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Noam Chomsky: How Close the World Is to Nuclear War

A powerful excerpt from the new book, "Nuclear War and Environmental Catastrophe."

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Laray Polk: Now that Iran’s reactor at Bushehr is running, the current fear is that they’re going to use the plutonium produced from the fuel cycle to make weapons. The questions raised about Iran’s possible nuclear weapons program are similar to those asked of Israel--

Noam Chomsky: Since the 1960s. And in fact, the Nixon administration made an unwritten agreement with Israel that it wouldn’t do anything to compel Israel, or even induce them, to drop what they call their ambiguity policy—not saying whether or not they have them. That’s now very alive because there’s this regular five-year Non-Proliferation Review Conference.In 1995, under strong pressure from the Arab states, Egypt primarily, there was an agreement that they would move toward a nuclear-weapon-free zone and the Clinton administration signed on. It was reiterated in 2000. In 2005 the Bush administration just essentially undermined the whole meeting. They basically said, “Why do anything?”

It came up again in May 2010. Egypt is now speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, 118 countries, they’re this year’s representative, and they pressed pretty hard for a move in that direction. The pressure was so strong that the United States accepted it in principle and claims to be committed to it, but Hillary Clinton said the time’s “not ripe for establishing the zone.” And the administration just endorsed Israel’s position, essentially saying, “Yes, but only after a comprehensive peace agreement in the region,” which the US and Israel can delay indefinitely. So, that’s basically saying, “it’s fine, but it’s never going to happen.” And this is barely ever reported, so nobody knowsabout it. Just as almost nobody knows about Obama informing India and Israel that the resolutions don’t apply to them. All of this just increases the risk of nuclear war.

It’s more than that actually. You know, the threats against Iran are nontrivial and that, of course, induce them to move toward nuclear weapons as a deterrent. Obama in particular has strongly increased the offensive capacity that the US has on the island of Diego Garcia, which is a major military base they use for bombing the Middle East and Central Asia. In December 2009, the navy dispatched a submarine tender for nuclear submarines in Diego Garcia. Presumably they were already there, but this is going to expand their capacity, and they certainly have the capacity to attack Iran with nuclear weapons. And he also sharply increased the development of deep-penetration bombs, a program that mostly languished under the Bush administration. As soon as Obama came in, he accelerated it, and it was quietly announced—but I think not reported here—that they put a couple of hundred of them in Diego Garcia. That’s all aimed at Iran. Those are all pretty serious threats.

Actually, the question of the Iranian threat is quite interesting. It’s discussed as if that’s the major issue of the current era. And not just in the United States, Britain too. This is “the year of Iran,” Iran is the major threat, the major policy issue. It does raise the question: What’s the Iranian threat? That’s never seriously discussed, but there is an authoritative answer, which isn’t reported. The authoritative answer was given by the Pentagon and intelligence in April 2010; they have an annual submission to Congress on the global security system, and of course discussed Iran. They made it very clear that the threat is not military. They said Iran has very low military spending even by the standards of the region; their strategic doctrine is completely defensive, it’s designed to deter an invasion long enough to allow diplomacy to begin to operate; they have very little capacity to deploy force abroad. They say if Iran were developing nuclear capability, which is not the same as weapons, it would be part of the deterrent strategy,which is what most strategic analysts take for granted, so there’s no military threat. Nevertheless, they say it’s the most significant threat in the world. What is it? Well, that’s interesting. They’re trying to extend their influence in neighboring countries; that’s what’s called destabilizing. So if we invade their neighbors and occupy them, that’s stabilizing. Which is a standard assumption. It basically says, “Look, we own the world.” And if anybody doesn’t follow orders, they’re aggressive.

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