In This Review

The Helsinki Effect: International Norms, Human Rights, and the Demise of Communism
The Helsinki Effect: International Norms, Human Rights, and the Demise of Communism
By Daniel C. Thomas
Princeton University Press, 2001, 312 pp
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This engaging book argues that human rights norms mattered more than geopolitical power or economics in ending the Cold War. Conventional views stress the Soviets' inability to keep up with American military might and reverse economic decline. In contrast, Thomas contends that communism's weakness resulted from the opposition activity triggered by the Soviet signing of the Helsinki Final Act in 1975. Although the European Community was a prime mover in putting human rights on the East-West agenda (through the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe), the Soviet ratification of the Helsinki accord was instrumental. Contrary to American neoconservatives who charged that the Helsinki accord was an empty bargain, Thomas argues the Soviets were in fact trapped by it -- because they desperately needed it to bolster their international legitimacy. Relations with the West were subtly transformed and a platform was created for social groups to mobilize in both the East and the West and commit their nations to implementing the Helsinki principles. The author's historical analysis nicely illuminates the catalytic role of these norms in undermining communist rule.