Ghost of Jackson-Vanik Alive and Well in Moscow

As noted in a previous post on this blog, the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment haunts Russian-American relations. Designed to punish the Soviet Union for its lack of free emigration, it still applies to Russia even though that nation has relatively liberal emigration policies. While no longer needed, keeping it on the books hurts American national security. As one example, for reasons explained in that earlier post, it hampers our nuclear nonproliferation efforts relative to Iran.

Unfortunately, due to lack of media coverage, most Americans are unaware of this dangerous Cold War relic. Just last week, I had dinner with a group of Stanford undergraduates and, not surprisingly, not one of them had heard of Jackson-Vanik. Russians, on the other hand, are all too aware of Jackson-Vanik. Just yesterday, the Moscow Times had an article that noted:

New START is the only tangible example of President Dmitry Medvedev’s singular foreign policy achievement — the reset with Washington. Other reset deliverables are either yet to materialize — for example, repealing Jackson-Vanik — or constitute largely “reputational gains” for Moscow when it buys international goodwill at a cost, such as Medvedev’s arms embargo on Iran.

While there were other constituencies that advocated for adopting this law in 1974, the American Jewish community played a major role in its effort to remove barriers to the emigration of the Soviet Union’s persecuted Jewish minority. As noted in his comment to my earlier post, Jerry Goodman, Founding Executive Director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, stated:

As one who helped lead the campaign to adopt the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to trade laws I have long supported the lifting of the restrictions as they apply to Russia. The treatment of the Jewish minority in today’s post-Soviet Russia demonstrates that Moscow has fulfilled its obligations. It is in compliance with the provisions of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, and Jewish emigration is unhampered. While not linked to the amendment, state sponsored anti-Semitism has also ceased. There are moral as well as political reasons for acting to remove the trade restrictions and continue normalizing ties with Moscow.

If the Cold War really is over, let’s start by getting rid of this dangerous thorn in Russian-American relations that serves no useful purpose.

About Martin Hellman

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects the secure part of the Internet, such as electronic banking. But, since 1982, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic. My latest project is a book, co-written with my wife Dorothie, with the audacious subtitle "Creating True Love at Home & Peace on the Planet." It's on Amazon and a free PDF can be downloaded from its website:
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4 Responses to Ghost of Jackson-Vanik Alive and Well in Moscow

  1. Giovanni says:

    Do you think Russia even cares about Jackson-Vanik anymore? Medvedev and a congressman (from Russia) both said that it’s a misfortune, but it doesn’t really matter. I doubt it’s even a major stumbling block at the moment.

  2. Nuclear Risk says:

    Thanks for that comment Giovanni. Can you provide a link to those statements? As to whether Jackson-Vanik is still a big deal, my reading has led me to believe that, at least within some quarters in Russia, it is. Examples:

    Dimitri Simes, who heads the Nixon Center, wrote last April: “There is no mystery of what might make Moscow more cooperative on Iran. Far-reaching sanctions would cost Russia billions. To compensate Russia, Washington would need to facilitate greater economic cooperation, and as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has stressed on several occasions, this would require canceling the Jackson-Vanik amendment and helping Russia gain membership in the WTO.”

    Similarly, Edward Lozansky, President and Founder of the American University in Moscow, and founder of the World Russian Forum wrote in February 2010 that Jackson-Vanik “continues to be a constant irritant in U.S.-Russia relations.”

    There are many other such statements, including the one in my post from the Moscow Times. Of course, Russia is not a monolith, and I suspect many people take other positions as well, which is why it would be nice to see the full article you mentioned.

    Thanks again.


    • Daniel T. says:

      Great article! I hear a lot about how Jackson-Vanik hinders trade. How much would the US gain if Russia is graduated? Any ballpark figures? 20 billion dollar increase in trade? It seems strange that while many economists such as Prof. Chuck T. Hagel and Anders Aslund claim that Jackson-Vanik hinders trade, no one has given an estimate of the hindrance/increase after graduation.

      • Daniel, That’s a good question. But, whether or not dollar figure is significant, the symbolic importance is major. That this Cold War relic is still on the books, is both annoying to the Russians (how did we respond in the 1940’s to 1960’s when the Soviets criticized us for our racist policies in the South?) and evidence that we never left the Cold War. There are many other issues as well, but this one seems particularly clear cut.

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