Europe’s Largest Peace Conference—What Did It Mean?
HUNDREDS of millions of people are barely aware that it took place. Of those who heard of it, few understand what it was about or what it all means.
Yet, from July 30 to August 1, in Helsinki, Finland, there took place the largest gathering of heads of government in European history.
Presidents, prime ministers and other top leaders were there from thirty-three European countries and from Canada and the United States. Tiny “vest-pocket” states like Monaco, Liechtenstein and San Marino (total population about 20,000) were gathered with the world’s superpowers, enjoying equal voice. Even the Vatican had its delegate there, representing it as one of Europe’s independent, sovereign states (accorded this status in 1929 during dictator Mussolini’s regime). From all Europe only Red China–oriented Albania was absent.
“This is a day of joy and hope for Europe,” exclaimed Finland’s President Urho Kekkonen in addressing what he called an “unprecedented” gathering. “We have all the reason to believe that . . . through the process of détente we are advancing in the direction of stable and enduring peace.”
United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim declared: “This conference will be historically noteworthy, not for Europe alone, but also for the whole of mankind.”
And, in the religious services of Finland’s Lutheran state church, a prayer was offered on the preceding Sunday, saying in part: “You God of peace and hope, we thank You for Your guidance in that You have allowed the nations of our continent to turn to the way of peace and conciliation. . . . Safeguard the nations of Europe and of the whole world against new wars and acts of violence.”
What brought about this “Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe”? After so many thousands of years of European wars, culminating in two conflicts that went on to engulf the whole world, would this unusual meeting now produce a “continent of peace,” as so many of the speakers expressed the hope? What, really, was accomplished?
Thirty Years of Unfinished Business
World War II ended thirty years ago on September 2, 1945. But did you know that a general peace treaty has never been signed between the major participants in that war? Did you know that this is why neither Eastern Germany nor Western Germany has yet been able to join the United Nations?
Yes, the end of World War II left many things unresolved. As historian Theodore Ropp says: “An uneasy peace, more like a cease-fire, returned to a war-weary world.”
Much of this uneasiness involved the Soviet Union’s new borders. Early in the war, the Soviet Union had annexed Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Later it took over portions of Romania, Finland, East Prussia, Czechoslovakia and almost half of Poland. And the war’s end found Communist troops occupying six eastern European countries: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and the eastern half of Germany. Within a short time all of these were converted into Communist nations as “satellites” of the Soviet Union.
But the Soviet’s new boundaries were not officially recognized by the Western nations. So, since 1954 the Soviet Union has been pushing for a European security conference that would ratify its borders, formally acknowledging Soviet dominance over eastern Europe. The declaration that was to be produced by this conference would, in effect, be viewed as a substitute for a German peace treaty, still unsigned after thirty years.
Greater stability was part of the Soviet aim in advocating the conference. Several East European areas—Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia—had been scenes of attempted uprisings against Communist rule in the 1950’s and 1960’s. With the Soviet’s political sphere of control acknowledged in all Europe, things would hopefully remain quiet.
Another probable motivation was the Soviet Union’s concern over the rising power of Red China. Surprisingly, the enmity between these two great powers of the world of Communist “comrades” is often more intense than the enmity that either of them shows toward the “capitalist” nations, including the United States. The Chinese-Soviet frontier is continually manned by thousands of troops on both sides. The Soviet Union could face its giant Asian opponent with far greater confidence if it could feel measurably secure about its frontiers back in the West. The European security conference was expected to make this possible.
Why, then, should the western European nations and the United States and Canada join in on such a Soviet-inspired meeting? The answer: Détente—that French word meaning “an easing of strained relations,” especially in a political situation. The Western powers, although basically the wealthiest in the world, nevertheless must now cope with serious problems. If improved relations with the Soviet Union ‘would somehow ease the crushing financial burden that the present arms race and the maintenance of large foreign-based military forces now require, these nations would feel that it was worth it. None of them want to see the world again walking a political tightrope, precariously balanced between peace and the threat of a nuclear war, as was the case during the “cold war” period that followed World War II.
Besides this, as a price for their participation in the conference, the Western nations pressured the Soviet Union to include in the new East-West declaration various principles that would supposedly lead to greater freedom in several vital areas of life.
What, then, did the “unprecedented” gathering actually produce?
Peace and Security in Four “Baskets” of Agreements
The Declaration, called the “Final Act,” was signed in Helsinki on August 1, 1975, by the thirty-five participating nations. Its introduction declared that all the participating nations recognized “the close link between peace and security in Europe and in the world.” Also, that they were conscious of the need for each to make “its contribution to the strengthening of world peace and security and to the promotion of fundamental rights, economic and social progress and well-being for all peoples.” They pledged to support the United Nations in achieving this goal.
The rest of the Declaration was divided into four categories, called “baskets.”
The first renounced the use of force for settling disputes. It declared the inviolability of existing frontiers and promised advance notice of major military maneuvers.
The second called for expanded cooperation in industrial, scientific and environmental problems, and for expanded tourism.
The third expressed the promise of freer exchange of people, publications and information between all participating countries.
The fourth called for follow-up action to put the provisions of the Declaration to work, with future meetings to review this.
Two of the “baskets” had some remarkable provisions. “Basket” one, for example, said:
“The participating states will respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.
“Within this framework the participating states will recognize and respect the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience.”
“Basket” three represents the thirty-five nations as saying:
“They confirm that religious faiths, institutions and organizations, practicing within the constitutional framework of the participating states, and their representatives can, in the field of their activities, have contacts and meetings among themselves and exchange information.”
Does this mean that genuine freedom of worship will now be allowed throughout the realm of European Communism? Will individuals be allowed to meet freely without fear of retaliatory actions? Could even a minority like Jehovah’s witnesses do that in Russia? On their face, the provisions would indicate that. But how much force do these declarations and all the others actually have?
How Firm a Foundation for Peace and Security?
In speaking to the assembly body, U.S. President Ford warned: “The people of all Europe and, I assure you, the people of North America are thoroughly tired of having their hopes raised and then shattered by empty words and unfulfilled pledges. We had better say what we mean and mean what we say, or we will have the anger of our citizens to answer.” He added that every nation signing “should know that if these are to be more than the latest chapter in a long and sorry volume of unfulfilled declarations, every party must be dedicated to make them come true.”
Yet even before leaving the United States to attend the conference, the president stated: “I would emphasize that the document I will sign is neither a treaty nor is it legally binding on any participating state.” The so-called “Final Act” is thus merely a declaration of intent. There are no provisions for enforcing its terms or penalizing those violating them. At best, it can have no more strength than the Declaration of Human Rights produced long ago by the United Nations, which declaration many nations, including the Soviet Union, signed and then proceeded to ignore.
The Swiss delegate referred to the document as ‘broth from 35 cooks.’ Of its 30,000 words, many expressions are vague and ambiguous, often deliberately so. When a reporter told a delegate who had shared in the document’s wording that he could not understand a certain long sentence, the delegate replied: “You are not supposed to understand it. Neither do we, and, what’s more, we meant it that way.” Ambiguity was often the only way to agreement.
Many leaders stressed that the conference was just one more step, perhaps a modest one, toward an ultimate goal. Soviet leader Brezhnev stressed that ultimate goal in saying of the conference results: “There are neither victors nor vanquished . . . It is a gain for all who cherish peace and security on our planet.”
“Peace and security”—those words were spoken very often at this gathering. And why? For one reason, it is because rule of the earth by human political governments has never brought true peace and security to the people. U.N. Secretary-General Waldheim, in fact, pointed out that the very nations participating in the conference were responsible for 80 percent of the entire world’s military spending.
But the greatest significance of this conference is that it is one more evidence of the truthfulness of Jehovah God’s prophetic Word, the Bible. Nineteen hundred years ago God inspired the apostle Paul to write that the day would come when the nations would, not only talk of their dire need for “peace and security,” but reach the point where they could claim that they had attained it for all the earth. When that day does arrive, what then? The Bible’s prophecy says:
“Whenever it is that they are saying: ‘Peace and security!’ then sudden destruction is to be instantly upon them just as the pang of distress upon a pregnant woman; and they will by no means escape.”—1 Thess. 5:3.
That destruction will not result from an all-out nuclear conflict. It will result from God’s own war, a war fought on behalf of his own sovereignty over this planet, which is his own creation, and on behalf of all peace-loving persons who want to live under the righteous rule of his Son’s kingdom. Learn now why that kingdom is the government meriting your full trust as the one means to attain true peace and security—not for a few years—but everlastingly.
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THE SOVIET UNION’S CHANGED FRONTIERS IN EUROPE
RUSSIA BEFORE WORLD WAR II
EAST EUROPEAN NATIONS THAT HAVE COME UNDER RUSSIAN DOMINATION
Since 1954 the Soviet Union has sought recognition of its post-World War II frontiers. The European summit granted this.
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FOUR “BASKETS” FULL OF AGREEMENTS
Peaceful settling of disputes. Frontiers inviolable. Freedom of thought, religion.
Industrial, scientific and environmental cooperation. Expanded tourism.
Freer exchange of people, publications and information, including that by religions.
Follow-up action to implement provisions. Future meetings for review of fulfillment.