HELSINKI – Then, Now, and Quo Vadimus?
On August 1, 1975, 35 nations led by the United States Pres. Gerald Ford, signed a multi-lateral and multifaceted international agreement [the Helsinki Final Act or sometimes called the Helsinki Accords]. All our allies in Europe and Canada were among the signatories This international agreement was one of the linchpins of international rule of law that maintained peace on the European continent since World War II. Some of the essential elements of the Helsinki Accords were respect for the human rights of individuals and the territorial integrity of states and the right of nations to decide their own destiny.
In recent years, Russia has unashamedly violated these fundamental principles enshrined in the Helsinki Accords in the full and unobstructed view of the entire international community. Examples of the egregious actions of the Kremlin are legion. A few examples follow: invasion and occupation of Georgian territories; invasion of Eastern Ukraine and annexation of Ukrainian Crimea; the shootdown of Malaysia airline flight 17; assassinations of Russian citizens in Europe; and undeniable meddling in the United States electoral process which is a direct and unabashed invasion of the American political system and our democracy.
One would expect the President of the United States to have the strength of character to fulfill the duties of his high office and defend the sovereignty and integrity of the United States and to uphold the principles of the Helsinki Accords and international rule of law. Regrettably, Pres. Trump has miserably failed to fulfill these duties. In his most recent visit to NATO, he managed to inexplicably single-handedly malign and insult our closest longtime allies and trading partners calling them our “foes”. Thereafter on July 16, 2018, ironically in Helsinki, Pres. Trump had a secret one on one summit meeting with Russian Pres. Putin. During the press conference that followed, it became painfully, and palpably evident the President Trump’s performance was a disaster and was a repudiation of the principles of the Helsinki Accords. He failed to confront Putin for his violations of the rule of law, and the Kremlin’s direct attack on the United States electoral system. Instead, he questioned the veracity of American intelligence agency reports on Russian meddling in US elections –and reverently accepted Pres. Putin’s denials of Russian involvement and declined to take issue with Putin on any matters significant to long-standing United States foreign policy interests.
So, Quo Vadimus? Where are we going? The obvious and regrettable immediate result is that the United States has lost its credibility and leadership in the international community. We no longer can claim the title as “leaders of the free world”. Recent actions by the administration have turned the United States in the direction of an isolationist policy that will not benefit our country in the long term neither politically nor economically. The international community has now lost faith in America’s commitment to the international rule of law and to its other international obligations. Most troubling is the deference that has been a consistent manifestation of Pres. Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin. History has proven that such appeasement in foreign affairs can have disastrous consequences.
Our democratic values are now being put to a critical stress test. Will our elected officials – and ultimately the American citizenry – set aside partisanship and right our ship of state? Only time will tell -- but it will assuredly affect generations to come.
Myroslaw Smorodsky, Esq.
Communications Director of the Ukrainian American Bar Association (UABA)
Former President, Chairman of the Board, and Founding Member of the UABA
Former Public member – US Delegation to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe
(CSCE - Madrid 1980)