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Europe´s Détente and Yugoslavia´s Decline. The Birth of the CSCE across East Europe and the Waning of Tito’s Influence athwart the Mediterranean South

Europe’s Détente and Yugoslavia’s Decline
The Birth of the CSCE [1] across East Europe and the Waning of Tito’s Influence athwart the Mediterranean South

Rinna Elina KULLA

In the popular historiography the détente is understood as originating after the Cuban Missile Crises of 1962 between the United States and the Soviet Union. The word symbolizes a notion of an overall responsibility in international relations. The background of détente features the frightful notion of the achievement of mutually insured destruction by nuclear missile technology. It features background of fear and mistrust colors even the general perception of the notion of lessening tensions. Therefore its authors most generally are thought to be the two superpowers. The early literature on détente features most prominently the Test Ban Treaty of 1963 and for example the teleprinter hotline between Moscow and Washington. Détente in general literature reads anecdotally but this period in European history is also related to the imagery spurred by consumer culture as well. [2] General literature also cites political scientists such as Kenneth Waltz according to whom realist principles of war by circumstance and war by design would not take place in the future. Mutually assured destruction guaranteed that neither side would take that course.

Historical background of détente however is more complicated and more interesting than a two actor-two system analogue that crystalizes its essence to its outcomes. Historians of the Second World War, which set the stage for the Cold War such as AJP Taylor have underlined that also liberal notions such as individual rights and a notion of human rights also thrived in the post-1945 environment. The UN Charter defined genocide as a crime. Along with the UN and decline of the foreign policy influence of former colonial powers including the Netherlands, the UK and France took place. [3] A third way between the two superpowers was born already in the early Cold War. Large countries including India became independent from Britain early in 1947. The Tito-Stalin split took place in 1948 and created a Communist but not Soviet aligned state in Eastern Europe. The Suez Crises and broader ideas of independence and Arab nationalism made it difficult for Egypt to consider partnerships with the Western Allies after the Second World War. The Yugoslav leader Josip Broz ‘Tito’ and the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser begun to build the Non-Aligned Movement from the 1956 Suez Crises onwards. Yugoslavia had quickly become a member of the United Nations (UN) after the Second World War, and achieved a term as a non-permanent member of the Security Council (SC) as early as 1950. Yugoslavia notoriously accused the Soviet Union of having started the Korean conflict within the context of the UN GA Uniting for Peace Resolution. The Yugoslav representatives to the UN became very skilled at launching and supporting resolutions and other initiatives inside the organization. In 1956 Yugoslavia was ready to focus on the support of Egypt at the UN GA over the Suez Crises leading the support for securing a special emergency session under the Uniting for Peace resolution, which Yugoslavia had been instrumental in bringing about in 1950. This emergency session for which it was utilized now concerned the conflict between Israel and Egypt and the British and French attack of the Suez Canal in support of Nasser and Egypt.

The Non-Aligned Movement eventually held its inaugural conference in 1961 in Belgrade and summit conferences after that in Cairo 1964, Lusaka 1970, Colombo 1976 and many others after that. The consequences of decolonization, which took place at the end of the Second World War and in the Cold War were that there was a high number of newly independent states reluctant to join the side of Western Allies despite the Anglo-American vision at the end of the Second World War. This despite the fact that Euroatlantic integration holding a very strong precedent and sway for Western Europe. Many of these newly independent states considered a third way option and the Non-Aligned Movement to be a possible chance for the state to gain international allies and possible development plans and aid as well. A third way politics begun to develop across the Mediterranean and also the global south.

Similarly and simultaneously in the north after the Second World War, Finland had built a foreign policy of neutralism and a special relationship with the Soviet Union in the very early Cold War. [4] The two States shared an 800-mile long border. From the beginning of the division of Europe, Finland had not been allowed under Soviet threats to apply for Marshall Aid. Instead, the leaders of Finnish foreign policy Juho Paasikivi and Urho Kekkonen concluded that a foreign policy strategy would be necessary for Finland to maintain its independence as the Cold War emerged. [5] From the basis of Finnish-Soviet relations during and after the war they concluded that in order to avoid invasion, Finland would have to demonstrate a commitment to minimizing security risks to the Soviet Union along its European political border and to not interfering in the Soviet domination of domestic politics elsewhere in Eastern Europe. In West Germany Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik sought to decrease tensions between the FRG and Warsaw Pact states from 1969. Without the concept of European post-war neutralism, or Ostpolitik, détente eventually would not have been possible. The Finnish example and the German argument for the need for facilitation served as supporting arguments and catalysts for a dialogue that could lead to the easing of tensions. This debate was not necessary only over the question of placing nuclear weapons in Germany. These two states were also examples of bordering territories to the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact.

The events, which led to the bilateral agreements that build détente, were European affairs. In May 1968 the Government of Finland sent a memorandum to all European countries and the United States and Canada. The government offered Helsinki as a conference venue for an all-European security conference. The Soviet Union had called for this type of conference since the later 1950s and had the Warsaw Pact states renew calls for a security conference on its behalf with renewed intensity from the mid-1960s onwards. Following the 1968. Concurrently with the 1968 Finnish invitation to host an all European security conference, the Nixon Administration stepped into office in Washington the following year in 1969. In conversations with President Nixon his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger in July 1969 concluded that engaging the Soviet Union in bilateral Strategic Arms Limitation talks could not only lead to more constructive engagement with the other superpower, but also help ‘to keep Europe happy’ and the War effort in Vietnam from collapsing. On that last point with engagement with the Soviet Union in an international arena the Nixon White House also hoped to gain a visible international treaty and success which could boost the republicans and keep the Democratic Party from winning in the 1970 general elections. [6] The bottom line for the Nixon White House was always also domestic politics, which enabled the building of détente to go ahead.

Negotiations for SALT I treaty took place in a series of meetings in Helsinki from November 1969 to May 1972 when the treaty was signed in Moscow. Following the Finnish efforts to establish a security conference, four years later from November 1972 representatives of 35 nations met for the next 3 years to work on arrangement and framework for the conference which in 1975 became the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). This set forth the Helsinki process and later the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Many have argued that Finland as the venue with functioning communication with the Soviet Union was a key state in building the CSCE. The Helsinki committees, which followed the process were visible across Europe since 1975 as they brought human rights and civic rights to the Cold War vocabulary and affected détente. Yet, the role of Finnish foreign policy of neutralism and direct engagement with the Soviet Union was not seen as benign by everyone. Its primary critiques included intellectuals such as Walter Laquer.

According to the testimonies of several officials who were present at the 1975 conference, the event did not receive the full support of others engaged in forging a third way policy including Yugoslavia. Tito, who had remained in power in Belgrade since the Second World War, came to the Helsinki conference, but did not exchange words with the Finnish president Kekkonen during their bilateral meeting. The Finnish notion of neutrality as a foreign policy, which sought to engage the US as foreign policy actor and carve out a space for an independent Finland next to Russia, had a competitor which was the Non-Aligned Movement. The movement, which had been born under the initiative of primarily Tito and Nasser in defense to the security dilemmas across the Mediterranean, had evolved in a different direction from the Finnish concept. The themes, which encompassed the Non-Aligned Movement in the Cold War, were from the movement’s outset global and certainly international. Anti-Colonialism, anti-imperialism, anti-militarism, Communism, dictatorship and the anti-apartheid movement are all themes, which left no region of the globe untouched in the post-Second World War period. They were more argumentative, theoretical and global than the Finnish model. These topics crossed Africa and the Middle East and reached the United States also in the 1950s and the 1960s as Manning Marable’s biography Malcolm X : A Life of Reinvention most recently so compellingly demonstrates. [7] In this over 500 pages biography the reader encounters Malcolm X whose personal beliefs and philosophy are altered powerfully through his travels to numerous states that would become part of the Non-Aligned Movement and who begins to draw parallels between the black freedom struggle in the United States and the anti-Colonial movements across Asia and Africa. It is the very universality of the relevance of these themes that helped to define the Non-Aligned Movement which make it interesting to study. Works such as Alvin Rubinstein’s Yugoslavia and the Non-Aligned World concentrated on the 1950s as significant in bringing about the movement. Tvrtko Jakovina in Treca Strana Hladnog Rata (Third Side of the Cold War) has argued for a shift away from the Mediterranean and Asia to Cuba and Latin America as late as 1979 and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. [8] Yet at the same time it is difficult to define the content of the vast movement and also therefore the concrete achievements of its policies and actions. Moreover no state may be a member of the European Union and also a member of the Non-Aligned Movement at the same time. This separated the movement from the Western European trajectory and dialogue of integration. Denmark, Ireland and the UK joined the EEC in 1973 ; Greece from the Mediterranean in 1981. This parameter closed much of Europe away from the Non-Alignment’s discourse in the 1970s.

My work has focused and argued for the importance of the Mediterranean space as a geopolitical springboard for the movement in the period from 1958 to 1970. I have sometimes titled this the Third Way in the Cold War Mediterranean (Workshop EUI March 2010) and at other times referred to the Non-Aligned Movement (Workshop Columbia University February 2009). I have argued that the movement was born in the Mediterranean out of the geopolitical purpose and needs primarily of Yugoslavia and Egypt and their leaders Josip Broz ‘Tito’ and Gamal Abdel Nasser, and that the birth of the actual organization of the movement was less intimately connected to the thinking of and involvement of Jawaharlal Nehru. For Tito and for Nasser the Non-Aligned Movement served initially as a foreign policy against geopolitical dilemmas posed by the Soviet Union and Britain-France respectively in the 1950s. Yugoslavia had faced an initial split with the Soviet Union in 1948. The 1955 rapprochement with the Soviet Union led only to a second conflict after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. The Yugoslav leader did not desire a close connection between the Yugoslav and Soviet Communist parties, and a second Yugoslav-Soviet split led to a more permanent disconnection from Soviet foreign policy by 1958. Nasser on the other hand sought a foreign policy alternative after the invasion of the Suez Canal in 1956 stepping away from British and French pressure. The superpower balance of power – a status quo was problematic for Yugoslavia and Egypt by the late-1950s. Tito, Nasser and Nehru met in Yugoslavia to discuss the Suez Crises in 1956 only months before the Soviet invasion of Hungary. From this perspective of birth of the movement for these two leaders, the purpose of the movement was less ideological, and also it served multiple functions. It placed legitimacy in foreign policy away from the Soviet Union and the Western Allies.

The internationally recognized and also visual Non-Aligned Movement through the influence of news media helped to justify the domestic policies of ‘brotherhood and unity’ in Yugoslavia and Arab nationalism in Egypt. Both Tito and Nasser played on image politics of international significance and weight for legitimization of their governments. The leaders of the two states, and Tito in particular dominated the political agenda of the movement in its very early period. The first conferences of the movement were held in Belgrade and in Cairo. Other Mediterranean states of the movement included were Algeria, Cyprus, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and later Libya. Yugoslavia established a dialogue with these states. It conducted student exchange programs with them and set up commercial exchanges. The Mediterranean milieu for the Movement emerged from these connections. Yet, Yugoslavia had not been engaged in the anti-Colonial struggle before the birth of the Non-Aligned movement. Yugoslavia was not an anti-Colonial state. Instead, it had established itself firmly against domination by the Soviet Union. There was a dichotomy in Yugoslavia’s role in the movement from the beginning. Without the global context of anti-colonialism the movement proceeded to address at the United Nations continuously, its purpose remains difficult to define even in this Mediterranean context.

Yugoslavia invited neutral states from the north such as Finland and Sweden to join the movement and to take part in its conferences but both states declined identifying the Non-Aligned Movement as anti-colonial and leaning towards Communist economic models. In 1964 Finland was asked through a direct letter and invitation of Tito to take part in the 1965 conference of the Non-Aligned Movement. The Finnish President Kekkonen declined foreseeing a commitment to comment on questions of superpower conflicts, which he didn’t want to undertake. [9] Finland did formally and bilaterally support the Yugoslav foreign policy of Non-Alignment in which Kekkonen for example saw elements of beneficial geopolitical strategy and intentions to reduce military tensions. The Movement however, also criticized publicly West European institutions. Finland had become an associate member of the European Free Trade Agreement EFTA in 1961. The Non-Aligned Movement therefore developed in the 1960s along a separate pattern from efforts at security conferences in Europe such as Urho Kekkonen had proposed. Tito had carved out an important role for himself as regional, Mediterranean and global leader. Correspondence between Kekkonen and Tito shows that Yugoslavia continued to persuade others from the north to join.

The commencement of détente in the 1970s meant a new role for these strategies of foreign and national interest which neutralism as a foreign policy represented. In the case of Finland, it began to use its working dialogue with Moscow to build the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Helsinki process in the 1970s aiming at détente. Finland would have had other alternatives it seems however. Yugoslavia’s move towards building the Non-Aligned Movement was one. At least the purpose of the Non-Aligned Movement was to develop a ‘third way’ outside both the Eastern and Western blocs. Instead, the Finnish policy of neutralism relied on tacit non-criticism of Soviet foreign policy in Eastern Europe. According to the analysis of the Finnish Foreign Ministry, the majority of states of the Non-Aligned Movement “are considered to have a different attitude towards international questions from that of Finland that strives to remain outside of superpower conflicts.” [10] Finland’s Scandinavian regional partners or neighbor countries, Denmark and Norway had joined NATO in 1949. Finland had joined the Nordic Council in 1956. This was an alignment even if it found grounds for collaboration in common features of welfare state policies.

Kekkonen had also started to underline a new, and from there onward persistent geopolitical reasoning for the importance of Europe as the forum for the Soviet-Euro-Atlantic dialogue in the Cold War. In his bilateral talks with European leaders he underlined the importance of the relative success in strengthening trust amongst Euro-Atlantic states towards genuine neutrality. From 1963 Kekkonen began to present a proposal for the creation of a nuclear free zone over the Nordic states. His idea was that since no Nordic state possessed nuclear weapons, the Nordic states could serve as a useful example against the dangers of nuclear proliferation. More importantly, talks over such questions could bring actors including the United States and the Soviet Union around one negotiations table. Kekkonen spoke about the topic publicly although the actual achievement of an agreement or actual talks seemed unlikely. NATO members, Denmark and Norway would have to submit to bilateral agreements. [11] Kekkonen’s wider initiative was to establish a nuclear ban over part of Europe. One of its specific measures sought out were on-site inspections of Soviet nuclear arsenals for example. Predictably, a dynamic came about in which the United States insisted on a larger number of inspections than the Soviet side claimed it could agree to. Dynamics of the confrontation in 1963 (a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis) relied on a dialogue of mistrust in which either side was trusted to make a demand, which the other one could not agree to.

The early strategy outlined in 1965 was one where Kekkonen would personally and confidentially contact selected heads of state and inquire about their willingness to exchange views on regional nuclear security and overall coordination and activity in the UN. [12] An important part of moving towards the Helsinki process was to develop the idea of dialogue over questions including nuclear free zones. Kekkonen remained concerned about possible plans to place nuclear weapons in West Germany. In the late 1960s, Kekkonen’s plans included a conference in which the leaders of NATO and Warsaw Pact states would meet exclusively. Yet, Kekkonen seems to have thought that such a conference could not be ultimately successful, as it would not likely succeed in bringing the two Germanies around a single table. Germany for Kekkonen was both symbolic of a divided Europe as well as he actually feared the consequences of placing nuclear weapons in West Germany.


The Four Power Agreement in 1971 with its formal normalization of relations between the two Germanies seems to have been key for going forward with détente. Helsinki had been the place for meetings since 1969 on preparatory SALT talks between the Soviet Union and the United States. After that agreement, the pre-talks for the Helsinki meeting began in 1972 and 1973. Kekkonen’s prerogative was insistence that questions to be discussed and procedures would not be predetermined. The first step towards an actual conference was the meeting of Foreign Ministers in Helsinki in 1973. This was followed by negotiations in Geneva and the actual high-level summit conference was held in Helsinki in 1975. The eventual conference in Helsinki was the first event after the Second World War, which included the 35 European states and the United States and Canada. The conference agenda recognized differences between the two socialist and capitalist systems and the topics of the conference ranged from human and legal rights to economic principles and nuclear disarmament. The Helsinki Final Act had political consequences and spurred on détente. Four realities were key : the costs of the Vietnam War had to be limited for the United States ; the Soviet Union had to cut its spending to try to advance its economy which was likewise embattled by the 1969 and 1973 oil crises ; the Sino Soviet split had isolated China for engagement and fears over mutually assured destruction had grown.

The Helsinki conference had another consequence of showing differences between the détente processes in Europe and the Non-Aligned Movement. Tito did participate in the conference. He flew to Helsinki but according to accounts of Finnish diplomats present he would not speak to Kekkonen in the bi-lateral meeting and seems to have personally remained critical of the event. The conversation about security in Europe did bring the two superpowers around one table but it took place outside the frame of the Non-Aligned Movement, and its principles. As has been well argued and reiterated in the recent work of Angela Romano, human rights were discussed in Helsinki and many others of the liberal concepts including pan-europeanism, which emerged as the alternative to realist thinking at the end of the Second World War. [13] Highlighted here were not however, decolonization and racism which had been key concepts for burgeoning non-alignment. Central European and not the Mediterranean context were central to the agenda of the meeting and the conversation sought to debate and fit together in the future the approaches of the Western Allies and the Soviet Union rather than highlight alternatives to those roads already taken.

In analysing détente overall, it is helpful to remember some of the elements of radicalized political dialogue in Europe in the 1970s, as well, which developed in parallel in Europe. In addition to examples such as the Irish Republican Army in the early 1970s was also the period where for example Yugoslav émigré groups sought to support the Croatian Spring movement which in Zagreb in 1971 demanded liberalization of the Yugoslav state system and increased national rights for the Yugoslav republics including Croatia by acts of violence. [14] Tito was challenged at home, Yugoslavia was facing economic difficulties at the aftermath of also the first and second oil crises. Kekkonen’s challenge with the CSCE, which included the superpower in the détente dialogue, challenged the Non-Aligned Third Way politics by carrying on a serious dialogue, led in the north. The criticism, which the Non-Aligned Movement leveled against a world divided under two superpowers, was weaker in Europe by 1975 and the Mediterranean was not the epicenter of this new security strategy dialogue.

[1] Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Conférence sur la sécurité et la coopération en Europe).

[2] Victoria De Grazia, The Irresistible Empire : America’s Advance Through the 20th Century, Cambridge Mass., Harvard University Press, 2006.

[3] Jennifer L. Foray, Vision of Empire in Nazi Occupied Netherlands, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2011.

[4] Neutralism here is defined as a political strategy appropriate to the circumstances of the Cold War. The policy of neutralism in the Finnish case according to the formulation by Presidents J.K. Paasikivi and Urho Kekkonen meant that Finland established bilateral relations with the Soviet Union and remained outside of NATO as well as from other defensive international alignments.

[5] Juho Paasikivi President 1946-1956 ; Urho Kekkonen President 1956-1981.

[6] Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, volume XIII, p. 733-734.

[7] Manning Marable,Malcolm X : A Life of Reinvention, London, Penguin, 2012.

[8] Alvin Rubinstein, Yugoslavia and the Non-Aligned World, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1970. Tvrtko Jakovina, Treca Strana Hladnog Rata, Zagreb, Profil, 2011.

[9] Ulkoasiainministeriö (Finnish Foreign Ministry) (UM) 10 : A 4. 9570. 62/27, Helsinki, 23rd January 1961.

[10] Ibid.

[11] UM 10 : A 4. 9570. 62/27, Helsinki, 7th June 1963.

[12] Urho Kekkosen Arkisto (Archive of the President Urho Kekkonen) (UKK) : K8 149/95-66 Vuosikirja 1965. Helsinki, 8th January 1965.

[13] Angela Romano, From Détente in Europe to European Détente, Bruxelles, PIE Peter Lang, 2009.

[14] Yugoslavia, From “National Communism” to National Collapse. Us Intelligence Community Estimative Products on Yugoslavia, 1948-1990. Government Printing Office GPO. December 2006.


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