Follow-on conferences


The Helsinki Final Act called for a series of follow-on conferences to review progress in the implementation of the Final Act and to consider new provisions to strengthen security in Europe. The follow-on conferences took place in Belgrade in 1977, Madrid from 1980—83, and Vienna in 1986—89.

The conferences were predominately focused on confidence building measures (Basket I) and on human rights (Basket II). Western countries regularly criticized the human rights performance of Communist Bloc countries, which responded with accusations of interference in internal affairs.



The most significant accomplishments of the Vienna Review Conference were in the area of human rights. The 1975 Helsinki Act had focused primarily in its substantive provisions upon enhancing human contacts across cold war lines rather than on individual political rights.

At Vienna, the conference concluded that individual citizens have a right, “individually or in association with others,” to advocate for and openly promote the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Perhaps even more important in terms of its historical significance was a provision noting that citizens had a right to live where they chose within their own country and to freely leave and re-enter their own country, a right that had previously been denied to citizens of all communist bloc countries (except for Yugoslavia, formally a member of the neutral and nonaligned group within the CSCE).

Just eight months after the adoption of the Vienna Document in January 1989, the government of Hungary cited this principle when it opened its borders with Austria, allowing many (including East Germans) to cross freely to the West. The flood of emigration that followed was a major factor in the East German decision to open the Berlin Wall in November 1989. The Vienna Review Conference thus had profound historical implications that were barely recognized at the time.



In addition to the general review conferences, the Madrid follow-on conference mandated a special conference on Confidence and Security-Building Measures and Disarmament in Europe, which took place in Stockholm from 1984—86. The major focus was on strengthening the regime of military confidence-building measures contained in Basket I of the Helsinki Final Act. President Reagan and new Soviet leader Gorbachev’s influence in European security matters was reflected in these negotiations taking place under CSCE auspices.

The Stockholm follow-on conference broadened the scope of the CSBM provisions in the Helsinki Final Act including lower thresholds and a longer time frame for prior notification of certain military activities. Most importantly, for the first time in the history of modern arms control, mandatory inspections as a means of verification were agreed upon, extending as far eastward into Soviet territory as the Ural Mountains.