Noam Chomsky: “Who Owns the World ?”

The Dissenting Democrat is inclined to publish brief notes and comments of news and opinion. But now and then a “Big Read” presents itself. The following text of Noam Chomsky’s remarks made in September 2012 at the Center for Popular Economics at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst is such a Big Read.

When I was thinking about these remarks, I had two
topics in mind, couldn’t decide between
them-actually pretty obvious ones. One topic is,
what are the most important issues that we face?
The second topic is, what issues are not being
treated seriously-or at all-in the quadrennial
frenzy now underway called an election? But I
realized that there’s no problem; it’s not a hard
choice: they’re the same topic. And there are reasons
for it, which are very significant in themselves. I’d
like to return to that in a moment. But first a few
words on the background, beginning with the
announced title, “Who Owns the World?”

Actually, a good answer to this was given years ago
by Adam Smith, someone we’re supposed to worship
but not read. He was-a little subversive when you
read him sometimes. He was referring to the most
powerful country in the world in his day and, of
course, the country that interested him, namely,
England. And he pointed out that in England the
principal architects of policy are those who own the
country: the merchants and manufacturers in his
day. And he said they make sure to design policy so
that their own interests are most peculiarly attended
to. Their interests are served by policy, however
grievous the impact on others, including the people
of England.

But he was an old-fashioned conservative with
moral principles, so he added the victims of
England, the victims of the-what he called the
“savage injustice of the Europeans,” particularly in
India. Well, he had no illusions about the owners,
so, to quote him again, “All for ourselves and
nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the
world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of
mankind.” It was true then; it’s true now.

Britain kept its position as the dominant world
power well into the 20th century despite steady
decline. By the end of World War II, dominance had
shifted decisively into the hands of the upstart
across the sea, the United States, by far the most
powerful and wealthy society in world history.
Britain could only aspire to be its junior partner as
the British foreign office ruefully recognized. At that
point, 1945, the United States had literally half the
world’s wealth, incredible security, controlled the
entire Western Hemisphere, both oceans, the
opposite sides of both oceans. There’s
nothing-there hasn’t ever been anything like that
in history.

And planners understood it. Roosevelt’s planners
were meeting right through the Second World War,
designing the post-war world. They were quite
sophisticated about it, and their plans were pretty
much implemented. They wanted to make sure that
the United States would control what they called a
“grand area,” which would include, routinely, the
entire Western Hemisphere, the entire Far East, the
former British Empire, which the U.S. would be
taking over, and as much of Eurasia as
possible-crucially, its commercial and industrial
centers in Western Europe. And within this region,
they said, the United States should hold
unquestioned power with military and economic
supremacy, while ensuring the limitation of any
exercise of sovereignty by states that might interfere
with these global designs.

And those were pretty realistic plans at the time,
given the enormous disparity of power. The U.S. had
been by far the richest country in the world even
before the Second World War, although it
wasn’t-was not yet the major global actor. During
the Second World War, the United States gained
enormously. Industrial production almost
quadrupled, got us out of depression. Meanwhile,
industrial rivals were devastated or seriously
weakened. So that was an unbelievable system of
power.

Actually, the policies that were outlined then still
hold. You can read them in government
pronouncements. But the capacity to implement
them has significantly declined. Actually there’s a
major theme now in foreign policy discussion-you
know, journals and so on. The theme is called
“American decline.” So, for example, in the most
prestigious establishment international relations
journal, Foreign Affairs, a couple of months ago,
there was an issue which had on the front cover in
big bold letters, “Is America Over?” question mark.
That’s announcing the theme of the issue. And there
is a standard corollary to this: power is shifting to
the west, to China and India, the rising world
powers, which are going to be the hegemonic states
of the future.

Actually, I think the decline-the decline is quite
real, but some serious qualifications are in order.
First of all, the corollary is highly unlikely, at least
in the foreseeable future. China and India are very
poor countries. Just take a look at, say, the human
development index of the United Nations: they’re
way down there. China is around 90th. I think India
is around 120th or so, last time I looked. And they
have tremendous internal problems-demographic
problems, extreme poverty, hopeless inequality,
ecological problems. China is a great manufacturing
center, but it’s actually mostly an assembly plant.
So it assembles parts and components, high
technology that comes from the surrounding
industrial-more advanced industrial
centers-Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore,
the United States, Europe-and it basically
assembles them. So, if, say, you buy one of these i-
things-you know, an iPad from China-that’s
called an export from China, but the parts and
components and technology come from outside. And
the value added in China is minuscule. It’s been
calculated. They’ll move up the technology ladder,
but it’s a hard climb, India even harder. Well, so I
think one should be skeptical about the corollary.

But there’s another qualification that’s more serious.
The decline is real, but it’s not new. It’s been going
on since 1945. In fact, it happened very quickly. In
the late 1940s, there’s an event that’s known here
as “the loss of China.” China became independent.
That’s a loss of a huge piece of the grand area of
Asia. And it became a major issue in American
domestic policy. Who’s responsible for the loss of
China? A lot of recriminations and so on. Actually,
the phrase is kind of interesting. Like, I can’t lose
your computer, right? Because I don’t own it. I can
lose my computer. Well, the phrase “loss of China”
kind of presupposes a deeply held principle of kind
of American elite consciousness: we own the world,
and if some piece of it becomes independent, we’ve
lost it. And that’s a terrible loss; we’ve got to do
something about it. It’s never questioned, which is
interesting in itself.

Well, right about the same time, around 1950,
concerns developed about the loss of Southeast
Asia. That’s what led the United States into the
Indochina wars, the worst atrocities of the post-war
period-partly lost, partly not. A very significant
event in modern history was in 1965, when in
Indonesia, which was the main concern-that’s the
country of Southeast Asia with most of the wealth
and resources-there was a military coup in
Indonesia, Suharto coup. It led to an extraordinary
massacre, what the New York Times called a
“staggering mass slaughter.” It killed hundreds of
thousands of people, mostly landless peasants;
destroyed the only mass political party; and opened
the country up to Western exploitation. Euphoria in
the West was so enormous that it couldn’t be
contained. So, in the New York Times, describing
the “staggering mass slaughter,” it called it a “gleam
of light in Asia.” That was the column written by
James Reston, the leading liberal thinker in the
Times. And the same elsewhere-Europe, Australia.
It was a fantastic event.

Years later, McGeorge Bundy, who was the national
security adviser for Kennedy and Johnson, in
retrospect, he pointed out that it probably would
have been a good idea to end the Vietnam War at
that point, to pull out. Contrary to a lot of illusions,
the Vietnam War was fought primarily to ensure that
an independent Vietnam would not develop
successfully and become a model for other countries
in the region. It would not-to borrow Henry
Kissinger’s terminology speaking about Chile, we
have to prevent what they called the-what he
called the “virus” of independent development from
spreading contagion elsewhere. That’s a critical part
of American foreign policy since the Second World
War-Britain, France, others to a lesser degree. And
by 1965, that was over. Vietnam was-South
Vietnam was virtually destroyed. Word spread to the
rest of Indochina it wasn’t going to be a model for
anyone, and the contagion was contained. There
were-the Suharto regime made sure that Indonesia
wouldn’t be infected. And pretty soon the U.S. had
dictatorships in every country of the region-Marcos
on the Philippines, a dictatorship in Thailand, Chun
in South-Park in South Korea. It was no problem
about the infection. So that would have been a good
time to end the Vietnam War, he felt. Well, that’s
Southeast Asia.

But the decline continues. In the last 10 years,
there’s been a very important event: the loss of
South America. For the first time in 500 years, the
South-since the conquistadors, the South
American countries have begun to move towards
independence and a degree of integration. The
typical structure of one of the South American
countries was a tiny, very rich, Westernized elite,
often white, or mostly white, and a huge mass of
horrible poverty, countries separated from one
another, oriented to-each oriented towards its-you
know, either Europe or, more recently, the United
States. Last 10 years, that’s been overcome,
significantly-beginning to integrate, the
prerequisite for independence, even beginning to
face some of their horrendous internal problems.
Now that’s the loss of South America. One sign is
that the United States has been driven out of every
single military base in South America. We’re trying
to restore a few, but right now there are none.

Well, moving on to just last year, the Arab Spring is
another such threat. It threatens to take that big
region out of the grand area. That’s a lot more
significant than Southeast Asia or South America.
You go back to the 1940s, the State Department
recognized that the energy resources of the Middle
East are what they called “one of the greatest
material prizes in world history,” a spectacular
source of strategic power; if we can control Middle
East energy, we can control the world.

Take a look at the U.S-British coup in Iran in 1953.
Very important event. Its shadows cast over the
world until today. Now that was-it was a pretense
that it was a part of the Cold War; it had nothing to
do with the Cold War. What it had to do with was
the usual fear: independent nationalism. And it
wasn’t even concerned with access to oil or profits.
It was concerned with control, control of the oil
resources of Iran and, in fact, of the region. And
that’s a theme that runs right through policy
decisions. It’s not discussed much, but it’s very
important to have control, exactly as State
Department pointed out-advisers pointed out in
the ’40s. If you can control the oil, you can control
most of the world. And that goes on.

So far, the threat of the Arab Spring has been pretty
well contained. In the oil dictatorships, which are
the most important ones for the West, every effort to
join the Arab Spring has just been crushed by force.
Saudi Arabia was so extreme that when there was
an effort to go out into the streets, the security
presence was so enormous that people were even
afraid to go out. There’s a little discussion of what
goes on in Bahrain, where it’s been crushed, but
eastern Saudi Arabia was much worse. The emirates
totally control. So that’s OK. We managed to ensure
that the threat of democracy would be smashed in
the most important places.

Egypt is an interesting case. It’s an important
country, not an oil producer-it is a small one. But
in Egypt, the United States followed a standard
operating procedure. If any of you are going into the
diplomatic service, you might as well learn it.
There’s a standard procedure when one of your
favorite dictators gets into trouble. First, you
support him as long as possible. But if it becomes
really impossible-say, the army turns against
him-then you send him out to pasture and get the
intellectual class to issue ringing declarations about
your love of democracy, and then try to restore the
old system as much as possible. There’s case after
case of that-Somoza in Nicaragua, Duvalier in
Haiti, Marcos in the Philippines, Chun in South
Korea, Mobutu in the Congo, over and over. I mean,
it takes genius not to see it. And it’s exactly what
was done in Egypt and what France tried to do, not
quite with as much success, in Tunisia.

Well, the future is uncertain, but the threat of
democracy so far is contained. And it’s a real threat.
I’ll return to that. It’s also to-important to recognize
that the decline over the past 50 years is, to a
significant extent, self-inflicted, particularly since
the ’70s. I’ll go back to that, too. But first let me say
a couple of things about the issues that are most
important today and that are being ignored or not
dealt seriously-dealt with seriously in the electoral
campaigns, for good reasons. So let me start with
the most important issues. Now there are two of
these. They’re of overwhelming significance, because
the fate of the species depends on them. One is
environmental disaster, and the other is nuclear
war.

I’m not going to take much time reviewing the
threats of environmental disaster. Actually, they’re
on the front pages almost daily. So, for example, last
week the New York Times had a front-page story [2]
with the headline, “Ending Its Summer Melt, Arctic
Sea Ice Sets a New Low That Leads to Warnings.”
The melting this summer was far faster than was
predicted by the sophisticated computer models and
the most recent United Nations report. It’s now
predicted that the summer ice might be gone by
2020. It was assumed before that it may be 2050.
They quoted scientists who said this is “a prime
example of the built-in conservatism of [our] climate
forecasts. As dire [the warnings are] about the long-
term consequences of heat-trapping emissions …
many of [us] fear [that] they may still be
underestimating the speed and severity of the
impending changes.” Actually, there’s a climate
change study program at MIT, where I am. They’ve
been warning about this for years, and repeatedly
have been proven right.

The Times report discusses, briefly, the severe
attack-the severe impact of all of this on the global
climate, and it adds, “But governments have not
responded to the change with any greater urgency
about limiting greenhouse emissions. To the
contrary, their main response has been to plan for
exploitation of newly accessible minerals in the
Arctic, including drilling for more oil.” That is, to
accelerate the catastrophe. It’s quite interesting. It
demonstrates an extraordinary willingness to
sacrifice the lives of our children and grandchildren
for short-term gain, or perhaps an equally
remarkable willingness to shut our eyes so as not to
see impending peril-these things you sometimes
find with young infants: something looks dangerous,
close my eyes and won’t look at it.

Well, there is another possibility. I mean, maybe
humans are somehow trying to fulfill a prediction of
great American biologist who died recently, Ernst
Mayr. He argued years ago that intelligence seems to
be a lethal mutation. He-and he had some pretty
good evidence. There’s a notion of biological
success, which is how many of you are there
around. You know, that’s biological success. And he
pointed out that if you look at the tens of billions of
species in human-in world history, the ones that
are very successful are the ones that mutate very
quickly, like bacteria, or the ones that have a fixed
ecological niche, like beetles. They seem to make out
fine. But as you move up the scale of what we call
intelligence, success declines steadily. When you get
up to mammals, it’s very low. There are very few of
them around. I mean, there’s a lot of cows; it’s only
because we domesticate them. When you get to
humans, it’s the same. ‘Til very recently, much too
recent a time to show up in any evolutionary
accounting, humans were very scattered. There were
plenty of other hominids, but they disappeared,
probably because humans exterminated them, but
nobody knows for sure. Anyhow, maybe we’re trying
to show that humans just fit into the general
pattern. We can exterminate ourselves, too, the rest
of the world with us, and we’re hell bent on it right
now.

Well, let’s turn to the elections. Both political parties
demand that we make the problem worse. In 2008,
both party platforms devoted some space to how the
government should address climate change. Today,
the-in the Republican platform, the issue has
essentially disappeared. But the platform does
demand that Congress take quick action to prevent
the Environmental Protection Agency from
regulating greenhouse gases. So let’s make sure to
make it worse. And it also demands that we open
the Alaska’s Arctic Refuge to drilling-I’m quoting
now-in order to take “advantage of all of our
American God-given resources.” You can’t disobey
God, after all. On environmental policy, the program
says, “We must restore scientific integrity to our
public research institutions and remove political
incentives from publicly funded research.” All that’s
a code word for climate science: stop funding
climate science. Romney himself says there’s no
scientific consensus, so we should support more
debate and investigation within the scientific
community, but no action, except to act to make the
problems worse.

Well, what about the Democrats? They concede that
there’s a problem and advocate that we should work
toward an agreement to set emissions limits in
unison with other emerging powers. But that’s it. No
action. And, in fact, as Obama has emphasized, we
have to work hard to gain what he calls a hundred
years of energy independence by exploiting domestic
or Canadian resources by fracking or other elaborate
technologies. Doesn’t ask what the world would look
like in a hundred years. So, there are differences.
The differences are basically about how
enthusiastically the lemmings should march
towards the cliff.

Let’s turn to the second major issue: nuclear war.
That’s also on the front pages daily, but in a way
that would seem outlandish to some independent
observer viewing what’s going on on earth, and in
fact does seem outlandish to a considerable majority
of the countries of the world. Now, the current
threat, not for the first time, is in the Middle East,
focusing on Iran. The general picture in the West is
very clear: it’s far too dangerous to allow Iran to
reach what’s called “nuclear capability.” That is, the
capability enjoyed by many powers, dozens of them,
to produce nuclear weapons if they decide to do so.
As to whether they’ve decided, U.S. intelligence says
it doesn’t know. The International Atomic Energy
Agency just produced its most recent report a couple
weeks ago, and it concludes-I’ll quote it: it cannot
demonstrate “the absence of undeclared nuclear
material and activities in Iran.” Now, that is, it can’t
demonstrate something which cannot-a condition
that can’t be satisfied. There’s no way to
demonstrate the absence of the work-that’s
convenient-therefore Iran must be denied the right
to enrich uranium, that’s guaranteed to every power
that signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Well, that’s the picture in the West. That’s not the
picture in the rest of the world. As you know, I’m
sure, there was just a meeting of the Non-Aligned
Movement-that’s large majority of the countries in
the world and representing most of the world’s
population-a meeting in Tehran. And once again,
not for the first time, they issued a ringing
declaration of support for Iran’s right to enrich
uranium, right that every country has that signed
the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Pretty much the same
is true in the Arab world. It’s interesting. I’ll return
to that in a moment.

There is a basic reason for the concern. It was
expressed succinctly by General Lee Butler. He’s the
former head of the U.S. Strategic Command, which
controls nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy. He
wrote that “It is dangerous in the extreme that in the
cauldron of animosities that we call the Middle
East,” one nation should arm itself with nuclear
weapons, which may inspire other nations to do so.
General Butler, however, was not referring to Iran;
he was referring to Israel, the country that ranks
highest in European polls as the most dangerous
country in the world-right above Iran-and, not
incidentally, in the Arab world, where the public
regard the United States as the second most
dangerous country, right after Israel. In the Arab
world, Iran, though disliked, ranks far lower as a
threat-among the populations, that is, not the
dictatorships.

With regard to Iranian nuclear weapons, nobody
wants them to have them, but in many polls,
majorities, sometimes considerable majorities, have
said that the region would be more secure if Iran
had nuclear weapons, to balance those of their
major threats. Now, there’s a lot of commentary in
the Western media, in journals, about Arab attitudes
towards Iran. And what you read, commonly, is that
the Arabs want decisive action against Iran, which
is true of the dictators. It’s not true of the
populations. But who cares about the populations,
what are called, disparagingly, the Arab street? We
don’t care about them. Now that’s a reflection of the
extremely deep contempt for democracy among
Western elites-I mean, so deep that it can’t be
perceived. You know, it’s just kind of like reflexive.
The study of popular attitudes in the Arab
world-and there is very extensive study by Western
polling agencies-it reveals very quickly why the
U.S. and its allies are so concerned about the threat
of democracy and are doing what they can to
prevent it. Just take-they certainly don’t want
attitudes like those I just indicated to become
policy, while of course issuing rousing statements
about our passionate dedication to democracy.
Those are relayed obediently by reporters and
commentators.

Well, unlike Iran, Israel refuses to allow inspections
at all, refuses to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty,
has hundreds of nuclear weapons, has advanced
delivery systems. Also, it has a long record of
violence and repression. It has annexed and settled
conquered territories illegally, in violation of
Security Council orders, and many acts of
aggression-five times against Lebanon alone, no
credible pretext. In the New York Times yesterday,
you can read that the Golan Heights are disputed
territory, the Syrian Golan Heights. There is a U.N.
Security Council resolution, 497, which is
unanimous, declaring Israel’s annexation of the
Golan Heights illegal and demanding that it be
rescinded. And in fact, it’s disputed only in Israel
and in the New York Times, which in fact is
reflecting actual U.S. policy, not formal U.S. policy.

Iran has a record of aggression. too. In the last
several hundred years, it has invaded and
conquered a couple of Arab islands. Now that was
under the Shah, U.S.-imposed dictator with U.S.
support. That’s actually the only case in several
hundred years.

Meanwhile, the severe threats of attack
continue-you’ve just been hearing them at the
U.N.-from the United States, but particularly Israel.
Now there is a reaction to this at the highest level in
the United States. Leon Panetta, secretary of
defense, he said that we don’t want to attack Iran,
we hope that Israel won’t attack Iran, but Israel is a
sovereign country, and they have to make their own
decisions about what they’ll do. You might ask what
the reaction would be if you reverse the cast of
characters. And those of you who have antiquarian
interests might remember that there’s a document
called the United Nations Charter, the foundation of
modern international law, which bars the threat or
use of force in international affairs. Now, there are
two rogue states-United States and Israel-for
whom-which regard the Charter and international
law as just a boring irrelevance, so, do what they
like. And that’s accepted.

Well, these are not just words; there is an ongoing
war, includes terrorism, assassination of nuclear
scientists, includes economic war. U.S. threats-not
international ones-U.S. threats have cut Iran out of
the international financial system. Western military
analysts identify what they call “weapons of finance”
as acts of war that justify violent response-when
they’re directed against us, that is. Cutting Iran out
of global financial markets is different.

The United States is openly carrying out extensive
cyber war against Iran. That’s praised. The Pentagon
regards cyber war as an equivalent to an armed
attack, which justifies military response, but that’s
of course when it’s directed against us. The leading
liberal figure in the State Department, Harold
Koh-he’s the top State Department legal
adviser-he says that cyber war is an act of war if it
results in significant destruction-like the attacks
against Iranian nuclear facilities. And such acts, he
says, justify force in self-defense. But, of course, he
means only attacks against the United States or its
clients.

Well, Israel’s lethal armory, which is enormous,
includes advanced submarines, recently provided by
Germany. These are capable of carrying Israel’s
nuclear-tipped missiles, and these are sure to be
deployed in the Persian Gulf or nearby if Israel
proceeds with its plans to bomb Iran or, more likely,
I suspect, to try to set up conditions in which the
United States will do so. And the United States, of
course, has a vast array of nuclear weapons all over
the world, but surrounding the region, from the
Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, including
enough firepower in the Persian Gulf to destroy most
of the world.

Another story that’s in the news right now is the
Israeli bombing of the Iraqi reactor in Osirak, which
is suggested as a model for Israeli bombing of Iran.
It’s rarely mentioned, however, that the bombing of
the Osirak reactor didn’t end Saddam Hussein’s
nuclear weapons program. It initiated it. There was
no program before it. And the Osirak reactor was not
capable of producing uranium for nuclear weapons.
But, of course, after the bombings, Saddam
immediately turned to developing a nuclear
weapons program. And if Iran is bombed, it’s almost
certain to proceed just as Saddam Hussein did after
the Osirak bombing.

In a few weeks, we’ll be commemorating the 50th
anniversary of “the most dangerous moment in
human history.” Now, those are the words of
historian, Kennedy adviser, Arthur Schlesinger. He
was referring, of course, to the October 1962 missile
crisis, “the most dangerous moment in human
history.” Others agree. Now, at that time, Kennedy
raised the nuclear alert to the second-highest level,
just short of launching weapons. He authorized
NATO aircraft, with Turkish or other pilots, to take
off, fly to Moscow and drop bombs, setting off a
likely nuclear conflagration.

At the peak of the missile crisis, Kennedy estimated
the probability of nuclear war at perhaps 50 percent.
It’s a war that would destroy the Northern
Hemisphere, President Eisenhower had warned. And
facing that risk, Kennedy refused to agree publicly to
an offer by Kruschev to end the crisis by
simultaneous withdrawal of Russian missiles from
Cuba and U.S. missiles from Turkey. These were
obsolete missiles. They were already being replaced
by invulnerable Polaris submarines. But it was felt
necessary to firmly establish the principle that
Russia has no right to have any offensive weapons
anywhere beyond the borders of the U.S.S.R., even
to defend an ally against U.S. attack. That’s now
recognized to be the prime reason for deploying
missiles there, and actually a plausible one.
Meanwhile, the United States must retain the right
to have them all over the world, targeting Russia or
China or any other enemy. In fact, in 1962, the
United-we just recently learned, the United States
had just secretly deployed nuclear missiles to
Okinawa aimed at China. That was a moment of
elevated regional tensions. All of that is very
consistent with grand area conceptions, the ones I
mentioned that were developed by Roosevelt’s
planners.

Well, fortunately, in 1962, Kruschev backed down.
But the world can’t be assured of such sanity
forever. And particularly threatening, in my view, is
that intellectual opinion, and even scholarship, hail
Kennedy’s behavior as his finest hour. My own view
is it’s one of the worst moments in history. Inability
to face the truth about ourselves is all too common
a feature of the intellectual culture, also personal
life, [and] has ominous implications.

Well, 10 years later, in 1973, during the Israel-Arab
War, Henry Kissinger called a high-level nuclear
alert. The purpose was to warn the Russians to keep
hands off while he was-so we’ve recently
learned-he was secretly informing Israel that they
were authorized to violate the ceasefire that had
been imposed jointly by the U.S. and Russia. When
Reagan came into office a couple of years later, the
United States launched operations probing Russian
defenses, flying in to Russia to probe defenses, and
simulating air and naval attacks, meanwhile placing
Pershing missiles in Germany that had a five-
minute flight time to Russian targets. They were
providing what the CIA called a “super-sudden first
strike” capability. The Russians, not surprisingly,
were deeply concerned. Actually, that led to a major
war scare in 1983. There have been hundreds of
cases when human intervention aborted a first-
strike launch just minutes before launch. Now,
that’s after automated systems gave false alarms. We
don’t have Russian records, but there’s no doubt
that their systems are far more accident-prone.
Actually, it’s a near miracle that nuclear war has
been avoided so far.

Meanwhile, India and Pakistan have come close to
nuclear war several times, and the crises that led to
that, especially Kashmir, remain. Both India and
Pakistan have refused to sign the Non-Proliferation
Treaty, along with Israel, and both of them have
received U.S. support for development of their
nuclear weapons programs, actually, until today, in
the case of India, which is now a U.S. ally.

War threats in the Middle East, which could become
reality very soon, once again escalate the dangers.
Well, fortunately, there’s a way out of this, a simple
way. There’s a way to mitigate, maybe end, whatever
threat Iran is alleged to pose. Very simple: move
towards establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone in
the Middle East. Now, the opportunity is coming
again this December. There’s an international
conference scheduled to deal with this proposal. It
has overwhelming international support, including,
incidentally, a majority of the population in Israel.
That’s fortunately. Unfortunately, it’s blocked by the
United States and Israel. A couple of days ago, Israel
announced that it’s not going to participate, and it
won’t consider the matter until there’s a general
regional peace. Obama takes the same stand. He
also insists that any agreement must exclude Israel
and even must exclude calls for other
nations-meaning the U.S.-to provide information
about Israeli nuclear activities.

The United States and Israel can delay regional
peace indefinitely. They’ve been doing that for 35
years on Israel-Palestine, virtual international
isolation. It’s a long, important story that I don’t
have time to go into here. So, therefore, there’s no
hope for an easy way to end what the West regards
as the most severe current crisis-no way unless
there’s large-scale public pressure. But there can’t
be large-scale public pressure unless people at least
know about it. And the media have done a stellar
job in averting that danger: nothing reported about
the conference or about any of the background, no
discussion, apart from specialist arms control
journals where you can read about it. So, that
blocks the easy way to end the worst existing crisis,
unless people somehow find a way to break through
this.

When I was thinking about these remarks, I had two
topics in mind, couldn’t decide between
them-actually pretty obvious ones. One topic is,
what are the most important issues that we face?
The second topic is, what issues are not being
treated seriously-or at all-in the quadrennial
frenzy now underway called an election? But I
realized that there’s no problem; it’s not a hard
choice: they’re the same topic. And there are reasons
for it, which are very significant in themselves. I’d
like to return to that in a moment. But first a few
words on the background, beginning with the
announced title, “Who Owns the World?”

Actually, a good answer to this was given years ago
by Adam Smith, someone we’re supposed to worship
but not read. He was-a little subversive when you
read him sometimes. He was referring to the most
powerful country in the world in his day and, of
course, the country that interested him, namely,
England. And he pointed out that in England the
principal architects of policy are those who own the
country: the merchants and manufacturers in his
day. And he said they make sure to design policy so
that their own interests are most peculiarly attended
to. Their interests are served by policy, however
grievous the impact on others, including the people
of England.

But he was an old-fashioned conservative with
moral principles, so he added the victims of
England, the victims of the-what he called the
“savage injustice of the Europeans,” particularly in
India. Well, he had no illusions about the owners,
so, to quote him again, “All for ourselves and
nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the
world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of
mankind.” It was true then; it’s true now.

Britain kept its position as the dominant world
power well into the 20th century despite steady
decline. By the end of World War II, dominance had
shifted decisively into the hands of the upstart
across the sea, the United States, by far the most
powerful and wealthy society in world history.
Britain could only aspire to be its junior partner as
the British foreign office ruefully recognized. At that
point, 1945, the United States had literally half the
world’s wealth, incredible security, controlled the
entire Western Hemisphere, both oceans, the
opposite sides of both oceans. There’s
nothing-there hasn’t ever been anything like that
in history.

And planners understood it. Roosevelt’s planners
were meeting right through the Second World War,
designing the post-war world. They were quite
sophisticated about it, and their plans were pretty
much implemented. They wanted to make sure that
the United States would control what they called a
“grand area,” which would include, routinely, the
entire Western Hemisphere, the entire Far East, the
former British Empire, which the U.S. would be
taking over, and as much of Eurasia as
possible-crucially, its commercial and industrial
centers in Western Europe. And within this region,
they said, the United States should hold
unquestioned power with military and economic
supremacy, while ensuring the limitation of any
exercise of sovereignty by states that might interfere
with these global designs.

And those were pretty realistic plans at the time,
given the enormous disparity of power. The U.S. had
been by far the richest country in the world even
before the Second World War, although it
wasn’t-was not yet the major global actor. During
the Second World War, the United States gained
enormously. Industrial production almost
quadrupled, got us out of depression. Meanwhile,
industrial rivals were devastated or seriously
weakened. So that was an unbelievable system of
power.

Actually, the policies that were outlined then still
hold. You can read them in government
pronouncements. But the capacity to implement
them has significantly declined. Actually there’s a
major theme now in foreign policy discussion-you
know, journals and so on. The theme is called
“American decline.” So, for example, in the most
prestigious establishment international relations
journal, Foreign Affairs, a couple of months ago,
there was an issue which had on the front cover in
big bold letters, “Is America Over?” question mark.
That’s announcing the theme of the issue. And there
is a standard corollary to this: power is shifting to
the west, to China and India, the rising world
powers, which are going to be the hegemonic states
of the future.

Actually, I think the decline-the decline is quite
real, but some serious qualifications are in order.
First of all, the corollary is highly unlikely, at least
in the foreseeable future. China and India are very
poor countries. Just take a look at, say, the human
development index of the United Nations: they’re
way down there. China is around 90th. I think India
is around 120th or so, last time I looked. And they
have tremendous internal problems-demographic
problems, extreme poverty, hopeless inequality,
ecological problems. China is a great manufacturing
center, but it’s actually mostly an assembly plant.
So it assembles parts and components, high
technology that comes from the surrounding
industrial-more advanced industrial
centers-Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore,
the United States, Europe-and it basically
assembles them. So, if, say, you buy one of these i-
things-you know, an iPad from China-that’s
called an export from China, but the parts and
components and technology come from outside. And
the value added in China is minuscule. It’s been
calculated. They’ll move up the technology ladder,
but it’s a hard climb, India even harder. Well, so I
think one should be skeptical about the corollary.

But there’s another qualification that’s more serious.
The decline is real, but it’s not new. It’s been going
on since 1945. In fact, it happened very quickly. In
the late 1940s, there’s an event that’s known here
as “the loss of China.” China became independent.
That’s a loss of a huge piece of the grand area of
Asia. And it became a major issue in American
domestic policy. Who’s responsible for the loss of
China? A lot of recriminations and so on. Actually,
the phrase is kind of interesting. Like, I can’t lose
your computer, right? Because I don’t own it. I can
lose my computer. Well, the phrase “loss of China”
kind of presupposes a deeply held principle of kind
of American elite consciousness: we own the world,
and if some piece of it becomes independent, we’ve
lost it. And that’s a terrible loss; we’ve got to do
something about it. It’s never questioned, which is
interesting in itself.

Well, right about the same time, around 1950,
concerns developed about the loss of Southeast
Asia. That’s what led the United States into the
Indochina wars, the worst atrocities of the post-war
period-partly lost, partly not. A very significant
event in modern history was in 1965, when in
Indonesia, which was the main concern-that’s the
country of Southeast Asia with most of the wealth
and resources-there was a military coup in
Indonesia, Suharto coup. It led to an extraordinary
massacre, what the New York Times called a
“staggering mass slaughter.” It killed hundreds of
thousands of people, mostly landless peasants;
destroyed the only mass political party; and opened
the country up to Western exploitation. Euphoria in
the West was so enormous that it couldn’t be
contained. So, in the New York Times, describing
the “staggering mass slaughter,” it called it a “gleam
of light in Asia.” That was the column written by
James Reston, the leading liberal thinker in the
Times. And the same elsewhere-Europe, Australia.
It was a fantastic event.

Years later, McGeorge Bundy, who was the national
security adviser for Kennedy and Johnson, in
retrospect, he pointed out that it probably would
have been a good idea to end the Vietnam War at
that point, to pull out. Contrary to a lot of illusions,
the Vietnam War was fought primarily to ensure that
an independent Vietnam would not develop
successfully and become a model for other countries
in the region. It would not-to borrow Henry
Kissinger’s terminology speaking about Chile, we
have to prevent what they called the-what he
called the “virus” of independent development from
spreading contagion elsewhere. That’s a critical part
of American foreign policy since the Second World
War-Britain, France, others to a lesser degree. And
by 1965, that was over. Vietnam was-South
Vietnam was virtually destroyed. Word spread to the
rest of Indochina it wasn’t going to be a model for
anyone, and the contagion was contained. There
were-the Suharto regime made sure that Indonesia
wouldn’t be infected. And pretty soon the U.S. had
dictatorships in every country of the region-Marcos
on the Philippines, a dictatorship in Thailand, Chun
in South-Park in South Korea. It was no problem
about the infection. So that would have been a good
time to end the Vietnam War, he felt. Well, that’s
Southeast Asia.

But the decline continues. In the last 10 years,
there’s been a very important event: the loss of
South America. For the first time in 500 years, the
South-since the conquistadors, the South
American countries have begun to move towards
independence and a degree of integration. The
typical structure of one of the South American
countries was a tiny, very rich, Westernized elite,
often white, or mostly white, and a huge mass of
horrible poverty, countries separated from one
another, oriented to-each oriented towards its-you
know, either Europe or, more recently, the United
States. Last 10 years, that’s been overcome,
significantly-beginning to integrate, the
prerequisite for independence, even beginning to
face some of their horrendous internal problems.
Now that’s the loss of South America. One sign is
that the United States has been driven out of every
single military base in South America. We’re trying
to restore a few, but right now there are none.

Well, moving on to just last year, the Arab Spring is
another such threat. It threatens to take that big
region out of the grand area. That’s a lot more
significant than Southeast Asia or South America.
You go back to the 1940s, the State Department
recognized that the energy resources of the Middle
East are what they called “one of the greatest
material prizes in world history,” a spectacular
source of strategic power; if we can control Middle
East energy, we can control the world.

Take a look at the U.S-British coup in Iran in 1953.
Very important event. Its shadows cast over the
world until today. Now that was-it was a pretense
that it was a part of the Cold War; it had nothing to
do with the Cold War. What it had to do with was
the usual fear: independent nationalism. And it
wasn’t even concerned with access to oil or profits.
It was concerned with control, control of the oil
resources of Iran and, in fact, of the region. And
that’s a theme that runs right through policy
decisions. It’s not discussed much, but it’s very
important to have control, exactly as State
Department pointed out-advisers pointed out in
the ’40s. If you can control the oil, you can control
most of the world. And that goes on.

So far, the threat of the Arab Spring has been pretty
well contained. In the oil dictatorships, which are
the most important ones for the West, every effort to
join the Arab Spring has just been crushed by force.
Saudi Arabia was so extreme that when there was
an effort to go out into the streets, the security
presence was so enormous that people were even
afraid to go out. There’s a little discussion of what
goes on in Bahrain, where it’s been crushed, but
eastern Saudi Arabia was much worse. The emirates
totally control. So that’s OK. We managed to ensure
that the threat of democracy would be smashed in
the most important places.

Egypt is an interesting case. It’s an important
country, not an oil producer-it is a small one. But
in Egypt, the United States followed a standard
operating procedure. If any of you are going into the
diplomatic service, you might as well learn it.
There’s a standard procedure when one of your
favorite dictators gets into trouble. First, you
support him as long as possible. But if it becomes
really impossible-say, the army turns against
him-then you send him out to pasture and get the
intellectual class to issue ringing declarations about
your love of democracy, and then try to restore the
old system as much as possible. There’s case after
case of that-Somoza in Nicaragua, Duvalier in
Haiti, Marcos in the Philippines, Chun in South
Korea, Mobutu in the Congo, over and over. I mean,
it takes genius not to see it. And it’s exactly what
was done in Egypt and what France tried to do, not
quite with as much success, in Tunisia.

Well, the future is uncertain, but the threat of
democracy so far is contained. And it’s a real threat.
I’ll return to that. It’s also to-important to recognize
that the decline over the past 50 years is, to a
significant extent, self-inflicted, particularly since
the ’70s. I’ll go back to that, too. But first let me say
a couple of things about the issues that are most
important today and that are being ignored or not
dealt seriously-dealt with seriously in the electoral
campaigns, for good reasons. So let me start with
the most important issues. Now there are two of
these. They’re of overwhelming significance, because
the fate of the species depends on them. One is
environmental disaster, and the other is nuclear
war.

I’m not going to take much time reviewing the
threats of environmental disaster. Actually, they’re
on the front pages almost daily. So, for example, last
week the New York Times had a front-page story [2]
with the headline, “Ending Its Summer Melt, Arctic
Sea Ice Sets a New Low That Leads to Warnings.”
The melting this summer was far faster than was
predicted by the sophisticated computer models and
the most recent United Nations report. It’s now
predicted that the summer ice might be gone by
2020. It was assumed before that it may be 2050.
They quoted scientists who said this is “a prime
example of the built-in conservatism of [our] climate
forecasts. As dire [the warnings are] about the long-
term consequences of heat-trapping emissions …
many of [us] fear [that] they may still be
underestimating the speed and severity of the
impending changes.” Actually, there’s a climate
change study program at MIT, where I am. They’ve
been warning about this for years, and repeatedly
have been proven right.

The Times report discusses, briefly, the severe
attack-the severe impact of all of this on the global
climate, and it adds, “But governments have not
responded to the change with any greater urgency
about limiting greenhouse emissions. To the
contrary, their main response has been to plan for
exploitation of newly accessible minerals in the
Arctic, including drilling for more oil.” That is, to
accelerate the catastrophe. It’s quite interesting. It
demonstrates an extraordinary willingness to
sacrifice the lives of our children and grandchildren
for short-term gain, or perhaps an equally
remarkable willingness to shut our eyes so as not to
see impending peril-these things you sometimes
find with young infants: something looks dangerous,
close my eyes and won’t look at it.

Well, there is another possibility. I mean, maybe
humans are somehow trying to fulfill a prediction of
great American biologist who died recently, Ernst
Mayr. He argued years ago that intelligence seems to
be a lethal mutation. He-and he had some pretty
good evidence. There’s a notion of biological
success, which is how many of you are there
around. You know, that’s biological success. And he
pointed out that if you look at the tens of billions of
species in human-in world history, the ones that
are very successful are the ones that mutate very
quickly, like bacteria, or the ones that have a fixed
ecological niche, like beetles. They seem to make out
fine. But as you move up the scale of what we call
intelligence, success declines steadily. When you get
up to mammals, it’s very low. There are very few of
them around. I mean, there’s a lot of cows; it’s only
because we domesticate them. When you get to
humans, it’s the same. ‘Til very recently, much too
recent a time to show up in any evolutionary
accounting, humans were very scattered. There were
plenty of other hominids, but they disappeared,
probably because humans exterminated them, but
nobody knows for sure. Anyhow, maybe we’re trying
to show that humans just fit into the general
pattern. We can exterminate ourselves, too, the rest
of the world with us, and we’re hell bent on it right
now.

Well, let’s turn to the elections. Both political parties
demand that we make the problem worse. In 2008,
both party platforms devoted some space to how the
government should address climate change. Today,
the-in the Republican platform, the issue has
essentially disappeared. But the platform does
demand that Congress take quick action to prevent
the Environmental Protection Agency from
regulating greenhouse gases. So let’s make sure to
make it worse. And it also demands that we open
the Alaska’s Arctic Refuge to drilling-I’m quoting
now-in order to take “advantage of all of our
American God-given resources.” You can’t disobey
God, after all. On environmental policy, the program
says, “We must restore scientific integrity to our
public research institutions and remove political
incentives from publicly funded research.” All that’s
a code word for climate science: stop funding
climate science. Romney himself says there’s no
scientific consensus, so we should support more
debate and investigation within the scientific
community, but no action, except to act to make the
problems worse.

Well, what about the Democrats? They concede that
there’s a problem and advocate that we should work
toward an agreement to set emissions limits in
unison with other emerging powers. But that’s it. No
action. And, in fact, as Obama has emphasized, we
have to work hard to gain what he calls a hundred
years of energy independence by exploiting domestic
or Canadian resources by fracking or other elaborate
technologies. Doesn’t ask what the world would look
like in a hundred years. So, there are differences.
The differences are basically about how
enthusiastically the lemmings should march
towards the cliff.

Let’s turn to the second major issue: nuclear war.
That’s also on the front pages daily, but in a way
that would seem outlandish to some independent
observer viewing what’s going on on earth, and in
fact does seem outlandish to a considerable majority
of the countries of the world. Now, the current
threat, not for the first time, is in the Middle East,
focusing on Iran. The general picture in the West is
very clear: it’s far too dangerous to allow Iran to
reach what’s called “nuclear capability.” That is, the
capability enjoyed by many powers, dozens of them,
to produce nuclear weapons if they decide to do so.
As to whether they’ve decided, U.S. intelligence says
it doesn’t know. The International Atomic Energy
Agency just produced its most recent report a couple
weeks ago, and it concludes-I’ll quote it: it cannot
demonstrate “the absence of undeclared nuclear
material and activities in Iran.” Now, that is, it can’t
demonstrate something which cannot-a condition
that can’t be satisfied. There’s no way to
demonstrate the absence of the work-that’s
convenient-therefore Iran must be denied the right
to enrich uranium, that’s guaranteed to every power
that signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Well, that’s the picture in the West. That’s not the
picture in the rest of the world. As you know, I’m
sure, there was just a meeting of the Non-Aligned
Movement-that’s large majority of the countries in
the world and representing most of the world’s
population-a meeting in Tehran. And once again,
not for the first time, they issued a ringing
declaration of support for Iran’s right to enrich
uranium, right that every country has that signed
the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Pretty much the same
is true in the Arab world. It’s interesting. I’ll return
to that in a moment.

There is a basic reason for the concern. It was
expressed succinctly by General Lee Butler. He’s the
former head of the U.S. Strategic Command, which
controls nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy. He
wrote that “It is dangerous in the extreme that in the
cauldron of animosities that we call the Middle
East,” one nation should arm itself with nuclear
weapons, which may inspire other nations to do so.
General Butler, however, was not referring to Iran;
he was referring to Israel, the country that ranks
highest in European polls as the most dangerous
country in the world-right above Iran-and, not
incidentally, in the Arab world, where the public
regard the United States as the second most
dangerous country, right after Israel. In the Arab
world, Iran, though disliked, ranks far lower as a
threat-among the populations, that is, not the
dictatorships.

With regard to Iranian nuclear weapons, nobody
wants them to have them, but in many polls,
majorities, sometimes considerable majorities, have
said that the region would be more secure if Iran
had nuclear weapons, to balance those of their
major threats. Now, there’s a lot of commentary in
the Western media, in journals, about Arab attitudes
towards Iran. And what you read, commonly, is that
the Arabs want decisive action against Iran, which
is true of the dictators. It’s not true of the
populations. But who cares about the populations,
what are called, disparagingly, the Arab street? We
don’t care about them. Now that’s a reflection of the
extremely deep contempt for democracy among
Western elites-I mean, so deep that it can’t be
perceived. You know, it’s just kind of like reflexive.
The study of popular attitudes in the Arab
world-and there is very extensive study by Western
polling agencies-it reveals very quickly why the
U.S. and its allies are so concerned about the threat
of democracy and are doing what they can to
prevent it. Just take-they certainly don’t want
attitudes like those I just indicated to become
policy, while of course issuing rousing statements
about our passionate dedication to democracy.
Those are relayed obediently by reporters and
commentators.

Well, unlike Iran, Israel refuses to allow inspections
at all, refuses to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty,
has hundreds of nuclear weapons, has advanced
delivery systems. Also, it has a long record of
violence and repression. It has annexed and settled
conquered territories illegally, in violation of
Security Council orders, and many acts of
aggression-five times against Lebanon alone, no
credible pretext. In the New York Times yesterday,
you can read that the Golan Heights are disputed
territory, the Syrian Golan Heights. There is a U.N.
Security Council resolution, 497, which is
unanimous, declaring Israel’s annexation of the
Golan Heights illegal and demanding that it be
rescinded. And in fact, it’s disputed only in Israel
and in the New York Times, which in fact is
reflecting actual U.S. policy, not formal U.S. policy.

Iran has a record of aggression. too. In the last
several hundred years, it has invaded and
conquered a couple of Arab islands. Now that was
under the Shah, U.S.-imposed dictator with U.S.
support. That’s actually the only case in several
hundred years.

Meanwhile, the severe threats of attack
continue-you’ve just been hearing them at the
U.N.-from the United States, but particularly Israel.
Now there is a reaction to this at the highest level in
the United States. Leon Panetta, secretary of
defense, he said that we don’t want to attack Iran,
we hope that Israel won’t attack Iran, but Israel is a
sovereign country, and they have to make their own
decisions about what they’ll do. You might ask what
the reaction would be if you reverse the cast of
characters. And those of you who have antiquarian
interests might remember that there’s a document
called the United Nations Charter, the foundation of
modern international law, which bars the threat or
use of force in international affairs. Now, there are
two rogue states-United States and Israel-for
whom-which regard the Charter and international
law as just a boring irrelevance, so, do what they
like. And that’s accepted.

Well, these are not just words; there is an ongoing
war, includes terrorism, assassination of nuclear
scientists, includes economic war. U.S. threats-not
international ones-U.S. threats have cut Iran out of
the international financial system. Western military
analysts identify what they call “weapons of finance”
as acts of war that justify violent response-when
they’re directed against us, that is. Cutting Iran out
of global financial markets is different.

The United States is openly carrying out extensive
cyber war against Iran. That’s praised. The Pentagon
regards cyber war as an equivalent to an armed
attack, which justifies military response, but that’s
of course when it’s directed against us. The leading
liberal figure in the State Department, Harold
Koh-he’s the top State Department legal
adviser-he says that cyber war is an act of war if it
results in significant destruction-like the attacks
against Iranian nuclear facilities. And such acts, he
says, justify force in self-defense. But, of course, he
means only attacks against the United States or its
clients.

Well, Israel’s lethal armory, which is enormous,
includes advanced submarines, recently provided by
Germany. These are capable of carrying Israel’s
nuclear-tipped missiles, and these are sure to be
deployed in the Persian Gulf or nearby if Israel
proceeds with its plans to bomb Iran or, more likely,
I suspect, to try to set up conditions in which the
United States will do so. And the United States, of
course, has a vast array of nuclear weapons all over
the world, but surrounding the region, from the
Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, including
enough firepower in the Persian Gulf to destroy most
of the world.

Another story that’s in the news right now is the
Israeli bombing of the Iraqi reactor in Osirak, which
is suggested as a model for Israeli bombing of Iran.
It’s rarely mentioned, however, that the bombing of
the Osirak reactor didn’t end Saddam Hussein’s
nuclear weapons program. It initiated it. There was
no program before it. And the Osirak reactor was not
capable of producing uranium for nuclear weapons.
But, of course, after the bombings, Saddam
immediately turned to developing a nuclear
weapons program. And if Iran is bombed, it’s almost
certain to proceed just as Saddam Hussein did after
the Osirak bombing.

In a few weeks, we’ll be commemorating the 50th
anniversary of “the most dangerous moment in
human history.” Now, those are the words of
historian, Kennedy adviser, Arthur Schlesinger. He
was referring, of course, to the October 1962 missile
crisis, “the most dangerous moment in human
history.” Others agree. Now, at that time, Kennedy
raised the nuclear alert to the second-highest level,
just short of launching weapons. He authorized
NATO aircraft, with Turkish or other pilots, to take
off, fly to Moscow and drop bombs, setting off a
likely nuclear conflagration.

At the peak of the missile crisis, Kennedy estimated
the probability of nuclear war at perhaps 50 percent.
It’s a war that would destroy the Northern
Hemisphere, President Eisenhower had warned. And
facing that risk, Kennedy refused to agree publicly to
an offer by Kruschev to end the crisis by
simultaneous withdrawal of Russian missiles from
Cuba and U.S. missiles from Turkey. These were
obsolete missiles. They were already being replaced
by invulnerable Polaris submarines. But it was felt
necessary to firmly establish the principle that
Russia has no right to have any offensive weapons
anywhere beyond the borders of the U.S.S.R., even
to defend an ally against U.S. attack. That’s now
recognized to be the prime reason for deploying
missiles there, and actually a plausible one.
Meanwhile, the United States must retain the right
to have them all over the world, targeting Russia or
China or any other enemy. In fact, in 1962, the
United-we just recently learned, the United States
had just secretly deployed nuclear missiles to
Okinawa aimed at China. That was a moment of
elevated regional tensions. All of that is very
consistent with grand area conceptions, the ones I
mentioned that were developed by Roosevelt’s
planners.

Well, fortunately, in 1962, Kruschev backed down.
But the world can’t be assured of such sanity
forever. And particularly threatening, in my view, is
that intellectual opinion, and even scholarship, hail
Kennedy’s behavior as his finest hour. My own view
is it’s one of the worst moments in history. Inability
to face the truth about ourselves is all too common
a feature of the intellectual culture, also personal
life, [and] has ominous implications.

Well, 10 years later, in 1973, during the Israel-Arab
War, Henry Kissinger called a high-level nuclear
alert. The purpose was to warn the Russians to keep
hands off while he was-so we’ve recently
learned-he was secretly informing Israel that they
were authorized to violate the ceasefire that had
been imposed jointly by the U.S. and Russia. When
Reagan came into office a couple of years later, the
United States launched operations probing Russian
defenses, flying in to Russia to probe defenses, and
simulating air and naval attacks, meanwhile placing
Pershing missiles in Germany that had a five-
minute flight time to Russian targets. They were
providing what the CIA called a “super-sudden first
strike” capability. The Russians, not surprisingly,
were deeply concerned. Actually, that led to a major
war scare in 1983. There have been hundreds of
cases when human intervention aborted a first-
strike launch just minutes before launch. Now,
that’s after automated systems gave false alarms. We
don’t have Russian records, but there’s no doubt
that their systems are far more accident-prone.
Actually, it’s a near miracle that nuclear war has
been avoided so far.

Meanwhile, India and Pakistan have come close to
nuclear war several times, and the crises that led to
that, especially Kashmir, remain. Both India and
Pakistan have refused to sign the Non-Proliferation
Treaty, along with Israel, and both of them have
received U.S. support for development of their
nuclear weapons programs, actually, until today, in
the case of India, which is now a U.S. ally.

War threats in the Middle East, which could become
reality very soon, once again escalate the dangers.
Well, fortunately, there’s a way out of this, a simple
way. There’s a way to mitigate, maybe end, whatever
threat Iran is alleged to pose. Very simple: move
towards establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone in
the Middle East. Now, the opportunity is coming
again this December. There’s an international
conference scheduled to deal with this proposal. It
has overwhelming international support, including,
incidentally, a majority of the population in Israel.
That’s fortunately. Unfortunately, it’s blocked by the
United States and Israel. A couple of days ago, Israel
announced that it’s not going to participate, and it
won’t consider the matter until there’s a general
regional peace. Obama takes the same stand. He
also insists that any agreement must exclude Israel
and even must exclude calls for other
nations-meaning the U.S.-to provide information
about Israeli nuclear activities.

The United States and Israel can delay regional
peace indefinitely. They’ve been doing that for 35
years on Israel-Palestine, virtual international
isolation. It’s a long, important story that I don’t
have time to go into here. So, therefore, there’s no
hope for an easy way to end what the West regards
as the most severe current crisis-no way unless
there’s large-scale public pressure. But there can’t
be large-scale public pressure unless people at least
know about it. And the media have done a stellar
job in averting that danger: nothing reported about
the conference or about any of the background, no
discussion, apart from specialist arms control
journals where you can read about it. So, that
blocks the easy way to end the worst existing crisis,
unless people somehow find a way to break through
this.

SOURCE: PORTSIDE (See Links) Redistributed with permission

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