Policy Area: Multilateral Talks

The 'CSCE Helsinki Model' and the Security and Cooperation Process in Northeast Asia
Markku Heiskanen, Associate Senior Fellow, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, Copenhagen/Helsinki, February 24, 2004.

1. Northeast Asia and the CSCE Helsinki Process 1969-75

Northeast Asia is a region far from Europe and there are naturally no illusions about giving advice from Europe on how things should be run in that important part of the world. However, the six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear issue offer an interesting opportunity to contemplate whether some experiences particularly from the early CSCE/Helsinki process in 1969-75 could be applied to the present situation, not only in Korea but more widely in Northeast Asia.

The purpose of this paper is to describe some essential features of that process during the years 1969-1975 herein called "The Helsinki Model". The emphasis is on the proceedings of the process rather than on political analysis.

Finland was a host country of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in 1973-75, and hosted the summit of 1975 when the Helsinki Final Act was signed by Heads of State or Government of 33 European states, the United States and Canada.

As early as April 1969 Finland delivered diplomatic notes to all European states, the United States and Canada offering to act as the host for preparatory talks, and for the conference itself. The multilateral preparatory talks called "the Helsinki Consultations" were held in Helsinki in 1972-73.

The multilateral consultations were preceded by bilateral talks between Finland and all the governments mentioned above.

Even if the situations in Northeast Asia and in Europe differ from each other, some of the experiences from the CSCE process might be of interest when a potential multilateral security and cooperation process is considered for Northeast Asia. The CSCE, today known as the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), has been, indeed, occasionally mentioned in the context of the Northeast Asian situation as an example possibly applicable to a multilateral consultative process in Northeast Asia, most recently by Peter Hayes in his Nautilus Special Report of 11 February 2004 ""Enemy to Friend: Providing Security Assurances to North Korea".

The CSCE negotiating process (the Helsinki Model) which, as mentioned, was started by the Finnish initiative of 1969 and ended in the Helsinki Summit of 1975, turned out to be one of the crucial events that gradually helped pave the way to the ending of the Cold War and the division of Europe.

When the process was started in 1969 Europe was divided into two opposing blocks symbolized by the division of Germany, plus the neutral and non-aligned countries. There was no all-European peace treaty after the Second World War.

In Northeast Asia no peace treaty has been concluded between Japan and Russia almost 60 years after the end of the Second World War. Korea has been divided for half a century, and it remains as the last remnant of the Cold War. There is no peace treaty definitively ending the Korean War. The end of the Cold War removed the global bipolar tension from Northeast Asia, but substantial regional problems remain unsolved.

2. The CSCE and the present Northeast Asian reality

In 1972-73 Finland hosted the preparatory phase of the CSCE, "The Helsinki Consultations", the participants in which were ambassadors of potential CSCE participants accredited to Helsinki. This part of the preparations characterized as "a tea party", reflected certain cautiousness in advancing the process towards an official conference. The task of the consultations was to draft the agenda and modalities for a conference proper. Participation in these consultations did not imply a commitment to the holding of the conference.

One of the fundamental principles of the CSCE process from the very preliminary stage was that participation should be based on the presence of all Governments responsible for the security in Europe, which meant also the participation of both German states, the United States and Canada.

In the context of Northeast Asia, the United States is also there a central actor in any multilateral cooperative security process. Parallels can be drawn between divided Korea and divided Germany. It is difficult to foresee any effective multilateral cooperative security process in Northeast Asia in which both Korean states are not involved on an equal basis.

While Finland expressed its readiness to host a European Conference on Security and Cooperation Finland emphasized that such a conference should be well prepared and convened without preconditions. Finland wanted to be assured even before the conference that there would be reasonable prospects for success. This also meant that participation in preparatory talks did not imply approval or disapproval of ideas presented by potential participants.

The six-party talks could be seen, whatever the immediate outcome, as an initial stage preceding a wider consultation process relating to questions of security and cooperation in Northeast Asia. One of the starting points of the CSCE process in Europe was the need to create some kind of multilateral consultation/negotiation process to map out the views of various countries concerned, large or small on an equal and uncommitted basis.

The Helsinki Consultations and the subsequent CSCE process were based on the principle of consensus: a decision was approved if no one directly opposed it. This meant in practice that a high political price had to be paid for blocking an agreement reached by an overwhelming majority of the participating states.

The concept of "basket" was invented at the Helsinki Consultations. The various issues were divided into three main groups called "baskets" . The first basket contained security issues including confidence building measures, principles, norms and rules of behaviour. The second basket contained economic issues including technology and environment, and the third basket consisted of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Later on there was also in fact a fourth basket, the issue of the follow-up of the CSCE.

The consultations in Helsinki and the CSCE conference proper were participated by two countries also involved in the process of developing security and cooperation in Northeast Asia, namely Russia and the United States. In Helsinki the then Soviet Union and the United States were the opposite poles of the bilateral world order. The present situation in Northeast Asia is based on a post-bipolar Cold War world order. Some of the Russian and American experiences from the CSCE/OSCE might be, however, useful also in the present Northeast Asian context.

In addition, there are two other Northeast Asian countries involved in the OSCE of today, namely Japan and South Korea, both of whom have an observer status in the organization. Also through their participation some elements of the present activities of the OSCE could be of use as the cooperative security process is promoted in Northeast Asia.

The CSCE process produced in the long run, during more than two decades, a network of officials of the countries concerned. This network through personal contacts and mutual understanding was of the utmost help particularly in deadlock situations during those years. In the long run confidence building at different levels of personal contacts and contacts between institutions and organizations proved to be very effective tool in the CSCE process.

There are already existing track two, non-governmental networks of Northeast Asian experts, involving also North Koreans, which could certainly also evolve into a similarly useful network, if they have not done so already, to support the track-one governmental processes.

The CSCE process exacted a lot of persistence, a sort of never-give-up -mentality, and Finland, as a host country of the CSCE, maintained optimism even during the most difficult phases and resolutely supported the continuity of the process.

The Helsinki Final Act included the principle of the inviolability of frontiers, but also the right to a peaceful change of frontiers based on consent and agreement, which facilitated the reunification of Germany when the time was ripe.

Economic questions and questions relating to technology and environment did not have a great role within the CSCE under the circumstances that then prevailed in Europe. The situation seems to be different in Northeast Asia.

In Northeast Asia at the present stage the multilateral approach springing up is primarily concentrating on strategic, military and political arrangements. But the time is also getting ripe for the utilization of the benefits of regional economic development in Northeast Asia. A multilateral, inter-governmental Northeast Asian economic forum could map out high common denominators for regional, and wider, economic cooperation to support the "hard-core" processes on security issues. Such a multilateral process could relatively easily be participated even by non-regional players like the European Union (EU).

The historical cultural links among Northeast Asian countries constitute a positive element in this overall process, in spite of the legacies of common history. Even Europeans have long traditions in relations with Northeast Asia.

3. A Northeast Asian CSCE?

The idea of an all-Asian CSCE -type conference has been raised from time to time over the years. Asia is, however, a huge and heterogenous continent compared with Europe. A limited Northeast Asian CSCE-type process seems to be more realistic, even if the CSCE/OSCE -model could not be applied directly to Northeast Asian circumstances.

The confidence building measures (CBM) concept was one of the concrete results of the Helsinki process. In Northeast Asia the regime of constructive confidence building measures would facilitate the formation of a cooperative security community in the region. The idea to establish a working group of the participants in the six-party talks could over time become a nucleus for an expanded governmental forum to address general security and cooperation issues, and facilitate the establishment of a cooperative security community in Northeast Asia, perhaps along the lines of the OSCE today in Europe and, in fact, also in Eurasia.

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