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Noam Chomsky on America's Declining Empire, Occupy and the Arab Spring

According to Chomsky, America's declining power is self-inflicted.

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JH: Eleven percent in a recent poll.

NC: It’s practically invisible. The same is true of institutions across the board. Big corporations, banks, science, a lot of things.

JH: Only the military still scores well in terms of people’s trust in institutions. They still trust the military.

NC: Yeah, that’s right. None of this is terribly healthy -- in fact it’s dangerous. It does reflect basically the shredding of functioning democracy, which has been going on for a long time. In the last election and the present election the fact that the elections are essentially bought has become so evident that it’s hard to miss.

JH: Talking about all of these trends internationally, what do you make of the increasingly prevalent view that the US is in fact an empire in decline? On the one hand, it certainly does seem like our so-called "soft power" is waning, but then one has to contrast that with our increasing military dominance in the post-Cold War era and especially in the wake of 9/11. Are we really in decline?

NC: Yeah, we’re in decline. The United States has been in decline since 1945 -- 1945, at the end of the Second World War, the United States was in a position of just phenomenal power. It had half of the world’s wealth. It had total security. It controlled the western hemisphere. It controlled both oceans. It controlled opposite sides of both oceans. It had very ambitious aims to control most of the world and ensure no objections to its rule. These were quite explicit and they were largely implemented. It began to decline very fast.

In 1949 an event took place, which is called here the "loss" of China. Somehow we lost China, which really means they became independent. That’s been a huge source of controversy and conflict in the United States ever since -- people asking who is responsible for the loss of China? Shortly after that they became concerned about the loss of Indochina, which in itself spread the concern that there would be a loss of southeast Asia. The concept of "loss" is kind of interesting. It’s sort of a tacit assumption that it’s basically ours.

That’s gone on over the years. By 1970, the US share of world wealth was down to about 25 percent, which is still colossal, but is isn’t 50 percent. The world was already becoming more diverse. In the last decade South America has moved to substantial independence. We just saw that at the Cartagena Conference in Columbia. The United States was isolated in its positions on the major issues, like drugs, Cuba and so on. The US was just isolated. That’s a sign of significant loss of power and influence. Now that’s happening in the Middle East. That’s another reason why the US and its allies are so worried about the threat of democracy and independence. So eager to try to maintain regimes that will conform in some way.

You’re right that military power hasn’t declined. In fact relative to the rest of the world it may have increased. The US has close to half the world’s military expenditures. The only country with hundreds of bases and the ability to project power everywhere. New technology of destruction and murder -- drones, for example. It’s way ahead of the rest of the world. You brought up so-called "soft power." That’s important. The capacity to influence has continued to decline, as has been happening since 1945.

One index is vetoes at the United Nations. Until the mid-'60s the world was so much under US control that the US didn’t veto a single resolution at the Security Council. Since the mid-'60s the United States is far in the lead in vetoing Security Council resolutions. Britain, which is a client state, is second. Nobody else is close. That’s a reflection of the decline in capacity and power, meaning ability to influence and control.

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