cj#853.1> (series) Chomsky: “Whose World Order: Conflicting Visions”


Richard Moore

Dear cj,

I've been busy with my book... sorry for the lapse in cj postings.

I'll be posting, as a series, a speech delivered by Noam Chomsky to the
University of Calgary on 22 September, 1998.


Date: Wed, 7 Oct 1998
To: •••@••.•••
From: •••@••.••• (Jan Slakov)
Subject: Chomsky lecture

Date: Wed, 30 Sep 1998 12:26:56 -0400
From: Bob Olsen <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Naom Chomsky: 22 Sept 1998

A speech delivered by Noam Chomsky, Sept. 22, 1998,
at the University of Calgary, Canada

The original version, which is probably more suitable for printing,
is available at:  http://www.acs.ucalgary.ca/~gharris/

This version was formatted for email (shorter lines)
by Bob Olsen, Toronto.

Renowned scholar and political activist Noam Chomsky spoke Sept. 22 to
a crowd of about 3,400 at the Jack Simpson Gymnasium on the University
of Calgary campus. The following was transcribed from a cassette
recording of the event, by Greg Harris of the U of C's Communications
Office. Chomsky, a master of the subordinate clause, often manages to
keep several ideas aloft in the same sentence; although highly
interesting, his parenthetic speaking style can occasionally challenge
the transcriber's skill in deploying punctuation. False starts, ums,
wells, and you knows have usually been edited out. If you find this
useful (or, alternatively, if you see any egregious errors), email


"Whose World Order: Conflicting Visions"

Chomsky: I want to at least mention quite a number of different topics.
The mentions are inevitably going to be far too brief; every one of them
deserves intensive thought and discussion and they're not at all
comprehensive. But what I want to kind of suggest, if I can do it, is
that these are some of the threads that out to be woven together to give
some kind of coherent picture of where we stand today, what kinds of
problems we have to face and where we might find at least a standpoint
to begin to think about them in a constructive way.

I want to go back a half a century - I think we live very much within an
era that was more or less created then. There are occasional moments in
human affairs where power relations make it possible to establish social
and economic arrangements that actually merit the term world order.
Merit might not be the right word. It's not necessarily a phrase that
should be invested with positive connotations, as history amply reveals.
One of the most dramatic and in fact most easily timed of those moments
was about 50 years ago in the aftermath of the most devastating single
catastrophe in human history which took place right in the heartland of
western civilization. At the end of the war, the United States, of
course, had an overwhelming share of global wealth and power and,
perfectly naturally, dominant forces within the state corporate nexus in
the United States planned to use that power to organize the world as
much as they could in accord with their own conceptions of their
interests and those they represented.

Of course, there were conflicting visions both at home and abroad and
they had to be contained, or better, rolled back, to borrow some cold
war rhetoric. That was done with varying degrees of success, but in fact
the basic conflicts persist and for elementary reasons - they persist
because they are about fundamental values; they are about freedom and
justice and human dignity and human rights in a world of inequality -
great inequality and great concentration of power (the real world, that
is); these values quite commonly constitute an arena of conflict between
centres of power and most of the rest. A good deal of history revolves
around these conflicts in the last half century; this is no exception
and I'm sure the next will not be either.

Well at the onset of the current era, about a half century ago, the
framers of the world order of that day, the new world order of that day,
they faced these challenges everywhere. At home, what had to be
contained, maybe rolled back, were the very strong commitments of a
large majority of the population to social democratic ideals that the
business world rightly perceived as a grave threat to their traditional
dominance. They were the hazard-facing industrialists in the rising
political power of the masses, as the National Association of
Manufacturers put it in their internal literature. It was the crisis of
democracy that was posed by a population that sought to enter the
political arena, as frightened liberal internationalist elites phrased
essentially the same problem after the ferment of the 1960s, expressing
particular concern about what they called the institutions responsible
for indoctrination of the young, which were failing to carry out their
disciplining role properly.

Similar problems were faced throughout the industrial world. They were
enhanced by the prestige and appeal of the anti-fascist resistance,
which was a complex affair, but often had radical democratic thrusts.
They were enhanced further by the discrediting of the traditional
conservative order, which had been linked closely to the fascist system.
Reinstating that traditional order in its essentials was a primary task
of the early post-war years and it was achieved to a large extent often
in not very pretty ways. As in the United States, this project continues.
It's taken new forms in the last 25 years, as here and as throughout the
world, under the guise of neo-liberalism or economic rationalism or free
market doctrine, which is permeated with a good deal of deceit, hypocrisy
and maybe outright fraud. All of these issues are strongly very, very
much alive right now - here, Europe and elsewhere.

In the Third World, the south - the developing world as its
euphemistically called - similar problems were compounded by strong
pressures, uncontrollable pressures, to overturn the imperial systems,
and the legacy of dependency and subordination that they had left. The
basic issues were very much the same in most of the world but they were
revealed with particular clarity, with starkest clarity, in Latin
America for the simple reason that the United States faced no challenge
there, no outside challenge, so you see the principles operating in their
purest form. There was a real challenge, but it was from the domestic
population - no outside challenge.

As In Europe, these conflicts in Latin America came to a head even before
the war was over, in the case of Latin America very dramatically in
February 1945 at a hemispheric conference (Canada was not part of the
Western hemisphere in those days, remember, so Western hemisphere means
United States to the south. I don't think Canada attended the conference,
but maybe I'm mistaken.) The hemispheric conference was supposed to
organize affairs for the hemisphere. We know from U.S. internal records
now that the United States was deeply concerned with what the State
Department called the "philosophy of the new nationalism" that was
spreading all over Latin America and indeed all over the world, quoting
State Department documents. The philosophy of the new nationalism, which
embraced policies designed to bring about a broader distribution of
wealth and to raise the standard of living of the masses on the
principle that the first beneficiaries of the country's resources are the
people of that country. That heresy is called radical nationalism or
economic nationalism and of course it has to be stamped out - the first
beneficiaries of a country's resources are U.S. investors, their
counterparts elsewhere, and local elites who are associated with them.

At the hemispheric conference the United States - given the power
relations of course the U.S. prevailed - and it imposed what was called
an economic charter for the Americas which called for an end to economic
nationalism in all its forms. In the cruel and bloody history of the
half-century that followed, these remained central themes and they will
continue to. They are very much alive today; now they are often framed
differently in the context of the investor rights agreements that are
mislabeled free trade agreements: NAFTA, the forthcoming, maybe,
Multilateral Agreement on Investments, MAI, and what's called
globalization, which is a specific form of international integration (not
by any means the only necessary form); it's the specific form that's
crafted primarily to serve the interests of its designers, again not
terribly surprisingly, transnational corporations, financial institutions
and the bureaucracies that they control and of course the major states
that are part of the system.

The most critical part of the Third World was then and I think remains
today the Middle East, for the very simple reason that it's the locus of
the world's major energy supplies for as far ahead as anybody can see.
Hence, it was considered to be, and is still considered to be, of
particular importance that the first beneficiaries of that wealth are not
the people of the region; rather the resources must be under effective
U.S. control, they must be accessible to the industrial world on terms
that the United States leadership can see is appropriate and, crucially,
the huge profits that are generated must flow primarily to the United
States, secondarily to its British junior partner, to borrow the term
used by the British Foreign Office rather ruefully to describe its new
role in the post Second World War era. This is done in various ways. In
part it's recycled by local managers who have to be dependent on the
global rulers, a long story which continues.

Well quite naturally these arrangements breed continual conflict.
Internal U.S. documents describe them in the conventional way. The
conflicts are conflicts with radical nationalism, radical Arab
nationalism that threatens U.S. dominance. For the public it's put a
little differently, varying over time. These days it's international
terrorism, or the clash of civilization; tomorrow it will be something
new, but it's basically the same ones all the time. The question is,
who's going to be the first beneficiaries of the region's resources.

These conflicts are likely to become more virulent and ominous in the
coming years, at least if the analysis and projection of quite a number
of geologists are anywhere near accurate. A reasonably broad consensus
(there's plenty of room for disagreement and uncertainty) but a
reasonably broad consensus was captured in the headline of a major review
article on the topic, in the journal Science - the journal of the
American Association of the Advancement of Science a couple of weeks ago.
The headline was, "The next oil crisis looms large and perhaps close." It
may be a little hard to believe in a period when gasoline prices are at
an historic low, but there are many who regard that as an aberration, a
short-term aberration. The crisis that many people fear is that the rate
of discovery has been declining for some time after having risen steadily
since the earliest discovery of oil, and the Gulf region, the Arabian
peninsula and the Persian Gulf region, that has by now virtually regained
the share of energy production that it had in the early 1970s, (You'll
recall that that was sufficient to bring the era of super-cheap energy to
a sudden end; it happened to be a temporary end but a foretaste of what
lies ahead.) basically back to that share, meaning that degree of power,
and that share is expected to increase, in part because world consumption
is increasing very rapidly and most of the known energy reserves by a big
measure are in that region. And it's also speculated, not apparently
implausibly, that something like the 50-per-cent mark of exploitable
capacity may not be too far away, maybe within the next few decades. All
of this combines to suggest to policy makers and others that the need to
control that region is going to become increasingly important and that's
going to mean very likely increasing confrontations with radical

As a kind of a sidelight to this, I think that, very likely, the latest
terrorist exchange in the last few weeks might well be seen in this
context. I'm referring to the terrorist bombings of the U.S. embassies in
Africa, allegedly by groups who are opposed to U.S. domination of the
major oil producers, and the U.S. missile attacks on Sudan and
Afghanistan. One might ask, why those targets? Well, like the bombings of
the embassies in Africa, the U.S. selected targets that were vulnerable,
not the ones to which the messages were aimed, in either case. The
message for the missile attacks may well have been directed elsewhere, in
this case very likely to Riyadh and Teheran. There have been recent steps
towards rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, historic enemies,
and that's not an appealing prospect for U.S. global managers. It raises
fears, which have been lingering for a long time, of regional groupings
that will get out of control in the strategically most important part of
the world, which holds the greatest material prize in world history -
that's quoting U.S. assessments from the late '40s, which still prevail.

The U.S. missile attacks have been criticized (you've read plenty of
criticisms of them) as being counterproductive (elite opinion has held
that) because of their effects on the Sudan and Afghanistan. Well, it's a
pragmatic judgment, apparently. The same opinion seems to be largely
unconcerned by the fact that, effective or not, there were war crimes
- - that's now partially conceded in the case of Sudan. However, just
keeping to the pragmatic judgment, it might be evaluated in the light of
a secret 1995 study of the U.S. Strategic Command, called Essentials of
Post-Cold War Deterrence, which was released recently under the Freedom
of Information Act. It's an interesting document. It resurrects Nixon's
madman theory, as it was called. It says that the United States should
portray itself as irrational and vindictive with leadership elements out
of control and it should exploit the nuclear arsenal for that purpose.
This madman posture can be beneficial to creating and reinforcing fears
and doubts among adversaries, real or potential. In this case perhaps the
big players in the region, Saudi Arabia and Iran, whose potential
rapprochement, which has been going on now for almost a year, is
doubtless a very frightening prospect in Washington. Well, we don't have
documentary evidence, so that's speculation. But I think it's not

Well there's a lot to say about all these topics (and these are things
I'm just mentioning) and related aspects of the post-war global system
that I haven't even mentioned. But let me just leave it as something to
think about and turn to something related: namely, the institutional
structures, the institutional framework that was designed for world order
50 years ago, and how it's fared, and what it looks like today.

The institutional structure had three basic components. One was an
international political order - that's articulated in the United Nations
Charter. A second part was concerned with human rights and the norms for
the behavior of governments towards their citizens - that's the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. (Its 50th anniversary will be celebrated, or
maybe mourned, in December 1998.) The third component was an
international economic order. That's the Bretton Woods system, as it's
called, designed by the United States and Great Britain, the global manager
and the junior partner. I want to talk mostly about the third, but a few
words about the first two.

The first, the international political order, (essentially the UN
Charter) that's based on a very simple, straightforward principle, and
elaborated in various ways. The principle is that the threat or use of
force in international affairs is disallowed, unacceptable, has to be
barred totally, with two exceptions. One exception is when the threat or
use of force is specifically authorized by the Security Council after the
Security Council determines that peaceful means have failed. The second
is the famous Article 51, which says that nothing in this Charter
abrogates the right of self-defence against armed attack until the
Security Council acts. That's a rather narrow and specific notion. It
means, for example, that if Cuban armies invade the United States, the
United States is supposed to notify the Security Council and then, until
the Security Council has a chance to do something about this terrible
threat, it's allowed to defend itself in anyway that's necessary. Whether
that example is hypothetical or not depends on what you want to believe.
The Cuban threat to the United States was recently downgraded by the
Pentagon, so we don't have to tremble in total fear anymore. That
elicited a good deal of anger in Congress and the conclusion was rejected
by the White House, which invoked Cuba's threat to the national security
and existence of the United States, just a few months ago, in the course
of rejecting World Trade Organization jurisdiction when the European
Union protested before the WTO gross U.S. violations of trade agreements
and international law that had already been condemned by just about every
international agency, including even the normally quite compliant
Organization of American States. So, depending on where you sit, that
example was real or hypothetical, but whatever it is, that's the
exception permitted by the UN Charter by the framework of political order
and received international law. And those are the only exceptions to the
threat or use of force.

Now of course there is no enforcement mechanism - this has to be by
acceptance. There is in fact an enforcement mechanism, namely the great
powers, and to be realistic exactly one of them, namely the United
States, so that's the enforcement mechanism. But that suffices to show
that the whole system is null and void because the United States rejects
the principles out of hand. It rejects them both in practice and in fact
in doctrine. There's no need to waste time on the practice in the past
half century; the bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan a couple
of weeks ago is a recent illustration but one that's completely trivial
in historical context, though I suppose that terrorist destruction of
half of the medical supplies and fertilizers in the United States might
be taken a shade more seriously.

Whatever the practice may be, and you can know that perfectly well, or
should, what's interesting about the recent years is that official
doctrine expresses with great clarity and precision the utter contempt
for the principles of world order that are of course grandly proclaimed **
when they serve some power interest. This has been going on since the
Reagan years and it is a change, a doctrinal change; you might say it's a
change toward greater honesty. Anyhow, it's a change. Since the Reagan
years the United States has officially reinterpreted the Article 51, the
crucial article, to justify its repeated reliance on force. It has held
that Article 51, I'm quoting actually, authorizes self-defence against
future attack. Article 51 permits the United States to defend its
interests. This became even more ludicrous in the Clinton years. It was
all formulated rather straightforwardly by Ambassador Albright, now
Secretary of State, when she informed the UN Security Council, which was
then refusing to go along with some U.S. demands about Iraq…she informed
the Security Council that the United States will act "multilaterally when
we can, unilaterally when we must in an area important for our
interests." That means unconstrained by the world court which had already
been dismissed as irrelevant 10 years earlier by the most solemn treaty
obligations, the foundations of world order, and so on. I stress that the
only innovation in all of this in the past 15 years is that contempt for
these high principles is now openly proclaimed, with the acquiescence and
the applause of the educated classes - that's a change. But it serves to
indicate where the foundations of world order stand after 50 years. In
brief, the United Nations and its Charter are fine when they serve as an
instrument of power, otherwise the decisions and the condemnations are
not even worth reporting, and they are not reported, let alone obeying.

Incidentally, you've been following I'm sure the recent debate about
founding an international criminal court on war crimes and as you know
the United States, essentially alone refused to go along with that. U.S.
opposition is effectively a veto when the General Assembly votes 151 to 1
on something (or 2 if the U.S. picks up a client state). That amounts to
a veto, just for straight power reasons - nothing obscure about it. And
this effectively vetoes the criminal court on war crimes. The official
argument that was given by the Clinton administration and Congress was
that an international tribunal might carry out frivolous prosecution of
U.S. soldiers engaged in peacekeeping operations. That's not very
credible, especially if you look at the U.S. role; the U.S. is mostly
disqualified from peacekeeping operations - that's literally true. The
reason is because it has a very unusual, maybe unique, military doctrine
and that is that no military forces are permitted to come under any
threat; so if there is any threat at all, they are supposed to react with
overwhelming force and that means that in any situation that involves
civilians, you know, anything short of total war, the U.S. military
simply can't be deployed and in fact isn't if you look at the
peacekeeping operations. So that's not a plausible argument, but there
are other ones that are plausible and are barely beneath the surface, and
that is the very likely concern that an independent judicial inquiry, if
it existed, might, as it should, move up the chain of command and that's
going to lead it very soon to pretty high places, including the White
House. That would be true whether the issue is Indochina or Central
America and Panama or Somalia or other exploits.

[to be continued...]

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