Old east-west divisions endure since 1975 accords
OSCE SUMMIT:Tomorrow Ireland hosts the 19th ministerial council meeting of the OSCE, a body set up to be a bridge across the divided world during the cold war
One could argue that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, whose most important annual summit starts in Dublin tomorrow, is in urgent need of a new name.
A cursory glance at the 57-nation group reveals that it does much more than promote security in the traditional sense, is not always a model of international co-operation, and stretches far beyond Europe to encompass the US, Canada, the former Soviet Union and now Mongolia.
The OSCE was created as a bridge across the great geopolitical rift that divided the world – and, most starkly, Europe – during the cold war, inspired by the belief that nations are less likely to lob nuclear warheads at each other if they regularly meet around a table to discuss their differences.
Détente between Washington and Moscow in the early 1970s was conducive to the creation of a security body spanning the hostile eastern and western blocs, and talks in Helsinki in November 1972 laid the foundations for meetings that culminated, in summer 1975, in 35 states signing the so-called Helsinki Accords.
The signing summit now looks like a who’s who of cold war leaders: Leonid Brezhnev came from the Kremlin, Gerald Ford from the White House, Helmut Schmidt and Erich Honecker represented the two Germanys, Pierre Trudeau came from Canada, and Nicolae Ceausescu arrived from Romania and Josip Broz Tito from Yugoslavia.
Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave signed Ireland up to what until 1995 was known as the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE).
Presaging countless disagreements, its creation was celebrated for very different reasons in east and west.
Across the Soviet bloc, the Helsinki Accords were depicted as a personal triumph for Brezhnev, because they committed signatory states to respect the post-1945 borders of Europe and – by extension – Kremlin domination of the continent’s eastern nations.
Brezhnev himself called the agreement “a necessary summing up of the political outcome of the second World War”.
The US, Canada and western Europe focused on how the accords enshrined respect for self-determination and human rights, including the freedom of speech and belief that were clearly at a premium across the communist bloc; in theory, signatory states could no longer deflect criticism of how they treated their citizens by insisting that it was a strictly internal affair.
Speaking in Helsinki, the west German chancellor also made it clear that he hoped that at least one European border – that dividing the two Germanys – would sooner or later be eradicated.
“Frontiers are inviolable, but one must be able to change them by peaceful means and agreement,” Schmidt said.
“It remains our aim to work for a state of peace in Europe in which the German nation will regain its unity through free self-determination.”
The CSCE provided a unique forum for east-west dialogue during the cold war and helped reduce tension by fostering co-operation in a range of areas, including between militaries which began notifying each other of exercises, inviting observers to watch manoeuvres and swapping information on budgets and deployment of troops and weapons systems.