Realism’s Supposed “Core,” Jackson-Vanik, and the Magnitsky Act
Realists claimed that emigration—predominantly by Soviet Jewry—was not a core U.S. interest and that congressional meddling risked rapprochement with the Soviet Union. It was only after the fall of the Soviet Union that dissidents and ex-communist officials both testified as to how Jackson-Vanik de-legitimized the Soviet Union and shook it to its core.
Jackson-Vanik served a limited purpose, and it helped undermine the USSR. The issue it addressed wasn’t a “core U.S. interest,” and it didn’t shake the Soviet Union to its “core.” In any case, the Helsinki Accords were far more important for encouraging internal dissent inside the USSR and its satellites in eastern Europe.
When this issue came up in late 2010, Kissinger defended his position on Jackson-Vanik:
That emigration existed at all was due to the actions of “realists” in the White House. Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union had never been put forward by any administration as a formal American position, not because of moral insensitivity but because intense crises imposed other priorities. In 1969, we introduced it into the presidential channel as a humanitarian issue because we judged that a foreign policy confrontation would lead to rejection and an increase of tensions with the Soviets. As a result, Jewish emigration rose from 700 a year in 1969 to near 40,000 in 1972. The total in Nixon’s first term was more than 100,000. We also submitted, with some success, several hundred hardship cases at regular intervals. To maintain this flow by quiet diplomacy, we never used these figures for political purposes.
The issue became public because of the success of our Middle East policy when Egypt evicted Soviet advisers. To restore its relations with Cairo, the Soviet Union put a tax on Jewish emigration. There was no Jackson-Vanik Amendment until there was a successful emigration effort.
In many respects, the Magnitsky Act is much worse for the U.S. In addition to damaging relations with Russia, there are good reasons to think that it will have no effect on the behavior of Russian officials at all. The bill reflects, as Raymond Sontag recently wrote, the American “impulse to engage in self-righteous posturing rather than in crafting serious strategy.”
Rubin is essentially saying that realists prioritize securing U.S. interests over worrying about how other governments run their internal affairs. This is supposed to be a flaw?