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Stuck on Jackson-Vanik

As noted in today’s news blast, Lara Iglitzin and John Hempelmann of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation have published an op/ed in the Seattle Times urging the Obama administration not to cancel the 1975 Jackson-Vanik Ammendment, citing Russia’s poor human rights record.

We’re all for the targeted application of pressure, leverage, carrots and sticks on behalf of the international community to bring about some sort of measurable change in Russia’s human rights record, but Jackson-Vanik is absolutely the wrong mechanism.  For years the repeal of this draconian and discriminatory policy has been advocated by diverse voices, from Tom Lantos to Jeffrey Mankoff and even the owner of this blog.  The policy had some success in the late 1970s encouraging the safe passage of persecuted religious minorities from the Soviet Union, but the downgrading of normal trade relations with Russia on these outdated criteria is just not credible under current circumstances.  If Washington has the willingness to enact legislation in support of human rights in Russia, it needs to come up with something else rather than relying on whatever has been left rotting in the kitchen cabinet since the Cold War.

At a briefing related to the February conference, a standing room crowd of congressional staffers — most too young to remember the chill of U.S.-Soviet relations — nevertheless immediately got the symbolism inherent in a repeal of Jackson-Vanik during a time of great and growing concern about the status and trends of human rights in Russia. “Whether or not Jackson-Vanik technically relates to Russia today will be lost on my boss and on many other members,” one young staffer predicted. “All he understands is that in Putin’s Russia, human rights are under attack, so why give him something for nothing?”

Repeal of Jackson-Vanik deprives America of a symbolic and essential human-rights tool in foreign policy. Permanently graduating Russia from Jackson-Vanik, on the other hand — while keeping the law on the books — may be inevitable, if Russia is to be granted entry into the World Trade Organization. At the same time, the Obama administration must couple graduation with new resources for Russia’s democratic activists and a forceful statement supporting the human-rights community.