Soviet Dissidents and the "Brain Drain"
In the beginning of 1989, Henry Kissinger met with Mikhail Gorbachev for an informal conversation about the future of U.S.-Soviet cooperation, particularly concerning economic opportunities in the Soviet Union. The problem for U.S.-Soviet trade was the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the 1974 U.S. Trade Act, which banned normalized trade ("Most Favored Nation" status) with countries that had restrictions on emigration. It was popularly understood in the U.S. to be targeted at the Soviet Union for forbidding the emigration of Jews and other Soviet dissidents. Even in 1989, after Gorbachev had eased some emigration restrictions from his ongoing reforms (perestroika), this trade act was a sticking point in U.S.-Soviet relations. Gorbachev suggested that the "brain drain," or the loss of university-educated men and women through emigration was the source of restrictions on emigration, not the political or religious beliefs of dissidents.
Henry Kissinger, conversation with Mikhail Gorbachev, January 17, 1989, trans. Svetlana Savranskaya, Notes of A. S. Chernyaev, Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation, Cold War International History Project, Virtual Archive, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).
Gorbachev. Of course, the problem of coordinating our economies, the search of forms of cooperation—is a very real problem, and both sides should think about it. However, already today, the steps we took in our foreign economic policy-the creation of legal and economic bases, strengthening guarantees for our foreign partners—should be supported on your side by a repeal of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment. If you do not sweep it away with a broom, it would be difficult for us to enter your markets.
Kissinger. The Jackson-Vanik Amendment was directed against me in the first place, and only then—against the Soviet Union. I agree with you. I always thought it was wrong, I believed that your emigration policy was your country's internal affair. One cannot make external demands about it. One could, probably, discuss it with you confidentially, but without pressing any demands.
Gorbachev. Those problems are now substantively resolved.
Gorbachev. We only fight against the brain drain. As far as the dissidents are concerned, let them all go to your country.
Kissinger. I always believed that dissidents are very difficult to deal with even for those countries that receive them.