Michael Morgan is associate professor of history at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He specializes in modern international history, especially the Cold War. His recent book, The Final Act: The Helsinki Accords and the Transformation of the Cold War (Princeton University Press, 2018) examines the origins of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, a 35-country agreement that was a watershed in East-West relations and the development of human rights. Morgan is a co-author with Daniel Sargent (UC-Berkeley), of “Helsinki 1975: Borders and People,” in the book “Transcending the Cold War: Summits, Statecraft, and the Dissolution of Bipolarity in Europe, 1970-1990,” ed. David Reynolds and Kristina Spohr (Oxford University Press, 2016). Before coming to UNC, Morgan taught at the U.S. Naval War College and the University of Toronto, where he was the inaugural holder of the Raymond Pryke Chair.
The Origins of the Helsinki Final Act, 1954-1975
Morgan’s dissertation argued that the signing of the Helsinki Final Act in August 1975 was a turning point in the history of the Cold War. The brief ceremony in the Finnish capital was the culmination of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), one of the largest and most ambitious diplomatic undertakings in European history. Over the course of nearly three years, 35 countries jointly hammered out an agreement that covered almost every aspect of international affairs, including sovereignty and borders, economic and commercial relations, and human rights. By injecting human rights into geopolitics for the first time, by calling the centuries-old principle of absolute sovereignty into question, and by raising the possibility of reunifying a divided Europe, the Final Act had profound consequences for the future of the Cold War. It crystallized the difference between the political systems of Eastern and Western Europe, secured communist recognition of basic human rights standards, and, most importantly, bolstered dissident movements across Eastern Europe. Since the end of the Cold War, the Final Act’s contribution to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe has been widely acknowledged, and Morgan’s dissertation, based on newly-declassified material from North American and European archives, was the first comprehensive account of how and why it came into being.