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“Jerry, Don't Go”: Domestic Opposition to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act

  • SARAH B. SNYDER (a1)
Abstract

Though now seen as a key turning point in the Cold War, the 1975 Helsinki Final Act provoked considerable opposition in the United States. The principal line of criticism was that the United States had given away too much in the negotiations and had required little of the Soviets. The Helsinki Final Act initially was unpopular domestically with Eastern European ethnic groups as well as members of Congress due to concerns about its implications for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and the Soviet presence in Eastern Europe. At the root of many of these complaints was a larger critique of United States President Gerald Ford's policy of détente with the Soviet Union. Understanding the sources of opposition to the Helsinki Final Act in the United States illuminates the potential conflict between foreign policy formulation and domestic politics, and it reflects the Ford administration's inability to explain his support for the agreement to the American public. Furthermore, the controversy engendered by the Helsinki Final Act illustrates how contentious Cold War politics remained even in an era of supposed détente with the Soviet Union and demonstrates the extent to which the pact's long-term benefits were unforeseen by participants at the time. The Ford administration was never able to counter condemnation of the Helsinki Final Act sufficiently, enhancing existing skepticism about his leadership and policy toward the Soviet Union.

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1 Representatives of 35 European and North American countries signed the Helsinki Final Act on 1 Aug. 1975, including United States President Gerald Ford and Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. Mike Bowker and Phil Williams, Superpower Détente: A Reappraisal (Newbury Park, CA: SAGE Publications, 1988), 63; Wallensteen Peter, “American Soviet Détente: What Went Wrong?,” Journal of Peace Research, 22, 1 (March 1985), 18, 1; Flynn Gregory A., “The Content of European Detente,” Orbis, 20 (Summer 1976), 401–16, 402–3; William G. Hyland, Mortal Rivals: Superpower Relations from Nixon to Reagan (New York: Random House, 1987), 10; and Sarah B. Snyder, “The Helsinki Process, American Foreign Policy, and the End of the Cold War” (Ph.D. dissertation, Georgetown University, 2006).

2 Flynn, 411; and William Korey, The Promises We Keep: Human Rights, the Helsinki Process and American Foreign Policy (New York: Institute for East West Studies, 1993), xxii.

3 See, for example, Daniel C. Thomas, The Helsinki Effect: International Norms, Human Rights, and the Demise of Communism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001); Andreas Wenger, Vojtech Mastny, and Christian Nuenlist, eds., Origins of the European Security System: The Helsinki Process Revisited, 1965–75 (New York: Routledge, 2008); and Leopoldo Nuti, ed., The Crisis of Détente in Europe: From Helsinki to Gorbachev, 1975–1985 (New York: Routledge, 2008).

4 Briefing Transcript, 23 July 1975, Material Not Related to the Press – Background Briefings by Administration Officials (File No. 2), Box 40, Ron Nessen Files, Gerald R. Ford Library, Ann Arbor, Michigan (hereafter GRFL).

5 Henry Kissinger, Years of Upheaval (New York: Little, Brown, 1982), 1164–65.

6 Campbell John C., “European Security after Helsinki: Some American Views,” Government and Opposition, 11, 3 (Summer 1976), 322–5.

7 Gerald R. Ford, A Time to Heal (New York: Harper and Row, 1979), 298–99.

8 Weissman to Ford, 24 July 1975; Declaration, 30 July 1975, 8/1/75 CSCE (4), Box 176, Robert T. Hartmann Papers, GRFL; and Jacobs to Ford, 30 July 1975, IT 104 Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Box 14, White House Central Files (hereafter WHCF), ibid.; and Ford, A Time to Heal, 301.

9 Representatives from the Polish American Congress, Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, Slovak League of America, Hungarian Organization and Churches, Albanian Liberation Fund, Lithuanian Organization Center, Croatian Organization of Michigan, Latvian Association of Michigan, Estonian War Veterans, and the Bylorussian Association of Michigan signed the letter. Mailgram et al. to Ford, 23 July 1975, Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe 8/9/74-7/31/75, IT 104, Box 13, WHCF, GRFL.

10 Ford, A Time to Heal, 301; and telegram, Strang to Ford, 25 July 1975, IT 104 Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe 8/9/74-7/31/75, Box 13, WHCF, GRFL.

11 Editorial, “Jerry, Don't Go,” Wall Street Journal, 23 July 1975, 14.

12 Jussi Hanhimäki, The Flawed Architect: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 444; and Walter Isaacson, Kissinger: A Biography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992), 661.

13 AP, “Helsinki Border-Setting Denied,” Chicago Sun-Times, 23 July 1975, Press Clipping Helsinki, 1975, Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe Archives, Prague, Czech Republic (hereafter OSCE Archives); and Kim Wilkinson et al., “Ford's Big Gamble on Détente,” Newsweek, 4 Aug. 1975, ibid.

14 Hanhimäki, 436.

15 Robert Kennedy Eichhorn, “The Helsinki Accords and Their Effect on the Cold War” (M.A. thesis, California State University, Fullerton, 1995), 8.

16 Memorandum, Marsh to Ford, 22 July 1975, Trips – Foreign (1), Box 49, Presidential Handwriting File, GRFL; Transcript, 24 July 1975, No. 280, Box 11, Ron Nessen Files, ibid.; Robert Kleinman, “Détente: Past and Future,” International Herald Tribune, 23 May 1975, Press Clipping Helsinki, 1975, OSCE Archives; Editorial, “A Price from Russia,” The Economist, 3 May 1975, ibid.; Press Conference, 25 July 1975, Presidential Foreign Trips: July 26–August 4, 1975 Press Notes (1), Presidential Subject File, Box 5, John W. “Bill” Roberts Papers, GRFL; and Kendall to Curtis et al., 29 July 1975, IT 194 Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Box 13, WHCF, ibid.

17 Editorial, Charlotte Observer, 29 July 1975, Judith F. Buncher, ed., Human Rights & American Diplomacy, 1975–77 (New York: Facts on File, 1977), 28. See also Christian Science Monitor, 28 July 1975, 7/26-8/4/75 News Summaries (1), Box 67, Presidential Trips, Ron Nessen Papers, GRFL; and Alfred Friendly Jr., “Cold War to Cold Peace,” Newsweek, 21 July 1975, 6.

18 Editorial, “The 35-Nation Summit,” International Herald Tribune, 21–22 June 1975, Press Clipping Helsinki, 1975, OSCE Archives. New York Times editorial reprinted in International Herald Tribune.

19 Russell Harold, “The Helsinki Declaration: Brobdingnag or Lilliput?American Journal of International Law, 70, 2 (April 1976), 252. The CSCE negotiations had dragged on behind closed doors for years, a recipe for an uninterested and misinformed press. To characterize the scale of the CSCE, there were 4,700 proposals, drafts, and papers; 2,500 formal sessions; and thousands of informal meetings. Yuri Kashlev, “The CSCE in the Soviet Union's Politics,” International Affairs (USSR), 7 (1992), 66–7.

20 Spiro Elizabeth, “A Paradigm Shift in US Foreign Policy,” Worldview, 20, 1–2 (1977), 4247, 47.

21 Editorial, Los Angeles Times, 23 July 1975, 8/1/75 CSCE (1), Box 175, Robert T. Hartman Papers, GRFL.

22 Editorial, “Europe's Act of Trust,” Chicago Sun-Times, 23 July 1975, Press Clipping Helsinki, 1975, OSCE Archives.

23 Hanhimäki, The Flawed Architect, xx, 271.

24 Ibid., 433; and Campbell, “European Security after Helsinki,” 322–36.

25 Genys John B., “The Joint Baltic American Committee and the European Security Conference,” Journal of Baltic Studies, 9, 3 (Fall 1978), 245–58, 249–50. The United States had long maintained nonrecognition of the Soviet acquisition of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.

26 As outlined by Kissinger to Ford, the purpose of his meeting was to convince ethnic leaders that the Helsinki Final Act was not a treaty, would not harm the interests of Baltic Americans, and could foster European peace. Memorandum, Kissinger to Ford, Administrative Subject File, Presidential Meeting with House Members, July 1975, Box 6, Max L. Friedersdorf Files, GRFL; Transcript, 24 July 1975, No. 280, Box 11, Ron Nessen Files, GRFL; and Genys, 251–4.

27 Amy Schapiro, Millicent Fenwick: Her Way (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2003), 166.

28 Statement, 25 July 1975, IT 104 10/1/75-10/7/75, Box 14, WHCF, GRFL.

29 News Release, 25 July 1975, Folder 2, Box 138, Aloysius A. Mazewski Papers, Immigration History Research Center, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

30 Donald Pienkos, For Your Freedom through Ours: Polish American Efforts on Poland's Behalf, 1863–1991 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), 170.

31 Ford, A Time to Heal, 300; Wilfried Loth, Overcoming the Cold War: A History of Détente, 1950–1991, trans. Robert F. Hogg (New York: Palgrave, 2002), 7; and Korey, The Promises We Keep, 1.

32 Hanhimäki, The Flawed Architect, 437.

33 Not surprisingly, NSC staffer A. Denis Clift reported that many were not convinced. A. Denis Clift, With Presidents to the Summit (Fairfax, VA: George Mason University Press, 1993), 95.

34 The Soviets expelled Solzhenitsyn in February 1974 after threatening him with treason charges for his writings about Soviet prisons.

35 Memorandum, Springsteen to Scowcroft, 26 June 1975, Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr I, Presidential Name File, National Security Adviser, GRFL; and Memorandum, Clift to Kissinger, 26 June 1975, ibid.

36 Memorandum, Rourke to Marsh, 26 June 1975, Solzhenitsyn, Box 30, John Marsh Files, GRFL.

37 Memorandum, Rourke to Marsh, 30 June 1975, Solzhenitsyn, Box 30, John Marsh Files, GRFL.

38 George F. Will, “Solzhenitsyn and the President,” The Washington Post, Solzhenitsyn, Alexander, Box 10, Richard Cheney Files, GRFL.

39 The press pushed Nessen on this answer noting that the “President can see anyone he cares to see, and that he can fit anyone he wants to see into his schedule. There must be a reason why he is not willing to see Mr. Solzhenitsyn.” News Conference Transcript, 1 July 1975 (No. 259), Box 10, Ron Nessen Files, GRFL.

40 Memorandum, Cheney to Rumsfeld, 8 July 1975, Solzhenitsyn, Alexander, Box 10, Richard Cheney Files, GRFL.

41 Memorandum, Friedersdorf to Ford, 12 July 1975, Solzhenitsyn, Box 30, John Marsh Files, GRFL.

42 Editorial, Chicago Tribune, 23 July 1975, Buncher, Human Rights & American Diplomacy, 52; and Editorial, “Europe's Act of Trust.”

43 Robin Kolodny, “The 1976 Republican Nomination: An Examination of the Organizational Dynamic,” in Bernard J. Firestone and Alexej Ugrinsky, eds., Gerald R. Ford and the Politics of Post-Watergate America (New York: Greenwood Press, 1992), 586; Peter Carroll, It Seemed Like Nothing Happened: The Tragedy and Promise of America in the 1970s (New York: Holt, Rinehwart and Winston, 1982), 165; Curt Lewis Rose, “Political Suicide: The Controversial Decisions of the Ford Administration” (M.A. thesis, Virginia Commonwealth University, 1996), 74–5; and Hyland, Mortal Rivals, 140.

44 “The Ronald Reagan Column,” 18 July 1975, 8/1/75 CSCE (1), Box 175, Robert T. Hartman Papers, GRFL.

45 The conduct of American foreign policy under Kissinger, secretive and guided by realpolitik, led to a suspicious and often confused public response to the Helsinki Final Act. John J. Maresca, To Helsinki: The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, 1973–75, rev. edn (Durham: Duke University Press, 1987), 217.

46 Russell, “The Helsinki Declaration,” 242. Senator Mike Mansfield (Dem., MT) regularly introduced an amendment calling for a significant reduction of American forces in Europe beginning in 1966.

47 Ibid., 245–6. Russell points out, however, that the Soviets remained committed to the conference due to the significant personal prestige that Brezhnev had invested.

48 Hanhimäki Jussi, “‘They Can Write it in Swahili’: Kissinger, the Soviets, and the Helsinki Accords, 1973–1975,” Journal of Transatlantic Studies, 1, 1 (2003), 3758, 38; and Russell, 249.

49 Gerald R. Ford, Public Papers of the President 1975: II (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1975), 1043–47.

50 The remarks were intended to placate Americans of Eastern European descent. Isaacson suggests that the controversy over Helsinki was more grounded in rhetoric than in substance and that that was why disagreements over speeches became so significant. Isaacson, Kissinger, 661.

51 Press Briefing Transcript, 26 July 1975 (No. 283), Box 11, Ron Nessen Files, GRFL.

52 Telegram, USINFO to RUEADWW, 27 July 1975, 7/26-8/4/75 Media Reaction, Box 66, Presidential Trips, Ron Nessen Papers, GRFL.

53 News From Senator Henry M. Jackson, 28 July 1975, European Security Conference Helsinki, Box 15 Unprocessed, Joint Baltic American National Committee Records, Immigration History Research Center, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

54 Memorandum, Marsh to Cheney, 29 July 1975, Helsinki Trip, 7/75-8/75, Box 18, John Marsh Files, GRFL; and Genys, “The Joint Baltic American Committee and the European Security Conference,” 252–3.

55 AP, “Ford Overruled Kissinger, Toughened Helsinki Speech,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, 9 Aug. 1975, A-3, Press Clipping Helsinki, 1975, OSCE Archives; and Note, 3 July 1975, Speeches (3), Box 43, Presidential Handwriting File, GRFL.

56 Address, 1 Aug. 1975, United States Department of State, The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe: Public Statements and Documents, 1954–1986 (Washington: US Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, Office of the Historian, 1986).

57 Schapiro, Millicent Fenwick, 167.

58 Memorandum, Kissinger to Ford, n.d., Folder 8, Box 15, Office of the Secretary, Records of Henry Kissinger, 1973–1977, General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59, National Archives, College Park, Maryland.

59 Editorial, Manchester Union Leader, 1 Aug. 1975, Buncher, Human Rights & American Diplomacy, 25.

60 James J. Kirkpatrick, “Helsinki: Windblown Ambiguity,” Chicago Daily News, 1 Aug. 1975, Press Clipping Helsinki, 1975, OSCE Archives.

61 Statement, 4 Aug. 1975, 8/1/75 CSCE (4), Box 176, Robert T. Hartmann Papers, GRFL.

62 More skeptical observers suggested that the agreement might be more appropriately compared to the notoriously ineffective Kellogg-Briand Pact of the 1920s. Editorial, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6 Aug. 1975, Buncher, 20; and Editorial, Washington Star, 29 July 1975, ibid., 23.

63 Dick Cheney, “The Ford Presidency in Perspective,” in Firestone and Ugrinsky, Gerald R. Ford and the Politics of Post-Watergate America, 5.

64 Sarah B. Snyder, “The U.S., Western Europe, and the CSCE, 1972–1975,” in Matthias Schulz and Thomas A. Schwartz, eds., The Strained Alliance: U.S.–European Relations from Nixon to Carter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 257–74; and Kissinger, Years of Upheaval, 1164–65.

65 Robert M. Gates, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), 87.

66 Gerald R. Ford, “The Ford Presidency: How It Looks Twelve Years Later,” in Firestone and Ugrinsky, 671.

67 Ford made these comments in 1991 and 1989 respectively. Thomas F. DeFrank, Write It When I'm Gone: Remarkable Off-the-record Conversations with Gerald R. Ford (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2007), 89–90; and Leo P. Ribuffo, “Is Poland a Soviet Satellite? Gerald Ford, the Sonnenfeldt Doctrine, and the Election of 1976,” Diplomatic History, 14 (Summer 1990), 385–403, 402.

The Gerald R. Ford Foundation generously supported research for this article.

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