Europe for centuries was a theatre of conflicts, wars and power rivalry. From the period of religious upheavals of 16th and 17th centuries to the end of the second world war, the European countries fought a number of wars in which millions of people were killed. In the post-second world war period, there occurred a shift in Europe from armed conflicts to armed peace. The Cold War period guaranteed peace but the risks of war were not reduced.
The Helsinki Final Act signed on August 1, 1975 was a landmark in stabilizing the process of peace and cooperation in Europe, from 1945-1975, Europe witnessed unprecedented superpower rivalry ranging from the conventional nuclear arms buildup to the formation of alliance system and propaganda warfare. Because of the US-Soviet clash of interests, Europe remained divided between the American and the Russian spheres of influence. Still, there existed a will and determination among the Europeans to salvage their Continent from the threat of a nuclear war and institutionalize the process of cooperation. The road to peace, stability and cooperation was however not smooth and it took years for the Europeans to reach a comprehensive agreement to resolve their continents security predicament.
Although the Helsinki Final Act was signed on August 1975, negotiations among the 35 countries of Europe, United States and Canada began in 1973. After continuous dialogue among the participants of the Helsinki Conference, the outcome was the signing of an historic agreement in August 1975. The Helsinki accords consisted of four baskets, containing important provisions like cooperation in security, political, economic and cultural fields and the protection of human rights. Notwithstanding different political systems, the NATO, Warsaw Pact and Neutral Countries of Europe, agreed o settle, their differences and disputes through accommodation and dialogue. There took place a shift from the politics of conflict (which had reached its peak during the days of cold War) to that of cooperation. As a result of a quid pro quo which had taken place between the two power blocs, the post-second world war borders of Europe were legitimized; Moscow and its European allies agreed to implement the Human Rights provision of the Helsinki Final Act and the participants of the Helsinki conference agreed to sustain the process of détente and cooperation in Europe. It was decided to hold Review or Follow-up conference so as to examine the progress of the Helsinki process, especially the implementation of various accords. The post-Helsinki accords period witnessed a substantial relaxation of tension between NATO and the Warsaw Pact (despite the missile crisis of 1982-83) and the consolidation of economic, cultural, political and trade ties among the European countries on the basis of peaceful coexistence and sovereign equality. Given structural contradictions in the European systems and the power rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, it was undoubtedly an uphill task to unite all European Countries in one forum and reach a comprehensive understanding on issues which divided Europe.
On these grounds, the Helsinki accords appeared as a model to the conflict and crisis-ridden Third World countries. It was questioned by various political analysts, that when Europe can successfully abandon the confrontationist path and opt for cooperation why cannot the South Asian countries follow the Helsinki model of peace and cooperation? They concluded that it there exists political will among the Governments and People of South Asia, much can be done to achieve the goals of peace, prosperity, stability and cooperation.
South Asia, which remained under a colonial rule for centuries, was decolonized in 1947.The post-decolonisation period however witnessed outbreak of hostilities between India and Pakistan on various conflicting issues. India and Pakistan fought three wars in a brief span of 24 years and diverted their scarce resources from development to arms expenditure and defence. Owing to the adverse ramifications of arms race, perpetual state of hostility and lack of cooperation in various fields, the need to establish a collective security system in South Asia becomes essential.
The applicability Helsinki model in South Asia is seen as a long term possibility. Given the fact that Europe has passed through the stage of armed conflicts, the Helsinki process of peace and cooperation has reached its logical conclusion. However, in South Asia the situation is quite different. One can see divergent perceptions of the South Asian countries on security issues, settlement of bilateral disputes and external factors affecting regional stability. Against this background, one may wonder whether it is possible to draw a parallel between the Helsinki model of European security and the South Asian security framework when there are structural contradictions between Europe and South Asia. In case of South Asia, the institutionalization of political disputes, arms race and propaganda warfare, especially between the two major regional countries i.e. India and Pakistan impede cooperation and political harmony in the region. There is lack of political will, particularly among the governments of South Asia to resolve their disputes peacefully and establish relations on the basis of trust and mutual confidence. In addition to this, nearly all the South Asian countries are apprehensive of the Indian quest for supremacy in the region through military, political and economic means, Unlike Europe, there is little people to people contact and the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) play a marginal role in consolidating the process of meaningful cooperation among the countries of South Asia. Moreover, decades of mistrust, ill will and misunderstanding still persists in South Asia. Because of the unsettled intra-regional disputes, the South Asian countries are spending billions of dollars annually on defence.
Despite the impediments mentioned above, the Helsinki framework is a promising model for South Asia. One is aware of the fact that the South Asian countries have common socio-economic problems. There exists a strong desire, especially among the people of South Asia to live in a prosperous and progressive society. There aspirations cannot be fulfilled until and unless the South Asian countries abandon the politics of conflict and follow the road to cooperation. It will require change in the South Asian approach to security and the settlement of disputes. In this context, SAARC has emerged as a forum where the regional countries can examine the scope of cooperation in various fields, establish political harmony and adopt confidence building measures so as to stabilise the process of regional cooperation.
The present study is an attempt to discuss the South Asian security system and the factors which deepened perceptional gap among the regional countries on political and security issues. The author has tried to link Gorbachev’s Asia-Pacific security scheme in the South Asian perspective. On a number of occasions, Gorbachev has suggested that the Asian countries follow the Helsinki model of peace and cooperation. The theme of this dissertation is to gauge whether the Helsinki model of peace and security in Europe would be suitable for the South Asian security frame work. Is it possible to initiate a process similar to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in South Asia? At present, one does not see any possibility of applying the Helsinki model in the South Asian perspective. However, in future, one can be optimistic about a qualitative change in the South Asian security environment. Sooner or later, the South Asian countries realizing the colossal costs of non-cooperation in economic, political and security fields, will consolidate the process of regional cooperation and adopt confidence building measures. These are the two main pillars of the Helsinki framework for peace and cooperation.