SUN WOO LEE: How is your health?
NOAM CHOMSKY: I am fine, as you can see.
SUN WOO LEE: Is there any recent issue of interest related to Korea which you have been following?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Korea is playing a very significant role in world affairs. First of all, its economic development was remarkable, but then its political development has been equally remarkable since the overthrow of the Jun dictatorship. It is becoming a lively, exciting society. Many things are happening.
[There're] a number of things I hope to do when I am in Korea. One of the invitations is from a Korea-based international peace organization that is trying … to lessen the confrontation with the North. They have actions that take place right on the Demilitarized Zone. Both sides participate. So I will probably take part in some of those. There is also an invitation from Jeju Island, which I am very interested in going to. I think they have some anniversary of the massacre. It is a place I have been eager to see for a long time. I think, I mean, I think the President and the government are taking a sensible attitude towards overcoming what could be a very serious crisis of nuclear weapons.
SUN WOO LEE: We Koreans have been in the throes of dealing with the shock from Dr. Hwang’s scandal related to his faking of research papers. Have you heard about this?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Oh, sure.
SUN WOO LEE: Apart from controversies about the existence of the relevant stem cell, some people argue that this research which requires cloning embryonic stem cells raises ethical concerns. What is your position on this?
NOAM CHOMSKY: I think it can be done in a way which doesn’t violate human rights. I mean, these stem cells which are being harvested for use are typically taken from embryos which are not being destroyed. You are not harming anyone if you use the stem cells. In fact, it is a way of improving, maybe vastly improving the health and the life of many people. So, the choice is between taking cells from a basically dead embryo, on the one hand, and using it, on the other hand, for research that has great potential for advancing science and for treating serious diseases overcoming thought-to-be incurable diseases, like regenerating cells and so on. So, I think it’s valuable work. I mean it is unfortunate that this incident took place. But things like that happen. And the sciences are different from history or anthropology. When mistakes are made or there is fraud, it is very quickly corrected because other people redo the experiments. So, science has a built-in corrective apparatus which means that things like this are rare and they are quickly corrected and then you just go on. But it has happened before.
In fact, there are much more serious cases right here, I think. It is a very serious situation here which is maybe not as dramatic but in the long run it’s much more serious. That is, it’s been discovered that technical papers appear in the best journals. Uh, if you do a statistical analysis of them, you can discover that you can, to some extent, predict what they are going to publish on the basis of their funding, which means that the experimental work and interpretation are being distorted in the interests of the corporations that fund them. Now that’s very hard to correct. It is not outright fraud; it means not reporting negative evidence and selecting, which is very hard to detect. But over a long term, that can have really harmful consequences with regard to drugs that people use. Are they safe?
This research [= Hwang's research]. There was improper behavior and that was an unfortunate incident. But, it didn’t actually hurt anyone. It is quite different from falsifying the record on the character of some drug. So, yes there are things like that and there are much more serious ones like what I just mentioned. And over time, they get corrected, but it is often a very long time.
There are well known cases. I mean, take, say, lead poisoning, which is extremely serious. Nobody knows how many children died from it. When the corporations began producing lead for gasoline, back in the 1920s, they knew right away that it was toxic. They knew from their own work that it was toxic. They kept it secret. They had enough political power to keep the government from investigating it. It was almost fifty years before it finally broke through. I mean, the costs of that were incredible. And that’s true all around us. I mean, cancer rates, for example, are rising. In most of the world, particularly in the industrial societies, it is very hard to trace particular causes, but it’s very likely that they are coming from chemical pollutants and things of that nature – [Pollutants] are simply not controlled properly. And the reason they are not controlled is just the power of major financial institutions or corporations and others and their power over government to prevent decent regulations. In fact, the most dramatic case of all which may actually destroy the human species is the unwillingness to take appropriate steps with regard to environmental catastrophes like global warming, which could be extremely serious. And the failure to act properly on that is considered a major human crisis, which may make life unlivable for our grandchildren. In comparison to that, the stem cell fraud is a minor foot-note.
SUN WOO LEE: As an academic, what opinion do you have on the issue of fabricated research results? In the United States, how are such frauds dealt with?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, if you read science journals, science magazines, for example, or, if you look at the letters columns, there are occasionally cases of where the authors of an article write a letter withdrawing the article, saying that subsequent research has discovered that what they wrote was incorrect or they rechecked the data and it did not come out that way. Or others also write letters correcting things. And in most areas of science, there is enough of a corrective apparatus, so that it is overcome fairly quickly.
In cases of bias due to funding, it is much harder to detect because the nature of the inquiry is much more complex. But it is dealt with seriously, I think. I am not sure there are any better ways of much being done. You have to have peer review. And peer review has potential corruption in it.
SUN WOO LEE: Are they punished in some way? If so, what kind of punishment do they receive? Are they sent to prison?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, falsifying research is not a criminal offense. It is wrong. Take, for example, tobacco companies who did suppress information for a long time on the lethal effect of what they were producing. There have finally been some sentences, very light sentences. Corporate crime is simply not punished. White collar crimes are barely punished. There are extensive studies of this. Just take one example: two of the major drug companies – I think it was Eli Lilly and Smith Kline – which have since been merged into some bigger conglomerate. This must have been the late 1980s. There was, if I remember, a class action suit against them for falsifying information on some drugs which led to tens of thousands of deaths. They found 80,000 people who had suffered severely from this. They brought a suit – these 80,000 people – against the company. And they won the suit. And the company was charged 80,000 dollars – one dollar for each person who they had seriously injured. I mean, if a particular person was guilty of seriously injuring 80,000 people, they would not be fined 80,000 dollars, but that is the way corporate crime is dealt with. In fact, there are extensive legal studies of corporate manslaughter. Killing someone with the understanding that what you are doing may very well kill them -manslaughter- it is called corporate manslaughter, which is huge, but has barely been investigated.
England has a history of hundreds of years of concern for this since the beginning of the industrial revolution. The first book on corporate manslaughter by a British legal specialist just appeared about seven or eight years ago. Actually he asked me to write an introduction to it, which is how I knew it appeared. And in the U.S., I am not even sure how much study there is. Powerful systems tend to have ways of immunizing themselves from punishment. Actually, that is true in all of international affairs. I mean, take the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals. Well, those tribunals, especially Nuremberg. It was very explicit that the chief counsel, Robert Jackson, was very eloquent, saying that if the crimes of those we are now sentencing are crimes of everyone, and if we commit them, we have to be subjected to the same criminal proceedings. Has that happened? I mean the supreme international crime – as it was called at Nuremberg – the supreme international crime, which encompasses all of the evil that follows, for which people were hanged at Nuremberg – is a crime of aggression. And aggression was carefully defined. Aggression means sending your military forces into the territory of another state.
SUN WOO LEE: O.K., I will return to that at an appropriate time. In a sense, the rapid progress in scientific technology is frightening. In relation to this, what prospect do you see for the human race in the future?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Human beings are facing now some of the greatest threats in human history. There has been nothing like this. I mean, there have been two major crises which literally threaten survival. The most serious one is  nuclear war. That is a very serious problem. It is not discussed anywhere near seriously enough. But if you look at the literature of strategic analysts and others who pay attention to this, many of them regard the crisis as greater now than at any time during the Cold War.
There are a lot of possibilities. One lesser possibility, but bad enough is a terrorist use of a nuclear weapon, say a dirty bomb going off in New York. Well, U.S. intelligence, their assessment of the probability is that it is about a 50 percent probability that there will be a dirty bomb within the next decade. And, you know, nobody can guess what the consequences of that would be.
But much more serious than that is an actual nuclear attack and that is not only likely but increasingly likely. The reasons are understood. So, take what’s called missile defense. Fortunately, missile defense – so far – shows no signs of success. And it is criticized for wasting money on things that don’t work. But that is a misunderstanding. One of the dangerous things about missile defense would be if it shows any sign of success. If the U.S. has a defense system which looks as though it might work, then any potential adversary is going to have to devise means to overwhelm it. That means Russia and China, particularly. And they are doing it … not just with large increases on offensive missile and nuclear weapons capacity that will overwhelm any imaginable missile defense. But that enormously raises the danger, not just to the U.S., but to the world. These missile systems, nuclear armed missile systems, are under automated control. They are under computer control. Now we don’t know the details for Russia and China, but we know a lot about the U.S. systems which are much more sophisticated. They have had hundreds of computer failures. Hundreds of cases where the computers have given a warning that a missile attack is coming. That just leaves a few minutes for human intervention to assess whether it is true or not. And fortunately so far human intervention has always discovered that it isn’t true, but that can easily go wrong. And the Russian systems and Chinese systems are nowhere near as sophisticated. So, things like missile defense and just the rapid expansion of the U.S. military are forcing Russia and China to expand their offensive military capacity, imposing great dangers also on countries like South Korea and Japan. They are right in the middle of it. If China increases its military forces, India is going to respond by incomparable increases. [If] India expands its forces, Pakistan will respond, [and] you then start getting a ripple effect. The more proliferators you get, the greater the dangers. They don’t have the same destructive capacity, but they don’t have the same controls, either. And all of this is increasing.
SUN WOO LEE: O.K. I will return to nuclear weapons problem later. What is the second crisis?
NOAM CHOMKY: The second is  environmental catastrophe. That is a longer term. Nuclear war could take place tomorrow by accident. Environmental catastrophe is longer term, but it is coming and it is serious. And no one knows exactly what the effects will be. But they could be very serious.
SUN WOO LEE: How would you assess the Bush administration? The Iraqi war is not finished yet. How can it be wound up?
NOAM CHOMSKY: The Bush administration is the most dangerous administration that has ever existed in the U.S. I mean, it is taking actions which significantly increase the threat of destruction of species in both of the domains that we are talking about. It is also taking actions which increase the threat of terror, which is quite serious. It is not nuclear war but it is very serious, and they are doing it quite consciously.
The Iraq war, for example, was undertaken with the expectation that it would increase the threat of terror and nuclear proliferation. And in fact, it did. One of their own intelligence agencies which warned in advance has confirmed that that has taken place: The number of terrorist incidents approximately tripled the year after the war. That proliferation is increasing. They are also acting in ways which are extremely harmful to the population of the U.S. That is a separate matter. There are also economic policies, imposing enormous burdens on future generations. The fiscal [deficit] -the famous twin deficit – that’s for our grandchildren to pay for. They don’t care as long as they can stuff their pockets. Friends with lots of dollars. O.K. And their grandchildren will somehow pay for it. And what is being done is almost scandalous.
I mean, like the U.S. health system, it is the most inefficient in the industrial world. The costs are twice high as any industrial country and outcomes are very poor. They are at the bottom of the OECD industrial societies. And it is understood why, because it is privatized. And privatized systems are highly inefficient, contrary to the dogmas that are taught. Health care has huge administrative expenses which other systems don’t have and has a lot of supervision. Insurance company bureaucrats are looking over the shoulder of the doctors. There is a lot of paper work, and the result is enormous cost. And poor outcomes may get worse.
If you want to see how bad it is and see bureaucracy going utterly insane, simply have a look at the Medicare system which provides drugs for the elderly. They came out with a new bill to provide drugs under Medicare. The bill was written by the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical corporations and so on. It is a huge gift to them. They published a document of about a hundred pages which they distributed to every senior in the country – I got one, my wife got one. It would be comical if it weren’t so serious. It is a hundred pages of detailed instructions about the options that you have on how to get drugs under the new Medicare system. I would need to take a group of research assistants to work through it even to figure out what it means. You give that to some person who is 80 years old and they are never going to be able to figure it out. I mean it is a bureaucratic nightmare. The purpose of it is to enrich the drug companies and the financial institutions and health maintenance institutions. I mean the prices of drugs in the U.S. are far higher than in other industrial countries, sometimes ten times as much – the same drug produced by the same company. I mean they make huge profits in other countries and immense profits here. And this is designed to increase the profits and also to decrease care. It means that elderly people will simply not be able to get decent medical care. For most people in this country this is the most serious personal crisis and it is going to be a burden for future generations. These costs mount very fast and they are becoming a huge part of the budget. So in many ways it is a very dangerous administration.
SUN WOO LEE: In the name of reconstructing Iraq, several countries dispatched troops to Iraq. How do you view this?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the invasion of Iraq was an outright war crime. It is a clear, explicit war crime. It had no pretext, no justification and there was a reason for it: the reason was to take control of Iraq’s enormous oil resources and to strengthen U.S. power in the region. I mean it is well understood by strategic analysts and international affairs specialists and has been for 50 years, that the reason the U.S. wants to control Middle East oil is not to gain access to the oil. They can do that through market processes – the oil is going to be sold, and anybody can buy it. The point is to have a strategic weapon against their rivals, meaning against Europe and Northeast Asia. Fifty years ago George Kennan, one of the leading planners, said that if the U.S. controls Middle East oil, it will have what he called veto power over anything Japan might do in the future for obvious reasons. You have your hand on the spigot; you can control what they do. And Japan understands it. That’s why they have been trying to diversify their own energy sources. And the same is true for Europe. So the Iraq war should be a lever, a lever of power, against Europe and Asia.
SUN WOO LEE: And also Russia, too?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, Russia less, because Russia does have its own energy resources. But Europe doesn’t. China has very limited ones, indeed very limited resources. Japan probably none. So, yes it is a strategic weapon.
It is an outright war crime. I mean, what’s happened there is an utter disaster. As to what should be done now, you know, what I think ought to be done is that the U.S. and Britain pay reparations to Iraq. Not aid, REPARATIONS, like Germany did after the Second World War. Or like Japan did. [They did] not pay near enough. Just a little. That’s what they should do. Ten years of sanctions devastated the society. They were an attack on the civilian society. They strengthened Saddam Hussein. They probably kept him in power because the population could not overthrow him the way Koreans overthrew Jun. If Korea had been under sanctions like that, the population would have been so demoralized and so dependent on the dictator for survival that they wouldn’t have overthrown him and that’s pretty much what happened in Iraq. So that destroyed, really destroyed, the society, and then comes the war and then the aftermath of the war and its horrifying consequences.
There is very little reconstruction going on. You read in this morning’s New York Times that they had the first government review of the reconstruction process. Take a look at it all: total chaos and bureaucratic confusion. Conflict of interest among the various organizations. Some of it is comical. I mean, the Navy, for example, wanted to control reconstruction of water, for some reason. So that was given to them, but electricity was given to somebody else in the Army. They don’t work together. So you can imagine what happened. Plus, there has been just enormous robbery. I mean U.S. corporations like Halliburton have made so much money just by robbery, by overcharging and et cetera. There are court cases coming along; but it is going to be tens of, probably tens of billions of dollars going right through and Iraq is in ruin.
SUN WOO LEE: Terrorist acts are occurring repeatedly all over the world. How can we fundamentally reduce terror?
NOAM CHOMSKY: There is also right now the insurgency which is violent and brutal, but it was elicited by the invasion. Iraq hadn’t had any suicide bombers for probably a millennium, but now they have them all the time. The U.S. intelligence and the Israeli and Saudi intelligence have analyzed very closely the foreign fighters in Iraq. There are very few. It is maybe 10 percent of the insurgents. But almost none of them had any terrorist record. They are under extremely close surveillance. Their people were mobilized by the war. It was expected that the war would mobilize potential militants, ultimately terrorists, and they would spread around the world. That’s exactly what happened. And you can read the CIA reports. Iraq has become what they call the training ground for professionalized terrorists probably much more severe than Afghanistan was under the Taliban. These are people trained in urban terrorism, and highly skilled and so on and [they're] going to spread all over the world and have already done it in Jordan…
So, one way to cut back terrorism is to  stop inciting it (terrorism). If you stop inciting terrorism, that is one way to cut it back. And another way which you are not allowed to talk about in the west is to  stop participating in it. The western powers are leading participants in terror. In fact, the U.S. is the only country to have rejected a World Court decision. The World Court decision was charging the U.S. with international terrorism in its war against Nicaragua. The only country. And that’s only one of many examples.
So one way to cut back terrorism is to stop participating in it. A second way to cut back terrorism is to stop inciting it. And then other ways are understood. I mean terrorists – let’s say, Al Qaeda – regard themselves as kind of a vanguard. They have the potential mass population which doesn’t like terrorism and violence, but does recognize that there is some justice in their cause and that the grievances are real. Well, what the Jihadis -terrorists -want to do is to incite that vast reservoir to join them in their terrorist activities; just like a Leninist vanguard. They want to sort of lead the masses to join them, you know. On this there is an almost total consensus among specialists on terror and in intelligence agencies. If you want to counter this, you have to have a two-pronged effort. The Jihadis themselves are criminals. You deal with them like criminals. You identify them – just like somebody who robs a store – find out who they are, get evidence, and you use police procedures. If it is international, you have international police procedures, bring them to court, have a trial, and sentence them. That is the way you deal with criminals. Jihadis are criminals. The most important part is the mass to which they are trying to appeal and there you have to deal with the grievances. I mean you should do that, even if there isn’t any terror. But if you want to make sure that the Jihadis don’t succeed in mobilizing the population that they are trying to appeal to, pay attention to their grievances. That’s what you should do and that will isolate them, and lessen their appeal. And this works.
I just mentioned that I’ve just come back from Ireland. Last time I was in Ireland was about 12 years ago. And it was in Northern Ireland, and it was a pretty barbaric place – killings, police patrols were everywhere and soldiers everywhere and people were afraid to go from one place to another. I mean it was the worst place in the world. It was pretty awful. Now it is peaceful. What happened? What happened is that the British finally understood that there were legitimate grievances from the northern Irish – Northern Ireland, the Ireland Catholic population. They were legitimate grievances they should pay some attention to. And then pretty quickly – it didn’t eliminate conflict – but it reduced it very considerably. It isolated the professional killers on both sides – they are still there, but they are isolated. And the situation enormously improved. Go through the streets of Belfast, there is no fear anymore. Well, that’s the way you deal with terror, if you want to reduce it. If you’re not interested in reducing terror such as the Bush administration which doesn’t care about terror, then you do exactly what bin Laden wants. Take a look at these studies by U.S. government specialists on terror. What they point out is that the best ally that Osama bin Laden has is George Bush. He does exactly what bin Laden wants. He does react with violence and terror against the populations who Osama bin Laden is trying to appeal to. Sure, it’s as if he is following a script written by Osama bin Laden. Terror is a serious problem. Terrorism is getting worse. But there are sensible ways to deal with it. Actually President Roh in South Korea has done a similar thing with regard to the North. You don’t want them to have nuclear weapons, obviously, but …
SUN WOO LEE: The Bush administration has declared that North Korea is part of the Axis of Evil, and is spurring up the level of its pressure on North Korea. What effect will this rhetoric have in connection with the mood of reconciliation and peace developing on the Korean peninsula? What do you think of the North Korean leader, Jong Il Kim?
NOAM CHOMSKY: North Korea is one of the most horrible countries in the world, nothing good to say about it.
But the question is : “what do you do about it ?” You try to make it worse or try to move towards reconciliation and improve matters. The Bush administration is making it worse. This hysterical rhetoric is going – predictably – going to increase North Korean efforts to develop a nuclear deterrent. And as the South Korean president pointed out, you don’t want them to do it, but it is understandable why they would. You threaten a country with destruction and they’re not going to say. “Thank you, here is my throat, cut it.” They are going to try to find some way to react. There are only two ways to react. Nobody is going to fight the U.S. military. The U.S. spends about as much on the military as the rest of the world combined. It’s technologically far more advanced – such an enormous destructive capacity – that nobody is going to fight a war with it, which leaves two possibilities for a deterrent. One is nuclear weapons and the other is terror. And so by carrying out meaningful threats against other countries, you’re simply inspiring terror and nuclear proliferation.
France just did the same thing. I don’t know if you read President Chirac’s speech a couple of days ago.
SUN WOO LEE: Yes, I read it.
NOAM CHOMSKY: What he said is, France will consider using nuclear weapons against anyone who – not people who do anything to us – but people who threaten terror or threaten the use of nuclear weapons. Apparently, France, which is supposed to have a history of logic, didn’t recognize that what President Chirac was saying was that he ought to send the French Air Force to bomb Paris. What he said is that “We are a country that is considering the use of the weapons of mass destruction and any country that considers using the weapons of mass destruction should be subjected to nuclear attack.” So what he was saying is that France ought to be subjected to nuclear attack. Nobody pointed this out – it’s elementary logic, but quite apart from the idiocy of the comment, it’s a way of telling potential targets: “You’d better develop a deterrent.” And the only deterrent they have is nuclear weapons, rather – weapons of mass destruction – or terror.
What other option do they have? It’s the same with Iran. One of the leading Israeli military historians, Martin von Krefeld, this is his name, recently had an article. I think it was in the International Herald Tribune in which he said, “Obviously we don’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons. But if they don’t develop them they are crazy.” If you put them under serious threat of attack, they are surrounded on all sides by very hostile and aggressive forces – U.S. armies on both sides and other nuclear state, Israel is a powerful nuclear state which is threatening them. I mean, you threaten them with attack, they are not going to say, “Thank you.” They are going to react. And how can they react? In several ways. One of them is by increasing its support for terror and the other is developing a nuclear deterrent.
SUN WOO LEE: What opinion do you have about the issues related to the human rights of the North Korean people? Do you have any solution?
NOAM CHOMSKY: The solution is step-by-step reconciliation. It’s not going to solve the problem tomorrow. But in the longer term, it can solve the problem. I mean you know much better than I – the Koreans have always wanted to be reunited. That goes back to 1945. I’m sure that that’s just as true in the North as in the South. People have families, [it's the] same country after all. So, a move towards reconciliation will reduce the human rights violations. Not easily. There will still be people starving, there will still be severe controls over the population. But the way to reduce them is to move towards the sunshine policy, move towards reconciliation. Every step that is made for reconciliation improves human rights. So every threat makes human rights violations worse. That’s almost true everywhere. Syria and Iran. Take Iran. You know Iranian democrats and reformers have bitterly condemned the sanctions and they say that all it does is make the leadership harsher, and give them popular support. So it undermines democracy, and it undermines human rights.
SUN WOO LEE: How do you think we should solve the North Korean nuclear weapons problem?
NOAM CHOMSKY: There’s a way to do it. There’s a very simple way to solve it. In fact, it came pretty close to working. In 1994, there was a framework agreement, which, as far as we know, stops nuclear weapons development in North Korea. In return, the West, primarily the United States, pledged to provide them with the capacity for nuclear energy development, which they need. They don’t have internal resources. The West didn’t live up to that bargain. And then when the Bush Administration came in, waving its weapons of mass destruction, saying, “We are going to attack you!” Well, OK, it’s the end of the framework agreement. They then began to carry out the uranium enrichment for nuclear weapons. How far it’s gone, we don’t know. But the way to reduce – you know, you can’t eliminate completely the possibility that someone will be able to develop nuclear weapons. But you can reduce the probability. There are many ways to do it. One is to work within the general structure of the framework agreement. If you make nuclear energy available that reduces the incentive to develop nuclear weapons. The other is to reduce threats.
And then there’re things that go far beyond that. I mean the big problem that’s been pointed out over and over by Mohamed Al Baradei–who just won a Nobel Prize–is the production of high-grade, weapons-grade enriched uranium–fissile material–that really can be used for nuclear weapons. As long as that’s produced, there will be nuclear weapons produced. Again, I can’t predict the details, but it’s available.
So, the way to terminate the threat of nuclear weapons is to take two steps. One of them is to control, to have an international control over the development of any fissile materials and have a bank somewhere under international control with all fissile materials produced or stored. And if any country wants them for legitimate purposes – nuclear energy, then release them. That proposal has been at the U.N. for years, I think it was 1993, [that] it was proposed. But the U.S. has blocked it.
It finally came to a vote in November 2004. That’s probably the most important vote that the U.N. ever took. The vote came out 174 to 1. The U.S. voted against it. Two countries abstained: Israel and Britain.
SUN WOO LEE: Britain, too?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Israelis reflexively have to do what the U.S. tells them. So they abstained. Britain was much more interesting. The British ambassador explained in the U.N. session why Britain was voting against it. He said Britain is in favor of the treaty, but the way this one is written is too divisive. It divides the world 174 to 1. And so therefore Britain will go along with the U.S. That just tells you what Tony Blair’s priorities are. Human survival is of much lower priority for Tony Blair than making sure that he gets invited to George Bush’s ranch. And this was not reported. I don’t know if it was reported in South Korea, but in the U.S. it was not reported. It was not reported, you know. That’s one step towards eliminating nuclear weapons.
And there is a second step which Al Baradei has insisted on: the non-proliferation treaty was a compact, it was a bargain. The non-nuclear states agreed not to develop nuclear weapons and the nuclear states agreed that they would eliminate nuclear weapons. Have they done it? None of them have done it. And the U.S. isn’t believed. The U.S. simply says -those under Bush for the first time – it says the provisions of the treaty don’t apply to us. Well, O.K. if the nuclear states are not going to live up to their side of the bargain, then the non-nuclear states are not going to do it, either. You may not be able to eliminate environmental catastrophe, but the threat of nuclear weapons can be eliminated by simple ways. The nuclear states, primarily the U.S., should undertake their obligation, by treaty, even underscored by a World Court judgment, to move towards elimination of nuclear weapons. We’re doing the opposite. And there should be international control over production of the armed materials. That would come very close to terminating the nuclear threat. The other thing to do is to recover the nuclear weapons that are around. There had been progress on that, up until the Bush administration. They just dropped the efforts. These are solvable problems and the fate of the species depends on it. Environmental catastrophe is longer term. And we don’t know if it’s a solvable problem but certainly there are things that should be done about it.
SUN WOO LEE: What do you think of the division of the Korean peninsula? How can the conflicts between South Korea-U.S. alliance on the one hand and South Korea’s reconciliation endeavors with North Korea on the other hand be resolved?
NOAM CHOMSKY: South Korea has a difficult situation. On the one hand, it has to maintain good relations with the U.S., like every country does. On the other hand, it wants to reduce security threats and improve life situation. And these two commitments go in opposite directions. And so South Korea is not the only country that has them. Take Ireland. One of the main things that I was talking about in Ireland was the fact that the government of Ireland allows the U.S. to use a major airport for sending military troops and supplies to Iraq, and also probably for rendition, which is just a word for torture. That’s a serious issue in Ireland. Should they agree to do that? Well, the government says, “We’ve got this big monster over our shoulders we can’t afford to alienate.” But on that, let’s make a choice. Are we going to participate in torture and aggression because we don’t want to upset the Mafia Don. Let’s find a way between this, me thinks. ‘Tis not a simple answer. The real problem should be in the U.S. We should – people in the U.S. should – withdraw the threat. Then other countries have choices. But short of that, I think Korea and Ireland and every other country has difficult choices to make.
SUN WOO LEE: What do you think of the fall of socialism after the collapse of the Soviet Union?
NOAM CHOMSKY: First of all, there was no fall of socialism because there was no socialism. In fact, in my view I wrote about it – the collapse of the Soviet Union was a small victory for socialism. Just the Soviet Union was one of the main barriers to it. It had been since 1970. I can go into that if you like.
SUN WOO LEE: The phenomenon of the rich-get-richer and the poor-get -poorer due to the negative effect of neo-liberalism is getting serious in Korea, too. You have criticized neo-liberalism before. What alternative ideas do you have?
NOAM CHOMSKY: With regard to neo-liberal policies, they are simply particular policy choices, nothing special about them. They have been very harmful. South Korea did grow and develop because it ignored the principles. The countries that ignored the neo-liberal principles like South Korea, Taiwan, and China… had very rapid development. Now the countries that observed the principles, like Latin America, it was a disaster. So it’s been an economic failure and it’s a major attack on democracy. It undermines options for government action, in fact it was intended to.
Are there alternatives? Of course, there are alternatives. And we know them. The first 25 years after the Second World War did not observe neo-liberal principles. That’s not ancient history. That was the fastest period of growth in economic history. It was egalitarian growth. It includes welfare systems, benefit systems, and in fact South Korea knows it, too. It developed rapidly by violating neo-liberal principles. So those are alternatives. And in fact when South Korea finally began to agree to accept the principles, accept the financial liberalization, a couple of years later, it had a huge financial crash. That’s likely to happen if you accept these principles. So the alternative is to reject them and turn to perfectly sensible principles which are known and have been used and they are being used right now by countries that don’t observe them. I mean, take the U.S. To an extent, the U.S. follows these principles. As a result, it has been the worst period of American economic history for the last 25 years. Real wages for the majority of the population have stagnated. It never happened before.
On the other hand, does the U.S. really follow these principles? The U.S. economy relies very heavily on the state sector: Where did computers come from, or the internet, or civilian aircraft, or containerships, or lasers? It comes out of places like MIT. That’s the state sector. It doesn’t rely on private enterprise. It’s all a farce.
SUN WOO LEE: It is known that you describe yourself as a libertarian socialist and a sympathizer of anarcho-syndicalism. Have you ever tried to put the ideas of libertarian socialism and anarcho-syndicalism into action like actually building such a community or a society apart from a series of talks and writings?
NOAM CHOMSKY: An individual can’t create a society. But you can help create the basis for libertarian societies. And that’s happening in many places. There is worker control of industries. There’s self-governing communities, there’s by now mass popular movements which are calling for greater democracy and freedom. All of these are steps towards – they are efforts to – reduce corporate power. All of these are steps towards a more libertarian, cooperative society. There’s nothing you can click your fingers and get. You could form a community somewhere of 25 people and live this way. Nice for them, but it has no impact. So, yes, that’s what the talks and the organization and my meetings and so on are for.
SUN WOO LEE: How do you think the status and role of the U.S. will change in the era of Northeast Asia? What do you think of the sudden rise of China?
NOAM CHOMSKY: If you look over a longer stretch of history, if you go back, say, to the 17th and 18th century, the commercial and industrial centers of the world were China and India. They were the most advanced. Japan, for example, had higher health standards than Europe. This was really the center of the civilization. Europe was kind of a barbaric fringe. Over the next two centuries, Europe conquered most of the world. But I think what’s happening now is that history is beginning to move back to something like what it was for a long time. Chinese and Indian civilizations go back millennia. European civilization is an upstart. They were just tribes wandering around.
I mean China–if you count properly–it probably has the second largest economy now, if you [consider] what’s called “purchasing power”. I mentioned India is moving up, but both China and India have enormous problems. They have tremendous internal problems. Huge problems of massive poverty, equality, and environmental destruction. Also China and India, too, are very heavily dependent on foreign investment. So if you look at the exports from China, a very high percentage of them are foreign owned, mostly overseas Chinese, so it’s part of the whole Chinese world, but a lot are owned by the U.S. and Europe. If you move toward the high-tech end, it’s even heavier. They have enormous financial reserves. Just this morning, in fact–or yesterday–they came out with a new estimate of Chinese financial reserves and it’s getting close to Japan. Japan has the highest in the world. I think Korea is quite high.
But Northeast Asia is by far the most dynamic economic region of the world, the fastest growing and the most developing. It has two of, well now three of, the major economies of the industrial world: Japan, China and South Korea. One of the reasons why North Korea is such a geo-strategic problem is that it breaks the continuity of the Northeast Asian system. So if you extend the Trans-Siberian railroad to Seoul and into North Korea, and it’s the one thing that isn’t part of the system… It’s one of the many reasons for resolving it.
This could be the Northeast Asian region link now to India. It’s also moving now into the Southeast Asian economies, which are mostly developing now. That’s a very powerful center of the global economy. They have–Northeast Asia–probably has about half the foreign exchange reserves in the world.
One of their big problems is gaining their own access, organizing their own access to energy, as I’m sure you know. There is Asian Energy Security Grid based in China, but with Russia connected, and South Korea will surely join, and maybe Japan and India. The U. S. is very worried about that development. It’s a major force in world affairs. There is also Shanghai Cooperation Council. I don’t know if South Korea is in that, but it’s China and Russia, primarily. But it will draw in the other countries and that’s kind of a counter to NATO. It’s developing as a counter to NATO aimed at Central Asia, because they have their own interests in Central Asia and they don’t want the U.S. to dominate it. So these are long-term developments that will doubtless be influential. I mean the world basically has three major economic centers: that’s North America, Europe and Northeast Asia, with its extensions thereabout. In most respects on a par. The only respect in which North America is more advanced is military.
SUN WOO LEE: Who dominates or controls the world and by what?
NOAM CHOMSKY: The U.S. is for the moment dominating the world by force. I mean, in the dimension of violence the United States is unparalleled. I mean, it has about half of the total world military spending; it’s far more advanced in things like space, which is the next dimension of military warfare. The U.S. has about 95% of the expenses and in fact, is the only country that is trying to keep space for military purposes. China, in fact, has been in the lead of trying to keep space reserved for peaceful purposes. For years now, China at the United Nations has been trying to extend and expand the Outer Space Treaty and to impose restrictions on what’s called prevention of an arms race in outer space. The U.S. under Clinton, and even more so under Bush, has been blocking and that’s a serious problem.
SUN WOO LEE: You have presented the ‘propaganda model’ by which big transnational corporations and the media try to control the power of a nation. Please illustrate it.
NOAM CHOMSKY: What happened over the past century is that in the west, there were plenty of struggles for freedom and a lot of them achieved quite a lot. So the two countries most advanced were Britain and the U.S. and by a century ago they were the most free countries of the world and they were the most industrially developed. In both countries, elites understood–and we know this from their documents–that they no longer had the power to control the population by force. So therefore they have to turn to controlling them in some other way. I mean, the other way of controlling–attempt to control them–is by propaganda. I mean efforts to shape attitudes and beliefs. Out of that come the huge public relations industries, which developed in Britain and the U.S. And public relations advertising and so on is just propaganda. In fact, back at that time it was called propaganda. You know the word propaganda got kind of a bad image during the Second World War, associated with the Nazis and so on. So people dropped the term, but in the 1920s, it was straight out called propaganda. Like the name, texts of the public relations industry were called propaganda. And the Nazis, incidentally, recognized the force of Anglo-American propaganda and they mimicked it. The Nazi propaganda system was based on the U.S. and British commercial advertising system: same ideas, simple slogans, keep repeating, consumerism. So they picked it up. The German commercial advertisers were mobilized by Goebbels to create the Nazi propaganda system. It was very successful in Germany, horribly so.
Germany, remember, was the most advanced country in the western world. It was the peak of the arts and sciences, and so on, and within a few years it had gone to total barbarism. I mean a lot of it was propaganda borrowed from the Anglo-American systems. In the west, it’s more sophisticated and subtle but everywhere you look you’re just bombarded. I mean, take advertising. When you look at a TV ad for a car or a life style drug or something, you don’t expect to be told the truth. I mean [if] you wanna find out about a Toyota or a Ford, you don’t look at the ad because the ads are an effort to delude you. They wanna delude you with imagery. It’s deceit. Everyone understands that. What they wanna do is undermine markets. They hate markets, basically. What they want is delusion and deceit by imagery.
And very much the same happens in other domains, in the public domain. So, let’s take, say, elections. Elections in the United States by now are run by the public relations industry. So people have almost no idea of what the stand of the candidates is. In the last election in November 2004, it was about 10% who could identify the stands of the candidates. Now what you have is illusions. They create images to try to undermine democracy. And it’s the same industry. Actually other countries are coming along behind. Europe is like a decade or two behind; they’re moving in the same direction. Probably South Korea will, too. Elections will become just delusion, imagery and deceit. That makes a lot of sense from the point of view of the business world. They don’t want people to become involved in public affairs.
And if you look at the media, it’s pretty much the same. Take, say, the coverage of the Iraq war, the biggest issue. I mean, they claim there’s criticism, but it’s the kind of criticism you had in Russia during the Afghan war. Now if you read Pravda during the Afghan war, there would be critics and they’d say, “Look, too many Russian soldiers are dying. It’s not working. We should put in a different general.” That’s the way the Iraq war is going. I mean if you went back to Pravda in the 1980s, nobody would say that “It is wrong to invade Afghanistan”, or you know, “It’s a violation of international law”, and it would be all full of the, you know, benign intent: “We are not invading, we’re there at the request of the legitimate government, we are trying to help the people.” That’s exactly what you read in the western press. People don’t even think about it. They’re so indoctrinated. They can’t think about it.
SUN WOO LEE: Speaking of the truth, you have pointed out that intellectuals have a special responsibility to speak the truth. What is the truth?
NOAM CHOMSKY: If it’s a physicist, it’s not simple to find what the truth is, but we have methods for getting a better understanding of what’s true about the world. And in human affairs, it’s really not that difficult. Because it’s not like physics, it’s not deeply hidden. Most of what’s understood is right on the surface. And you just need common sense, honesty… It will take some hard work, and requires skepticism about doctrinal system. That’s enough to give you a fair grasp of the truth of the world. You can’t be certain ever, nobody is, but you can certainly get to understand it. As far as the intellectuals are concerned, who are they? I mean, what makes people intellectuals? It’s just that they’re privileged–they have resources, they have a reasonable degree of wealth, they have training, education, ok? That infers responsibility, so you have privilege of that kind. Your responsibility is much greater than if you are a taxi driver who doesn’t have any of these advantages. So you’ve got to use it.
SUN WOO LEE: Today, large multinational corporations have great political and economic power and throw responsibility for social injustice back on the government, while garnering profits. Under a more complex system, intellectuals find it difficult to ascertain who is responsible for this. In this context, the role of NGOs seems to be becoming more important. How would you view the influence of NGOs?
NOAM CHOMSKY: First of all, I don’t really think it’s that complicated. I mean, yes, it’s not trivial, but as compared with any of the sciences, it’s baby talk. It’s much easier to figure out these things than to understand chemistry. It’s not that hard. It takes some work. NGO’s–it’s a mixed story. I mean some of them are probably constructive, doing some serious work. Others are effectively agencies of power. You have to be very cautious about them. I mean naturally powerful systems of governments and corporations are going to create an NGO system in their own interest. And even the NGOs that try to work for people have to make compromises. Some make too many compromises with systems in power. So it’s difficult.
SUN WOO LEE: Please tell us how generative linguistics has changed in the past 5 years and how it will look like in the years to come? What will be the mainstream of generative linguistics?
NOAM CHOMSKY: One of the least successful of human endeavors is predicting the future of science. What’s gonna happen, nobody can tell. Somebody might come up with a totally new idea, goes off in a new direction. I think you can see some tendencies. And remember, this is a very personal perspective… Ask the people in this department–my friends and colleagues–they will give you a different answer. Everyone who is working in it sees things that seem to them important, that guides your research.
SUN WOO LEE: But you as the originator of transformational grammar….
NOAM CHOMSKY: These are all collective efforts. In science, nobody owns any theory. I mean, it’s collective activities. They say Einstein was unusually innovative, but he was working on… I mean other scientists were coming out with similar ideas at the same time. They were mutually interacting. I mean, every time there is a class, or a graduate student comes into the office, they have new ideas which change things. These are collective endeavors. They shouldn’t be regarded as personally owned. I mean, I have my own ideas about where things should develop, I could describe those, but whether they are right or not, time will tell.
SUN WOO LEE: There is an observation that 3-pole system of the US, China, and the Middle East will be established in the first half of the 21st century. What do you think of this?
NOAM CHOMSKY: For about 35 years, the international economy has become what is called “tripolar,” with three major industrial-financial-commercial centers, roughly on a par: North America, Europe, and Northeast Asia (at that time Japan-centered). Since then South Korea has been a major economy, and China has been growing rapidly. The Northeast Asia area is the most dynamic in the world, holding most of global financial resources, and now being strengthened with linkages to India and the Southeast Asian economies. These emerging structures are beginning to receive some formal expression in the Asian Energy Security Grid and the Shanghai Cooperation Council, which brings in Central Asia as well. The Middle East is a separate matter. It holds the world’s major energy resources, but has so far remained largely under external control, though that could change, in ways that are a nightmare for US planners, who have always taken for granted that they must control the major energy resources of the region, not because of access, but as a lever of global control.
SUN WOO LEE: Do you perceive the U.N. functions properly?
NOAM CHOMSKY: There are plenty of internal problems at the UN, but they pale into insignificance in comparison with the major problem: the great powers place sharp restrictions on what the UN can do. A good measure of the scale of their interference is the record of vetoes. By the 1960s, the US had lost control over the UN as a result of decolonization and the revival of the industrial powers from the destruction of World War II. Since then the US has been far in the lead in vetoes on all sorts of matters, Britain second, no one else even close. The current UN Ambassador, John Bolton, has been quite frank in expressing his belief that the UN should not even exist except as an instrument of US power interests, primarily.
SUN WOO LEE: Globalization seems to be riding the current of the times recently. Do you have any specific reasons why you are against it?
NOAM CHOMSKY: I know of no one who is against globalization, which means simply international integration: what you and I are now doing is an example of globalization. The strongest proponents of globalization have always been the left and the labor movements — which is why labor unions have long been called “internationals,” in the hope that the word could someday take on real meaning. That remains true today. The strongest advocates of globalization are the remarkable and unprecedented global justice movements, which get together annually in the World Social Forum, and by now in regional and local social forums. In the rigid Western-run doctrinal system, the strongest advocates of globalization are called “anti-globalization.” The mechanism for this absurdity is to give a technical meaning to the term “globalization”: it is used within the doctrinal system to refer to a very specific form of international economic integration designed in meticulous detail by a network of closely interconnected concentrations of power: multinational corporations, financial institutions, the few powerful states with which they are closely linked, and their international economic institutions (IMF, World Bank, WTO, etc.). Not surprisingly, this form of “globalization” is designed to serve the interests of the designers. The interests of people are largely irrelevant. That is why there is such enormous popular protest against this form of corporate globalization, worldwide — symbolized, tragically, by the suicide of Lee Kyong Hae at Cancun. It is also why the treaties have to be signed virtually in secret, with the population kept ignorant of what is being done to them. Furthermore, they have little to do with “free trade,” or even “trade,” in any meaningful sense of the term. In the phrase “North American Free Trade Agreement” (NAFTA), the only accurate words are “North American.” It is not concerned with “free trade,” and is certainly not an “agreement,” at least if citizens are regarded as part of their countries. That extends worldwide. In the dominant propaganda systems, those in favor of globalization that privileges the interests of people, not unaccountable concentrations of private power, are called “anti-globalization.” The fact that this ridiculous terminology has come into common usage is a tribute to the great influence of concentrations of state-private power.
SUN WOO LEE: If a few monopolistic enterprises like Microsoft are allowed to dominate the basic means of communication, what kind of social and cultural consequences will ensue?
NOAM CHOMSKY: If means of communication are in the hands of unaccountable private tyrannies (corporations), they will of course be shaped primarily for their interests. There is a great deal to say about this — also about the rising popular movements opposing these totalitarian-style outcomes.
SUN WOO LEE: Can the internet be a medium against existing mainstream press media?
NOAM CHOMSKY: It not only can be, but is. The global justice movements, for example, rely almost exclusively on the internet to circumvent the self-censorship and gross falsifications of the corporate and state media. And that is typical. It is also becoming a source of information, crossing national boundaries, thus another effective implementation of globalization (carried out by those who are described as “anti-globalization” by the doctrinal system). There are also plenty of dangers and difficulties. Again, a long story.
SUN WOO LEE: It has now become quite possible to buy your books or gain access to your writings through the internet bookstores such as Amazon and Z-net. After all, the internet has advanced globalization ahead, hasn’t it?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Certainly. And it is worth remembering that the internet, like most of the advanced economy, is largely a product of the dynamic state sector of the economy, another illustration of the absurdity of the notion “free trade.”
SUN WOO LEE: Are there any internet sites that you frequent?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Personally, I use the internet almost exclusively for research purposes, and rarely access any sites. I haven’t even seen the site that friends have put up in my name: www.chomsky.info, I think it is called.
SUN WOO LEE: You were chosen as the No. 1 public intellectual figure by the journals of Foreign Policy and Prospect. You are also recognized as having insight of interpreting and changing the world. What is your vision of the world?
NOAM CHOMSKY: First of all, I don’t take this bullshit seriously [laughing]. And I don’t think anyone else should. But I think we can go back to what I said before. There are some basic crises that are imminent and serious and they have to be dealt with. Two of the major ones are nuclear war and environmental catastrophe.
There are many other problems–like what someone has called “the democratic deficit”, the failure of democratic institutions to function properly. That’s very serious in the United States. So if you look at public opinion and you look at public policy, they are very different. We don’t have time to go into it, but they are quite different. That’s a gap in functioning democracy, and it’s important. The same is kind of true to various extents in other countries. There are problems of social policy, which are very serious. The neo-liberal policies are given plenty of support by powerful institutions. There is a reason for that. The rich and the privileged gain from this. Most of the rest don’t. But they have succeeded in imposing a doctrinal framework where they look inevitable. They are not. They can be changed. And they should be changed. But a little to my surprise, you know the Davos [conference [World Economic Forum]] is going on right now. To my surprise, they asked me for a statement and you can find it on their website. I think today it’s going up–in which I gave a critical analysis of each program.
Now what’s gonna happen? You can’t predict that. That’s a matter of will and choice. So in 1985 in South Korea could you predict the end of the dictatorship?
SUN WOO LEE: No! No!
NOAM CHOMSKY: People make choices. They are going to struggle.
SUN WOO LEE: Thank you very much, Professor Chomsky. I really appreciate your time.