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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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In fact, that’s going on with China right now. It’s been a kind of a hassle, also hasn’t been discussed much in the United States—but is discussed quite a lot in China, about control of the seas in China’s vicinity. Their navy is expanding, and that’s discussed here and described as a major threat. What they’re trying to do is to be able to control the waters nearby China—the South China Sea,Yellow Sea, and so on—and that’s described here as aggressive intent. The Pentagon just released a report on the dangers of China. Their military budget is increasing; it’s now one-fifth what the US spends in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is of course a fraction of the military budget. Not long ago, the US was conducting naval exercises in the waters off China. China was protesting particularly over the plans to send an advanced nuclear- powered aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington, into those waters,which, according to China, has the capacity to hit Beijing with nuclear weapons—and they didn’t like it. And the US formally responded by saying that China is being aggressive because they’re interfering with freedom of the seas. Then, if you look at the strategic analysis literature, they describe it as a classic security dilemma where two sides are in a confrontation. Each regards what it’s doing as essential to its security and regards the other side as threatening its security, and we’re supposed to take the threat seriously. So if China is trying to control waters off its coast, that’s aggression and it’s harming our security. That’s a classic security dilemma. You could just imagine if China were carrying out naval exercises in the Caribbean—in fact, in the mid-Pacific—it would be considered intolerable. That’s very much like Iran. The basic assumption is “We own the world,” and any exercise of sovereignty within our domains, which is most of the world, is aggression.

Laray Polk: Is there any type of nuclear racism involved in these issues?

Noam Chomsky: I think it would be the same if there were no nuclear weapons. I mean, it goes back to long-term planning assumptions, and I don’t really think it’s racism. Let’s take a concrete case. We have a lot of internal documents now, some interesting ones from the Nixon years. Nixon and Kissinger, when they were planning to overthrow the government of Chile in 1973, their position was that this government’s intolerable, it’s exercising its sovereignty, it’s a threat to us, so it has to go.14 It’s what Kissinger called a virus that might spread contagion elsewhere, maybe into southern Europe—not that Chile would attack southern Europe—but that a successful, social democratic parliamentary system would send the wrong message to Spain and Italy. They might be inclined to try the same, it would mean its contagion would spread and the system falls apart. And they understood that, in fact stated that, if we can’t control Latin America, how are we going to control the rest of the world? We at least have to control Latin America. There was some concern—which was mostly meaningless, but it was there—about a Soviet penetration into Latin America, and they recognized that if Europe gets more involved in Latin America, that would tend to deter any Soviet penetration, but they concluded the US couldn’t allow that because it would interfere with US dominance of the region. So, it’s not racist. It’s a matter of dominance.

In fact, the same is happening with NATO. Why didn’t NATO disappear after the Soviet Union collapsed? If anybody read the propaganda, they’d say, “Well, it should have disappeared, it was supposed to protect Europe from the Russian hordes.” Okay, no more Russian hordes, so it should disappear. It expanded in violation of verbal promises to Gorbachev. And it expanded, I think, largely in order to keep Europe under control. One of the purposes of NATO all along was to prevent Europe from moving in an independent path, maybe a kind of Gaullist path, and they had to expand NATO to make sure that Europe stays a vassal. If you look back to the planning record during the Second World War, it’s very instructive. It’s almost never discussed, but there were high-level meetings from 1939 to 1945 under the Roosevelt administration, which sort of planned for the postwar years. They knew the United States would emerge from the war at least very well off and maybe completely triumphant. They didn’t know how much at first. The principles that were established were very interesting and explicit, and later implemented. They devised the concept of what they called the Grand Area, which the US must dominate. And within the Grand Area, there can be no exercise of sovereignty that interferes with US plans—explicit, almost those words. What’s the Grand Area? Well, at a minimum, it was to include the entire Western Hemisphere, the entire Far East, and the whole British Empire—former British Empire—which, of course, includes the Middle East energy resources. As one high-level advisor later put it: “If we can control Middle East energy, we can control the world.” Well, that’s the Grand Area.

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