” (5) no actor was too small to have a voice in the process; no political culture was by default out of the loop. Of course there were dominant actors, but the detailed descriptions of the actual negotiations make it clear that this was a diplomatic project. Morgan also takes into account the parallel structure of established Cold War organizations, such as NATO and the Warsaw Pact. It was not obvious, especially to the Western leaders, that they should leave disarmament off the agenda for Helsinki, but in the end, Nixon and Brezhnev reached a compromise, which the other leaders accepted even if some felt like it had been a secretive process governed by the superpowers.
Morgan has succeeded in creating an effortless narrative of a complicated international diplomatic process while highlighting its far-reaching importance. The Final Act is based on archival research in eight countries, a long list of published diplomatic documents, interviews, periodicals, and excellent command of the existing historiography. It is hard to imagine a more balanced account; this book is sure to become the standard work of reference for research focusing on topics as varied as human rights, trade relations, activist groups, and international diplomacy in the 1970s and 1980s.


Review by Gottfried Niedhart, University of Mannheim
Broadly speaking there are two schools of thought in the historiography dealing with the East-West conflict in the 1970s and 1980s. Both talk of a period of détente starting in the late 1960s and leading to a lessening of tensions between the superpowers as well as in Europe and culminating in the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). As for the late 1970s, a divergence can be noticed. One school maintains that the Cold War returned.[11] The other believes in a lasting impact of the Helsinki Accords and in a continuous process of détente.[12] The book under review here belongs to the second category.
Using a wide range of sources from archives not only in the West but also in Moscow, Michael Morgan’s ambitious aim is to write an international history of the CSCE. He wishes to examine the “conference in the round. Only by looking at the CSCE through the eyes of all its leading participants, and setting it in a wider international context, can one grasp how the Final Act came into existence” (5). He thus describes the development leading to the CSCE and the negotiations in Helsinki and Geneva by looking at them from different perspectives and by depicting the different and often antagonistic expectations of the participating states. Of course there are limits capacity which every researcher has to respect. Hence Morgan concentrates on the main actors and on the central concepts and ideas which framed the policies of ‘the’ West and ‘the’ Soviets. He collected an impressive amount of material, not only diplomatic evidence but also contemporary assessments by various writers. But I think it would have been worthwhile to make use of his knowledge of German and consult the archival records in Bern, thereby facilitating a closer look at the neutral and non-aligned states. This is not to belittle the author’s achievement or to say that the neutral states are overlooked. But one could imagine that, in an international history, more light could have been shed on their contribution to the proceedings of the conference. Likewise, the role of the European Economic Community (EEC) as a new actor in East-West relations could have received more attention.
The book is convincingly structured and makes excellent reading. The main chapters are concerned with the three ‘baskets,’ or issue areas. Morgan traces the course of debates and conflicts not only between East and West but also within the Warsaw Pact and NATO. The Final Act was a compromise after the long haul of inter- and intra-bloc debates. One of the introductory chapters, titled “the class of 1969,” provides an overview of the main concepts and circumstances which were relevant for the whole process of détente. 1969 is understood as a kind of break. The world witnessed a “new class of Cold War leaders” who assumed power, in Washington Richard Nixon, in Paris Georges Pompidou and in Bonn Willy Brandt. In Moscow Leonid Brezhnev was already in power but, according to Morgan, succeeded already in this momentous year in establishing his pre-eminence within the Soviet leadership. The four of them had to “challenge old Cold War habits and develop new policies” (50). The over-arching aim was to find a solution for a widely felt “crisis of legitimacy” (18 ff.).
This is a sensible starting point although, with respect to the CSCE, it also raises certain problems. The Soviet Union had been a promoter of a European Security Conference since 1954 and it remained Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev’s favourite project. With President Richard Nixon it was completely different. Together with National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger he was full of contempt for such a conference. Chancellor Willy Brandt was not that radical but he was hesitant and insisted on two preconditions, namely a treaty regulating the relationship between the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) and the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and an agreement of the Four Powers on Berlin. In the last instance he regarded the negotiations on Mutual Balanced Force Reductions (MBFR) as more urgent. Among Western leaders, President Georges Pompidou was relatively early in favouring the CSCE, mainly because he feared the dynamism of Brandt’s Ostpolitik, which might have been channelled by a multilateral conference. In other words, what formed the basis for the “four leaders” (73) who figure prominently in Morgan’s account, was their determination to pursue a policy of détente, notwithstanding any “differences in their strategies and worldviews” (51).
Though Morgan does not say so explicitly, his treatment of the CSCE is, for good reasons, embedded in the general development of East-West relations. The CSCE appears as an integral part of détente on the superpower as well as on the European level. The Final Act was neither the peak in the process of détente, nor was there a “Helsinki effect” (Daniel C. Thomas) that can be regarded as an isolated phenomenon in overcoming the East-West conflict.[13]There was no finality in the Final Act. At the same time Morgan does not resist the temptation of asking who the winner was; nor does he dodge a straight answer. A “close reading” of the Final Act in 1975 “demonstrated the extent of the Western victory” (212). There is an inappropriate sense of triumphalism in these words. Morgan builds in caveats here and there but his over-all conclusion is crystal clear. The “Western allies scored a decisive victory” (254).
Morgan comes to the perhaps inevitable conclusion that the Final Act had a tremendous impact on the future development of East-West relations. It “did not cause the end of the Cold War,” but it helped to “resolve” it (253). A discussion of other factors that caused 1989/90 would have been welcome. In Morgan’s interpretation, the Final Act “profoundly shaped the imaginations of leaders in the Soviet bloc” (245). Does this pertain to Nicolae Ceauşescu in Romania or Erich Honecker in the GDR and their “imaginations”? And even Mikhail Gorbachev – did he really think of Helsinki when he, together with President Ronald Reagan, signed the INF treaty? Regarding his relations with the West in general and the FRG in particular, was he really converted to Western ideas or even get caught in the Helsinki trap? Or were his actions driven by the poor state of Soviet economy, the imbalance of a costly empire and an inefficient economy? German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, being only a belated believer in the usefulness of the Final Act himself, had not only the financial means at his disposal but also calculated the Soviet weakness. The negotiations with the Soviet Union consequently ended up as a matter of cash. 
By praising the effects of the Helsinki accords Morgan tends to overrate the Final Act as a single factor. The Western strategy of transformation, which can be detected in the text of the Final Act, was developed already some time prior to the CSCE. The Final Act was thus a catalyst rather than an initiation



Author’s Response by Michael Cotey Morgan, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
It is a privilege to participate in this roundtable with such distinguished colleagues. I thank James Cameron, Jonathan Hunt, Rósa Magnúsdóttir, and Gottfried Niedhart for their insightful reviews, Vladislav Zubok for his introduction, and Tom Maddux for convening our discussion. Because the reviewers’ kind comments make my job easier than it might otherwise have been, I would like to offer a few thoughts about the rationale for the book, its interpretation of the Final Act’s origins and consequences, and what the history of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) can tell us about the problems that afflict the international system today.
Since 1975, the CSCE has been much discussed but only partially understood. A typical account goes something like this: In 1954, the Soviets proposed to hold a conference on European security. For years, the Western allies refused to participate, but in the late 1960s they suddenly changed their minds—and the CSCE was born. At the negotiations in Helsinki and Geneva, the Western allies recognized Europe’s postwar frontiers. In exchange, the Soviets and Eastern Europeans promised to respect human rights. Little did they realize that, by signing the “Helsinki accords on human rights” (as some scholars refer to the agreement), they planted a time bomb under their own regimes. When it detonated in the late 1980s, it brought down communism in Europe. The CSCE’s significance therefore lay in its affirmation of human rights.[14] This version of events has several drawbacks. It summarizes what happened, but cannot explain why it happened. It misses what was actually at stake in Helsinki and Geneva. It distorts the agreement that the negotiations produced. And it oversimplifies the connection between the Final Act and the end of communism in Europe.
Recent scholarship has clarified some parts of the story. Indispensable books like Daniel C. Thomas’s The Helsinki Effect and Sarah B. Snyder’s Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War broke new ground by examining the transnational movements that the CSCE spawned.[15] But Thomas and Snyder focus on one particular theme—human rights—in the period after 1975. The Final Act takes a different approach and reaches different conclusions. Instead of considering one aspect of the agreement, it looks at the CSCE as a whole, and addresses the questions that conventional accounts of the negotiations leave unanswered, including why the Soviets proposed the conference in the first place, why the Western allies agreed to participate, and why the Final Act took the shape that it did. This broader perspective reveals that the CSCE was something far more consequential than an argument about human rights or borders. It was an attempt to articulate a new concept of international legitimacy.
This new concept of legitimacy was necessary because, by the late 1960s, both Eastern and Western governments had tumbled into crisis. In response, leaders on both sides devised strategies to rebuild their regimes’ legitimacy on the basis of new principles. The four members of the class of 1969—Soviet general secretary Leonid Brezhnev, American president Richard Nixon, West German chancellor Willy Brandt, and French president Georges Pompidou—took the lead in this process. As Gottfried Niedhart points out, these leaders all favored East-West détente in some form or other. But they did not all conceive of it—or of fundamental ideas like peace, security, and sovereignty—in the same way. As I argue in the book, Brezhnev and Nixon pursued a conservative strategy of détente, which aimed to stabilize the Cold War. By contrast, Brandt and Pompidou’s transformational strategy aimed to overcome the Cold War by breaking down the political, economic, and human barriers that divided the continent. This confluence of crisis and strategy gave birth to the CSCE. The four leaders’ support for détente made the conference possible, but their divergent goals ensured that it would be contentious.
The USSR played an indispensable role throughout. If Brezhnev had not put peace at the center of his plan for rebuilding the legitimacy of the Soviet system, and if he had not made the CSCE an essential component of that plan, the negotiations could not have succeeded. The general secretary’s commitments informed every major Soviet decision from the genesis of the CSCE to the signature of the Final Act. “If Helsinki is held, then I can die,” he said (201). His attention to the conference was neither a mystery nor—to use Vladislav Zubok’s phrase—a “bizarre fixation,” but the product of a reasoned and coherent strategy.
To say that the USSR’s strategy was coherent, however, does not mean that it was effective. Comparing what the Soviets wanted from the CSCE with what they actually got, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that they and their allies fell short. On both offense and defense, they struggled. After failing to win consensus on the ideas that mattered most to them, especially the permanence of Europe’s frontiers, they accepted many of the Western allies’ proposals. The Final Act therefore proclaimed that Europe’s frontiers could be changed; repudiated the Brezhnev Doctrine; empowered states to choose their own alliances; affirmed state sovereignty and respect for human rights as equally important principles of international security; and endorsed the virtues of openness and transparency between states, most notably in the freer movement of people and information across borders. During the negotiations, as Jonathan Hunt emphasizes, the Soviets missed opportunities to insert “poison pills” that could have neutralized Western schemes. In response to Western arguments about freedom of emigration in Basket III, for instance, the Soviets could have demanded freedom of immigration. If such a clause had made it into the final text, the NATO allies could hardly have enacted it. If they had tried to criticize the Soviets for breaking their promises, they would have exposed themselves to Soviet accusations in turn.
This balance sheet raises important questions about why the Final Act took the shape that it did. Neither the Soviets nor their allies had any illusions about Western goals. Before the diplomats convened in Helsinki and Geneva, Communist officials worried about “ideological subversion,” especially in Basket III (175). They hoped to deflect this threat in a variety of ways. The Warsaw Pact allies consulted at length in order to forge a united front to resist Western demands. In a bid to seize the moral high ground and gain negotiating leverage, the Soviets ratified the United Nations Human Rights Covenants before the Western states had done the same. Once the negotiations got underway, they attempted to grind their interlocutors down by practicing what Zubok calls “steadfast and dogged” diplomacy. Brezhnev and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko regularly complained to Western leaders that the negotiations were moving too slowly because the NATO allies refused to drop their unacceptable demands. The conference could only succeed, they warned, if Western delegates took a more reasonable approach. Meanwhile, the Warsaw Pact representatives in Helsinki and Geneva used the CSCE’s rule of strict consensus to block any proposal that they found unpalatable.
In the end, however, the weaknesses of the USSR’s approach outweighed the strengths. The consultations within the Warsaw Pact failed to produce an “offensive concept of cultural cooperation” to counter the Western insistence on freer movement, as one Polish official observed (204).[16] Once the NATO allies grasped that the Soviets planned to fight a diplomatic war of attrition, they responded in kind. Their tactics depended on the assumption that the USSR’s desire for an agreement would eventually yield concessions. Although the negotiations dragged on longer than anyone had expected, and Western diplomats often worried that they would lose their nerve, this approach paid off.
When the Soviets eventually gave ground, however, they did not fall into a trap. Instead, they took a calculated risk. Brezhnev and his supporters on the Politburo reasoned that, no matter what compromises they made, the principle of state sovereignty would shield them from any unpleasant consequences. In Geneva, the Soviets gave way on point after point, wagering that they would only have to implement those parts of the agreement that suited them. Some of the USSR’s allies disagreed with this gambit, but because of the importance that Brezhnev attached to the conference, they concluded that they had no choice but to go along.
To be sure, the Soviets got something out of the CSCE. Brezhnev boasted that it had brought his Peace Program to fruition. Pravda declared that the Enlightenment’s search for perpetual peace had reached its culmination in the Final Act. Some officials—including KGB chief Yuri Andropov and the head of the Soviet delegation, Anatoly Kovalev—even hoped that the agreement’s provisions on freer movement would reinvigorate the USSR by providing an impetus for domestic reform. And when the Soviet government promulgated a new constitution in 1977, its text included the Final Act’s ten principles of international relations, reproduced verbatim. Even if the Final Act bore only a passing resemblance to the agreement that Brezhnev had originally sought, it became a mainstay of Soviet domestic politics, as James Cameron observes, and a key component of the government’s bid to renew its legitimacy at home and abroad.
The agreement crystallized a new concept of legitimacy for the whole of Europe. Rósa Magnúsdóttir rightly emphasizes that the CSCE’s success owed something to the diversity of voices around the table. As the negotiations wore on, cacophony became polyphony. The diplomats brought forth new ideas that neither superpower would have advanced on its own. But perfect harmony remained elusive. The Final Act combined rousing declarations with maddening ambiguities and unresolved tensions. By affirming the equal importance of human rights and state sovereignty, for instance, it blurred the relationship between them and sowed the seeds of later arguments, which continue to rage today. Because the NATO allies hoped that the CSCE would crack open the closed societies of the East, they championed principles such as the freer movement of people and information, and ignored the economic and social claims that the USSR traditionally emphasized. The document focused international attention on human rights in the late 1970s and 1980s, but it articulated a truncated version of that concept. In this way, it reinforced the failure of rights talk to address resurgent economic inequality.[17]
After the 1975 Helsinki summit, the Final Act powerfully shaped the course of events in Europe, but its effects were by no means straightforward. The book explicitly rejects the claim that the agreement caused the end of the Cold War (253). Instead, it makes two distinct but related arguments about its influence. First, the CSCE helped persuade some Communist leaders to relax some of the controls they had long placed on their citizens, and it empowered those who wanted even bolder reforms. Second, when the Cold War did come to an end in Europe, the Final Act provided the foundation for the continent’s post-Cold War peace settlement. Many of the central ideas of the order that coalesced after the fall of the Berlin Wall had been promulgated in the Finnish capital more than a decade earlier.
At the CSCE’s follow-up conference in Belgrade in 1977-1978, where Western governments demanded respect for the promises made in Helsinki, the USSR and its allies stonewalled. Meanwhile, they cracked down on the small but vocal number of their own citizens who invoked the Final Act in calling for domestic reforms. Even by this early date, however, the agreement had become so intertwined with the Communist governments’ claims to legitimacy that they could not easily repudiate it. As East-West tensions returned to levels unseen in decades, and the Soviets weathered intense criticism at the next follow-up meeting in Madrid, they and their allies refused to withdraw from the CSCE. In a few significant cases, including the East German decision in 1984 to approve tens of thousands of applications to emigrate, they felt compelled to honor the agreement they had signed, at least in part.
After Mikhail Gorbachev succeeded Konstantin Chernenko, the USSR became more receptive to the Western interpretation of the Final Act. Many factors shaped the new general secretary’s worldview and influenced his reform program, but several of his signature ideas—especially the Common European Home—echoed the CSCE’s central assumptions. As he grew bolder, he articulated a vision of international security that increasingly resembled that of the Final Act. Peace required a shared set of values spanning the continent, Gorbachev argued, and security involved humanitarian considerations in addition to military ones. He repudiated the Brezhnev Doctrine, proclaimed that universal human values superseded international class conflict, and freed hundreds of political prisoners. He told the Politburo that Basket III obliged the USSR to stop jamming Western radio broadcasts. When a CSCE follow-up meeting on human contacts failed to produce an agreement, he decided to relax travel restrictions unilaterally. Over the objections of the chief of the general staff, Gorbachev ordered the Red Army to comply with the CSCE’s Confidence-Building Measures (242-243). In June 1991, when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, he hailed the new partnership between the superpowers, the reunification of Germany, and the new era of European security. “The ideas of the Helsinki Final Act have begun to acquire new significance, [and] they are being transformed into real policies,” he said.[18]
Any number of contingencies could have produced a different outcome. The Final Act was, after all, just a piece of paper. Gorbachev could have ignored it. In that case, neither Western governments nor domestic critics could have easily enforced its provisions. Over time, however, the general secretary did adopt most of the Final Act’s key components. He did so because those components fit with his own ideas, because he judged it more expedient to comply with than to reject the internal and external demands for compliance, and—perhaps—because he was persuaded by the vision of European peace, security, and legitimacy that the agreement held forth.
What if the CSCE had never taken place? Gorbachev might well have implemented the same policies, and his tenure as general secretary might not have looked that different. In the event, however, the Final Act certainly reinforced his core convictions and gave him a valuable tool for pressing his case in the face of hardline opposition. One cannot say that the Final Act was the primary factor that caused the Soviet order in Europe to unravel. But it did shape both the speed and the manner of that unraveling—and not just through its provisions on human rights.
The Final Act also exerted an unmistakable influence on the peace that ensued. The closest thing that the Cold War had to a final peace treaty, the 1990 Paris Charter, drew directly on the provisions laid down in 1975. The idea for the CSCE’s Paris summit, its first such meeting since the one in Helsinki, came from Gorbachev, who hoped to negotiate a major agreement on the future of Europe and reassert control over the process of German reunification. He achieved the first goal, but not the second.
In the summer of 1990, diplomats from the CSCE’s participating states gathered to draft the Charter, which would set out the governing principles for the new era then dawning on the continent. The work went much more quickly than it had in the early 1970s. Whereas the original CSCE negotiations had witnessed fierce disputes on fundamental questions, the delegates now expressed “broad agreement about the basic underlying concepts,” the head of the American contingent, John Maresca, later recalled (251). The USSR and its allies had embraced the Western concepts of security, peace, and legitimacy, which the Final Act had articulated and the Paris Charter now recapitulated. The 1975 agreement furnished the blueprint for Europe’s post-Cold War order.
In assessing the Final Act’s long-term impact, Hunt asks how the CSCE compared with earlier episodes of order-building, and what it can tell us about “soft power and normative influences” in international politics. From our vantage point, the Peace of Utrecht and Congress of Vienna may seem like reactionary exercises in preserving an archaic system. What could the diplomats of 1713 or 1815 tell us about human rights, or the virtues of openness and transparency? In their own eras, however, these settlements broke as much ground as Helsinki. Utrecht established a new order on the concept of the balance of power. Vienna affirmed that the great powers had a collective responsibility to preserve postwar stability. Conceptual innovations of this kind have animated every great moment of order-building in Europe, from the sixteenth century to the end of the Cold War. But because the balance of power is never static, and because established ideas come under attack as new ones come to the fore, every peace settlement eventually becomes obsolete. Fresh crises demand fresh efforts—and fresh conceptual innovations—to preserve peace.
This cycle continues. As Cameron notes, Europe is witnessing a “backlash against some of the liberal principles embodied in the Final Act.” One could go further and say that the continent has tumbled into a new crisis of legitimacy, with interlocking geopolitical, economic, and social dangers. Similar dynamics are at play in other regions of the world, calling the future of the liberal international order into question.
Pundits routinely suggest that we face a stark choice. Either we preserve the liberal order, or we allow its enemies to destroy it. The history of the CSCE, however, points to a third option: renovation. During the crises of the late 1960s, governments in East and West sought new claims to legitimacy. The Final Act was among the most important fruits of their efforts. Instead of trying to shore up the status quo and reiterating the principles of the 1940s, it transcended them. The CSCE formulated new concepts of peace, security, and legitimacy that—together with the era’s other initiatives, including the acceleration of European integration and the turn towards free market economic principles—established the contours of the continent’s post-Cold War order.
With that order now in crisis, the solution is neither to cling ever more tightly to the status quo, nor to defend the principles of the 1970s at any cost. Instead, following the example of the CSCE, the time has come to craft new principles that will, once again, put international order on a solid footing before the crisis becomes a cataclysm.

Notes
[1] Daniel Thomas, The Helsinki Effect. International Norms, Human Rights, and Demise of Communism, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001); Sarah Snyder, Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational Story of the Helsinki Network (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011). 
[2] Richard Davy, “Helsinki Myths: Setting the Record Straight on the Final Act of the CSCE, 1975,” Cold War History 9:1 (2009): 1-22.
[3] Niall Ferguson, Charles S. Maier, Erez Manela, and Daniel S. Sargent, eds., The Shock of the Global. The 1970s in Perspective (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011).
[4] “STATE OF THE UNION; Transcript of President Bush’s Address on the State of the Union,” The New York Times, 29 January 1992, Section A, p. 16, https://www.nytimes.com/1992/01/29/us/state-union-transcript-president-bush-s-address-state-union.html.
[5] Christopher R.W. Dietrich, Oil Revolution: Anticolonial Elites, Sovereign Rights, and the Economic Culture of Decolonization (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017); Niall Ferguson, Charles S. Maier, Erez Manela, and Daniel J. Sargent, eds., The Shock of the Global: The 1970s in Perspective(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010); Barbara J. Keys, Reclaiming American Virtue: The Human Rights Revolution of the 1970s (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014);  Samuel Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010); Daniel J. Sargent, A Superpower Transformed: The Remaking of American Foreign Relations in the 1970s (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).
[6] Oliver Bange and Gottfried Niedhart, eds., Helsinki 1975 and the Transformation of Europe (New York: Berghahn, 2008); Sarah B. Snyder, Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Daniel C. Thomas, The Helsinki Effect: International Norms, Human Rights, and the Demise of Communism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001); Andreas Wenger, Vojtech Mastny, and Christian Nuenlist, eds., Origins of the European Security System: The Helsinki Process Revisited (New York: Routledge, 2008).
[7] Snyder, Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War; Thomas, The Helsinki Effect.
[8] Linda K. Kerber, “We are all historians of human rights,” 1 October 2006, Perspectives on History: The newsmagazine of the American Historical Associationhttps://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/october-2006/we-are-all-historians-of-human-rights.
[9] Henri Bergson, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (South Bend: Notre Dame University, 2002); Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (London: Routledge, 2011).
[10] This review was first published in slightly different form in The Slavonic and East European Review 97:3 (July 2019): 588-589. Dr. Magnúsdóttir and SEER kindly granted H-Diplo permission to re-publish it.
[11] See, for instance, Melvyn P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad, eds., The Cambridge History of the Cold War, 3 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Konrad H. Jarausch, Out of Ashes. A New History of Europe in the Twentieth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015).
[12] See, for example, Oliver Bange and Poul Villaume, eds., The Long Détente. Changing Concepts of Security and Cooperation in Europe, 1950s-1980s(Budapest and New York: Central European University Press, 2017); Stephan Kieninger, The Diplomacy of Détente. Cooperative Security Policies from Helmut Schmidt to George Shultz (London and New York: Routledge, 2018).
[13] Daniel C. Thomas, The Helsinki Effect. International Norms, Human Rights and the Demise of Communism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).
[14] For representative accounts along these lines, see Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy (New York: Touchstone, 1994) 757–760; Gordon A. Craig and Alexander L. George, Force and Statecraft: Diplomatic Problems of Our Time, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995) 172–176; Martin Walker, The Cold War: A History (New York: Henry Holt, 1995) 237; David Reynolds, One World Divisible: A Global History since 1945 (New York: W.W. Norton, 2000) 337; Akira Iriye, Global Community: The Role of International Organizations in the Making of the Contemporary World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002) 136; and William R. Keylor, The Twentieth-Century World and Beyond, 5th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006) 313–315.
[15] Daniel C. Thomas, The Helsinki Effect: International Norms, Human Rights, and the Demise of Communism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001); and Sarah B. Snyder, Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
[16] “Projekt tez Departamentu Studiów i Programowania do rozmów z ministrem spraw zagranicznych NRD w sprawie EKBiW (z załącznikami),” 16 March 1972, Polskie Dokumenty Dyplomatyczne, 1972 (Warsaw: Polski Instytut Spraw Międzynarodowych, 2005) doc. 52.
[17] See Samuel Moyn, Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018), chapter 5.

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