Cottey on Badalassi and Snyder, 'The CSCE and the End of the Cold War: Diplomacy, Societies and Human Rights, 1972-1990'

Nicolas Badalassi, Sarah B. Snyder, eds.
Andrew Cottey

Nicolas Badalassi, Sarah B. Snyder, eds. The CSCE and the End of the Cold War: Diplomacy, Societies and Human Rights, 1972-1990. New York: Berghahn Books, 2019. 380 pp. $130.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-78920-026-3.

Reviewed by Andrew Cottey (University College Cork) Published on H-Diplo (June, 2019) Commissioned by Seth Offenbach (Bronx Community College, The City University of New York)

Printable Version:

The CSCE and the End of the Cold War brings together chapters from Western European, Eastern European, and North American historians assessing the human dimension (as human rights and related issues were referred to) of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE, now the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE). The book as a whole and most of the contributions are animated by the view that the CSCE played a significant role in putting human rights on the East-West agenda and in providing a context in which dissidents in the Soviet bloc could mobilize around human rights issues and that this, in turn, was important to the ending of the Cold War.

The book is organized around a number of themes. One is the role of the diplomats involved in the CSCE negotiations, as opposed to their political masters, in shaping countries’ CSCE policies and advocating for the human dimension to the CSCE. In their chapter, Martin D. Brown and Angela Romano argue that British and French diplomats advocated for the human dimension of the CSCE and helped to find compromises that would allow the Soviet side to live with this. Stephan Kieninger examines the role of long-standing US diplomat Max Kampelman in shaping US policy, arguing that Kampelman “made a great effort to educate the Reagan administration about the virtues of the Helsinki process” and that Kampelman and Secretary of State George Shultz were important in shaping a policy of constructive engagement with, as opposed to outright rejection of, the human dimension of the CSCE (p. 108).

A second theme is the role of transnational human rights groups or networks in the CSCE context. Elisabetta Vezzosi provides a detailed study of the Committee of Concerned Scientists—a US group that sought to facilitate US-Soviet scientific exchange and to support Soviet scientists facing political persecution or constraints on their scientific research—concluding that the committee was important in making human rights an issue of ongoing concern for the American scientific community. Christian P. Peterson examines the role of peace and human rights groups in both Western and Eastern Europe, arguing that over time these formed a transnational network that was ultimately able “to unite activists on both sides of the Iron Curtain in the common project of building a détente from below” (p. 167). Jacek Czaputowicz examines the importance of the CSCE and interaction with Western peace movements for opposition movements in Eastern Europe, arguing that these provided a context of which opposition groups could articulate a variety of demands, including the withdrawal of foreign troops (in Eastern Europe, obviously, Soviet), which were important in pushing forward the events that ultimately led to the end of the Cold War. Carl J. Bon Tempo’s contribution reverses the lens, examining the impact of the CSCE on human rights groups in the United States, in particular immigration rights groups and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), concluding that for these groups the Helsinki Final Act and the CSCE were “an additional argument, another tool, a secondary concern,” but never “the centrepiece of their efforts” (p. 239). Bon Tempo also notes that the CSCE “never gained traction in American domestic politics in any powerful way” (p. 240)—a pattern that can also be observed in the other Western CSCE/OSCE states.

An additional theme is the role of particular states in the CSCE. Maximilian Graf examines Austria, arguing that it (like the other Western European neutral states) was a long-standing supporter of the CSCE and that at various points it played an important role in maintaining the CSCE, both by advocating for the framework per se and by seeking out the middle ground between the Soviet Union and the West that might allow the CSCE show to remain on the road. Matthias Peter’s chapter, titled “Saving Détente,” makes a similar argument with regard to West Germany in the 1980s; Peter also points to the importance of individual leaders, in this case Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who was the West German foreign minister from 1974 to 1992 and a key advocate of the CSCE. Hamit Kaba provides a useful study of Albania—the only European country that chose to stay out of the CSCE process (only joining it in 1991). Kaba argues that while Chinese influence is sometimes cited (including by the Albanian regime) as the reason for Albania’s boycott of the CSCE, the real reason was Albania’s very particular brand of communist ideology and its related, and to a significant degree self-imposed, geopolitical isolation within Europe.

The various chapters in this book provide useful additional insight on the CSCE and especially the human dimension of the process, including some issues that have not really been significantly studied to date and new data from archives on a number of issues. While the chapters address the human dimension of the CSCE from a variety of perspectives, the book suffers from the eclecticism one finds in many edited volumes.

If there is a central debate in this book, it is really about the significance of the CSCE, and especially its human dimension, for the end of the Cold War. A number of the authors (including Nicolas Badalassi in the book’s conclusion) cite Daniel Thomas’s 2001 book The Helsinki Effect: International Norms, Human Rights, and the Demise of Communism, which argues that the CSCE helped to create an environment in which opposition groups could mobilize in Eastern Europe, the legitimacy of one-party communist regimes was undermined, and a (very largely) peaceful transition to democracy was possible in 1989, thereby contributing greatly to the end of the Cold War. In his contribution to this volume, Douglas Selvage, examining how Soviet bloc security services responded to the human dimension (largely by seeking to upgrade their repression), concludes that “the ‘Helsinki Effect,’ even though it contributed to the collapse of communism, was not decisive. Long-term factors ... were more important,” in particular the Soviet Union’s economic problems and the difficulty of maintaining military parity with the West (p. 220). In contrast, Oliver Bange, in a chapter examining tensions between East Germany and the Soviet Union in the CSCE context, argues that the CSCE and the related Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) arms control agreement provided the context in which the Soviet leadership was willing to accept the fall of the Eastern European communist regimes and the reunification of Germany: “without the security framework that came out of the CSCE-CFE negotiations, Germany’s reunification and Europe’s reordering would not have taken place, or certainly not in the way and at the pace they did” (p. 321). Ultimately, it is worth remembering that the central decision was that of the Soviet leadership to end the policy of upholding the Eastern European communist regimes by military means: had Soviet leaders continued that policy (as they had in 1956 and 1968 and, in a different way, their Chinese counterparts did in Tiananmen Square in 1989), we might still be living in a Cold War world. Bange’s chapter suggests that the CSCE was important, maybe even central, to this shift, although his analysis relies mainly on the East German (as opposed to Soviet) archives. Like many historical debates, the reasons for the end of the Cold War are likely to remain contested. More work arguably still needs to be done to understand the dynamics behind Soviet policy toward Eastern Europe during this period and especially the key decision (if decision it was in any meaningful sense) to abandon the policy of upholding communism in Eastern Europe by force—including the role of the CSCE factor in this.

An additional interesting theme that runs through the book is the changing character of diplomacy. In his chapter on the French approach to the CSCE, Badalassi argues that the CSCE represented a shift from a model of great power state-centric diplomacy to one involving all European states and incorporating the views and interests of populations as well as states. French diplomats, according to Badalassi, “considered the CSCE as the complete opposite of the Congress of Vienna: the Final Act took into consideration the interests of the states in line with those of the populations, and this being on a long-term basis” (p. 89). Other chapters in the book also emphasize the revolutionary nature of the CSCE’s incorporation of human rights into the core agenda of East-West relations. In his contribution to the book, however, Andrei Zagorski notes that, while the CSCE helped to put human rights on the agenda and provided a context in which Eastern European dissident groups could mobilize around human rights issues, the CSCE “failed to provide NGOs with any direct access to the evolving human dimension tools,” and action, if any, on human rights remained in the hands of the participating states (p. 34). With its combination of a comprehensive approach to security, including human rights as well as many other issues, and very largely state-centric consensus-based decision-making, the CSCE was—and the OSCE remains—both a radical and a very traditional international institution. 

Citation: Andrew Cottey. Review of Badalassi, Nicolas; Snyder, Sarah B., eds., The CSCE and the End of the Cold War: Diplomacy, Societies and Human Rights, 1972-1990. H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews. June, 2019. URL:

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