Literature Review

Human Rights and the Cold War

Human rights started taking shape in the 1970’s during the Cold War. In the 1970’s is when human rights was starting to be integrated into American foreign policy. Human rights did start in the 1970’s. There were movements for human rights before that, but in the 1970’s is when the fight for human rights became part of American foreign policy. Americans didn’t want rights just for themselves, they believed everyone should have rights. The Cold War is where Americans started fighting for human rights outside of the country. There are many reasons why this started to happen. The biggest question is how did Americans view human rights in the foreign policy during the Cold War and how did this bring an end to the Cold War?

Human rights became a big deal during and after the Vietnam War. Some think the NGOs (non-governmental organization) had a lot to do with the rising support of human rights. Most NGOs collected evidence of vile behavior of Americans during the Vietnam War. Others think it was because of U.S. forceful behavior in foreign affairs. “D.P. Forsythe attributes the emergence of human rights to congressional assertiveness in foreign affairs.” (Tulli).  Many Scholars agree on two things, first humans rights was a reaction to the Vietnam War and the rising military in America’s Cold War policy. The Second is Congress became dissatisfied with Kissinger and his want for more power instead of the want for better principles.

NGOs were big parts of helping everyday Americans with their fight for human rights. NGOs established a strong presence in Washington and helped people lobby for their rights especially in other countries. One example of this is Olga Talamante’s kidnapping. Olga Talamante was in Argentina teaching English and volunteering in the community. Things had gotten bad in Argentina so Olga bought a plane ticket home. She didn’t make it home so her parents contacted elected Representatives in California and Washington. Her parents got nothing back from the government. Then her parents contacted the ARA (Bureau if Inter-American Affairs) and they contacted the US Embassy in Buenos Aires. They found out that Olga had been arrested. The Argentine government could hold her indefinitely and without charge.

Her parents created the OTDC (Olga Talamente Defense Committee) to help get back their daughter. They teamed up with the NACLA (North American Congress on Latin America).  They petitioned the US government to cut off ties with countries who go against American foreign policy to help improve human rights overseas. This worked and America cut ties with Argentina and they got Olga back and she became a leading voice in the effort to convince lawmakers to cut ties with those against American foreign policy. William Schmidli says “By the end of the decade, human rights advocates had established broad grassroots support, organized an influential lobby in Washington, and demonstrated an ability to effectively mobilize on behalf of human rights issues.”(Schmidli). NGO got big and were adding thousands of new members every year. Many supported what they were doing.

Human rights were used to end the Cold War. With the number of human right activist increasing it helped pushed the US into ending the war. Effie Pedaliu wrote “US foreign policy makers of the value of human rights issues as a powerful weapon against the USSR.” (Pedaliu). The US used human rights to help end the Cold War. Effie Pedaliu as wrote “The Reagan administration came to adopt human rights in its ‘all out’ campaign against the ‘evil empire’” (Pedaliu). The Reagan administration used this to help show that the USSR needed to change their ways.

What helped push the end of the Cold War and Human rights was the unlikely friendship of Anatoly Adamishin (former Soviet deputy minister) and Richard Schifter (former US assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian). The two of them worked together on human rights. Marie-Pierre Rey explains the relationship between Anatoly Adamishin and Richard Schifter, “First, it is the story of a fine human adventure, the deepening friendship between two men whose personal backgrounds, education, political culture, mental universe, and perceptions opposed them to each other.” (Rey). Even though these two men should not get along due to their different backgrounds they found a way to a make a friendship and even come to an agreement with each other. They wanted what was best for the people and work on human rights together.

Another thing that helped was the Détente. The détente reduced political, economic and military costs. This was the time where the US started to stop building up their military in order to show the USSR that they didn’t want another World War. Umberto Tulli explains how the détente needs to be effective, “In order to be effective, détente needed to find domestic legitimization, replacing Cold War liberalism and developing a new consensus through a public discourse which emphasized new buzzwords such as order, equilibrium, and stability, as well as resounding slogans such as ‘end of Cold War’ or ‘durable peace’.” (Tulli). This means that they were trying to push human rights to help ease tensions. With the buzzword equilibrium they mean they wanted to find a balance to help end the war and make the two countries stable again.

Hearings were held for human rights. Donald Fraser began the hearing on human rights and American foreign policy. With the help of Congress and NGOs representatives the US and the world community agreed on three main points.  First the growing interdependence between US and the world had made the US more responsive to human rights violations. The second is the US should reinforce cooperation with NGOs and networks. The third was the US government should be more active in the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms abroad. Umberto Tulli states that “Fraser’s conclusions were collected in ‘Human Rights in the World Community: A Call for US Leadership’.”(Tulli).

Helsinki Final Act of 1975 also challenged the Cold War. Helsinki Final Act was an agreement on travel, solidify borders and to help push more human rights, especially when it comes to experimenting on people for medical purposes. The act empowered dissidents and discredit communist regimes. Jeremi Suri explains that “Scholars have pointed to the human rights provisions in the Helsinki Final Act as a challenge to the Cold War – a legitimization for dissident voices in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union that would ultimately bring down communism.” (Suri). This act helped show people that not everything the Soviet Union was doing should be legal, especially when it came it human experiments.

Human rights took their shape during the 70’s. It became part of America’s foreign policy and worked its way around the world. NGOs helped push this rights and was able to get their foot in Washington and have say in human rights. The Vietnam War is what pushed Americans to want these rights. The NGOs got evidence of the abuse in other countries and show it on T.V. for everyone to see. This helped pushed their cause and get their word out. Olga Talamente is a good example of what these groups could do and how far they would go to help people. Hearings were done on human rights and it was agreed that the US should step up more and fight for these rights all around the world. The détente helped with the rights along with the Helsinki Final Act. This all lead to the end of the Cold War.

Works Cited

Dumancˇic´ , Marko, “The Cold War’s cultural ecosystem: angry young men in British and Soviet cinema,” Bowling Green, Kentucky, Western Kentucky University, 2014

Pedaliu, Effie, “Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network,” London, London School of Economics and Political Science, 2013

Rey, Marie-Pierre, “Human Rights, Perestroika and the End of the Cold War,” Paris, France, University of Paris, 2013

Schmidli, William Michael, “Human Rights and the Cold War: the campaign to halt Argentine ‘dirty war,’” Lewisburg, Bucknell University, May 2012

Suri, Jeremi, “De´tente and human rights: American and West European perspectives on international change” Madison, Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin-Madison, November 2008

Tulli, Umberto, “‘Whose rights are human rights?’ The ambiguous emergence of human rights and the demise of Kissingerism”, Forlì,Italy, University of Bologna, November 2012



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