September 11th And Its Aftermath: Where is the World Heading?
India Visit
Question And Answer Session with Noam Chomsky after his Public Lecture at the Music Academy, Chennai: November 10, 2001
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There's a great deal more to say about terrorism – the terrorism of the weak against the powerful and the unmentionable but far more extreme terrorism of the powerful against the weak. That both pose severe threats is hardly in doubt. The threats are enhanced by the fact that the policies are considered rational within the frameworks in which they are pursued. And there's reason for that. A major historian, Charles Tilly, who studied the history of these issues in Europe particularly, observed quite accurately that over the last millennium "war has been the dominant activity of European states." And for good reason: "The central tragic fact is simple: coercion works; those who apply substantial force to their fellows get compliance and, from that compliance, draw the multiple advantages of money, goods, deference, access to pleasures denied to less powerful people." It's a truism understood all too well by most of the people of the world, even if its significance has not penetrated the heights of intellectual enlightenment.

Well, let me turn to the third category of questions, long-term tendencies that are underway and that will persist without the essential change, though there's a change there too. They're being escalated as state and private power exploit the window of opportunity that is provided by the fear and anguish of the population after Sept. 11 and naturally use that opportunity to ram through harsh and regressive measures that would otherwise arouse resistance. As usual, one participant in class war pursues its path with unrelenting intensity. It's their victims who are enjoined to be subdued and acquiescent in the interest of patriotism. The range of measures being implemented in this fashion is far ranging. I'll mention only a few.

The most important of them is the instant escalation of the policies that pose the greatest immediate threat to survival, namely, expanding the means of mass destruction. For the powerful, nuclear weapons are the weapon of choice. The U. S. Strategic Command, the highest military authority, describes nuclear weapons as the core of the arsenal, because "unlike chemical or biological weapons, the extreme destruction from a nuclear explosion is immediate, with few if any palliatives to reduce its effect.'' Furthermore, "nuclear weapons always cast a shadow over any crisis or conflict.'' This study advises further that planners should not "portray ourselves as too fully rational and cool-headed." "That the United States may become irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked should be part of the national persona that we project.'' It's "beneficial" for our strategic posture if "some elements appear to be potentially `out of control'.''

The United States is unusual, I think unique, in the access that it allows to high-level planning documents and I'd be rather surprised if those of other countries were fundamentally different. The important study that I've just been quoting from is called ``Essentials of Post-Cold War Deterrence," a Clinton era document. It's been available for years but it's unknown, it's known only to readers of dissident literature that's scrupulously marginalised, although I presume intelligence services of other countries read it and draw the appropriate conclusions.

For the future, we also have to face the fact that small nuclear weapons can be smuggled into any country with relative ease and remember they are small – a 15-pound plutonium bomb can be carried across a border in a suitcase. There's a recent technical study that concludes that "a well-planned operation to smuggle weapons of mass destruction into the United States would have at least a 90 per cent probability of success, much higher than ICBM (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile) delivery even in the absence of [National Missile Defence]."

These dangers, not just to the United States, are enhanced by the most immediate threat that was identified by a high-level U.S. Department of Energy task force, namely, "forty thousand nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union, poorly controlled and poorly stored.'' One of the first acts of the incoming Bush Administration was to cut back a small programme to assist Russia in safeguarding and dismantling these weapons and providing alternative employment for nuclear scientists. That decision increased the risks of accidental launch and leakage of what are called ``loose nukes,'' followed by nuclear scientists who have no other way to employ their skills.

Current plans for ballistic missile defence are expected to enhance the threats further. U. S. intelligence predicts that any deployment will impel China to develop and deploy new nuclear-armed missiles. They predict it will expand its nuclear arsenal by a factor of ten, probably with multiple warheads, MIRV (Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles), which will "prompt India and Pakistan to respond with their own build-ups," with a likely ripple effect throughout the Middle East. These same analyses, intelligence analyses and others, also conclude that Russia's "only rational response would be to maintain, and strengthen, the existing Russian nuclear force."

The Bush administration announced on September 1st of this year that "it has no objections to [China's] plans to build up its small fleet of nuclear missiles" – that's a sharp shift in official policy -- in the hope of gaining Chinese acquiescence to the planned dismantling of the core arms control agreements. Chinese resumption of nuclear tests is also being quietly endorsed. On the same day that this was announced, the national press also reported that the Bush Administration will impose sanctions on China for allowing the transfer to Pakistan of "missile parts and technology that are essentially for weapons that can carry nuclear warheads." All quoting from The New York Times. You can figure out what all that means without further comment.

Extension of the arms race to space has been a core programme for quite a few years. `Arms race' is a misleading term for it. The United States, for now at least, is competing alone in this race, although there are others who appear to be eager to join the race to mutual destruction. Rightly or wrongly, that's how India's stand is being interpreted in the United States. That received great applause from the more hawkish and jingoist U. S. strategic analysts. Writing after the Foreign Minister's visit to the United States a few months ago, Lawrence Kaplan wrote in the liberal New Republic that when President Bush unveiled his plans to expand these programmes, "the rest of the world carped that the plan would provoke a new arms race, but India took a mere six hours to declare its support,'' while Foreign Minister [Jaswant] Singh boasted that Delhi and Washington are "endeavouring to work out together a totally new security regime, which is for the entire globe.'' Whether that's the right interpretation or not, you can determine, but that's the interpretation.

Kaplan went on to quote Administration hawks who recognised that Pakistan is "not an ally anymore," but rather a "rogue state," unlike India, which will now be admitted into the club that includes the United States, Britain, Taiwan and Israel. It's true this was three months ago. And since then all of us have observed a small lesson in Axiom One of international affairs: States are not moral agents. Their solemn pledges mean exactly zero. They serve domestic power interests. And they do as they please, unless they are constrained externally or by their own citizens, the choice that lies in their hands at least in the more free and democratic societies.

All of these programmes increase the danger of destruction for the United States as for others. But that's nothing new. It's very common to pursue programmes with the conscious knowledge that they increase the danger of destruction for the participants, the advocates. The history of the arms race during the Cold War provides many examples and there's ample precedent going back far in history. Furthermore, all these choices make sense within the prevailing value system.

Both of these topics bear quite directly on the assessment of the biological success of higher intelligence. Let's look at a couple of cases. Fifty years ago, there was only one major threat to U. S. security, at that time only potential: ICBMs, which did not yet then exist but were being developed. It was quite likely that the Soviet Union would have accepted a Treaty banning development of these weapons, knowing it was far behind. There is a standard history of the arms race by McGeorge Bundy, the National Security Adviser for the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations. He had access to internal documents. He reported that he could find no record of any interest in pursuing the possibility of eliminating the sole potential threat to U.S. security.

Russian archives, quite a lot of them, have been released recently and these bear on this question. They strongly reinforce the assessments by high-level U.S. analysts that after Stalin's death, Khrushchev, when he took over, called for mutual reduction of offensive military forces and, when these initiatives were ignored by the Eisenhower Administration, he implemented them unilaterally over the objection of his own military command. Kennedy's planners, when they came in forty years ago, doubtless shared Eisenhower's understanding that, in his words, "a major war would destroy the Northern hemisphere." They also knew, we now know, of Khrushchev's unilateral steps to reduce Soviet offensive forces radically and they also knew that the United States was far ahead by any meaningful measure. Nevertheless, they chose to reject Khrushchev's plea for reciprocity, preferring to carry out a massive conventional and nuclear force build-up, thus driving the last nail into the coffin of "Khrushchev's agenda of restraining the Soviet military." I'm quoting historian Matthew Evangelista, in a monograph reviewing the U.S. and Soviet archival records, published by the main history project on this topic.

Without continuing, there's not much novelty in the Clinton-Bush preferences.

To comprehend the logic of these programmes and why mutual destruction seems an entirely rational policy to pursue, it's necessary to recall a doctrinal truism. It's conventional for attack to be called "defence." And this case is no exception. Ballistic missile defence is only a small component of much more far-reaching programmes for militarisation of space. The goal is to achieve what is called Full Spectrum Dominance, that is, a monopoly of the use of space for offensive military purposes. These plans have been available in public documents of the U.S. Space Command and other government agencies for some years and the projects outlined have been under development. They were expanded in the first months of the Bush Administration and again sharply expanded after September 11th in a crude exploitation of the fear and horror that was engendered by these crimes. These plans are disguised as ballistic missile defence. But that's only a small component of what's under development and even that small component is an offensive weapon.

That's understood by such potential adversaries as Russia and China and also by close allies. China's top arms control official simply reflected common understanding when he observed that "Once the United States believes it has both a strong spear and a strong shield, it could lead them to conclude that nobody can harm the United States and they can harm anyone they like anywhere in the world." China's position is shared by high-level strategic analysts in virtually the same words. The Rand Corporation is the major, mostly military research agency. Rand studied the topic, and concluded that ballistic missile defence "is not simply a shield but rather an enabler of U.S. action'' – virtually the same words as China. Canada's military planners advised their Government that the goal of ballistic missile defence is "arguably more in order to preserve U.S.-NATO freedom of action than because the U.S. really fears North Korean or Iranian threats." Quoting another leading strategic analyst, Andrew [J.] Bacevich: "Ballistic missile defence "will facilitate the more effective application of U.S. military power abroad.'' He happens to be writing in the conservative journal, National Interest. He says: ``By insulating the homeland from reprisal – albeit in a limited way -- missile defence will underwrite the capacity and willingness of the United States to `shape' the environment elsewhere.'' He cites approvingly the conclusions of Lawrence Kaplan, who happens to be writing at the other end of the spectrum. He says "missile defence isn't really meant to protect America. It's a tool for global dominance," for "hegemony." For this reason, both of them enthusiastically proclaim, "missile defence" is a wonderful contribution to justice and freedom.

It's understood that missile defence, even if it's technically feasible, has to rely on satellite communication, and destroying satellites is far easier than shooting down missiles. That's one reason why the United States must seek Full Spectrum Dominance, such overwhelming control of space that even the poor man's weapons will not be available to an adversary. And that requires offensive space-based capacities. That includes immensiely destructive weapons, nuclear-powered, in space that can be launched with instant computer-controlled reaction. That greatly increases the danger of vast slaughter and devastation if only because of what are called in the trade ``normal accidents,'' that is, the unpredictable accidents to which all complex systems are subject.

The logic of militarisation of space is much broader however. And it's explained. The U.S. Space Command, the major agency in charge, has been quite explicit about this. It put out an important brochure, in the Clinton years, in 1997, called ``Vision for 2020.'' In it, it announced the primary goal quite prominently on the front cover, in big letters: ``Dominating the Space Dimension of Military Operations to Protect U.S. Interests and Investment.'' This is presented as the next phase of the historic task of military forces. They say that armies were needed during the westward expansion of the continental United States, of course in `self-defence' against the indigenous population that was being exterminated and expelled. Nations also built navies, the Space Command continues "to protect and enhance their commercial interests." The next logical step is space forces to protect "U.S. National Interests [military and commercial] and Investments."

However, they say the United States' Space Forces will be unlike Navies protecting sea commerce in earlier years because this time there will be a sole hegemon. The British Navy could be countered by Germany, with consequences that we need not discuss. But the U.S. somehow will remain immune except to the narrowly circumscribed category of terrorism that is permitted to enter the canon, the terrorism that "they'' carry out against "us,'' whoever "we" happen to be.

The need for total dominance, they argue, is going to increase as a result of the "globalisation of the economy." The reason is that globalisation is expected to bring about "a widening between `haves' and `have-nots'," an assessment shared by U.S. intelligence and academic analysts. I'll come back to that. Planners are concerned that the widening divide may lead to unrest among the have-nots and the U.S. must be ready to control that by "using space systems and planning for precision strike from space [as a counter] to the worldwide proliferation of weapons of mass destruction" -- a predictable consequence of the recommended programmes, as I just mentioned, just as the widening divide is an anticipated consequence of the preferred form of globalisation. That happens to be in conflict with the economic theories that are professed, but it's in accord with reality.

Well, again there's more to say about that, but I have my eye on the clock. Throughout history it has been recognised that such steps are dangerous. I gave a few examples, but there are many more. By now the danger has reached the level of a threat to human survival. But there's a good reason to pursue it nevertheless. It's deeply rooted in existing institutions. The basic principle is that hegemony is more important than survival. That's not new, plenty of examples through history. The principle is amply illustrated in the last half century. What's new is the scale of the consequences of pursuing this principle.

Let's turn to another apparently inexorable tendency -- the destruction of the environment that sustains human life. The Bush Administration has been widely criticised for undermining the Kyoto Treaty. The grounds that they presented are that to conform to the Treaty would harm the U.S. economy. Those criticisms are rather surprising because the decisions are entirely rational within the framework of existing ideology. We're instructed daily to be firm believers in neo-classical markets in which isolated individuals are rational wealth maximisers. The market responds perfectly to their votes, which are expressed in currency inputs. The value of a person's interests is measured the same way. In particular, the interests of those with no votes, no dollars, those interests are valued at zero. Future generations, for example, who don't have dollar inputs in the market.

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Question And Answer Session with Noam Chomsky after his Public Lecture at the Music Academy, Chennai: November 10, 2001

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