Noam Chomsky

Prof. N CHOMSKY & A R TAHERI: GLOBAL SOVEREIGNTY

Ahmad Reza Taheri: A review of Noam Chomsky’s “rogue states” actually motivated me to write this article on “who deserves global sovereignty.”

Professor Noam Chomsky, a worldwide known academician has written “rogue states”, in which he holds a critical view of UK and US. He argues, “the current Iraq crisis is only the latest example where Washington and London declared Iraq a rogue state, a threat. There are legitimate ways to react to the many threats to world peace. It is for the Security Council to determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression, and make recommendations on what measures shall be taken. The US and UK would have no such authority even if their own hands were clean, hardly the case.”

Professor Chomsky continuous that “referring to the Iraq’s violation of UN resolutions, these two states (US and UK) taking the role of world police men — an insult to the police, who in principle are supposed to enforce the law, not tear it to shreds. Suppose that the Security Council were to authorize the use of force to punish Iraq for violating the cease-fire UN resolution 687, that authorization would apply to all states and not only to US and UK. Contempt for the rule of law is deeply rooted in US practice and intellectual culture. US unlawfully used force against Nicaragua. When US bombed the Libyan cities (1986), the official justification was self-defense against future attack. It invaded Panama to defend its interest and its people. In 1993, Clinton ordered a missile attack on Iraq, killing civilians. It was an act of self-defense against armed attack. All such attacks happened on their own interpretation of Article 51 of the charter. The basic conception is that although the cold war is over, the US still has the responsibility to protect the world — but from what? It cannot be from the threat of radical nationalism. A secret 1995 study of the Strategic Command released through the freedom of Information Act, the study, Essential of Post-Cold War Deterrence, shows how US shifted its deterrent strategy from the defunct Soviet Union to the so-called rogue states such as: Iraq, Libya, Cuba, and North Korea. The study advocates that US exploit its nuclear arsenal to portray itself as irrational and vindictive if its vital interests are attacked. That should be a part of the national persona we project to all adversaries particularly the rogue states. The report resurrects Nixon’s madman theory; our enemies should recognize that we are crazed and unpredictable, with extra ordinary destructive force at our command, so they will bend to our will in fear. The concept was apparently devised in Israel (1950s) by the governing labor party.”

“Immediately after the Berlin wall fell”, Noam Chomsky continues, “the Bush administration submitted its annual call to congress for a huge pentagon budget. It explained: the primary threat is the growing technological sophistication of the third world, and intervention must be maintained particularly those targeting the Middle East. Saddam was once a favored friend and trading partner. His status changed when he misinterpreted US willingness to allow him to modify the border with Kuwait by force as authorization to take the country over. Indonesia shifted from enemy to friend when General Suharto took power in 1965, presiding over an enormous slaughter that elicited great satisfaction in the West. The US sponsored atrocities in East Timor were vastly beyond anything attributed to Saddam in Kuwait, and many other examples. There were no passionate calls for a military strike after Saddam’s gassing of Kurds at Halabja in March 1988. The British used chemical weapons in their 1919 intervention in north Russia against the Bolsheviks. The Kennedy administration pioneered the massive use of chemical weapons against civilians as it launched its attack against South Vietnam 1961-1962. It was reported that thousands of Vietnamese still die from the effects of American chemical warfare. There is also substantial evidence of US use of biological weapons against Cuba, reported in 1977.”

Chomsky further analyses the Washington’s support for Saddam. He goes on to the shooting down of an Iranian civilian airliner by guided-missile cruiser, and then the Iranian retaliation. And then goes to the Libya’s case, that US should follow the clear requirements of international law and accept Libya’s proposal for world court adjudication, condemning both US and UK for having “flatly refused” to submit the issue to the world court.

He believes that the concept “rogue state” is highly nuanced. “Cuba qualifies as a leading rogue state because of its alleged involvement in international terrorism, but the US does not fall into the category despite its terrorist attacks against Cuba for close to 40 years. The criteria are fairly clear, a rogue state is not simply a criminal state, but one that defies the orders of the powerful — who are, of course, exempt…”

Prof. Chomsky does not defend the rogue states rather he criticizes the US policies. He says that “military strike is not the only solution for removing Saddam. There could be other ways like popular insurgency.” He also believes that “it is US insistence since World War II, which motivates her to control the world’s major energy reserves. The US energy corporations will not be happy to see foreign rivals in the region.”

Well, here, by “rogue” label, I agree with what Prof. Noam Chomsky has said in his paper “rogue states.” A rogue state is not simply a criminal state, but one that defies the orders of the powerful, while the powerful itself commits what other rogue states do.

The roguish tendency is inherited in any state, for the roguish characteristics more or less exist in the nature of human beings, and thus, in the nature of the states. Mooris Meterling, a western philosopher, in his book The Small Thoughts and The big World, had penned down that “As long as characteristics such as roguish, brutish, jealousy, meanness, arrogance, and so forth are in the nature of human being, communism in its true sense of the term cannot appear.” This comment has a direct relation to the question. Therefore, men with different natures ultimately would form different institutions (states). This would lead to clash of interest and competition; a global competition for power among various states. Consequently, states with stronger political, economic and military capabilities would dominate and exploit other states of the world; it is an established reality. It is in this process of domination and exploitation that the developed states of the West work for their own national interest and ignore the interest of other states such as those of the third world. In this scenario, the most powerful states obviously would have much more to say than others; the weaker states would have to abide by the international rules prescribed by the global powers.

Although it is claimed that there must be equality among the states, both our past and contemporary world lacks and will lack equality at the global level. Its true application is almost impossible, because of differences in natural characteristics and material interests.

Let me make a comparison between the “national sovereign” and the “global sovereign” by referring to the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes. He had argued in his major work Leviathan (1651) that “the sovereign’s power should be unlimited, because the state originated in a so-called social contract, whereby individuals accept a common superior power to protect themselves from their own brutish instincts and to make possible the satisfaction of certain human desires.” In a similar style, today the United States of America plays the role of that ‘absolute sovereign of Hobbes,’ but at the global level.

I believe that a realistic look at the international political scene may change our imagination of what Professor Chomsky holds. Imagine, today instead of United States, it is Taliban ruling the world. Taliban had nurtured Al-Qaida, a terrorist organization that only in one incident killed around three thousands innocent people on 9/11 in New York. Their ideology is to export and expand a fundamentalist form of Islam all over the world. Their intention is to invite the non-Muslims to the world of Islamic fundamentalism; any rejection to this invitation would mean death penalty. For them and many other fundamental Muslims any conversion from Islam into any other religion leads to execution. Abdul Rahman’s case in Afghanistan is an ordinary example. The US had interfered in his case and saved his life. Abdul Rahman’s only committed crime was his conversion into Christianity. Under the regime of Taliban, minority groups especially Hazaras were brutally massacred throughout Afghanistan and their women were enslaved and later sold to the tribal leaders in Pakistan. In March 2001, Taliban ordered the demolition of two statues of Buddha carved into cliff sides at Bamiyan, one 38 meters tall and about 1800 years old, the other 53 meters tall and about 1500 years old. UNESCO and many countries around the world condemned the act. For Taliban, people’s freedom is clearly defined in Quran, of course, a Quran of their own interpretation. This constitution (Quran), as they believe, is absolute and final and any kind of interpretation by other Muslim clerics other than Taliban or like-minded (Islamic) groups is a great sin and will be considered against the law of Allah (if such interpretations goes against the interest of Taliban). Today, their out-dated ideology cannot be accepted by moderate Muslims let alone non-Muslims. This is a glimpse of their sick thoughts and practices at home. The same more or less is true with other Islamic states like Saudi Arabia.

Of course, the purpose is not to overlook what Americans and other Western powers do. I do not mean to say that UK or US are on the peak of humanism. As Noam Chomsky has referred to in his paper, they do have problems while dealing with politics.

Anyway, the question is to turn our attention to the intention — the intention is important. If Americans attacked Iraq and killed innocent people, their intention was not to kill the innocent people, rather it was to remove Saddam Hossein from power, to reach their pre-planned goals. Let’s not forget that it was in this process of invasion which innocent people were targeted unintentionally. However, the target of Al-Qaida in New York on World Trade Center was a deliberate action; their intention was to kill the innocent people. Now, which one is more dangerous?

Let us suppose that Al-Qaida is the only super power in the world. So, while playing the role of world police, Al-Qaida (we imagine) holds some powerful destructive weapons. What will happen to the peoples of the world? A power like America does possess such weapons, but has it used those against Iraq or any other state?! Although such weapons (as Prof. Noam Chomsky pointed) were used against Japan and some other countries in the past, but they have learnt from their evil lessons and may not repeat such mistakes. Whereas, smaller rogue states such as Iraq or Afghanistan may repeat the experience. They may sacrifice their own subjects as well as that of others for the sake of their own interests.

Let me put this in another way: it is as if you give a wise and matured person a gun. You know that a wise person does not kill and if he does, it can be under certain conditions. But, what will happen if you give the gun to a mentally ill person? Certainly, you do not know about his/her intention. He may fire anytime! The same can be applied to the today’s wise (US and UK) and the mentally ill (Taliban).

Today, rationality and logic plays a better (relative) role in the states of the West, whereas in the states dominated by religious fundamentalism negative emotions and dangerous thoughts have replaced logic and rationality. Such states have to travel a long path to reach that stage where developed states have reached (relatively) today.

Let us take example of Iraq under Saddam Hossein, another rogue state, which used its chemical warfare capabilities against the Iranian forces (a Muslim neighbor) in 1984, 1985, and 1986, as well as, on its own rebellious Kurdish population. It is against Islamic code — Islam does not permit fight and bloodshed among the Muslims, nevertheless they ignored their own divine constitution in which their political systems were based on, and fought with each other. Iraq also invaded Kuwait, another Muslim neighbor.

Iraq could also go further i.e. invasion of Saudi Arabia, but it was stopped by the more powerful states, United States and United Kingdom, and not by other less powerful states…! “Bush met Thatcher in Aspen, Colorado. At the time, he did not believe that Iraq would invade Saudi Arabia and was leaning against a military response. However, Thatcher argued that Iraq would invade and that the only option was to send troops to the region. This established an Anglo-American cooperation. Given their reticence concerning the presence of foreign troops in Saudi Arabia, the Saudis were approached cautiously. Cheney and Powell discussed a coalition force with the Saudi ambassador, and when Bush learned that the Saudis were not going to permit the deployments, he let them see satellite photographs of Iraqi forces amassing for an invasion along their border. The king reversed his stand and accepted the troop deployments. Subsequently, support was solicited from other Arab nations, and the Soviets agreed to honor the sanctions against Iraq and to halt further arms sales. Japan and China agreed to boycott Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil, and finally Turkey joined the coalition and closed the oil pipeline to Iraq on August 7th. ” Iraq failed to get the support of other states against the coalition. It was due to the lack of a strong diplomatic power on the part of the Iraqi regime.

The point is that how many times after World War II the Western powers fought each other. They try to solve their differences diplomatically. On the issue of Iraq, the Islamic states could not solve the Gulf war on their own initiatives. However, this is not to say that what US or UK did was for the benefit of the region. No doubt, it was for their own national interest. But, let’s point it out that in fact it is in such process of pursuing and fulfilling their (US and UK) global policies that some degree of advantage directly or indirectly can be given to other states of the region. For instance, Iraq’s own neighbors did not accept the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and there was no any legitimate ground for the invasion. Besides, most of the countries around the world had opposed Saddam’s aggression and duplicity. Saddam was forced to withdraw from Kuwait and that was for the interest of the neighbors. Saddam led the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to believe that he would not invade Kuwait. Mubarak was furious at being deceived by Saddam. The Saudis asked for US aid. They realized that if Iraq invades Saudi Arabia, it would invade the United Arab Emirates too. If these moves were successful, Saddam would have a major influence over the world’s oil.

On the other hand, look at Iran after 1979. If the foreign forces (intelligence networks such as CIA) had not stopped Iran from exporting the Islamic revolution, how for the West the international scene could look like? Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, had clearly stated (31 March 1980, read for him by his son): “We are doing everything possible to export our revolution to other countries of the world”.

The practice and statesmanship of almost all (there are around 55 Islamic states in the world) Islamic states has shown well that they are lagging much behind both politically and economically, compared with the states of the West. The Iran-Iraq war (1980 – 1988) was one of the most destructive of the 20th century, with likely more than one million casualties. Despite the conflict’s length and cost, neither Iran nor Iraq made significant territorial and political gains. The total cost, including military supplies and civilian damages, probably exceeded $500 billion for each side. The Iranian government could have ended the war in 1982 on only marginally different terms from those obtained six years later. If both Iran and Iraq had that much opportunity and capability to overthrow each other, surely they would have done that. However, this did not happen with either of them. But, it happened with other Islamic states. It happened to Taliban in Afghanistan by Pakistan. Pakistan was one of the main players that had brought up and supported Taliban until the 9/11 incident. It suddenly turned its back and joined the US against Taliban.

Although we say that our world is moving towards humanism which, so far we have achieved a lot of it, we should not forget that still we live in a relative chaotic world. In this relative chaotic world, we need the help of the rogue of the rogues. Throughout her young history, the US has faced many hardships. The efforts to deal with and resolve these hardships have finally made the United States of America into the 21st century.

Many leaders, from their own point of views, sought to impose order in the world. Roosevelt believed that a world power such as the United States was obliged to maintain global peace. To the same extent, Ayatollah Khomeini declared that an Islamic revolution was necessary through which Iran would be able to maintain a peaceful world. However, who gained and who failed?

The clumsy policies of the weak rogue states had been already practiced by the Western states during their political immaturity. For that, they received their repercussions and learned from the history. We can take example of pre-renaissance era in Europe.

No doubt, the United States’ evil policies have sacrificed and damaged many people and societies. However, looking at the other side of the coin, may place us in a better position for a final judgment. Look at her other plans and projects that has been received warmly and benefited almost all the nations of the world. Our clear example is the virtual world. Through computer and internet, they have made a worldwide network that has destroyed the borders by connecting the peoples of the world. It is the US and her close allies that have reached the space; they deal with untold projects and discoveries. Whether we like it or not, it is the US, more than any other country in the world which, works on to control natural disasters. In countries like Saudi Arabia in the 21st century, both people and rulers are still busy with their own out dated thoughts and ideologies. Interestingly, they (some Arabs, Iranians, Pakistanis, and Afghans) frequently cry “down with the USA.” The same people eagerly prefer to use the American made products!

If we look at the list of the inventions made, we will see that the overwhelming majority of the scientists belong to the West. Their inventions had changed the work and leisure habits of the people throughout the world. Approximately more that 267 westerns possessed of notable inventions and discoveries from 1250 up to 1992. It is because of their inventions that today we are familiar with the present world. If the developing world suffered from the US and UK policies, they were benefited too. On the other hand, what nations of the world have gained from countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Cuba?

Let us not forget that there is a huge gap of technological innovation and development between Western nations and Islamic nations. The western states like America are the inventors and the Islamic states like Afghanistan are the consumers. This gap is clearly visible. However, that huge gap of “political maturity” between them is invisible. This is the problem, which we may not see it. In other words, as United States is considered the world’s top most technological power, to the very extent, it is the top most political power; that is why US is ruling the world.

Today’s great powers — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Japan, and China possess large military capabilities. These states control roughly half of the world’s economy, 70 percent of world military spending, 35 percent of its soldiers, 95 percent of arms exports, and 99 percent of nuclear weapons. The United States dominates this great-power relation as the superpower. It has the largest and the most technologically powerful economy in the world, with a per capita GDP of $42,000. Its economy equals that of the next three largest states combined — Japan, China, and Germany. Its military spending equals that of the other six great powers combined. The influence of United States in international politics is effective. For instance, the international involvement in post-cold war conflicts such as the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and the civil war in Bosnia largely depended on US leadership. It works more closely with other great powers in efforts to resolve international conflicts (however, today US is more reluctant to carry the full financial burden of regional security efforts in Europe and Asia).

Considering all these, we may recall that famous proverb “no pain, no gain.” Obviously, if any state were in lieu of the US, it could have dominated the world similarly and would have dictated its own terms and conditions. However, domination on other states of the world is not easy; we need high skills. We require efficient political and diplomatic thought and theory, a very strong economic and technological might, and a powerful military. How to achieve such factors is not the job of any state except for the US, as one sees today.

Unaware of the above-mentioned facts, many of the Islamic states and other states hostile to US call for global equality! Unfortunately, global equality is a dream. The states of the world are not equal, because they do not make equal contributions, and that is why the biggest contributors play the biggest roles.

Ultimately, there must be an experienced global power to look after and monitor other states so that would not allow other rogue states to commit whatsoever against its will and repeat the mistakes in which it itself had committed in the past.

I agree, this may not follow truly well for the global society, but this may work relatively better. An experienced global sovereign of the contemporary period certainly is not only a military power rather it is a logical and rational power. This experienced global sovereign knows better than others “what is what.” If US does not have that right to play the role of the police, then who is eligible for that right? Although UN (United Nations) is there to play the role, the question is “does it play the role actually?” It is unfortunately or fortunately at the behest of the US. The United States is the largest contributor to the UN. Only in 2001, US provided roughly 22 percent of the UN’s administrative budget and about 28 percent of its peacekeeping budget. It was under the instruction of US that the United Nations had quickly approved five resolutions condemning Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait (1991) and demanding his unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait. It was the US will (in its war against terrorism) to bypass Security Council by attacking Iraq of Saddam. Even her close allies such as France and Germany opposed the plan. Nonetheless, US along with Britain went against the will of the opposition. But, what was the UN’s reaction?!

Today, US for itself sees every right to govern this anarchic world. US has established and organized itself at home. It is a place where its subjects are highly honored and where its leaders are forced to respect and work in the interest of the nation. Such a state with these qualities would be in better position to monitor the international political system.

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Professor Noam Chomsky: Thanks for sending me the interesting article. The fundamental premise is Hobbesian in inspiration: that the world needs “an experienced global sovereign to look after and monitor other states so that would not allow other rogue states to commit whatsoever against her will and repeat the mistakes in which she herself had committed in the past.”

I do not agree. The fundamental premise is, in my opinion, groundless. There are far better forms of social and political organizations, domestically and internationally: the forms that were proposed and partially developed in the early post-war system, for example, torn to shreds primarily by the world’s most powerful state, which, you argue (on premises that I think are untenable), should be the global sovereign.

On your assumption, if Nazi Germany had won the Second World War, then we should support its claim to rule the world. It was by far the technologically most advanced power, was the center of the sciences, the arts, philosophy, the peak of western civilization, and having won the war it would be the only choice to be the global sovereign. And, the domestic analogue of your Hobbesian principle is that we should pick the most powerful and experienced person and make him dictator, so that he can guarantee order and ensure that his past crimes not be repeated; perhaps, the leading Mafia don or a Hitler or a Stalin.

I do not really see much point to discussing the possibility that the Taliban, or Iraq, or Iran, or in fact any other state in the existing world or the world as it is likely to evolve as far as we can predict, might conceivably be a global sovereign. That abstracts much too far from reality, in my opinion. Incidentally, you ignore quite a lot that is highly relevant. On the hideous crimes of Saddam, for example, you overlook the fact that they were quite consciously abetted by the United States, which precisely did want to murder people — on both sides in fact.

I also incidentally think your argument on “intention” is flawed, for reasons I have discussed in print. If we walk down the street knowing that we will crush ants, we do not intend to kill them, but we do not care because we regard them as less than human. The same is true when we carry out actions that are sure to kill many civilians, but who cares? Bombing slums in Panama for example (while sending in elite units on dangerous missions, some being killed, to pick up wanted targets in rich communities), or destroying half of the pharmaceutical supplies in Sudan, knowing that tens of thousands will probably die (as they did), but who cares — merely to take some of the minor footnotes to the crimes of the “experienced global sovereign.” That raises a general moral issue: which stance is more grotesque, killing people intentionally (as when the US supplied its friend Saddam with armaments, including means to develop WMD), or killing them because we do not even regard them as human (the entire history of aspiring “global sovereigns,” your candidate being the leading recent example). You regard intentional killing as worse than killing, because we regard the victims as sub-human. That is dubious, to say the least.

I wish I had time to discuss this further, but I am afraid I do not. I spend many hours a day responding to questions and queries, and much as I would like to, cannot become involved in lengthy discussions.

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Ahmad Reza Taheri: Thanks indeed, you said that there have been better forms of social and political organizations. If such forms were better why then they failed to replace the existing global political system.

Regarding Nazi Germany, I have said that Nazi Germany was not acted rationally. That is why, it failed. If in case, tomorrow US encountered with a similar fate that faced by Nazi Germany or Soviet Union, it would then indicate nothing but the America’s own lack of efficient political and diplomatic skills. By an experienced global sovereign, I do not mean a mere global dictator; rather I refer to a rational and developed global power in all respects. Today, among various countries of the world the most developed state is USA, though it is not absolute. But, can we find better alternative? In your “rogue states,” you have pointed out that it is for the Security Council to decide about such and such issues, but the question then comes “who have masterminded the Security Council?” Are not they the very Western powers?

Besides, I do not favor what Hobbes commented on the absolute sovereign. I have just made an analogy between the “old national sovereign” of Hobbes, and the global sovereign of the contemporary world. The difference between Nazi Germany and United States is that US is a flexible and intelligent global dictator, whereas Nazi Germany was a dogmatic dictator.

I do agree with you. What I wrote in my article is a hypothesis “if Taliban comes to that stage to monitor international politics, imagine what may come, taking into consideration their typical ideology that inspired their practices at home.” But, why they cannot reach that high stage? It is generally because of their superficial and poor vision, as well as, due to the presence of stronger political actors.

I have not overlooked this bitter reality which you referred. In fact, this is what which motivates me to think, “Leaders like Saddam Hossein are far more dangerous than leaders like George Bush.” Simply because, they (people like Saddam) can easily fall into the hands of the superpowers and play puppet-role to sacrifice their own subjects for their own personal interest. But, how many of the United State’s presidents were abetted by foreign factors to sacrifice or murder their own citizens?

If we start thinking “If we walk down the street knowing that we will crush ants, we do not intend to kill them, but we do not care because we regard them as less than human”, then we must not move and stop where we are. Then, we must not kill or sacrifice animals for our own basic and vital needs like food. This is unfortunately the philosophy of life: wild animals kill other animals for food, we too kill animals for nutrition, and natural phenomenon like Tsunami and floods kill us unknowingly. As we crush ants while walking happily, nature crushes us in the same way. The world is constantly changing and in this process things and people can be placed into the elimination process or into the production process; it’s quite natural though sad.

US supplied its friend Saddam with armaments, including means to develop WMD. That is correct, but it is all politics. Every state is searching for its own interest and it is not the case with the US alone. Let us see the other side of the coin: how much benefit global community has received from the western powers, and how much it has received from non-western powers? Let us also regard for the positive developments.

Anyway, for all that, I do not defend US; rather I am saying that it is the reality. We can change this reality, but for the time being it is there, and cannot be altered in the near future.

Dear Prof. Noam Chomsky, thank you so much for the time and attention.

Notes: 1. See the Noam Chomsky’s paper “rogue states”, on www.zmag.org/chomsky/articles/z9804-rogue.html. 2. Bruce W. Watson, Bruce George, Peter Tsouras B.L. Cyr., Military Lessons of the Gulf War, (Izharsons Printers, Lahore-Pakistan,1991), pp:16-18. 3. B. George, Raimondo Luraghi, Bruce W. Watson, Tim Lister, Bruce W. Watson, jr., Jane Helwig, Georgia Sakell, Patricia Smith., “Coalition Diplomacy”, pp:21-22. 4. Nicola Firzli, Nassim Khoury, Elias Dib, The Iran-Iraq Conflict, (Institute of Studies and Research, Editions du Monde Arabe, 1981), pp. 31-32. 5. Bill Turque, Paul E. Johnson, Nancy Woloch, “United States History”, Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe 2004, © 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation. 6. Judith Miller & Laurie Mylroie, Saddam Hussain and the Crisis in the Gulf, (Publications: Times Books, USA), p. 4. (The views exchanged via email. Picture taken from www.globalpowerdesign.com).

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