Sunday, December 13, 2009

Noam Chomsky Discusses Kosovo(1999 Democracy Now!)

[Note: I think what he said in 1999 is still very relevant in 2009, when President Obama, in his Nobel Peace Prize address, said something like war being peace or peace being war.]

[rush transcript by me]

Democracy Now! April, 5th, 1999

Amy Goodman: Well, overall first, what is your reaction to these bombings?

Noam Chomsky: Well, my reaction to the bombings is essentially that of the NATO/US commander, Wesley Clark. A day or two after the bombings began, he stated that it was “entirely predictable” that the bombings would lead to a sharp escalation of atrocities in an effort to drive out ethnic Albanians. The phrase “entirely predictable” is too strong but the general point is correct. And that’s pretty much what happened. And that was predictable. And last year, about 2,000 people were killed. The main fighting started after the Kosovars switched from support for a long nonviolent resistance program which received…elicited no support from the West. In fact, it was simply dismissed. Turned to violence which led to counter-violence of a much greater kind, as I said, about 2,000 people killed. As the threats of NATO bombing increased, the violence increased. As the monitors were withdrawn, the violence increased. When the bombing actually began, it very sharply escalated for, essentially, the reasons that General Clark stated. Their reactions to the threat and the actuality of the bombing had the effect predictable, if not entirely predictable, of offering both a motive and an opportunity for heightened atrocities and expulsion of population, which is now reaching very severe crises. I mean it’s now approaching perhaps the level of other examples. For example, it’s not yet anywhere near as high as the expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948. Or it doesn’t come close to the atrocities against the Turks [sic-I think he meant the Kurds] in Southeastern Turkey a few years ago. But it’s on the level perhaps of Colombia and other atrocities―pretty serious.

Amy: Some of these issues have begun to be raised. For example, the idea of comparative genocides, not just the expulsions of people. The idea, for example, that in 1994 close to a million Rwandans were killed in 10 days yet the US not only didn’t go in to intervene but Clinton refused to even use the term genocide. And yet here, it is used much easier for far fewer people who were killed. But do you think this comparative use of the term and rationale is helpful?

NC: The use of the term genocide is―that’s just the propaganda term. I mean it’s used for atrocities that the United States opposes. Scale is irrelevant. That can be 5 people. If you---the term has essentially, unfortunately lost its meaning. It’s just simply used as a term referring to atrocities to which the United States happens to be opposed: so, say, for example, when the United States was actively involved in the expulsion of maybe a million or so people---from--in Southeastern Turkey, when thousands of villages were destroyed and you know, tens of thousands of people were killed. This is under the Clinton administration. It’s not that long ago. That was not called genocide, in fact it was barely reported. And the reason was―it was kind of like East Timor. It was using overwhelmingly American arms which continued to flow, reaching their peak as the atrocities peaked in 1994. So that wasn’t genocide. And similarly it wasn’t called genocide when 750,000 Palestinians were kicked out of their country in 1948. That wasn’t genocide. Nor is it called a genocide in Colombia, where there was a million and half refugees perhaps something of that order. 

The concern correlates with the assessment of the threat to Western interests. So if people want to slaughter each other in Sierra Leone, that doesn’t harm the interests of western Europeans. Therefore it’s not a crisis. And in fact, there, for example, the United States has actively undermined efforts by the United Nations to undertake these peace keeping operations. In the Congo, which is the biggest war probably in the history of modern Africa, the United States, the Clinton administration, refused to provide a hundred thousand dollars to pay for a peace keeping nation. That’s not a crisis because it’s not harming the interests of rich and powerful people. Any turbulence in the Balkans, in contrast, has…carries with it…the threat of danger to European and the United States interests, and therefore it becomes a crisis. Scale is not a relevant consideration. 

Amy: What do you think, Noam Chomsky, should happen right now in the Balkans, in Yugoslavia? What should the US, what should NATO be doing?

NC: I think it should be clear to any moderately dispassionate observer that the NATO bombings―apart from being a sharp attack on the principles of international order, world order and international law, apart from that―are having the “predictable” effect of sharply escalating the atrocities. When you’re carrying out an action that is making a bad situation worse, much worse, first step is to stop carrying out that action. After that--so the bombings should be stopped--after that, effort should be made to explore the few remaining options. The more violence is used, the fewer the options are. So, there are fewer options now than there were two weeks ago. But there’re still not zero. They’ve just become fewer and uglier. It will mean a return to some form of negotiations in diplomacy. The United States and Britain, the two warrior states, are basically…have rendered themselves ineligible for participation in any such negotiations. But there are powers with a more, elements with a more neutral stance that might try to undertake them. They say the options are very much reduced and the few that remain are pretty ugly, but perhaps the best that one can imagine at this stage of the game is some kind of partition of Kosovo, which is probably what Milosevic is aiming for anyway. With the northern areas, which are the areas with the resources and the historical monuments and so on, with those taken over simply by Serbia, and the rest which is...can be...will be a kind of desert used to return to the Kosovars that the West doesn’t want. That’s not pretty, it’s ugly, but it’s hard to see what other options remain. 

Amy: What do you think of the reaction of the traditional, progressive peace community in this country? 

NC: Well, you can understand people—people should be concerned by atrocities. That’s correct. On the other hand, selective concern for atrocities is not a high moral stance. When you are concerned with atrocities because powerful elements, the government and the media and so on, tell you to be concerned about them, or when you’re concerned about them because they threaten the interests of privileged and wealthy people, that’s not a very high moral stand. On the other hand, people are certainly, genuinely concerned by the atrocities. Out of that, [to] make sure one can draw some conclusion…I hesitate to do it. 

Amy: Can you expand on that?

NC: Look, I think that it’s a human, decent reaction to be concerned by atrocities. On the other hand, you should understand that you’re being directed to respond to certain atrocities: those that affect the interests of wealthy and powerful people. So you’re to be concerned about the Kosovars, you’re not to be concerned about the Kurds. You’re not to be concerned about Sierra Leone. You’re not to be concerned about Colombia. To take areas of the world very far away, in Laos, right now, this minute, thousands of people are being killed every year from unexploded US terror weapons―sort of much worse than landmines, little bomblets. And the US refuses to clear them or even to provide the information as to how to render them harmless to groups that are trying to clear them. Well, you’re not supposed to be concerned about those atrocities because they’re ours. The feeling of revulsion against what is seen, accurately seen, as major atrocities in Kosovo is understandable and it should be tempered by the understanding that you’re being manipulated.

Amy: You mentioned the Kurds, which brings us to Iraq. At the same time the US is bombing Yugoslavia, it seems that the Pentagon has a dream come true. Bombings on two fronts because [the] US has, just once again bombed Iraq, as they’ve been doing almost consistently daily for the last months. 

NC: Yeah, we should add to that that, you know, the bombing is the visible atrocity but it pales into insignificance in comparison with the sanctions, which are just mass murder. I mean if you want to use the term genocide―it’s a term that I don’t like―it applies much more accurately to the killing of say, 5,000 children a month in Iraq simply as a result of the sanctions. 

Amy: Our guest is Noam Chomsky talking about the bombing of Yugoslavia. NATO. What this means for NATO and for US arms manufacturers. Noam? 

NC: With regard to NATO, I would place it in the context of the long standing US effort to undermine and neutralize international institutions. That began years ago because they began to fall out of control. And it was made very explicit and clear in the official US policy: UN is just worthless, it’s out of control, the World Court is out of control. Therefore, similarly other—I mean even the World Trade Organization insofar as doesn’t go along with US demand―is pushed to the side, eliminated. The US is what is called in a current issue of Foreign Affairs, of all places, a “rogue superpower.” It simply is going to run the world in its own way, lawlessly and by violence if necessary. 

That requires a shift of authority from the [UN] Security Council, where it’s vested in international law, to NATO, which is essentially under US control. Therefore, there’s expansion of NATO power as a reflection of the ---in the early 1950s, the United States could use the United Nations as a cover for its actions. That can’t be done anymore. Therefore, NATO is a more reasonable cover. Also just as dirty work could be shunted over to the United Nations if the US didn’t want to do it, the same can be done with NATO. You can shift the dirty work over the Europeans when you don’t feel like doing it, as long as the US remains in control. 

A side effect of this is the one you mentioned. Expansion of NATO is just a bonanza for arms manufacturers. They are the main ones in favor of it. And the use of weapons, of course, increases the need for them and that’s a further bonanza to arms manufacturers. However, here too, we ought to bear in mind that “arms manufacturers,”―that’s kind of a euphemism that refers to most of high tech industry. High technology industry has been developed primarily in the state sector: a huge state sector in the United States. And that’s been done under the cover of military spending very commonly. So, you know, high tech industry doesn’t explicitly gain when you should (inaudible) cruise missile but the development of the technology, its dual use, its transfer to civilian uses and so on. That’s the way most dynamic sectors in the economy develop. Then they are later taken over by private capital and they become profitable. I mean that’s just the essential driving force of the economy.

Amy: I get that sense very much, over the last two weeks, of the military hardware show on the corporate networks, which are in fact owned by weapons manufacturers that are making parts of the weapons for the bombing of Iraq―with CBS being owned by the Westinghouse and NBC being owned by General Electric. But today, the announcement that the Apache Helicopters will be moving in and the triumph of the B-2 which was considered such a major boondoggle for so long, etc:

NC: Yeah, but I think we should not be misled by that. Over the years, that feeds into your computer, the airplane you take when you visit San Francisco and so on. That is the foundation of the high technology economy. And that’s the reason for it. You know the reason is in part for the use of force but also the reason is that it undergirds the future high technology industry. This was well understood in the 1940s when the first secretary of the Air Force [Stuart Symington], Truman secretary of the Air Force told Congress we should not use the term “subsidy,” we should use the term “security.” And that’s the way it works. So if you use the Internet, that’s because for twenty years or so it was developed within the military until it got to the point where it could be handed over to Bill Gates. 

Amy: You mean it wasn’t developed by Al Gore.

NC: Surprise.(laughter) As late as 1994, pretty recently, Bill Gates was so uninterested in the Internet. He wouldn’t even attend conferences concerning it. At that point it had already been developed for 30 years mainly within the state sector: the military and the National Science Foundation. 

Amy: Finally, Noam, where do you see the bombing in the Balkans, the bombing of Yugoslavia going? What do you see as the end? 

NC: Well, you know, bombing has its own dynamics. It will—I mean it could go a lot of different ways. I mean, for example, maybe a sort of worst case possibility, which is not excluded, is that if Kosovo was largely cleansed of its population—remember that means Albanians but also Serbs. Serbs are fleeing north. If the population is sharply reduced and has mostly the military forces there, the United States could just carpet bomb it and turn it into desert. It’s a possibility. I mean while Yugoslavia is being—it’s not---the talk is military buildings but a few western correspondents like Robert Fisk, who, you know, go into hospitals, find plenty of civilian casualties. Horrible cases of civilian casualties, of course. One effect of the bombing inside Serbia is to have undermined and probably destroyed a very promising and courageous democratic opposition which is now mostly rallying around the flag—[that] is what people do when you get bombed. The long term consequences even within Yugoslavia are--could be pretty ugly and in the surrounding regions it’s just unpredictable.