American History, European History, History, Political Science, Russian History, Human Rights, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Soviet dissent, Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Cold War
My dissertation will explore the complexities of the role human rights played in U.S.-Soviet relations from 1975 to 1989 through the prism of globalization. It will describe how Western private citizens, Soviet dissenters, and members of Congress exploited the language of Final Act (Helsinki Accords) to forge a transnational network committed to globalizing the issue of Soviet human rights violations. This development challenged bureaucratic discretion in ways that gave the Carter and Reagan administrations little choice but to challenge Soviet internal behavior in forthright fashion. Instead of viewing transnational activities as a threat to their expertise, many officials in each administration made working with and supporting non-governmental groups an integral element of their approach to undermining the international and internal legitimacy of the USSR. Utilizing Soviet internal documents available in English, this dissertation will also explain why many Soviet policymakers feared the human rights critiques of dissenters and Western private citizens just as much, if not more, than the statements of U.S. politicians. Without losing sight of the pivotal role private citizens and Congress played in tarnishing the international reputation of the Soviet Union, this work will also offer an in-depth comparison of the Carter and Reagan administrations' efforts to promote human rights in USSR. It will argue that a transnational perspective calls into question many of the standard interpretations of each administration's efforts to promote human rights in the Soviet Union. In the case of the USSR, a transnational framework complicates arguments that focus on the inherent weaknesses of Soviet dissent during the early to mid 1980s. After exploring these topics, this work will outline the limitations of “constructivist” accounts of how international human rights “norms” shaped Soviet reform efforts after Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary.
History, International relations, Amnesty International, Amnesty International USA, Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, and International League for the Rights of Man
Using archival collections and published primary sources, this dissertation offers a bottom-up, social historical perspective on how several international human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the United States during the Cold War--the International League for the Rights of Man, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), Americas Watch and Helsinki Watch--formed a transnational advocacy network that exposed abuses and shamed governments into ending them. It finds that a small circle of rooted cosmopolitans--a term used by Sidney Tarrow to describe "outsiders inside/insiders outside"--was responsible for the emergence of a movement during the mid-1970s that was centered in New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. The activists profiled here were not the powerful, but neither were they the powerless. They tended to be highly-educated professionals who were drawn into activism after their moral sensibilities had been greatly offended. The emotional connections that formed between activists and victims thus arose within the historical context of intensifying market relations in this contemporary era of globalization. But why the spectacle of distant suffering drove some people to devote themselves to advancing the cause of human rights can be answered only in deeply personal terms. Biography is crucial to understanding how this transformation occurred for them: religious beliefs, a long-held cultural interest, a friend who experienced political repression and symbolized the plight of an entire country, previous work on domestic civil liberties, or their own victimization. Their worldview was based on a far-reaching conception of one's ethical responsibilities. As Kwame Anthony Appiah has argued, lives are given value by the identities that shape them--the philosophical basis of a cosmopolitanism that is premised upon "kindness to strangers." Activists proceeded in a similar path from an abstract notion of the rights-bearing individual to immersing themselves in the lived experiences of prisoners, dissidents, and other persecuted individuals they may have never actually met in person. Lacking the authority of state actors, activists had to act as moral entrepreneurs. Their social value was providing elites with information. The researchers who gathered the material for the reports published by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch became experts who were called to testify before Congress. Journalists quoted their findings to counter or corroborate the official version of events. NGOs also developed legal expertise that they used to expand the reach of international human rights law. As this subfield became more widely taught at law schools, some of which established programs dedicated to it, a generation of lawyer-activists took the international human rights movement in a new, more litigious direction. Publicity was just as important. It was easier to mobilize public opinion against repressive governments if the victims were well known; even better if activists became part of the story. By reaffirming their accuracy and objectivity, activists could gain the trust of reliable donors, philanthropic foundations, wealthy benefactors, and celebrities, all of whom became important sources of income that enabled their NGOs to expand during the last three decades of the twentieth century.