IN a world full of ruthless economics, fanaticism, dogmatism, aggressive sectarianism and, most of all, terrorism and violence, our survival depends, in the words of Vaclav Havel, the former President of Czechoslovakia, on the “degree to which we accept responsibility for ourselves and the world, and face the seen and unseen threats that lie therein”. Professor Noam Chomsky is aware of this intellectual responsibility and has painstakingly taken on the task of interrogating American history and its foreign policy along with its worldwide fallout. Through a detailed analysis, he has provoked a passionate concern for the moral and human consequences of intellectual intervention that either spurs mass atrocity or helps to discourage man’s inhumanity to man.
Two European wars, Fascism, Nazism and guilt-ridden traumas of de-colonisation and critiques of capitalism by western Marxists have all led to the interrogation of the myth of progress. The genesis of this opposition to dehumanised profiteering began in the 1960s when the forces of the New Left stood up for instant answers to the problems of oppression and poverty. Chomsky was then at the head of the anti-Vietnam sentiment against war, an example of academic scholarship that has the intellectual confidence to challenge the corporate media and the state. In the face of contemporary politics, his struggle goes on. I am sure his vibrant and refreshingly human work on international politics will pass on to the following generations ready to renew their struggle and their campaigns for social justice and freedom to grill the state. I see an intellectual like Chomsky giving an impetus to socialist thinking that can reach out to millions who have sacrificed, gone hungry, lost dear ones only that culture may take birth and survive. It is imperative to keep this fact of our social and economic history in the forefront in order to come to grips with the need to offer resistance to a growing exploitative world.
During my recent correspondence with Chomsky, I asked him to comment on issues that particularly concern the South Asian subcontinent both in the context of the recent bonhomie between India and the US and in terms of the effort put in by India’s political establishment in trying to come to grips with a global nuclear order in transition. It is clear that regional integration in Central America or in Asia is a cause for worry to Washington and “betokens a defiant world gone out of control”. As he writes in a recent article: “Now Asia and Americas are strengthening their ties, while the reigning superpower, and surely the odd man out, consumes itself in misadventures in the areas of Middle East.” There is visibly increased cooperation between China, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan; Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador have a progressive and people-friendly domestic policy that favours the indigenous population and not the hegemon. Thus it is not surprising that Bush paid his recent visit to try to keep India in the fold, offering nuclear cooperation and other inducements as a lure. Chomsky clearly feels that India, like China, has the options to be independent or become a “U.S. client”. By not submitting to the U.S., the Indian government has the option to “join the more independent Asian bloc that is taking shape with ever more ties to the Middle East oil producers”. An exclusive e-mail interview
Keeping in view Israel’s secret nuclear weapons programme, don’t you think that same standards should be applied to all West Asia nations, and not just to Iran.
Certainly. Recall that the major UN resolution on Iraq to which the U.S. and U.K. appeal, Resolution 687 of April 1991, calls for “establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery”. The U.S. has repeatedly made similar commitments, but of course does not abide by them, and has now also violated them in the case of India. Furthermore, we should bear in mind that the Non-Proliferation Treaty commits all nuclear states to undertake “good faith” efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons. That was a core part of the initial bargain. That is a binding legal commitment, as the World Court ruled a decade ago. None of the nuclear states has abided by that commitment, but the U..S is far in the lead in rejecting it, and has even declared, under Bush, that it is not bound by it.
Why not have nuclear disarmament in West Asia. Is it possible? What about Israel?
Because the U.S. will not permit it. That holds more generally. It is widely recognised among strategic analysts that unless production of weapons-grade fissile materials is controlled, the fate of the species is very much in doubt. There are sensible proposals as to how to deal with this problem: the proposal of Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to place production of fissile materials in the hands of an international agency, to which states could apply for legitimate uses; and the Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty (FISSBAN) called for in a UN resolution of 1993. The U.S. would never accept ElBaradei’s proposal. In fact, the only state to have accepted it, to my knowledge, is Iran, in February 2006 (unreported in the Western press, to my knowledge).
As for FISSBAN, despite strong U.S. objections it did come to a vote at the UN in November 2004. It passed 174-1, with two abstentions: Israel, which is reflexive, and Britain, which is more interesting. The British ambassador explained at the U.S. session that Britain favoured a FISSBAN, but this version “divided the international community”: 174-1. For Blair’s Britain, it is apparently more important to heed the master’s voice than for the human species to survive.
Could you give your reactions to the recent nuclear treaty signed between India and the U.S.? Obviously, India is being wooed to counterbalance the rise of China.
India faces some important choices. It has made some steps towards closer relations with China, but is also tempted by the prospects of joining Britain in its role as a “spear-carrier for the pax Americana”, as Blair’s Britain is described in the journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. China and Russia are the core of the Asian Energy Security Grid and the Shanghai Cooperation Council (which includes the states of Central Asia). Very likely South Korea will join (perhaps it already has), probably the Southeast Asian states.
India’s decision will be very significant. U.S. concerns certainly include markets and raw materials, but state interests go well beyond. The U.S. could gain access to Iranian energy resources and markets if it chose, but it is more important to punish Iran for defying Washington in 1979 by overthrowing the tyrant that the U.S. and U.K. had installed when they destroyed Iran’s parliamentary system. Such “successful defiance”, as it is described in the internal record, cannot be tolerated, just as it cannot be tolerated by the Mafia, to which international affairs bears an uncomfortable resemblance. It is possible that sooner or later Japan and China (the leading lenders to the U.S.), and others, might switch to a basket of currencies, primarily the Euro, and that energy producers might do so as well.
The effects on the U.S. economy, and the global economy, could be substantial.
In the wake of the Latin American Left forming an alliance against American unilateralism, the Bush administration now is seeking to fashion a new balance of power in Asia. What are you views on this aspect of the U.S. foreign policy?
Washington is, no doubt, deeply concerned by the developments in South America, which, for the first time since the Spanish conquests, is not only moving towards greater independence but is also integrating, at least to some extent. But I do not think this is the prime motive for U.S. efforts to improve its strategic-economic position in Asia, to counterbalance China. That would have proceeded in about the same way, I suspect, even if Latin America remained under control.
With the ongoing violence and the war against terrorism, which has resulted in terrible bloodshed in Afghanistan and now in Iraq, I see long-term economic and political threats facing the U.S. resulting in fear and mistrust. In this context is it not a strange and frightening world that seems to be taking shape?
I quite agree. The element of paranoid fear is very old. There is a very good study of these matters in popular American literature, from the earliest days, by literary critic Bruce Franklin (War Stars) [Franklin's provocative study underscores the dialectical relationship between ideology and the popular with its bearing on the national self-image and obsession with super-weaponry]. He finds a persistent theme: we are just about to be destroyed by evil monsters, when at the last minute we are miraculously saved by a superhero or a super weaponry. Furthermore, rather typically, the evil monsters are those we are crushing under foot: Indians, Blacks, Chinese coolies… Some of the examples are quite startling.
Take Jack London, a very progressive populist figure, a socialist writer. In one of his novels he calls for the extermination of the people of China by bacteriological warfare, to protect ourselves from their insidious campaign to wipe us out.
It continues to the present, and relates in complicated ways to the extremist religious fundamentalism that is also unique to the U.S. among industrial societies. Cynical political leaders exploit these fears constantly. The Reaganites were masters of it. Every year or two the U.S. was facing some dire threat. It didn’t matter how crazy it was: Libya, Grenada, Nicaragua, Arab terrorists, crime (by implication Blacks), drugs (Hispanics)… Reagan himself may even have believed it; some of his performances were astonishing. It’s an efficient way to mobilise people, and important when carrying out policies that are harming them.
The current administration, drawn from the same circles (often the same people), simply inherits the technique as a reflex. And paranoia combined with immense power and an extremely cynical and violent leadership is a dangerous combination, no doubt.