Poking the Russian Bear – Again

There have been some important new developments on the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which has an impact on nuclear risk. Most Americans don’t even know that this 1974 relic of the Cold War even exists, but it is frequently cited in the Russian media as proof that the US is stuck in a Cold War mentality and will do almost anything to hurt Russia, even when it hurts us as well (J-V penalizes Russia for a sin it no longer commits and hinders American exports to Russia):

For background on J-V, please see my posts of 14 OCT 2010 and 14 FEB 2011. Here are the most important new developments:

On 13 NOV, under pressure from American business interests which are being hurt by Jackson-Vanik, the House Rules Committee voted to repeal J-V, but merged that with the “Magnitsky Bill,” which substitutes a new poke in Russia’s eye for the old one that’s been there since 1974. While the death of Sergei Magnitsky was a tragedy and an abuse of state power, we need to look at the tradeoffs involved. What impact will the Magnitsky Bill have on nuclear risk? And will it aid human rights in Russia, or like the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, will it have the opposite of its intended effect?

As detailed in my briefing paper on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Russia sees us as arrogantly imposing our view on the world, even when our perception is badly clouded. (Search on McCain and Fox News for examples.) The Magnitsky Bill adds to that belief system, increasing the risk that Russia will see our actions in the worst possible light, thereby increasing the risk of a Russian-American confrontation which, in turn, increases the risk of a nuclear disaster.

And, while J-V was intended to help Russian Jews, known as “refuseniks,” emigrate, emigration dropped after its passage. Russia resisted what it perceived as American bullying. Might the Magnitsky Bill have a similar effect?  To understand how that might happen, remember that, in the 1960’s, Soviet criticism of American civil rights retarded change by causing many Americans to suspect Martin Luther King of communist sympathies.

Two days after the House Rules Committee vote, a Reuters dispatch quoted the Russian government as warning Washington “to expect a tough response” if Congress passes the Magnitsky Bill. Also, although the House has approved the merged bills, the Senate version is less insulting to Russia, so a conference will be needed to resolve the differences.

To keep this post “fair and balanced,” I’ll mention an article by Magnitsky’s former boss, which argues in favor of the Magnitsky Bill. But note that this article, which conflicts with official Russian policy, appeared in The Moscow Times, indicating that – contrary to popular belief – Russia today is much more open to dissent than was the pre-Gorachev Soviet Union.

Martin Hellman

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To learn more about the level of nuclear risk, visit my related web site.

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, for almost 30 years, 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 with the audacious subtitle "Creating True Love at Home & Peace on the Planet." Its soon to open website explains: https://anewmap.com.
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2 Responses to Poking the Russian Bear – Again

  1. Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a very well written article.

    I’ll be sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of your useful information. Thanks for the post. I will certainly comeback.

  2. Nuclear Risk says:

    Thanks for your words of support. To learn what happened to theJ-V Repeal/Magnitsky Poke in the Eye Bill see my later posts of January 18, 2013 and January 22, 2013.

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