Pressing Soviets on human rights. Former dissident urges abrogation of Helsinki pact
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Defenders of the Helsinki process believe that it serves as a forum of public pressure on the Soviet Union.Skip to next paragraph
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A lot of people who wanted the review conferences to be unpleasant for the Soviets are persuading themselves that it really is unpleasant for them. As a matter of fact it is not. The Soviets come very willingly to all these conferences. They will be sitting to their delight, listening to all this blubber, which doesn't go anywhere. These review conferences are conducted behind closed doors. That's one of the essential flaws of the Helsinki Accords.
But the Soviets [keep coming to] these review conferences because of the frontiers issue. If they don't show up at the human rights reviews, they jeopardize the section of Basket I that affirms the postwar borders.
You say that the Soviets do have a value in this document, so why don't you threaten to abrogate and deprive them of that value unless they comply with their parts? Why do you allow them to enjoy certain advantages of this agreement while they don't give you any advantages?
When we called for abrogation, we knew for sure it would not be abrogated. Bureaucratic inertia is strong and you can never cancel it. By presenting this apparently extreme viewpoint about abrogating the Helsinki Accords, we shift the middle ground and force all these nice people who pay lip service to human rights problems in the Soviet Union, to defend the value of the accords. And once we force them into a position of defense, the only argument that they will bring back about its value is that it links human rights, security, and cooperation. We will say, ``Aha! Now go and formulate your policy according to this principle.''
I claim that if the West, immediately after signing the accords, had insisted on linkage among the baskets and had done something useful with these periodical review conferences, the situation would not have deteriorated in the Soviet Union.
Ask anybody who has lived in the Soviet Union and they will tell you that the least effective thing in the Soviet Union is to sit down and talk. If you have any leverage, use it. The Soviets are chess players. If you just sit and talk over the chessboard, how much will it advance your game? What counts are the moves you make.
Some scientists believe that the integrity of the world scientific community and free exchange of ideas is essential to maintain in this nuclear age. Considering the danger, they argue that this principle takes precedence over the loss of human rights of individual Soviet scientists.
That's a beautiful position -- that's the Soviet position. The Helsinki position is the concept that all three baskets are connected and one does not take precedence over the other.
Unless the Soviet Union becomes a more open country, there is very little sense in the so-called arms control process. [Dissident Soviet physicist Andrei] Sakharov made that point repeatedly, but that was never made a policy of the West. If the Soviet Union observes its obligations to the Helsinki process and to civil and political rights, you don't need any arms control. Society itself becomes a controlling organ which prevents governments from becoming too militaristic.
Carol O'Hallaron is a staff member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.