The Living Legacy of Helsinki

VIENNA – Forty years ago, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe concluded with the signing of the Helsinki Final Act, a historic triumph of cooperation over conflict that set the stage for the end of the Cold War. The accord represented a revolutionary approach to comprehensive security, as well as to bilateral and multilateral relations. Its signatories recognized a direct link between political and military issues and human rights concerns – and that this link is a fundamental component of peace and security.

That is why, when Serbia was entrusted to lead the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which grew from the Helsinki conference, this year, we were looking forward to celebrating the accord’s many achievements on its 40th anniversary. But, with the resurgence of armed conflict in Europe challenging the Helsinki Final Act’s fundamental principles, this anniversary has taken on new meaning.

The crisis in Ukraine has, in fact, underscored the Final Act’s enduring relevance. Indeed, the only way to reconsolidate European security is to reach a durable settlement based on its principles; indeed, had those principles been respected, the current crisis in Ukraine would not have occurred in the first place.

It is now apparent that the roots of that crisis are far deeper than anyone initially realized. Well before the turmoil in Ukraine erupted, the East-West divide, which our predecessors worked hard to close in Helsinki, had begun to reemerge. A growing sense of mistrust and hostility, together with a diminishing commitment to the OSCE’s brand of comprehensive security, was hindering cooperation in various areas. Constructive engagement on security issues had been difficult for some time, reflected in a lack of progress on arms control and other key areas of the OSCE agenda.