The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Origins

Following World War II, Europe was divided between the Soviet-led bloc of communist regimes installed in countries it had occupied at the end of the war, grouped together as military allies in the Warsaw Pact; the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) seeking to contain the spread of communism; and several neutral states.

Since the 1950s, the Soviet Union had advocated holding an all-European conference to put a political end to World War II by resolving the "German question," with the goal of ratifying the postwar status quo established in Eastern Europe.

The United States and most of its NATO allies were opposed to a conference with such an agenda. The U.S. countered with a proposal for holding a conference between NATO and the Warsaw Pact states dealing with "hard" arms control in Europe, especially reductions of conventional military forces.

The way to Helsinki

In 1969, neutral Finland offered to host a conference on European security.  NATO responded to the Finnish proposal by suggesting that the agenda of a European security conference should also include prior notification of military maneuvers and freer movement of people and ideas across the Cold War divide.

American objections to a mostly political conference on European security were lessened when the Soviet Union agreed to link the opening of the Helsinki Conference with the start of a separate NATO/Warsaw Pact negotiation on "hard" arms control--Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions (MBFR) in Europe.