The Accords' "Declaration on Principles Guiding Relations between Participating States" (also known as "The Decalogue") enumerated the following 10 points:
When former vice US president Gerald R. Ford came into office in August 1974, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) negotiations had been underway for nearly two years. Although the USSR was looking for a rapid resolution, none of the parties were quick to make concessions, particularly on human rights points. Throughout much of the negotiations, US leaders were disengaged and uninterested with the process. In an August 1974 conversation between President Ford and his National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Dr. Kissinger commented on the CSCE that "we never wanted it but we went along with the Europeans ... t is meaningless—it is just a grandstand play to the left. We are going along with it."
In the months leading up to the conclusion of negotiations and signing of the Helsinki Final Act, the American public, in particular Americans of Eastern European descent voiced their concerns that the agreement would mean the acceptance of Soviet domination over Eastern Europe and incorporation of the Baltic states into the USSR. President Ford was concerned about this as well and sought clarification on this issue from the US National Security Council. The US Senate was also worried about the fate of the Baltic States and the CSCE in general. Several Senators wrote to President Ford requesting that the final summit stage be delayed until all matters had been settled, and in a way favorable to the West.
Shortly before President Ford departed for Helsinki, he held a meeting with a group of Americans of Eastern European background, and stated definitively that US policy on the Baltic States would not change, but would be strengthened since the agreement denies the annexation of territory in violation of international law and allows for the peaceful change of borders.
According to Ford, "The Helsinki documents involve political and moral commitments aimed at lessening tension and opening further the lines of communication between peoples of East and West. ... We are not committing ourselves to anything beyond what we are already committed to by our own moral and legal standards and by more formal treaty agreements such as the United Nations Charter and Declaration of Human Rights. ... If it all fails, Europe will be no worse off than it is now. If even a part of it succeeds, the lot the people in Eastern Europe will be that much better, and the cause of freedom will advance at least that far." The speech, however, did not have much effect. The volume of mail against the Helsinki agreement continued to grow. The American public was still unconvinced that US policy on the incorporation of the Baltic States would not be changed by the Helsinki Final Act. Despite protests from all around, Ford decided to move forward and sign the agreement.
Soon after the return from Helsinki, A. Denis Clift of the National Security Council urged Secretary Kissinger to support the creation of a quarterly report by the NSC Under Secretaries Committee on Helsinki Final Act compliance. Clift believed that the administration needed to be prepared for criticism from American Eastern European ethnic groups and media if the signatories are not in compliance. Kissinger and President Ford agreed and an order was issued to the committee.
The document was seen both as a significant step toward reducing Cold War tensions and as a major diplomatic boost for the Soviet Union at the time, due to its clauses on the inviolability of national frontiers and respect for territorial integrity, which were seen to consolidate the USSR's territorial gains in Eastern Europe following the Second World War. Considering objections from Canada, Spain, Ireland and other states, the Final Act simply stated that "frontiers" in Europe should be stable but could change by peaceful internal means.:65 US president Gerald Ford also reaffirmed that US non-recognition policy of the Baltic states' (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) forced incorporation into the Soviet Union had not changed. Leaders of other NATO member states made similar statements.:65