The Final Act: The Helsinki Accords and the Transformation of the Cold War

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The Final Act: The Helsinki Accords and the Transformation of the Cold War
By Michael Cotey Morgan
Princeton University Press, 2018
424 pp.

In 1975, the Helsinki Final Act—an accord among the United States, the Soviet Union, and virtually every European country—formalized the era’s East-West détente. This book represents perhaps the most richly documented account of the negotiations, which are best remembered for enshrining a strongly Western conception of human rights but also sketched out a far broader code of conduct for East-West relations, including the mutual recognition of stable borders. Most of the participants hoped the agreement would stabilize and legitimate the status quo and thus tone down the Cold War, although a few Western countries hoped the document might ultimately help bring down the Soviet bloc. Morgan endorses the widespread belief that the agreement was decisive in ending the Cold War. This is odd, because his own evidence belies such a claim. The accord was nonbinding, and efforts by Western diplomats to promote human rights soon collapsed into diplomatic acrimony. In the early 1980s, the Soviets and their henchmen handily crushed opposition groups in Eastern Europe. Only the atrophy of the Soviet system and the eventual entry into office of Mikhail Gorbachev—neither caused by the Helsinki agreement—eventually put an end to the Cold War.

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