The Path to Disaster

Published on ZNet (first on Tom Dispatch), by Noam Chomsky, June 04, 2013.

What is the future likely to bring? A reasonable stance might be to try to look at the human species from the outside. So imagine that you’re an extraterrestrial observer who is trying to figure out what’s happening here or, for that matter, imagine you’re an historian 100 years from now — assuming there are any historians 100 years from now, which is not obvious — and you’re looking back at what’s happening today. You’d see something quite remarkable … //

… How to Destroy a Planet Without Really Trying: … //

… The Most Dangerous Moment in History: … //

… What to Make of the Iranian and North Korean Nuclear Crises:

At the moment, the nuclear issue is regularly on front pages in the cases of North Korea and Iran. There are ways to deal with these ongoing crises. Maybe they wouldn’t work, but at least you could try. They are, however, not even being considered, not even reported.

Take the case of Iran, which is considered in the West – not in the Arab world, not in Asia – the gravest threat to world peace. It’s a Western obsession, and it’s interesting to look into the reasons for it, but I’ll put that aside here. Is there a way to deal with the supposed gravest threat to world peace? Actually there are quite a few. One way, a pretty sensible one, was proposed a couple of months ago at a meeting of the non-aligned countries in Tehran. In fact, they were just reiterating a proposal that’s been around for decades, pressed particularly by Egypt, and has been approved by the U.N. General Assembly.

The proposal is to move toward establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the region. That wouldn’t be the answer to everything, but it would be a pretty significant step forward. And there were ways to proceed. Under U.N. auspices, there was to be an international conference in Finland last December to try to implement plans to move toward this. What happened?

You won’t read about it in the newspapers because it wasn’t reported – only in specialist journals. In early November, Iran agreed to attend the meeting. A couple of days later Obama cancelled the meeting, saying the time wasn’t right. The European Parliament issued a statement calling for it to continue, as did the Arab states. Nothing resulted. So we’ll move toward ever-harsher sanctions against the Iranian population – it doesn’t hurt the regime – and maybe war. Who knows what will happen?

In Northeast Asia, it’s the same sort of thing. North Korea may be the craziest country in the world. It’s certainly a good competitor for that title. But it does make sense to try to figure out what’s in the minds of people when they’re acting in crazy ways. Why would they behave the way they do? Just imagine ourselves in their situation. Imagine what it meant in the Korean War years of the early 1950s for your country to be totally leveled, everything destroyed by a huge superpower, which furthermore was gloating about what it was doing. Imagine the imprint that would leave behind.

Bear in mind that the North Korean leadership is likely to have read the public military journals of this superpower at that time explaining that, since everything else in North Korea had been destroyed, the air force was sent to destroy North Korea’s dams, huge dams that controlled the water supply – a war crime, by the way, for which people were hanged in Nuremberg.  And these official journals were talking excitedly about how wonderful it was to see the water pouring down, digging out the valleys, and the Asians scurrying around trying to survive. The journals were exulting in what this meant to those “Asians,” horrors beyond our imagination. It meant the destruction of their rice crop, which in turn meant starvation and death. How magnificent! It’s not in our memory, but it’s in their memory.

Let’s turn to the present. There’s an interesting recent history. In 1993, Israel and North Korea were moving towards an agreement in which North Korea would stop sending any missiles or military technology to the Middle East and Israel would recognize that country. President Clinton intervened and blocked it. Shortly after that, in retaliation, North Korea carried out a minor missile test. The U.S. and North Korea did then reach a framework agreement in 1994 that halted its nuclear work and was more or less honored by both sides. When George W. Bush came into office, North Korea had maybe one nuclear weapon and verifiably wasn’t producing any more.

Bush immediately launched his aggressive militarism, threatening North Korea – “axis of evil” and all that – so North Korea got back to work on its nuclear program. By the time Bush left office, they had eight to 10 nuclear weapons and a missile system, another great neocon achievement. In between, other things happened. In 2005, the U.S. and North Korea actually reached an agreement in which North Korea was to end all nuclear weapons and missile development. In return, the West, but mainly the United States, was to provide a light-water reactor for its medical needs and end aggressive statements. They would then form a nonaggression pact and move toward accommodation.

It was pretty promising, but almost immediately Bush undermined it. He withdrew the offer of the light-water reactor and initiated programs to compel banks to stop handling any North Korean transactions, even perfectly legal ones. The North Koreans reacted by reviving their nuclear weapons program. And that’s the way it’s been going.

It’s well known. You can read it in straight, mainstream American scholarship. What they say is: it’s a pretty crazy regime, but it’s also following a kind of tit-for-tat policy. You make a hostile gesture and we’ll respond with some crazy gesture of our own. You make an accommodating gesture and we’ll reciprocate in some way.

Lately, for instance, there have been South Korean-U.S. military exercises on the Korean peninsula which, from the North’s point of view, have got to look threatening. We’d think they were threatening if they were going on in Canada and aimed at us. In the course of these, the most advanced bombers in history, Stealth B-2s and B-52s, are carrying out simulated nuclear bombing attacks right on North Korea’s borders.

This surely sets off alarm bells from the past. They remember that past, so they’re reacting in a very aggressive, extreme way. Well, what comes to the West from all this is how crazy and how awful the North Korean leaders are. Yes, they are. But that’s hardly the whole story, and this is the way the world is going.

It’s not that there are no alternatives. The alternatives just aren’t being taken. That’s dangerous. So if you ask what the world is going to look like, it’s not a pretty picture. Unless people do something about it. We always can.
(full text).

Links:

Up Against the Neoliberal Parties: What Should the Left Do? Four Views, on New Socialist, Canada, by Cloé Zawadzki-Turcotte, April 13, 2013 (translation by David Camfield);

On Manichean Worldviews and Effecting Change, on naked capitalism, by blof owner, SEPTEMBER 27, 2012.

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