Noam Chomsky is one of the superstars of the intellectual world; a prolific author and self-proclaimed anarchist, who, at the age of 86 still doesn’t seem to be slowing down. He still rails against a whole host of perceived injustices, with the West generally in his line of fire. Isabelle Kumar of Euronews interviewed him about terrorism, Cuba and the future of Europe.
Published on April 18, 2015
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ISABELLE KUMAR: Many thanks for being with us. The world in 2015 seems a very unsettled place, but if we take a big picture view, do you feel optimistic or pessimistic about the general state of play?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, in the global scene, we are racing towards a precipice which we’re determined to fall over, which will sharply reduce the prospects for decent survival.
ISABELLE: What precipice is that?
NOAM: Well, there’s actually two. One is environmental catastrophe which is imminent, and we don’t have a lot of time to deal with it, and we’re going the wrong way. The other has been around for 70 years, the threat of nuclear war, which is in fact increasing. And if you look at the record, it’s a miracle that we’ve survived.
ISABELLE: Well, let’s look at the environmental issues. We’ve asked our social media audience to send us in questions, and we’ve had hordes of questions and received this question from Enea Agolli who asks, ‘When you look at the issue of the environment and if you take a look at it from a philosopher’s lens, what do you think about climate change?’
NOAM: The human species has been around for maybe a hundred thousand years, and it is now facing a unique moment in its history. The species is now in a position where it will decide very soon, next few generations, whether the experiment in so-called intelligent life will proceed, or are we determined to destroy it? I mean, scientists overwhelmingly recognize that most of the fossil fuels have to be left in the ground if we’re to have, if our grandchildren are going to have decent prospects. But the institutional structures of our society are pressuring to try to extract every drop. The effects, the human consequences of the predicted effects of climate change in the not very distant future are catastrophic, and we are racing towards that precipice.
ISABELLE: In terms of nuclear war, we see the prospect of this Iran deal. It’s, we’re at a preliminary agreement. Does that provide you with a glimmer of hope that the world could potentially be a safer place?
NOAM: I’m in favor of the Iran negotiations, but they’re profoundly flawed. There are two states that rampage in the Middle East, carry out aggression, violence, terrorist acts, illegal acts constantly. They’re both huge nuclear weapon states, and their nuclear armaments are not being considered.
ISABELLE: And who exactly are you referring to there?
NOAM: The United States and Israel, the two major rogue states in the world. I mean, there’s a reason why in international polls run by U.S polling agencies, the main ones, the United States is regarded as the greatest threat to world peace by an overwhelming margin. No other country is even close. Incidentally, it’s kind of interesting that the U.S media refused to publish this, but it doesn’t go away.
ISABELLE: Well, you don’t hold the U.S President, U.S President Barack Obama, in very high esteem, but does this deal make you think of him in slightly better terms, the fact that he is trying to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons?
NOAM: He isn’t. He’s just initiated a program, a trillion-dollar program of modernization of the nuclear weapons system, which means expanding the nuclear weapon system. That’s one of the reasons why the famous Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of American Scientists has just a couple of weeks ago been pushed two minutes closer to midnight. Midnight is the end. It’s now three minutes from midnight. That’s the closest it’s been in 30 years since the early Reagan years when there was a major war scare.
ISABELLE: Well, you mentioned obviously the U.S and Israel in terms of Iran. Now the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu obviously doesn’t want this nuclear deal to work at all, and he says…
NOAM: And it’s interesting, we should ask why.
NOAM: We know why. Iran has very low military expenditures, even by the standards of the region, let alone the United States. Its strategic doctrine is defensive. It’s designed to hold off an attack long enough for diplomacy to set in. And the United States and Israel, the two rogue states, do not want to tolerate a deterrent. No strategic analyst with a brain functioning thinks that Iran could ever use a nuclear weapon if it even prepared to do so. The country would simply be vaporized, and there’s no indication that the ruling clerics, whatever you think about them, want to see everything they have destroyed.
ISABELLE: Just one more question now on this issue, and this is from another member of our social media, and it’s Morten A. Anderson, and he asks, ‘Do you believe that the US would ever strike a deal that would be dangerous to Israel in the first place?’
NOAM: The United States is carrying out constant actions which endanger Israel very seriously, namely supporting Israeli policy for the last 40 years. The greatest threat to Israel has been its own policies. If you look back 40 years, say except 1970, Israel was one of the most admired countries in the world, respected, admired, lots of favorable attitudes towards it. Now it’s one of the most disliked and feared countries in the world. In the early ’70s, Israel made a decision. They had a choice. They made a decision to prefer expansion to security, and that carries with it dangerous consequences. The consequences which were obvious at the time—I wrote about them, other people did. If you prefer expansion to security, it is going to lead to internal degeneration, anger, opposition, isolation, and possibly ultimate destruction. And by supporting those policies, the United States is contributing to the threats that Israel faces.
ISABELLE: Well then, you see, well, that will bring me to the point of terrorism then, because that is really a global blight. And you know, some, and I think including yourself, will say that this is blowback for U.S. terrorist policy around the world. How far is the US and its allies responsible for what we’re seeing now in terms of the terrorist attacks around the world?
NOAM: Remember, the worst terrorist campaign in the world right now, by far, is the one that’s being orchestrated in Washington. That’s the global assassination campaign. There’s never been a terrorist campaign at that scale.
ISABELLE: When you say global assassination campaign…
NOAM: The drone campaign, that’s exactly what it is. Over large parts of the world, the United States is systematically, publicly, openly, I’m just– nothing secret about what I’m saying, we all know it, it’s carrying out regular campaigns to assassinate people who the U.S government suspect of intending to harm us someday. And indeed, it is, as you mentioned, a terror-generating campaign. When you Obama village in Yemen, say, and you kill somebody, maybe the person you were aiming at, maybe not, and the other people who are in that happen to be in the neighborhood, how do you think people react? They say, ‘We’re going to take revenge.’
ISABELLE: You describe the U.S. as the leading terrorist state. Where does Europe fit into that picture then?
NOAM: Well, that’s an interesting question. So for example, there was recently a study, I think was done by the Open Society Forum, of the worst form of torture, uh, rendition. Rendition means you take somebody you suspect of something, and you send him off to your favorite dictator, maybe Assad, or Gaddafi, or Mubarak, to be tortured, and then hoping that maybe something will come out of it. That’s extraordinary rendition. The study reviewed the countries that participated in it. Well, obviously the Middle East dictatorships, because that’s where they were sent to be tortured. Europe, most of Europe participated. England, Sweden, other countries. In fact, there was only one region of the world where nobody participated, Latin America, which is very dramatic. First of all, Latin America has now gotten pretty much out of U.S. control. When it was controlled by the United States, not very long ago, it was the world center of torture. Now, it wouldn’t participate in the worst form of torture, rendition. Europe participated. If the master roars, the servant’s power.
ISABELLE: So, Europe is the servant of the United States…
NOAM: Evidently, they’re too cowardly to take an independent position. Where does Vladimir Putin fit into this picture? He’s painted as well, one of the greatest global threats to security. Is he, like most leaders, a threat to his own population? That’s, and he’s taken illegal actions obviously. But to depict him as a crazed monster who’s suffering from brain disease and has Alzheimer, and then you know, rat-faced evil creature, that’s standard Orwellian fanaticism. I mean, whatever you think about its policies, they’re understandable. The idea that Ukraine might join a Western military alliance would be quite unacceptable to any Russian leader. This goes back to 1990 when the Soviet Union collapsed, there was a question as to what would happen with NATO. Gorbachev agreed to allow Germany to be unified and to join NATO. It’s a pretty remarkable concession, with a quid pro quo that NATO would not expand one inch to the east, that was the phrase that was used.
ISABELLE: So, Russia has been provoked.
NOAM: Well, what happened? NATO instantly moved to East Germany, then Clinton came along, expanded NATO right to the borders of Russia. Now there are the Russia, the new Ukrainian government, the government after the overthrow of the preceding one, the parliament voted—I think 300 to eight or something like that—to move to join NATO.
ISABELLE: Which you can understand why they would want to join NATO. You can see why Petro Poroshenko’s government would probably see that it’s protecting his country.
NOAM: No, no, it’s not. Crimea was taken away after the overthrow of the government, right? And he’s not protecting Ukraine, is threatening Ukraine with major war. That’s not protection. The point is, this is a serious strategic threat to Russia which any Russian leader would have to react to. That’s well understood.
ISABELLE: If we look at the situation in Europe though, there’s also another interesting phenomenon that’s taking place because we’re seeing Greece moving towards the east potentially with the Syriza government. We’re also seeing Podemos, which is gaining power in Spain, Hungary also. Do you see that there is a potential for Europe to start shifting and aligning itself more with Russian interests in Europe?
NOAM: Take a look at what’s happening. Hungary is a different situation entirely. Syriza came into office with on the basis of a popular wave which said that Greece should no longer subject itself to policies from Brussels and the German banks which are destroying the country. I mean, the effect of these policies has to, has been actually to increase Greece’s debt relative to its wealth production. Probably half of younger people are unemployed, 40% of the population is under the poverty line. Greece is being destro…
ISABELLE: Should their debt be written off?
NOAM: Sure, just like Germany’s was in 1953. Europe wrote off most of Germany’s debt like that, so that Germany would be able to reconstruct from work time damage.
ISABELLE: But then, what about all the other European countries?
NOAM: Same story.
ISABELLE: So, you know, Portugal should have its debt written off, Spain have its debt written off, all these…
NOAM: Who incurred this debt and who is the debt owed to? The debt is mostly the response. In part, the death, the debt is, is was incurred by dictators. So in Greece, it’s the fascist dictatorship—which the U.S. supported—that, uh, incurred a large part of the debt. That the debt, I think, quadrupled under dictatorship. That’s what’s called in international law, odious debt, need not be paid. That’s a principle introduced into international law by the United States, when it was in their interest to do so. Much of the rest of the debt is the payments. What’s, what are called payments to Greece, are being paid mostly to banks, German and French banks, which decided to– had decided to make extremely risky loans, not very high interest, and are now being faced with the fact that they can’t be paid back.
ISABELLE: Well, I’d like to bring this question then from Jill Gribaudo who says, ‘How will Europe transform then versus the existential challenges it’s facing?’ Because yes, there’s the economic crisis, but there’s also a rise in nationalism and he also describes the cultural fault lines which are beginning to be created across Europe. How do you see Europe transforming itself?
NOAM: Europe has serious problems. Part of the problems are the result of economic policies designed by the bureaucrats in Brussels, European Commission and so on, under the pressure mainly of the big banks, mostly German. These policies make some sense from the point of view of the designers. For one thing, they want to be paid back for their risky and hazardous loans and investments. The other thing is that these policies are eroding the welfare state, which they’ve never liked. The welfare state is one of Europe’s major contributions to modern society. The rich and powerful have never liked it, and in fact, this is eroding it, so good from their point of view. There’s another problem in Europe, it’s extremely racist. I’ve always felt that Europe is probably more racist than the United States. It wasn’t as visible in Europe because the European populations in the past tended to be pretty homogeneous. So if everybody is blonde and blue-eyed, you don’t seem racist. But as soon as it begins to change, it comes out of the woodwork very fast, and that’s a serious cultural problem in Europe.
ISABELLE: I’d like to end because we’re very short of time with the question, maybe trying to end on a more positive note, and this is from Robert Light, and he says, ‘What gives you hope?’
NOAM: What gives me hope is a couple of things we’ve talked about. Latin American independence, for example, that’s of historic significance, and we’re going to see it right now in the Summit of America’s meeting in Panama. In the recent hemispheric meetings, the United States has been completely isolated. It’s a radical change from 10 or 20 years ago when the U.S. just ran it. In fact, the reason why Obama made his gestures towards Cuba is to try to overcome America, U.S. isolation. It’s the U.S. that’s isolated, not Cuba—and probably it’ll fail, we’ll see. The signs of optimism in Europe are Syriza and Podemos. Popular, there is finally a popular uprising against the crushing, destructive economic and social policies that come from the bureaucracy and the banks, and that’s very hopeful, should spread.
ISABELLE: Noam Chomsky, many thanks for being with me.