Magnitsky Act implementation and uneasiness in US-Russia relations, NATO approving the deployment of Patriot missile interceptors to defend Turkish border with Syria, modus vivendi in which there could be a reduction of violence in Syria, chemical weapons issue, Hague tribunal and economic crisis in the EU – these issues Voice of Russia discussed with Noam Chomsky a famous American philosopher, linguist, and political activist. Chomsky also warned that US placing a missile system near Russia’s borders is a highly provocative act.
My first question is supposed to be related to Magnitsky Act and uneasiness between Russia and the US. What do you think about it? Is there going to be something big related to this Act?
I think the right reaction on the part of Russia would be to pass a bill which would require the Russian Foreign Office to maintain a public list of human rights abusers in the US and freeze their assets. They could begin with President Obama who is the major human rights violator. He is directing a global assassination campaign which is a major atrocity. I mean if Russia were doing anything like that – people would be talking about having a nuclear war. And they need to go on from there. So, for example the US is strongly supporting, and in fact participating in terrible human rights abuses, in Gaza just a couple of weeks ago again, and go around the world. The US is providing huge amounts of armaments to Saudi Arabia which is one of the worst human rights abusers in the world and you can go on from there. So, that would be the right reaction but of course it is not going to do it.
But do you think that generally that’s going to really bring some uneasiness from now on in relation to Russia-US relations? Or is it just going to be a piece of paper?
Well, it depends on how the matter is handled. If it is just regarded as a symbolic gesture with no consequences, then it’ll just be a notion. On the other hand, if it influences policy, it could be more than that. And the idea that the US wouldn’t do something like that, given its shocking human rights record, right at the moment it takes a lot of goal actually. Of course that’s not understood in the US, the media doesn’t talk about it. If I refer to President Obama as one of the leading human rights violators in the world, although it is true, if I said that in an interview with New York Times, they wouldn’t know what I’m talking about.
Could you tell us something about what do you think about Obama’s reelection? What does it mean to Russia, especially in relations to the US missile defense system which is about to be assembled in Europe, or at least we think it is going to be assembled?
First of all, it is worth bearing in mind that on all sides, it is understood by strategic analysts and presumably by political leaders, that missile defense system is a first strike weapon. Missile defense systems, even if they work, and that’s a question, but to the extent that they work they are not going to be able to stop the first strike. Conceivably, they could prevent a retaliatory strike which means that they are effectively a first strike weapon. And of course Russia knows this and American planners know this and so on.
So, placing a missile system near Russia’s borders, which is what is planned, is a highly provocative act. If Russia tries to do that, in Canada let’s say, we just go to war. It wouldn’t be even remotely tolerated. Obama has made some slight adjustments in the plans for missile systems under Bush, but they still leave the system in a form which Russian military and Russian strategic analysts have to interpret as highly threatening, just as the US would if Russia was doing anything similar. Now, during a couple of months ago you’ll recall that off-camera Obama made some comments hinting that maybe he’d back off on it after the election. That became a big issue here and of course that was recalled. But whether he’ll do anything like that, I doubt very much.
What do you think about Russia-US relations? How are they going to develop?
Well, we’ve already talked a little bit on that. Russia’s got plenty of internal problems and how it is going to handle these is not at all clear. The direct conflicts between Russia and the US may not be as sharp as potentially between the US and China. In the case of China and the US, they have a huge trading relation. In fact, China holds a substantial part of US debt, that is little more than Japan. And of course the US and Europe are the main consumers of Chinese goods. In the case of Russia that’s much less. So, it is only energy exports. So, it is quite a different relationship.
Syria, NATO and Turkey
And the next question is related to Syria. NATO approved the deployment of Patriot missile interceptors to defend the Turkish border with Syria. What do you think, what is going to happen next?
I don’t think anybody knows. Syria is moving towards kind of suicide and there doesn’t seem to be any easy way out. This morning got even worse, as you may have seen there was a battle yesterday between the Kurdish and rebel forces. That adds a new complexity to the situation which of course very much affects Turkey. Turkey is quite worried naturally about the rise of the Kurdish autonomy region in Syria and how it might affect the huge Kurdish problem within Turkey. But inside Syria it just looks like a growing horror story with no real feasible solution insight. There are various proposals, there is another one coming along today in discussions, I believe in Dublin, with Al-Akhdar Ibrahimi and representatives of Russia and the US. But it is going to be extremely difficult to find a way out of this without just destruction of the country.
Assad himself is facing assassination no matter what happens, I mean if he agrees to leave the country – he would probably be killed by his Alawite associates because he is abandoning them to whatever fate would happen. If he doesn’t leave the country sooner or later it would be wiped out. There have been proposals, just a couple of days ago there was a proposal by one serious specialist Nicholas Noe that there will be temporary some kind of partition in which a region around Damascus is left under Assad’s control and the rest of the country is left under rebel control and see if they can work out some modus vivendi in which there could be a reduction of violence and maybe a negotiated settlement. But that’s a long shot and I haven’t really heard any other good proposal.
And another problem that is arising is the chemical weapons problem. Syria has already crossed what Obama called his red line. On chemical weapons the US has backed off and moved the red line a little backwards but sooner or later that’s going to be a huge problem. And nobody hasn’t answered to it. You can’t bomb them!
Serbia and Hague tribunal
I’m from Serbia, I was born in Belgrade and the situation in Syria really resembles to what we had in ex-Yugoslavia. First, the civic unrest and then it became really like a big war, and then we had bombing on Kosovo. So, that’s why I’m asking, because this is really very much alike.
We could talk about Kosovo, but I think that’s a different situation. I think that’s very much misrepresented in the West.
Could you talk a little bit about the Hague Tribunal? Two Croatian generals convicted of killing the ethnic Serbs in the 90’es have been quitted in Hague. And then, ten days later Ramush Haradinaj, one of the ex-KLA leaders, was also acquitted of all charges. How do you comment this?
It is very hard to take the Hague Tribunal seriously from the beginning. If we go back to Kosovo again, there was an international tribunal and Louise Arbour who was then in charge of it was approached by Western lawyers in fact with a proposal to investigate NATO bombing. And she said that NATO would not be a subject to investigation by the tribunal. That tells us right of it, it is not the serious tribunal. And everything that’s followed from that is pretty predictable. I mean there were efforts to do something, like her successor did talk about investigating KLA atrocities, the charges of organ removal and so on, but that was quickly quashed.
Exactly! The problem is that we can’t really consider the Hague Tribunal as the serious one. But still many Serbian leaders got life detention so it seems like there is really no justice or this is really not…
You know, this goes far back. I mean probably of all the tribunals I think the most serious and reputable one was the Nuremberg Tribunal, you know, the first modern tribunal. But if you look at it, it was deeply flawed, and that was understood by the prosecutors. So, the principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal, what they came down to is – if you committed a crime and we didn’t commit the same crime, then it is a crime.
So, for example saturation bombing of urban civilian concentrations was not considered a crime at Nuremberg, because their allies did it more than the Germans did. German admiral submarine commander Dönitz in his defense at Nuremberg he brought an American admiral Nimitz and the representative of the British Admiralty who testified that Britain and the US carried out the same crimes that he was accused of. And that was considered by the Tribunal sufficient to absolve him of those charges. So, altogether the tribunal, morally speaking, it was very deeply flawed for these reasons. But still, I think that was the most serious of the tribunals that have been established.
I understand your thesis and your point of view, but still, since I’m from Serbia it is really difficult to comprehend that we as a nation, as a state, are going to have a kind of guilt from now on till who knows when. But it seems like it is going to happen and the history is already written somewhere and we can’t really change it, although I can’t say that we are really guilty as much as the international community says we are.
Russia and EU
Your expectations for the next year related to the world economic or financial crisis in the EU? And generally, what do you think is going to happen in international relations, Russia-US relations, China-US relations?
Too many questions to try to answer. A lot of things are uncertain. Let’s begin with the financial crisis. The financial crisis is created by what has been called a “doom loop” by one of the directors of the British bank in charge of banking stability. It is a “doom loop” because there is a system in the US and Britain and to some extent elsewhere in which the big investment firms are essentially encouraged to undertake risky transactions in which they can make a lot of profit because they are risky. And they will sooner or later collapse because of the risk and at that point the tax payer comes in and bails them out. That’s a “doom loop”.
There is a government insurance policy for the big banks. The name for it in the US is too big to fail, so we got to bail them out when they get into trouble. It is essentially a government insurance policy. It is roughly estimated in euro at about 50 billion a year for the big banks to give them a higher credit rating and so on. The credit agencies take that into account when they rate them that they are going to be bailed out by tax payers if anything goes wrong. All of that is just encouragement to continue a cycle of risky transactions. Profits, bailouts – it’s been going since the early Reagan years. By that time the regulatory apparatus of the New Deal was being dismantled, so this was encouraged.
Now, there is legislation in the US the Dodd-Frank Bill which is supposed to put some restrictions on this. But it is quite unclear first of all how much of the Dodd-Frank Bill will survive the huge efforts of lobbyists right now to cut away at it so that it not going to apply very well. And even to the extent it does apply it leaves many of the problems untouched. So, chances are that we are building up to another and probably bigger financial crisis. Meanwhile in Europe the troika, you now…
The investment fund.
Yes. They are carrying out policies which are almost bound to be an economic disaster. Imposing austerity during a time of recession just from a purely economic point of view makes no sense. Say for Greece, it just increases the debt. It cuts back growth, so there is no way out of it. The countries, Spain and Greece particularly, they do not have control over their own currencies. So, they can’t do what the US or any country that prints it own money could do. They can’t reduce the value of their currency and grow their way out of it, they can’t do that, they are using the euro. So, they are trapped. Austerity will make the situation worse.
In Greece there is plenty of internal problems but it is particularly striking in the case of Spain because before the collapse of the financial system which not the fault of the government, that’s the fault of the Spanish banks, and including the German banks which were doing the lending, before this collapse in 2007 the Spanish state budget was in quite a good shape. And in fact, Spain has some of the lowest expenditures in Europe for social services and so on. So, it is not the matter of government expenditures, it is a banking problem and it is getting worse.
And even the business press and the financial press are criticizing this. In fact, the IMF has began the back off from these policies because it is so obvious where they lead economically. And it is worth remembering that the ECB is much more reactionary than its US counterpart, the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve has a double mandate. One mandate is to control inflation, and there is not a hint of inflation inside. The other mandate is to maintain the full employment. Of course it doesn’t do much about that, but at least it makes some gestures. The ECB has only the first mandate – to control inflation. And it has to control it at an artificially low level of 2% that’s imposed by the Bundesbank which is very harmful to the economies. And there is no mandate at all to do something about employment.
So, its policies have actually been worse than those of the US Federal Reserve, its counterpart in the US. And it is showing in Europe. One of the consequences of it was actually described by the President of the ECB Mario Draghi. He’s made an interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he said – the social contract in Europe is unsustainable, it is dead, we have to give up on a welfare state. From the point of view of elite and wealthy sectosr, it is fine with them, they never liked the welfare state. And if it is dismantled it is too bad. And that’s where Europe is going unless there is a big change.
As far international relations are concerned, there is quite a lot to say. US-China relations are complex. Economically China is a growing power and I think people underestimate the internal problems it has to maintain it growth. And there is a security conflict. In the US professional literature it is called “a classic security dilemma”. China wants to gain control over the waters nearby China where most of its trade is. And the US also wants to control the waters nearby China. So, there is a conflict. And other states in the region also have their own conflicts with China about who controls the isles of China Sea and so on. So, there is plenty of problems and how they’ll be resolved we don’t know.
Japan-China territorial dispute
There is the problem with the Japanese islands.
In the West they are called Japanese islands but Chinese call them Chinese islands. And in fact, if you look at the history Japan doesn’t have much of a claim to them.
Do you think that’s the part of the problem?
That’s the part of the problem.
Professor Chomsky, thank you very much for your time and the interview.
Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, logician, historian, political critic, and activist .