Final Act

Helsinki 1975

The result of the working phase of the conference is referred to as the Helsinki Final Act , which was signed by the heads of state of all 35 countries at a summit meeting in Helsinki on August 1, 1975. The Final Act is not a treaty, but a politically binding agreement that contained recommendations in each of the Baskets, preceded by the Decalogue.

The Decalogue

The Decalogue is a declaration of ten principles guiding relations between participating states.

  1. Sovereign equality, respect for the rights inherent in sovereignty
  2. Refraining from the threat or use of force
  3. Inviolability of frontiers
  4. Territorial integrity of states
  5. Peaceful settlement of disputes
  6. Non-intervention in internal affairs
  7. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief
  8. Equal rights and self-determination of peoples
  9. Cooperation among states
  10. Fulfillment in good faith of obligations under international law
Importance of the Decalogue
Signing of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Helsinki, Finland, August 1, 1975 (Federal Republic of Germany Archives)

Signing of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Helsinki, Finland, August 1, 1975 (Gerald Ford Presidential Library)

The ten principles of the Decalogue created the normative structure under which the CSCE and the OSCE have operated. Continuing elaboration of these principles created the normative core for an OSCE regional cooperative security regime.

A provision in the first principle allowed for the peaceful, negotiated change of borders.  This created the possibility for the peaceful unification of Germany, as well as the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union, and thus was particularly important in the creation of today’s Europe.

Other principles of the Decalogue emphasized the importance of using diplomatic means rather than the use of force to settle all disputes among participating states.

Benefits of Helsinki process

The Helsinki process offered the participating states an additional channel of communication, a normative code of conduct (for inter-state and intra-state relations) as well as a long-term vision of cooperation. It thus promoted both stabilization and peaceful change in Europe. As a result, during the Cold War the CSCE maintained the promise of qualitative changes in East-West relations at a time when most contacts were characterized by alternating phases of tension and often precarious détente.