U.S. President Gerald R. Ford addresses the assembly during the summit stage of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, August 1, 1975. Courtesy of the Miller Center, University of Virginia. Embedded with permission.
When U.S. President Gerald R. Ford came into office in August 1974, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) negotiations, which involved most European nations, as well as the U.S. and Canada, had been underway for nearly two years, and would continue through July 1975. Although the USSR was looking for a rapid resolution, none of the parties were quick to make concessions, particularly on human rights points. Throughout much of the negotiations, U.S. leaders were disengaged and disinterested with the process. In an August 1974 conversation between President Ford and his National Security Advisory and Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger, Dr. Kissinger comments on the CSCE that “we never wanted it but we went along with the Europeans … [i]t is meaningless — it is just a grandstand play to the left. We are going along with it” (p. 5 of document below).”
- National Security Advisor. Memoranda of Conversations. Box 5. “August 15, 1974”. View
In the months leading up to the conclusion of negotiations and signing the concluding document of the CSCE, the Helsinki Final Act, the American public, in particular Americans of Eastern European descent voiced their concerns that the agreement would mean the acceptance of Soviet domination over Eastern Europe and incorporation of the Baltic states into the USSR. President Ford was concerned about this as well and sought clarification on this issue from the National Security Council.
- President’s Inquiry on CSCE / Baltic States (Case File), 3/25/1975-4/1/1975. View
The U.S. Senate was also worried about the fate of the Baltic States and the CSCE in general. Several Senators wrote to President Ford requesting that the final summit stage be delayed until all matters had been settled, and in a way favorable to the West. Shortly before the summit was to begin, a resolution was proposed stating that before any agreement is signed in Helsinki, the U.S. Congress shall approve it. Unlike treaties, which must be ratified by the Senate, the Helsinki Final Act was a non-binding international agreement. After the Final Act was signed, another resolution was proposed in the U.S. Senate stating the Helsinki Final Act did not change the U.S. policy of non-recognition of the incorporation of the Baltic States.
- Request by Senators for a Delay of the Final Stage of Helsinki Final Act (Case File), 6/27/1975-6/30/1975. View
- Senator James L. Buckley’s Letter to President Ford Regarding CSCE (Case File), 7/16/1975-7/21/1975. View
- S.J. Res. 109, “European Security Conference Resolution” (Case File), 7/17/1975-8/27/1975. View
- Representative Charles E. Bennett’s Letter to President Ford, Re: CSCE (Case File), 7/31/1975-10/1/1975. View
- S. Res. 319, Helsinki Final Act and Incorporation of the Baltic States Into the USSR (Case File), 12/9/1975-1/12/1976. View
Shortly before President Ford departed for Helsinki, he held a meeting with a group of Americans of Eastern European background, and stated definitively that U.S. policy on the Baltic States would not change, but would be strengthened since the agreement denies the annexation of territory in violation of international law and allows for the peaceful change of borders.
According to Ford, “The Helsinki documents involve political and moral commitments aimed at lessening tension and opening further the lines of communication between peoples of East and West” (p. 6a) … “We are not committing ourselves to anything beyond what we are already committed to by our own moral and legal standards and by more formal treaty agreements such as the United Nations Charter and Declaration of Human Rights” (p. 15) … “If it all fails, Europe will be no worse off than it is now. If even a part of it succeeds, the lot the people in Eastern Europe will be that much better, and the cause of freedom will advance at least that far” (p. 22, Presidential Remarks, Meeting with Americans of Eastern European Background, included in Memorandum of Conversation below). The speech, however, did not have much effect. The volume of mail against the Helsinki agreement continued to grow.
Despite his meetings with the ethnic leaders, and public statements, the American public was still unconvinced that U.S. policy on the incorporation of the Baltic States would not be changed by the Helsinki Final Act. Even in April 1976, ethnic groups were writing to the President against the Helsinki Final Act. The Washington Post, which in an earlier editorial urged “Jerry, Don’t Go” [to Helsinki], did have a change of heart on the Helsinki agreement, but was still skeptical of Soviet implementation.
- National Security Advisor. Memoranda of Conversations. Box 14. “July 25, 1974”. View
- President Ford’s Meeting with Ethnic Leaders of Eastern European Descent Memorandum for Henry Kissinger from A. Denis Clift, Re: Replies to Correspondence Critical of CSCE, 7/31/1975. View
- Jonas Talandis’ (National Lithuanian-American Republican Federation) Letter to President Ford Regarding CSCE (Case File), 8/7/1975-9/29/1975. View
- Memorandum from Robert Goldwin to Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Cheney, James Connor, Ronald Nessen, and Robert Hartmann, [Re: Media’s Response to the Helsinki Final Act], 9/4/1975. View
- Reinhold Smyczek’s (Polish-American Congress: New Jersey Division) Letter to President Ford, Re: CSCE (Case File), 4/8/1976-4/27/1976. View
Despite protests and from all around, Ford still decided to move forward and sign the agreement.
- President Ford’s Visit to Helsinki, July 29 – August 2, 1975, CSCE Briefing Book, 7/1975. View
- View video of remarks (at top of this page), or read the published text of the speech. View
Soon after the return from Helsinki, A. Denis Clift of the National Security Council urges Secretary Kissinger to support the creation of a quarterly report by the NSC Under Secretaries Committee on Helsinki Final Act compliance. Clift believed that the administration needed to be prepared for criticism from American Eastern European ethnic groups and media if the signatories are not in compliance. Kissinger and President Ford agreed and an order was issued to the committee.
- Memorandum for Henry Kissinger from A. Denis Clift, Subject: Monitoring Implementation of the CSCE Final Act, 8/27/1975. View
- Memorandum for the Chairman, NSC Under Secretaries Committee from Henry Kissinger, Subject: Implementation of the CSCE Final Act, 10/3/1975. View
By November 1975, the Soviet Union is accusing the U.S. of violating the Helsinki Final Act for the intervention in the internal affairs of Italy and Portugal.
- Soviet Propaganda on U.S. Violations of the CSCE Final Act (Case File), 12/2/1975-12/16/1975. View
In December 1975, the first quarterly report was drafted, and the following month it was submitted to the President. It noted the following progress: publication of the Helsinki Final Act in Communist country newspapers, notification of military maneuvers by the U.S., NATO nations, Switzerland, Yugoslavia, issuance of multiple entry/exit visits for resident journalists, and several instances of family reunification. The report indicated uncertainty as to how responsive / able Communists governments will be to implement changes, particularly in related to human rights.
- Implementation of the CSCE Final Act, First Quarterly Report (Case File), 1/22/1975-1/29/1975. View
- First Quarterly Report on the Implementation of the CSCE Final Act (Case File), 12/22/1975. Part I: View Part II: View Part III: View
The second quarterly report on Helsinki implementation, covering the period November 1975 through January 1976, is completed in March 1976. The report indicates that the USSR: provided advance notice for a military maneuver with foreign observers in attendance, relaxed travel restrictions for foreign journalists, made improvements in the visa application process, and gave permission to allow some circulation Western newspapers. Overall, though, human rights continued to be abused. The report also considers whether restrictions on U.S. visas for Communists Party officials and increasing fees for visas, and the lack of cultural exchange increases by the U.S. will be seen as not adhering to the principles of the agreement.
- Second Quarterly Report on the Implementation of the CSCE Final Act (Case File), 3/22/1976. View
The third quarterly report on Helsinki implementation, covering the period February to April 1976, is submitted to the President in August 1976. It observes that no new initiatives were taken up, but there was an increase in immigration from the Soviet Union and Poland, mostly consisting of Jews and Germans. The USSR continued to make notifications pursuant to the confidence-building measures (CBMs).
- Third Quarterly Report on the Implementation of the CSCE Final Act (Case File)], 7/14/1976. View
- Implementation of the CSCE Final Act, Third Quarterly Report (Case File), 8/28/1976. View
- Press guidance is issued on the first anniversary. The bottom line: “The net results thus far have not been positive.” CSCE Anniversary [Press Guidance for Q&As], 8/2/1976. View
The fourth quarterly report, covering the period of May to July 1976, is completed in September 1976. The report states that no progress was made during this period, but the Communists looked to the anniversary as an opportunity to engage in a campaign to claim it as a victory for the Communists. The State Department speculated that upcoming changes would likely be seen as the June 1977 Belgrade CSCE review conference approached, when it will be most effective to calm critics. The USSR sharply protested the creation of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on the grounds that it will overemphasized human rights dimension of the Helsinki Final Act, and would involve itself in Soviet Union internal affairs, which was not in keeping with the Final Act’s spirit. Immigration for family reunification continued, as did notifications under the CBMs.
- Fourth Quarterly Report on the Implementation of the CSCE Final Act (Case File), 9/23/1976. View