In December 1976, at the conclusion of an 18-day study mission in Europe, five members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe reported that the “potential” of the 1975 Helsinki accords “for improving East-West relations over the long term is far more significant than their initial impact.”
Eight months of inquiry later-on the second anniversary of the signing of the Final Act-the Commission remains confident of the constructive “potential” of the 35-nation agreement. It finds, however, that much of the potential is yet to be realized.
The potential has been dramatized by the popular response in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to the Helsinki accord provisions on human rights, eased conditions for travel and family reunification and freer flow of information. The impact of the Final Act on private individuals — thanks to its immediate and widespread publication in the Warsaw Pact states — has been great. Its publication stimulated significant expectations of change in governmental conduct. Those expectations, however, have been dashed in some instances, realized only partially in many others.
Signatories have been obliged by a variety of political considerations to move cautiously, if at all, to tailor their foreign or domestic conduct to the specifications endorsed at the Helsinki summit of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Having “declare[d] their determination to act in accordance with the provisions contained” in the Final Act,2 the participating states have — with a few significant exceptions — generally continued to act with limited regard for the undertakings they gave one another on August 1, 1975.
The Final Act was meant to give an impulse toward a common code of European and North Atlantic diplomatic and civil conduct. Both an expression of and a political stimulus to the process of international detente, the Final Act is also, quite specifically, a framework for relaxation of East-West tensions and the promotion of more stable relations between different and differing social systems.
As a nonbinding declaration of intentions (not a treaty), however, it could do no more than define aspirations and outline the manner in which they were to be met. The record of its implementation is the test of its impact.
The record of the first 2 years has been more productive than the Commission expected, though far short of the high promises which the language of the Final Act holds forth. Signatory nations have treated the document seriously, though respect for some of its provisionsparticularly in the area of human rights — has not matched either the commitments given nor the hopes those pledges aroused. The Helsinki accord has not brought dramatic changes in East-West relations, but history may note it as more than a small step toward peace and a stability based on something more than mutual fear.
Two years is a relatively short time in which to alter the long standing practices of sovereign nations, either in regard to one another or to their citizenries.
In measuring the achievements of the Helsinki accord, Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance cautioned the Commission, “I do not think that one can take a look at it in this moment alone and say it has either been a success or a failure. I think what you have now is a mixture of things. We have some slight movement forward in certain areas; we have no movement in others; and we have retrogression in others. But I think that a process has been started. . . and that we must stay with that process and continue to press what we believe to be correct.”
The Commission concurs in stressing the value of a process which has made it possible for the officials and private citizens of the 35 signatories to engage one another in discussions and exchanges made legitimate and significant by the Final Act. At the international level, the conference of the participating states in Belgrade this year creates the first opportunity to evaluate jointly the progress that has and has not been made and to impart fresh momentum to the process which the Final Act set in motion.
The conferees at Belgrade, however, have little reason for self-congratulation. As they review the record of implementation. they must conclude-as this Commission does-that the distance to be covered toward the Final Act’s goal of “peace, security and justice and the continuing development of friendly relations and cooperation” is far greater than the very limited advances already achieved.
No participant in the Belgrade meeting can convincingly claim for his nation a perfect record of compliance with all Final Act principles and provisions. All too often the intentions the signatories expressed have been ignored in practice. On occasion-and, in some instances, systematically-the letter and spirit of the Helsinki accord have been violated.
The burden of responsibility for failures of omission and commission in human rights and humanitarian matters does fall more heavily on the countries of the Warsaw Pact than on the other 28 si-natories, either individually or in various groupings. It must be recognized that the Final Act, by the nature of its provisions, calls for more action by the Soviet Union and its East European allies to alter existing practices than it requires of the Western signatories. It would be a mistake, however, to consider all Warsaw Pact states as having entirely common policies in this regard. There is a degree of East European govern- ment concern over human rights to which Western observers are sometimes insensitive.
A relatively open society has little difficulty honoring commitments such as those of the Final Act signatories — to ease travel, contact, and flow of information across frontiers. The adjustment — though it has not yet been fully made in the visa-issuing practices of France, Great Britain, and the United States, for instance — need not be politically wrenching.
Rapid, full compliance would, however, be unsettling to the traditions and attitudes of the Communist nations. Yet even where gestures of compliance have been made, they have been dilatory and largely cosmetic.
Progress, in summary, has been inadequate. Measured against either the hopes voiced at the Helsinki summit or the need for smoother and more stable relations among the signatories, the implementation of the Final Act has fallen short.