SAKHAROV’S ALTERNATIVES

By Efrem Yankelevich

 
My ideal is an open pluralistic society which safeguards fundamental civil and political rights, a society with a mixed economy which would permit scientifically-regulated, balanced progress. I have expressed the view that such a society ought to come about as a result of the peaceful convergence of the socialist and capitalist systems and that this is the main condition for saving the world from thermonuclear catastrophe.[1]
 
Andrei Sakharov
Gorky, October 1980
 
 
In this article, I outline and analyze Andrei Sakharov’s basic views and his socio-political ideas that I consider fundamental.
 
I was fortunate to know Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov and to collaborate with him for many years, yet this essay is based only to a slight degree on my personal impressions; it is rather based on his articles, letters, speeches, and interviews published in the Russian edition of his collected works.[2]
 
A few words about what seems to me definitive in Sakharov’s socio-political position.
 
Sakharov possessed in addition to his other talents, one that was quite rare: the ability to empathize with human suffering and misfortunes no matter where they occurred -- whether it was the anonymous victims of nuclear atmospheric testing scattered throughout the world, starving Africans, Soviet prisoners or Palestinian refugees in Sabra and Shatila. (The question whether this was an innate trait or this capacity developed in him later, when as the “father of the hydrogen bomb” he felt himself responsible for the fate of the world, lies beyond the scope of this essay.)
 
The “planetary nature” of Sakharov’s thought, his worldview, issued from his conviction about the connectedness of the fates of humankind, which he shared with his forerunners Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. We are all in one boat, and we will perish together or be saved together.
 
And finally, Sakharov believed that social and technical progress can and should relieve human suffering. More precisely, Sakharov believed, and this was an expression of his democratic convictions, that free people are capable of rationally constructing their public life and rationally employing the fruits of scientific progress.
 
Thus, in my view, Sakharov’s socio-political position rests on these three whales -- empathy, “planetary view,” and faith in social, scientific and technical progress.
 
Sakharov was, undoubtedly, a key figure of the “Cold War,” or the “Third World War,” as it is now sometimes called; his positions, ideas, and views were formed by the realities of this era and formulated as answers to the problems of those days. It may be too optimistic to think that this era has ended for good and that the Russian-American conflict will not recur. Suppose, however, that the world does not return to the Cold War, what is the fate of Sakharov’s ideas now and what will it be in the coming era? The concluding part of this essay is devoted to that issue.
 
I would like to draw to the reader’s attention that in concluding his book, My Country and the World, Sakharov described his creative method as follows:
 
I have written this book the way people build a modern home, or rather, the way a rook builds his nest: first the frame, then the twigs that have been laid by. All the holes visible to the builder are filled in, but some unused twigs remain.[3]
 
And in fact, my impression is that Sakharov left a lot unsaid and incomplete, that not all of his ideas could be developed or needed to be developed within the framework of his works. However, these unused “twigs” are still left over -- in the form of abandoned notations, unspoken thoughts, and briefly outlined themes. For the attentive reader, they help to round out the impression of Sakharov’s social and political views.
 
The Doctrine of Sakharov
 
The thesis about the indissoluble link between peace, international security and human rights is Sakharov’s central concept. It was not Sakharov’s original postulate. His 1968 Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom contains a great deal about peace, but “human rights” is mentioned only in passing, although in very important contexts, which I will describe later.
 
It is believed that Sakharov began to formulate this thesis, famous as “the Sakharov doctrine,” in the early 1970s, in connection with the “political détente” of Brezhnev and Nixon and as an alternative to it. In Sakharov’s July 1973 interview with Olle Stenholm, which angered the Soviet authorities, Sakharov expressed his still ill-defined alarm and hope connected with this new direction in Soviet-American relations:
 
The foreign world has apparently decided to accept our rules of the game. That would be very unfortunate. But there is another side to the matter; we are now breaking out of our fifty years of isolation, and in time that can exert a beneficial influence. It is very hard to predict how all this will turn out. And if we speak of the West, it is difficult to understand whether they want to help us or to force us to capitulate in order to satisfy the West’s domestic interests, using us as a bargaining chip.[4]
 
Sakharov does not specify what these Soviet “rules of the game” were, but, likely he feared that convergence would come on Soviet terms and would not be accompanied, as many hoped, by internal liberalization.
 
The purposes and motives of “détente,” at least, its initial goals, are not to this day entirely clear. Apparently, the Americans wanted to reduce the heat of conflict and economize on military expenditures, while the USSR was trying to obtain international recognition of its territorial conquests in Europe and expected Western loans, technology and grain. In 1975, the two countries agreed on the legitimization and freezing of the status-quo. In other words, they acknowledged the USSR’s zone of influence in Eastern Europe and its exclusive sway over the countries of the “socialist camp” in exchange for Soviet promises that the USSR would not try to expand this zone. Although the USSR did not refrain from support of “progressive forces,” that is, from subversive activity, in any region of the globe, at least it promised not to expand its zone of influence through military force or the threat of its use. (These promises later were violated with the deployment of Soviet SS20 missiles in the European theater, and later Soviet actions, although beyond the range of the Helsinki Accords, in Angola and Afghanistan).
 
Thus, the world was to be divided forever by the “Iron Curtain,” the realization of the American doctrine of containment. And if for some this curtain was to be transparent, then it was only for trade and official “cultural exchanges”. A substantial concession by the USSR, however, was the inclusion in the 1975 Helsinki agreement of the “third basket,” which contained obligations in the field of human rights.
 
Sakharov’s alarms turned out to be unfounded, just like, in the final analysis, some of his hopes. These alarms, nevertheless, compelled Sakharov to begin to formulate an alternative program for “détente,” and a month and a half after the interview with Stenholm, Sakharov would announce the key points giving rise to his doctrine:
 
    Détente without democratization, a rapprochement in which the West, in effect, accepts the Soviet Union’s rules of the game would be […] very dangerous and it would not really solve any of the world’s problems. It would mean simply capitulating to the growing power of the USSR. This would be an attempt to trade with the Soviet Union, getting gas and oil, but ignoring all the other issues involved. […]
 
    If the Soviet Union is relieved of problems that it cannot resolve on its own, it can concentrate on accumulating further strength and as a result, the world would become disarmed while facing the might of our uncontrolled Soviet bureaucratic apparatus. […] It would mean the cultivation and encouragement of a closed country, where everything may be shielded from outside eyes, and the true face of the country is hidden behind a mask. No one wishes to have such a neighbor, especially if it is armed to the teeth[5]
 
In his Nobel lecture of 1975, Sakharov included the following thesis:
 
   I am convinced that international trust, mutual understanding, disarmament and international security are inconceivable without an open society, freedom of information, freedom of conscience, glasnost, freedom of movement, and freedom to choose one’s country of residence.[6]
 
Sakharov’s doctrine rests on three arguments. First, if a state is a threat to its own citizens, it will be a threat to its neighbors. Second, respect for human rights ensures democratic oversight of a country’s foreign policy and military expenditures, and society will not permit militarization of the economy during peace time. Third, observance of human rights would safeguard the free exchange of information and ideas among peoples, foster their rapprochement, and lower mutual distrust, thereby reducing the likelihood of conflict and the possibility of secretly nurturing aggressive intentions. All of these arguments Sakharov expresses in various contexts in many of his speeches.
 
A broad interpretation of Sakharov’s works, permits introduction of a fourth argument, relevant to his theory of convergence: human rights can (and should) become a universal value, and this commonality of values will reduce the possibility of conflicts of ideologies or of civilizations. In other words, Sakharov supposes, although nowhere stating this directly, that common values can guarantee lasting peace, and such values can (and should) be based on generally accepted human rights. Peace founded on such values is all the more possible, because “the ideology of human rights,” in Sakharov’s opinion, is universal.
 
   The ideology of human rights is probably the only one which can be combined with such diverse ideologies as communism, social-democracy, religion, technocracy, and nationalism; it can form as well a foundation for the positions of persons who do not want to tie themselves to theoretical intricacies and dogmas, who are tired of the abundance of ideologies, none of which have brought people simple human happiness.
The defense of human rights is a clear path toward the unification of peoples in our turbulent world and to the relief of their suffering.[7]
 
What is to be done, however, if a tyrannical government doesn’t wish to respect the rights of its citizens? Other countries, and the international community, must try to compel this country to respect them. Thus, human rights cease to be a state’s internal affair, and their defense becomes a subject of international concern.
 
It seems likely that Sakharov’s thesis about the interconnectivity of peace and human rights, as well as the accompanying principle of the need for the international defense of human rights, were influenced by the following ideas and circumstances.
 
Sakharov himself refers in My Country and the World to Niels Bohr and his idea of an “open world” and to Rene Cassin[8], who maintained that human rights know no state bounds and that every person must be recognized as a subject of international law in matters concerning the protection of his rights.
 
Another indisputable fact is Sakharov’s personal, emotional interest in preventing nuclear war, in defending human rights in the USSR, and in aiding victims of political repression in the USSR and elsewhere. I believe that reflecting on these matters and the reasons for Soviet-American conflict, he could not help but discover the connections between them.
 
Third, Sakharov already expressed doubt about the possibility of internal change in the USSR in his interview with Stenholm, and his later statements on this subject became even more pessimistic. The only source of hope for Sakharov, even though a weak hope, was for external, Western influence on questions of human rights.
 
Returning to Sakharov’s Reflections in 1968, he included an unexpected statement which sounds strange because it departs from the overall context of the essay:
 
   International control presupposes the use of economic sanctions as well as the use of armed forces of the United Nation in defense of human rights. […] The goal of international policy is to ensure worldwide fulfillment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and to prevent a sharpening of international tensions or a strengthening of militarism or nationalism.[9]
 
We do not know, whether this was an echo of the ideas of Bohr, or whether Sakharov had begun independently reflecting on the principle of the international defense of human rights, but he could hardly have supposed then that the defense of this principle and the struggle for its fruition would become one of the main aims of his life.
 
For many years, Sakharov’s principal efforts were directed at mobilizing Western pressure on the Soviet authorities regarding human rights problems, especially the defense of victims of political repressions. He never tired of repeating that “the struggle for human rights is the real struggle today for peace and the future of humankind,[10] or of naming dozens of Soviet political prisoners in order to remind the world of their fate.
 
How effective could such pressure be, in Sakharov’s opinion? In part this is a pointless question, because even if he considered it to be ineffective, he had no other means of action after the Soviet authorities ceased replying to his appeals. Nevertheless, this question emerged, for example, in connection with the passage of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment by the U.S. Congress, which linked the granting of Most Favored Nation trade status to the USSR with freedom of emigration from the USSR.[11]
 
The Jackson Amendment had for Sakharov a particular significance. First, he considered the right “to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country”[12] to be the key to an open society. Moreover, this amendment, in Sakharov’s opinion was an important precedent, indicating the desirable direction for the development of the process of ‘détente”. In his “Open Letter to the U.S. Congress,” Sakharov wrote:
 
   The Jackson Amendment is even more significant now, when the world is embarking on the new path of détente, and it is therefore essential that the proper direction be followed from the outset. This is a fundamental issue, extending far beyond the question of emigration.[13]
 
The history of Soviet emigration policy has not yet been written, but apparently the Soviet authorities were prepared to give the U.S. several hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews and to send several dozens of thousands of Soviet ethnic Germans to Germany, as a gesture of good will. They were not prepared to grant the right of departure to every Soviet citizen. Soon after the passage of the Jackson amendment, in January 1975, the Soviets said that the Soviet-American trade agreements of 1972 would not enter into force since they were violated by this amendment. Also, according to a statement from Brezhnev,[14] in the course of the next two years, the U.S. lost Soviet contracts worth two billion dollars, which were redirected to Europe and Japan. Jewish emigration fell to 13,000 in 1975, compared to 20,000 the year before, although it soon rose again.
 
Sakharov, however, did not consider that all this was evidence of the uselessness of attempts to exert pressure on the USSR because of its position on human rights matters. The effectiveness of Western pressure, and of the Jackson amendment in particular, are discussed at length in My Country and the World, and Sakharov also spoke of this issue in his interview with George Krimsky, then a correspondent for the Associated Press. Sakharov’s position in brief was as follows:
 
1. The pressure must not let up, because that threatens the loss of results already achieved.
 
2. The pressure must be effective, but only the unity of the West can guarantee effective pressure.
 
3. In exerting pressure, you must be prepared for a counteraction.
 
In retrospect, how effective was Western pressure and the human rights efforts of Sakharov himself? Unfortunately, there is still no research devoted to these issues. However, several general comments are appropriate here.
 
The West’s never achieved a united front on the issue of human rights in the USSR; however, largely thanks to Sakharov, the world scientific community did work together in defense of their Soviet colleagues.
 
The human rights movement in the USSR was virtually crushed during the late 1970s and early 1980s. It had, however, managed to survive in the Soviet Union for more than ten years, also largely thanks to Sakharov.
 
Sakharov’s statements against political persecution in the USSR had, at least, preventive significance. In other words, the authorities understood that any political persecutions, if they become known to Sakharov and other Soviet human rights activists, would result in an appeal to the West. And this forced them to take into account the consequences of their actions, including the reaction of Western public opinion.
 
Of course, the conception of international defense of human rights was alien to the Soviet authorities, and they continually accused Sakharov of inciting interference in their internal affairs. Rene Cassin’s article “The Fight for Human Rights” is instructive:
 
I took part in the Bernheim case, reviewed by the League of Nations in 1933. Bernheim, a Jew, was a victim of violation by the Germans of the Upper Silesia Accords. How did Germany, how did Hitler and Goebbels justify their actions? They said, “Everyone is master in his own home. It is not your affair to determine what we are doing with our socialists, with our pacifists, with our Jews. You are not right to interfere in our affairs. This is a sovereign state.” [15]
 
The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany coincided in resisting the international defense of human rights. Sakharov rejected their position.
 
Detailed Parity
 
I have already written about the personal, emotional attitude Sakharov had to the problems of the Soviet-American nuclear relationship. This couldn’t be better illustrated than the following quotation from Sakharov’s My Country and the World:
 
   I cannot for one moment forget that all this time, hundreds of thousands of workers, thousands of talented engineers and scientists from many fields are working on expanding and perfecting a system of attack which is most difficult to defend against –  synchronized strikes of  thousands of MIRVed missiles with multi-megaton warheads and decoys -- and on creating a fantastically complex and expensive defense system also serving military purposes.[16]
 
Sakharov returns in almost all of his main works to control over weapons and the prevention of nuclear war. The most detailed exposition of his views on these matters can be found in his article “The Danger of Thermonuclear War: An Open Letter to Dr. Sydney Drell.”[17]
 
I will note here only Sakharov’s conception of “detailed parity”. Sakharov believed that negotiations on reducing armaments could be effective -- lead to a significant reduction of nuclear, and not just nuclear, arsenals -- only if strategic parity exists in conventional weapons as well as nuclear missiles, accompanied by rough equality in other specific categories, for example, in tanks and in troops.
 
Sakharov insisted that the West must renounce nuclear weapons as an instrument to contain the Soviet threat, especially in Europe, where the forces of the Warsaw Pact were many times superior to the forces of NATO. Instead, in order to maintain strategic parity, the West should restore the balance of conventional weapons despite the social and economic expense involved. Interestingly, Sakharov does not even discuss the possibility of reaching parity through reducing the Soviet military presence in Eastern Europe; apparently he believed that to be an unattainable dream. It was only in 1987 when the prospect for a reduction of the Soviet army was becoming a real possibility that Sakharov suggested[18] that this would speed talks on the reduction of nuclear weapons.[19]
 
From the early 1970s, Sakharov was more and more inclined to view the Soviet Union as the main threat to peace and security. Ten years later, Sakharov came to the conclusion that stability based on mutual nuclear deterrence was undermined in particular by the development of the Soviet offensive nuclear potential. Sakharov does not specify which scenarios of escalation of conflict he had in mind. It might have been, for example, a scenario in which the USSR, relying on its strategic superiority, would underestimate the readiness of the U.S. to cover Europe with its “nuclear umbrella” in the event of an invasion of Soviet forces there, or another major confrontation such as the1948 Soviet blockade of Western Berlin.
 
A brief outline by Sakharov of his position can be found, for example, in his message, “On the Award of the Leo Szilard Prize”
 
   Today we ask ourselves once again: does mutual nuclear terror serve as a deterrent to war? For almost 40 years the world has avoided a third world war. And, quite possibly, nuclear deterrence has been, to a considerable extent, the reason for this. But I am convinced that nuclear deterrence is gradually turning into its own antithesis and becoming a dangerous remnant of the past. The equilibrium provided by nuclear deterrence is becoming increasingly unstable […]. In light of this it is necessary, gradually and carefully, to shift the functions of deterrence onto conventional armed forces, with all the economic, political and social consequences this entails. It is necessary to strive for nuclear disarmament.
 
   Of course, in all the interim stages of disarmament and negotiations, international security must be provided for, vis-à-vis any possible move by a potential aggressor. For this, in particular, one has to be ready to resist, at all the various possible stages, the escalation of a conventional or a nuclear war. No side must be tempted to engage in a limited or regional nuclear war.
 
   There are two specific problems. One is that the main part of the Soviet Union’s nuclear potential is concentrated in gigantic land-based missiles. Essentially, this is a first-strike weapon. It is necessary to strive to eliminate these weapons or to reduce their numbers. There is little chance of this happening before the West has analogous missiles and is ready to eliminate them, as well as the other means of waging nuclear war. The second problem is that the Soviet Union is not likely to eliminate its powerful medium-range missiles, which have upset the nuclear equilibrium in Europe and which threaten China and Japan, before the West deploys analogous missiles.[20]
 
Thus, Sakharov called for the restoration by the West of parity in conventional and nuclear armaments. He believed that in achieving balance separately in conventional and nuclear armaments, nuclear weapons could be painlessly and effectively reduced without worrying about overall strategic parity. It is the absence of “parity in detail” that makes for such difficult negotiations on disarmament. History has seemingly confirmed that Sakharov was right.
 
Soviet Society. Ideology, Convergence, Reforms
 
   Now the Soviet state’s sixty-year history -- the disgraceful and brutal, the tragic and heroic -- has vanished under the veneer of relative material well-being and mass indifference. A deeply cynical caste society has come into being, one which I consider dangerous (to itself and to all mankind) -- a sick society ruled by two principles: “blat” (a slang word meaning “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”), and the popular saying “No use banging your head against the wall.” But beneath our society’s petrified surface exist massive cruelty, lawlessness, the absence of civil rights protecting the average man against the authorities, and the latter’s total lack of accountability to their own people or to the world at large – this dual irresponsibility is interrelated. As long as this situation continues, no one in our country, or anywhere in the world, can allow himself to lapse into complacency.[21]
 
Sakharov wrote this concise characterization of the Brezhnev era in 1977. Summing up Sakharov’s views, as expressed by him beginning in 1973, we can try to paint an overall picture of Soviet society as he conceived it. Soviet society is the result of Stalin and Stalinism, no matter what its ultimate sources. Sakharov called the pre-war Soviet society “fascistic“. Later it became a system of “state capitalism,” in which the state possesses a monopoly over economic activity, and as a consequence, a monopoly on decision-making in all fields of human activity.
 
   Subjected to the same kind of training as a horse, the Soviet citizen is a creation of a totalitarian society and, for the time being, its chief support.[22] His political worldview amounts to a “cult of the state” and submission to its power.
 
The Soviet ruling class is the nomenklatura, the “New Class” of Milovan Djilas or the “inner Party” of Orwell. The Soviet nomenklatura is virtually inalienable and recently has become hereditary. Its interests do not necessarily coincide with the interests of the state and society. Sakharov does not claim that it is concerned only with its own interests. Possibly because of his own experience, he recognized the necessity of the government functions of the nomenklatura. But its members “tenaciously cling to their public and secret privileges and are deeply indifferent to violations of human rights, to the interests of progress, to security and the future of humankind.”
 
What particularly worried Sakharov was the capacity of the authorities to mobilize enormous resources for war and subversive purposes without oversight, and to use military force without oversight. Sakharov was worried about the threat which “a closed totalitarian police state armed with super-powerful weaponry and possessing enormous means and resources, poses for the world.” In this connection Sakharov could not help but question the reasons for the opposition between the East and West. Is the reason a conflict of ideologies (or a “civilization conflict” as we would likely say today?) Is the USSR striving to destroy Western civilization? What are the reasons, purposes and limits of Soviet expansion?
 
Sakharov does not doubt the threat to the West from “totalitarian socialism” and calls on the West for unity in the face of this threat. And it is not only a military threat. Sakharov speaks, for example, of the attempt to exploit Arab nationalism in order to block Western Europe from Middle Eastern oil and thus make it dependent on the Soviet Union.
 
In his works of 1974-1975, Sakharov speaks of “socialist messianism” as a reason for Soviet expansionism. However, about that time he is already reviewing his own point of view on the role of ideology in the domestic and foreign policies of the USSR. In Sakharov’s article “On Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s ‘A Letter to the Soviet Leaders,’” [23] he views ideology as a convenient façade for making pragmatic decisions. In a later article[24] he supposes that external expansion is necessary for the very existence of the Soviet system, and not necessarily related to the ideas of world revolution and the world socialist system of the Comintern era. In the article “What the US and USSR Must Do to Preserve Peace” he attributes Soviet ambitions to a continuation of traditional Russian geopolitics:
 
   Having abandoned the long-term view (and the short-term view now means building their personal dachas), the Party authorities continue traditional Russian geopolitics, but on a world-wide basis, taking advantage of the enormous resources of a totalitarian system, including relentless and tendentious, but clever and consistent propaganda inside the country and out. It quietly penetrates into all the openings and subversive activity in the West. It exploits the economy’s increased, though one-sided resources for unrestrained militarization.[25]
 
Sakharov speaks of two paths for resolving the opposition between East and West. One is the path noted already of destroying the Iron Curtain and liberalizing Soviet society based on respect for human rights. The second path is convergence, that is, rapprochement of the Western and Soviet models of social and economic organization.
 
Convergence of the two systems is already discussed by Sakharov in his 1968 Reflections. Sakharov’s thesis on the desirability or even the necessity for ending the “Cold War” is a thesis that provokes a multitude of questions. And it is all the more interesting that in a certain sense, Sakharov was right -- Gorbachev’s perestroika, which Sakharov accepted with some caveats as the beginning of the process of convergence, really did lead to the end of the “Cold War”.
 
Apparently, even back in 1968, while working at the secret installation in Arzamas, Sakharov no longer believed in the official slogan of “peaceful coexistence of two systems with different social and state structures,” proclaimed by Khrushchev in the 1950s. Sakharov did not believe in the security of a world divided into two camps by an “Iron Curtain,” and his theory of convergence is, essentially, the antithesis of “peaceful coexistence.” I believe that convergence was proposed by Sakharov as a development of the thesis of Bertrand Russell, the thesis which Sakharov cites in Reflections: “The world will be saved from thermonuclear annihilation if the leader of each of the two systems prefers the complete victory of the other system to a thermonuclear war.”[26]
 
Sakharov’s logic amounted to the following: why would anyone be forced to accept, under a threat of nuclear annihilation, another system, “capitalist” or “socialist,” if these systems could be united into one system combining the advantages of both and free of their defects? Thus, he outlined another vision of the world in a futurological article titled  “The World in Half a Century”:
 
   I feel that it is particularly important to halt the disintegration of the world into antagonistic groups of state. The convergence of the socialist and capitalist systems would be accompanied by demilitarization, the strengthening of international trust and the defense of human rights, law and freedom. Profound social progress and democratization would follow, and man’s moral, spiritual and personal resources would be strengthened.
 
   I  that the economic structure that would arise as a result of this process of this convergence would have to be an economy of a mixed type, with maximum flexibility, freedom, social mobility,  and opportunities for worldwide regulation.[27]
 
And his view on convergence, as outlined here, remained practically unchanged for the next 20 years, with the important exception that very soon Sakharov began to think that the “capitalist world” had already largely completed its path to convergence, and the ball was in the court of the socialist world.
 
Of course a weak point in Sakharov’s theory of convergence, like Russell’s thesis, was that they were based on a hidden but very significant and subtle premise; that the reason for the conflict between the East and the West was the difference between forms of economic and political systems, or in other words, the difference between the “capitalist” and “socialist” models.
 
Sakharov himself partially undermined his position on convergence when, as noted above, he began to incline to the idea that it was not Marxist ideology, or at least, not only this ideology, and not only the idea of world revolution, which determined the foreign policy of the USSR. Nevertheless, the idea of convergence, not only as a guarantee of peace, but as a social order based on a mixed economy and broad social guarantees remained attractive to Sakharov throughout his whole life. In one of his last works, his draft Constitution, Sakharov essentially proposed a “converged” society for the Soviet Union. Today’s Russia, in which some Western institutions have been superimposed on the Soviet model could be considered a “converged” society -- with the caveat that modern Russia apparently has adopted and preserved the worst features of both models, and not the best, as Sakharov hoped it would.
 
It is interesting to compare Sakharov’s two approaches to solving the problem of international security: the first is convergence, and the second is rapprochement, based on the “free exchange of people and ideas” and respect for human rights (“the Sakharov doctrine”). The first, apparently presupposes a rapprochement based on a coming together of economic and political systems. The second is the emergence of common values: freedom and human rights. In other words, the first is the rapprochement of institutions; the second is the rapprochement of values. It must be noted, to be sure, that sometimes Sakharov uses the term “convergence” in both meanings -- in the sense of rapprochement of both institutions and of values (ideologies).
 
What in fact were Sakharov’s hopes for reform, for Soviet society embarking on the “convergence” path of development? As we have noted, by 1973, almost nothing remained of these hopes for the immediate future. However, in his 1968 Reflections, which was sent to the Soviet government among others, and in two letters to the authorities written jointly with Valentin Turchin and Roy Medvedev, and in the “Memorandum” to Brezhnev of 1971, Sakharov proposes a program of liberal economic and political reforms. On the whole, these were not very radical reforms, and did not threaten directly the Communist Party’s monopoly on political power, but limited the potential abuse of power in several important areas. Not surprisingly, many of the points of this program were later found in Gorbachev’s perestroika, in particular, glasnost [openness].
 
We know that the authorities listened to Sakharov’s opinion; that his proposals for limiting anti-missile defense and nuclear testing in the atmosphere led to signing corresponding agreements. Sakharov could hope that his program of reform, too, would also be at least reviewed by the Soviet authorities. Apart from the assurances (mentioned in Sakharov’s Memoirs) by  Brezhnev’s aide, Andrei Alexandrov-Agentov, that the 1991 Memorandum had been circulated to the appropriate Central Committee departments for study, there is nothing known about whether Brezhnev’s secretariat reviewed the “Memorandum” addressed to him. It is entirely possible that nobody besides the KGB reviewed Sakharov’s reforms, although Reflections, for example, or at least the fact of its existence, apparently became quite widely known in higher Party circles.
 
In 1975, in his essay My Country and the World, Sakharov formulated anew his program of reforms in twelve points, more radical than those outlined in the “Memorandum,” and already including, for example, a multi-party system, legislation guaranteeing many rights and liberties, and partial denationalization of the economy. These reforms Sakharov considered “necessary, in order to bring our country out of a constant state of general crisis and to eliminate the consequent danger to mankind…” No longer hoping for a response from the authorities, Sakharov proposes his program as “a needed alternative to official positions.”[28]
 
If the authorities had accepted Sakharov’s program, would these reforms have been successful? Was Sakharov right in supposing that the Soviet system could be reformed? Here is what Sakharov’s friend, the human rights advocate Sergei Kovalev writes: “Sakharov nurtured the hope for a long time that the Soviet government was capable on its own of resolving to reform itself (experience shows that he was right) and that the government would not fall as a result, but would become strengthened (experience shows that he was mistaken here).[29]
 
In objecting to Kovalev’s conclusion, one could cite examples of authoritarian systems that introduced reforms and did not destroy themselves as a result. For example, autocratic Russia survived the liberal reforms of Tsar Alexander II, and also the freedom of speech and assembly and the convening of a State Duma proclaimed by Nicholas II.
 
Moreover, “perestroika,” conceived “five minutes before midnight,” when the country already appeared to be on the brink of economic and institutional collapse, hardly illustrates the impossibility of reform of the Soviet system. It is possible that if Sakharov’s reforms had been initiated during the Brezhnev era, when the system still possessed a reserve of stability and governability, we might have witnessed the gradual liberalization of Soviet society.
 
Sakharov in the 21st Century
 
Undoubtedly, Sakharov played an important part in events defining the situation in the world at the close of the second millennium. However, what I wish to examine now is which of Sakharov’s ideas, initiated or supported by him, have survived Sakharov and his epoch and can influence our future -- in other words, to follow the fate of his ideas and political beliefs into the 21st century.
 
The international defense of human rights is one of these ideas. The opinion that a state’s adherence to generally accepted human rights norms is not strictly an internal affair and that their defense does not constitute interference in its internal affairs has gained significant strength in our modern world. Even such a traditional isolationist society as Russia has become a member of the European Convention on Human Rights, and thousands of its citizens have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
 
The idea of military intervention to protect human rights, which Sakharov mentioned in his 1968 Reflections, is perhaps not as popular, but one example is the military intervention by NATO in 1996 in the Balkans in defense of the Albanian population of Kosovo. I will risk supposing that it would have been supported by Sakharov (judging from the Sakharov’s position regarding the American war in Vietnam); probably, however, he would have opposed bombing, and favored land operations by NATO troops instead.
 
An analysis of such international processes as “globalization,” much less an evaluation of them, goes beyond the scope of this essay, but it appears as if gradually we are entering the world of Bohr-Cassin-Sakharov. The “open world,” in which state sovereignty is increasingly limited in favor of international organizations or international agreements in the name of such values as security, human rights, and protection of the environment, is gaining ground. Although the path to world government, about which Sakharov dreamed, will most likely be longer and more tangled than he imagined.
 
It is entirely likely that the next years will show whether the “Sakharov doctrine” is applicable to Islamist extremism. At the present time, the U.S. apparently is hoping to solve this problem through democratization of the Middle East, through establishing democratic governments there. Will Islamic democracies become law-based governments respecting freedom of conscience and the rights of minorities, and will this reduce Islamic extremism and its support of terrorism?
 
This question is related to another, “million-dollar” question: is the “ideology of human rights” as universal as Sakharov supposed, so that it can be combined with Islam and with the ideology of an Islamic renaissance? Many of us hope for an affirmative answer.
 
For extreme optimists, hoping to see this with their own eyes, we can formulate Sakharov’s “general theory of convergence:” The world will be free of wars and violence when all peoples will share common values -- the values of human rights. I fear that this theory will long await its proof or its refutation.
 
Sakharov placed great hopes on convergence -- on the rapprochement of the “capitalist” and “socialist” models. And Russia in part fulfilled his program by accepting some Western institutions. However, they turned out to be largely non-functional, since the ideas and ideals embodied in these institutions were not accepted. Does “institutional borrowing” in the final analysis lead to the acceptance by society of new social values and ideals? Does the free market develop the idea of liberty and law, and the free press lead to respect for freedom of speech? These are two 21st century questions with significance not only for Russia, but for Iraq, perhaps for China, and for many countries of the Third World.
 
And a last item in this most likely incomplete list. Nuclear energy has only an indirect relationship to the political views of Sakharov, but it was precisely about this that he wrote in his 1977 article “Nuclear Energy and the Freedom of the West.”[30] In it, Sakharov called on the West to develop nuclear energy in order to free itself from oil dependency on the USSR and the Arab countries. In the last years of his life, he returned to the theme of nuclear energy and enthusiastically advocated the underground siting of nuclear power plants. The West’s energy dependence on Russia, and to a lesser degree, on the Arab countries, undoubtedly will be a serious political factor in the 21st century. And we can hardly doubt that the 21st century will be a century of rapid development of nuclear energy, possibly generated by thermonuclear Tokamak reactors based on ideas of Sakharov and Tamm.`
Sakharov’s Alternatives
 
In conclusion, I will speak about what interests me the most, and I suppose, the reader as well. What would Sakharov like to see Russia become? If a “Sakharov Party” were to emerge in Russia some day, what would be written on its banners or in its political program?
 
In Reflections, Sakharov declared himself a socialist. And although later, his views on the “country of victorious socialism” changed a great deal, and he became an opponent of “totalitarian socialism,” I believe that he still remained a socialist or a social-democrat. We do not know for sure what he saw as the flaws of “capitalism,” which he nevertheless, supposed was “closer to the truly human society” if needed social reforms were adopted[31] than “totalitarian socialism.” He did not seem impressed by unbridled capitalism, a society governed solely by the market, by the laws of supply and demand. He may have considered as irrational and wasteful an economy in which economic growth and employment are maintained by artificially stimulating demand. Moreover, Sakharov, as a person of egalitarian views, was, indisputably, close to John Rawls’s principle that differentiation in income is justified only to the extent it serves the common good. Sakharov formulates approximately this principle in Reflections. Furthermore, he thought that the question of distributing the “social pie” in time would lose its urgency thanks to scientific and technological progress, which would produce material abundance.
 
In a word, Sakharov was not a “marketist” of the New Russian sort. Nor was he an American liberal, considering the state a necessary evil. I suppose that Sakharov, to employ the expression of his American friend Edward Kline, saw in the state an instrument for realizing social ideals. And the socialism of Sakharov consisted of seeing in the state not only an instrument for defending rights and liberties but also a provider of social welfare.
 
It is hard to say precisely what Sakharov had in mind for the “convergence” society. With the exception of social programs and the state sector of the economy, we do not know precisely what traits of socialism Sakharov would preserve. For example, should the planned nature of the state sector of the economy be preserved and how would this be combined with the independence of state enterprises which Sakharov advocated? It is obvious that Sakharov was proposing a socially-oriented economy, an economy designed to achieve social goals not maximum profit, an economy guaranteeing employment and a high level of wages.
 
Of course, Sakharov understood the danger of leaving to the state too much economic power. I think that he would approve the statement of another socialist, Albert Einstein:
 
“Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?”[32]
 
We know Sakharov’s recipes for resolving these problems. It is respect for human rights based on law and an independent judiciary. It is a mixed economy. It is glasnost and oversight of the state sector of the economy and the state bureaucracy by democratic bodies of government (for example, parliamentary committees).
 
Of course, today, nobody in their right mind would trust the Russian government to manage a socially-oriented, collectivized sector of the economy. Under certain circumstances, however, under conditions of public oversight, this could become an attractive alternative to current Russian capitalism, which is not state capitalism but rather bureaucratic capitalism. In any event, public control over the activity of large corporations with a majority state ownership would fully correspond to Sakharov’s program.
 
I will at this point consider some problems of Sakharov’s convergence society. A free society, that is capitalist in the terminology of Sakharov, is characterized by a high degree of conflict, ensuing from the clash of private interests whereas in a socialist society the conflict of private interests is suppressed by state coercion. Taking into account Sakharov’s criticism of capitalist individualism, we can suppose that in accord with Russian political thinking, Sakharov would prefer a harmonious society with a low level of conflict. Yet, can you create such a convergence society which would simultaneously be free and without conflict? I think that you cannot and that Sakharov’s convergence society, if it were to emerge in Russia, would be the result of a compromise and would be a society with some limits on freedom and level of conflict, unless it was completely composed of free altruists.
 
It also seems appropriate to note that Sakharov and his human rights activist friends of the 1960s-1980s saw in the state the main threat to the rights of the individual, and for understandable reasons, did not dwell on other forces in society that could threaten these rights. They also overlooked the fact that the exercise by citizens of their rights often results in conflicts among them. Apparently, the convergence society must decide which rights it will guarantee its citizens unconditionally and which rights will have to be restricted.
 
Sakharov’s antidote to the usurpation of power by the federal center is outlined in his draft Constitution. In his draft, Sakharov transfers to the subjects of his federation (which were then Union Republics) more powers, including its own law-enforcement and judicial systems The most important point of his program, however, is the financial independence of the subjects of the federation, which, if they were to lose it, would cause them gradually to lose all the rest of their independence. Sakharov proposed that they would make only fixed payments defined by treaty to the federal treasure. All the rest of the subject’s revenue could be spent at its own discretion.
 
Russian intellectuals have long been preoccupied with the search for a “national idea,” in fact today, as always, the leading candidate is the idea of “great Russia,” or rather “a great state” (at one time autocratic and Orthodox, then socialist, and now, apparently, only anti-Western, with a Russian Orthodox, patriotic coloring). Sakharov in his draft Constitution proposes another national idea, the idea of national altruism in the name of the survival of humanity and the resolution of global problems.
 
At one time in his programmatic letter to the UN, Niels Bohr wrote: An open world, where each nation can assert itself solely by the extent to which it can contribute to the common culture and is able to help others with experience and resources, must be the goal to be put above everything else.[33] Sakharov calls for the same altruistic behavior. In his Constitution, “the global purposes of the survival of humankind” is placed higher than state interests. The purpose of a nation is proclaimed to be “a happy, meaningful life, material and spiritual freedom, wellbeing, peace and security for the citizens of the world, for all people on Earth regardless of their race, nationality, sex, age or social status.”
 
The idea of national altruism is an idea that is not entirely alien to Russian dissident tradition. Thus, Pyotr Chaadayev wrote:  “Russia is too powerful to conduct a national policy, its purpose in the world is a policy on the scale of humanity. Providence created us too great to be egoists; she placed us beyond the interests of nationality and assigned us the interests of humankind.” Therefore, who knows; Sakharov’s call for national altruism may be heard some day.
 
Another important choice facing Russian society, and perhaps, its most important choice, is whether Russia will hew to the forms of social and political organization traditional to it, as the “nationally-minded” pundits propose, or will decisively break with the Tatar-Byzantine political tradition with its vertical model of decision-making, reject its old social ideas and try to adopt new ones. Judging from his polemics with Alexander Solzhenitsyn[34], Sakharov preferred a break with the past.
 
I suppose what shocks the outside observer in contemporary Russian society is the absence of any social ideals defining the norms of public life and providing points of departure for socially significant discourse. They have been replaced, as Sakharov wrote, by a cult of the state and power, and now also of money and success. The social ideals which Sakharov put forward are respect for human rights, tolerance and freedom. And if the “Sakharov party” -- the Russian citizens who believe in these ideas -- succeeds some day in advancing them in public awareness this would be Sakharov’s main victory, and also that of Russian society.
 
The future, I hope, will show how Russian society will realize Sakharov’s ideals: whether Russians will copy Western institutions or will succeed in inventing and implementing new viable mechanisms.


[1] “Open letter to A.P. Alexandrov, President of the USSR Academy of Sciences,” in Alexander Babyonyshev, editor, On Sakharov, Alfred Knopf, 1982, p. 215,
[2] Andrei Sakharov, Trevoga i nadezhda [Alarm and Hope],  Vremya, 2006, volumes 1 and 2.
[3] Andrei Sakharov, My Country and the World, Alfred Knopf, 1975, p. 108.
[4] Andrei Sakharov, Sakharov Speaks, Alfred Knopf, 1974, p. 171.
[5] Press Conference (August 21, 1973), in Sakharov Speaks, pp. 204-205.
[6] Andrei Sakharov, Alarm and Hope, Alfred Knopf, 1978, p. 5.
[7] “The Human Rights Movement in the USSR and Eastern Europe: Its Goals, Significance, and Difficulties,” in On Sakharov, p.259.
[8] Rene Cassin, representative of France to the UN, one of the authors of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
[9] “Reflections…” in Sakharov Speaks, pp. 70-71.
[10] “Mir cherez polveka” [The World in 50 Years], in Trevoga i  nadezhda, p.236
[11] The Stevenson Amendment, a less well known amendment analogous to the Jackson Amendment, limited the amount of guaranteed  loans to the USSR, and, it is believed, had  potentially more serious consequences for Soviet-American trade.
[12] UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 13.2.
[13] “A Letter to the Congress of the United States,” Sakharov Speaks, pp. 212-213.
[14] Daniel Yergin, “American Trade: The Three Questions”, Foreign Affairs, April 1977.
[15] Rene Cassin, “The Fight for Human Rights,” World, January 1969.
[16] My Country and the World, p. 73.
[17] Foreign Affairs, Summer 1983, vol. 61, No. 5, pp. 1001-1016.
[18] In a discussion of Sakharov and the writer Ales Adamovich published in Iskusstvo kino, 1989, no. 8.
[19] Evidently the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Eastern Europe did lead to significant progress in nuclear disarmament. By 2012, the American strategic nuclear arsenal is to be reduced to 2,200 warheads, as is the Russian arsenal, that is to a fifth of the mid-1980s numbers.
[20] “Acceptance Speech for the Szilard Award,” Memoirs, pp.661-662.
[21] Alarm and Hope, pp. 100-101.
[22] My Country and the World, p. 30.
[23] “On Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s ‘A Letter to the Soviet Leaders’,” in Kontinent, Anchor Books, 1976.
[24]Alarm and Hope,” in Alarm and Hope, pp. 99-111.
[25] “How to Preserve World Peace,” in On Sakharov, pp. 263-264.
[26] “Progress, Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom,” in Sakharov Speaks, p.106.
[27] Published as “Tomorrow: The View From Red Square,” in Saturday Review/World, Aug. 24, 1974, p. 13.
[28] The quotations are from My Country and the World, pp. 99-100.
[29] S.A. Kovalev, “A.D. Sakharov: Otvestsvennost pered razumom” [Responsibility Before Reason], Izvestia, May 21, 1998.
[30] “Nuclear Energy and the Freedom of the West,” The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, June 1978, pp. 12-14.
[31] My Country and the World.
[32] Albert Einstein. “Why Socialism?”
[33] Niels Bohr, Open Letter to the United Nations, Copenhagen, June 9th, 1950, A.P. French and P.J. Kennedy, editors, Niels Bohr, A Centenary Volume, Harvard University Press, 1985, pp. 294-295.
[34] On the letter of Alexander Solzhenitsyn “To the Leaders of the Soviet Union.