As good a claim as any to a share of the credit for the explosion of freedom that shattered the Soviet empire and ended the Cold War belongs to an anomaly called the CSCE, standing for Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe. It is not an organization, like NATO or the European Community, for it has no headquarters or staff. Its actions are not treaties or regulations, or even decisions, for their only effect is moral suasion. It is something like a floating poker game, for there is a certain amount of bluffing and calling, raising and folding, but the game is diplomacy and the chips are a series of prolix reports with names like the Helsinki Final Act and the Copenhagen Document.
The CSCE's genius turns out to be democracy-building. This is a prodigious irony, for the conference began 20 years ago as a tacit admission that the Cold War, with its rigid polarities, was here to stay. It offered ground rules to reduce the risk of war in the ongoing superpower-bloc competition.
The basic bargain, formalized at Helsinki in 1975, was acknowledgment of the political status quo in return for a code of conduct governing relations among European states. The former was taken by the Soviet Union as a grant of political and ideological legitimacy; the latter by the Western countries as a stick with which to beat the Soviets.