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The Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov, a veritable human rights icon, maintained his whole life that the world’s priority must be nuclear disarmament. But during the 1970s, the pursuit of nuclear disarmament was the hallmark of détente between the superpowers. Détente offended human rights activists because it appeared to legitimize the Soviet Union, notorious for its noxious treatment of dissidents. While Sakharov’s actions demonstrated a fervent commitment to human rights, his rhetoric consistently—and paradoxically—prioritized nuclear disarmament. For their part, Soviet authorities evinced little concern for Sakharov’s disarmament ideas but greatly feared his influence as a human rights activist. Sakharov never reconciled these conflicting goals, and although the human rights revolution he helped inspire played a part in bringing down the Soviet Union, it did not substantially challenge the nation-state system’s dedication to nuclear deterrence.

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Rubinson, P. (2016). Sakharov's Dilemma: Pursuing Nuclear Disarmament during the Human Rights Revolution. Journal for the Liberal Arts and Sciences, 20(2), 110-137.

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