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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: President Obama recently secured military basing rights in Australia and formed a new free-trade pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which excludes China. Is this move related to the South China Sea?

Noam Chomsky: Yes, in particular that, but it’s more general. It has to do with the “classic security dilemma” that I mentioned before, referring to the strategic analysis literature. China’s efforts to gain some measure of control over nearby seas and its major trade routes are inconsistent with what the US calls “freedom of the seas”—a term that doesn’t extend to Chinese military maneuvers in the Caribbean or even most of the world’s oceans, but does include the US right to carry out military maneuvers and establish naval bases everywhere.For different reasons, China’s neighbors are none too happy about its actions, particularly Vietnam and the Philippines, which have competing claims to these waters, but others as well. The focus of US policy is slowly shifting from the Middle East—though that remains—to the Pacific, as openly announced. That includes new bases from Australia to South Korea (and a continuing and very significant conflict over Okinawa), and also economic agreements, called “free-trade agreements,” though the phrase is more propaganda than reality, as in other such cases. Much of it is a system to “contain China.”

Laray Polk: To what degree are current maritime sovereignty disputes related to oil and gas reserves?

In part. There are underseas fossil-fuel resources, and a good deal of contention among regional states about rights to them. But it's more than that. The new US base on Jeju Island in South Korea, bitterly protested by islanders, is not primarily concerned with energy sources. Other issues have to do with Malacca Straits, China's main trade route, which does involve oil and gas but also much else.

In the background is the more general concern over parts of the world escaping from US control and influence, the contemporary variant of Grand Area policies. Much of this extends the practice of earlier hegemonic powers, though the scale of US post-World War II planning and implementation has been in a class by itself because of its unique wealth and power.

Reprinted with permission from Seven Stories Press. Copyright 2013 -- All Rights Reserved


Noam Chomsky is a professor of linguistics and philosophy at MIT.

Laray Polk is a multimedia artist and writer. Her articles and investigative reports have appeared in the Dallas Morning News, D Magazine, and In These Times. As a 2009 grant recipient from the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, she exposed a radioactive waste disposal site in Texas situated in close proximity to the Ogallala Aquifer.

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