This article examines the debate between Soviet dissidents Andrei Sakharov and Roy Medvedev in the 1970s concerning the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and détente. Although both dissidents stood for East-West détente and democratization of the Soviet system and believed in the possibility of a dialogue with Soviet leaders until 1970, they later diverged in their views about methods of action. As Sakharov lost faith in the possibility of influencing the Soviet regime headed by Leonid Brezhnev, he shifted to a more radical position, adopting the language of human rights and turning to Western politicians and public opinion as an audience for his calls. Sakharov's public embrace of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment was in line with his advocacy of freedom of emigration and his belief that the West should extract concessions in the field of human rights before granting trade benefits to the Soviet Union. Medvedev, by contrast, argued that the amendment was counterproductive insofar as it risked alienating Soviet leaders and triggering adverse results. He considered that détente should be encouraged for its own sake, with the hope that over time it would spur democratization in the country. Medvedev's argument had much in common with the West German leader Willy Brandt's notion of “change through rapprochement,” a concept invoked as a rationale for Brandt's Ostpolitik. Although Sakharov's position earned him the Nobel Peace Prize, the Helsinki Accords showed how détente could serve the cause of human rights even with the Cold War under way.

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