Cold War relic lingers on

Capitol Building in Washington, DC with the Senate side of the building on the right (AFP Photo)
On January 18, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov revisited the issue of the notorious Jackson-Vanik amendment. Writer and political scientist Igor Panarin says Russia is right to demand that the US end the anachronistic, discriminatory practice.

In the article below, Panarin explains his view.­­­­

I believe Sergey Lavrov made a very proper and timely remark when he announced that Russia would suspend its WTO commitments with respect to the United States unless the US annuls the Jackson-Vanik amendment. Russia’s recent accession to the World Trade Organization has merely signaled an all-but-final occasion for sorting out a discriminatory provision that has overstayed its raison d’etre for more than 20 years.

The Jackson-Vanik amendment to the US Trade Act of 1974 was adopted by Congress in the same year as a means of applying economic pressure against “non-market economies” for restricting freedom of emigration and other human rights. It effectively created trade barriers, banning certain Soviet-made products such as steel from the US market. Although this was not explicitly spelled out in the bill, the amendment was essentially meant to punish the Soviet Union for barring sections of its Jewish population from emigrating to Israel and other countries.

The Jackson-Vanik amendment is still in force today.

Of the numerous US-Russian meetings, conferences and forums I have attended over the past two decades, the issue of reviewing and ultimately repealing the Jackson-Vanik amendment has come up recurrently. Time and again, Russian representatives would point to the fact that this provision was obsolete and discriminatory, and their American counterparts would almost invariably agree and assure them the amendment would soon become history. And each time, nothing would change.

During a US-Russian forum hosted by US Congress in 2009, I personally heard US Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns announce that the Jackson-Vanik amendment would be repealed in the nearest future. I happen to know Mr. Burns personally, and I have a great deal of respect for him. A former US Ambassador to Russia, he is a high-caliber diplomatic professional with profound, first-hand knowledge as well as a positive attitude toward our country. Moreover, Mr. Burns is also one of the advocates of maintaining friendly relations with Russia among the present policy makers in Washington.

That said, his statement of 2009 was not followed by any real progress.

I also had the privilege of bringing up the Jackson-Vanik issue during my personal conversations with America’s leading Russia experts at Georgetown and Stanford in 2011. On both occasions, I was told in the most cordial manner that the Obama administration was determined to do away with the restrictions, and that the abolition of Jackson-Vanik was only a matter of time. That would have sounded most encouraging, had I not heard exactly the same assurances some 15 years ago.

Finally, President Obama personally promised President Medvedev in November 2011 that his administration would engage Congress in consultations in order to have the Jackson-Vanik amendment repealed. Now it is January 2012, and nothing of the kind has been so much as started.

What makes the situation grotesquely absurd is the fact that a discriminatory provision targeting a Communist regime is still applied vis-à-vis a democratic state with a market economy. Not only has the Soviet Union been non-existent for over 20 years today, but modern-day Russia also enjoys good relations with Israel, complete with a visa-free regime, and Russia’s Jews (and indeed all Russian citizens) have been free to move or travel all around the world for the past two decades – that is, unless they are denied entry by some of the world’s most sophisticated democracies for being Russian.

Washington’s reluctance to do away with the Jackson-Vanik amendment reeks of Russophobia even more evidently if you consider that the amendment has been abolished with regard to several other post-Soviet states following the disintegration of the USSR. But not for Russia: even though Moscow has repeatedly put this issue on the table over the past 20 years, several consecutive US presidents have merely granted the amendment a waiver for the sake of US trade with Russia, instead of repealing it altogether.

Yet another American promise concerning the abolition of Jackson-Vanik came this week, as US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns told Russia’s Kommersant daily on January 17th that the amendment might be repealed in 2012. Burns said the United States is in favor of Russia’s WTO accession and does not see any reasons for retaining the restrictive provision.

One can only hope that this will not turn out to be yet another empty promise. One can only hope that this time, reason will finally win over prejudice, and the American political elite will prove that it is 2012 on its calendar – not 1974.

­Prof. Igor Panarin, Doctor of Political Sciences, special to RT

­The statements, views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.