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Noam Chomsky Discusses Kosovo

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NATO missiles hit an air base, army and police facilities in the Yugoslav capital Belgrade early today, local media and eyewitnesses reported. Belgrade has become a major target for NATO air raids in recent days, after the alliance announced plans to intensify its campaign against Yugoslavia. [includes rush transcript]

Meanwhile, Britain told Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic today there would be no question of a peace deal over Kosovo until the ethnic cleansing of the province was reversed. According to a NATO spokesperson, over one million Kosovo Albanians have been uprooted from their homes.


  • Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political activist, writer and professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Chomsky’s efforts for greater democracy are celebrated by peace and social justice movements worldwide. One of his recent books is Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order (Seven Stories Press, New York, 1999).

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go first to Kosovo and Yugoslavia. NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia will go on longer than planned, possibly because of miscalculations by NATO experts, this according to France’s foreign minister. He said air strikes are going on longer than planned because NATO experts may have mistaken expectations or because poor weather hinders the abilities of certain types of planes. Also, Britain told Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic today there would be no question of a peace deal over Kosovo until the ethnic cleansing of the province was reversed.

Joining us right now to talk about the US-NATO bombing of Yugoslavia is Noam Chomsky. Professor Noam Chomsky is a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology of linguistics and a well-known political analyst and critic.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Noam.


AMY GOODMAN: Well, overall, first, what is your reaction to these bombings?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, my reaction to the bombings is essentially that of the UN — the NATO US commander, Wesley Clark. A day or two after the bombings began, he stated that it was entirely predictable that the bombings would lead to a sharp escalation of atrocities in an effort to drive out ethnic Albanians. The phrase “entirely predictable” is too strong, but the general point is correct. And that’s pretty much what happened. And it was predictable, and last year about 2,000 people were killed.

The main fighting started after the Kosovars switched from support for a long nonviolent resistance program, which received — elicited no support from the West — in fact, they were simply dismissed — turned to violence, which led to counter-violence of a much greater kind — as I said, about 2,000 people killed. As the threats of NATO bombing increased, the violence increased. As the monitors were withdrawn, the violence increased. When the bombing actually began, it very sharply escalated, for essentially the reasons that General Clark stated, the reaction to the threat. And then, actuality, the bombing had the effect — predictable, if not entirely predictable — of offering both a motive and an opportunity for heightened atrocities and expulsion of population, which is now reaching very severe crises.

I mean, it’s now approaching perhaps the level of other examples. For example, it’s not yet at anywhere near as high as the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948, or nowhere — it doesn’t come close to the atrocities against the Kurds in southeastern Turkey a few years ago. But it’s on the level, perhaps, of Colombia and other atrocities. Pretty serious.

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

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

The concern over — the concern correlates with the assessment of a threat to Western interests. So if people want to slaughter each other in Sierra Leone, that doesn’t harm the interests of West Europeans, and therefore it’s not a crisis. And in fact, there, for example, the United States has actively undermined efforts by the United Nations to undertake these peacekeeping operations. In the Congo, which is the biggest war probably in the history of modern Africa, the UN — the United States, the Clinton administration, refused to provide $100,000 to pay for a peacekeeping mission. And that’s not a crisis, because it’s not harming the interests of rich and powerful people. Any turbulence in the Balkans, in contrast, has — carries with it the threat of danger to European and United States interests, and therefore becomes a crisis. Scale is not a relevant consideration.

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

NOAM CHOMSKY: I think it is — should be clear to any moderately dispassionate observer that the NATO bombings, apart from being a sharp attack on the principles of international order and world order and international law, apart from that, are having the predictable effect of sharply escalating the atrocities. When you’re carrying out an action that is making a bad situation worse, much worse, first step is to stop carrying out that action. After that — so the bombings should be stopped. After that, efforts should be made to explore the few remaining options.

The more violence is used, the fewer the options are. So there are fewer options now than there were two weeks ago. But they’re still not zero. They just become fewer and uglier. It will mean a return to some form of negotiations and diplomacy. The United States and Britain, the two warrior states, basically have rendered themselves ineligible for participation in any such negotiations. But there are powers with a more — and elements with a more neutral stance that might try to undertake them. As I say, the options are very much reduced, and the few that remain are pretty ugly. But perhaps the best that one can imagine at this stage of the game is some kind of partition of Kosovo, which is probably what Milosevic is aiming for anyway, with the northern areas, which are the areas with the resources and the historical monuments and so on, with those taken over simply by Serbia, and the rest, which is — will be a kind of a desert used to return Kosovars that the West doesn’t want. That’s not pretty. It’s ugly. But it’s hard to see what other options remain.

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

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

AMY GOODMAN: Can you expand on that?

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

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

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

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Noam Chomsky, we have to break for stations to identify themselves. I hope you could stay with us for just two minutes longer after that break to talk about NATO and what this means for the expansion of NATO, and if you think the bombing of Yugoslavia has everything to do with NATO being strengthened and, by extension, arms manufacturers, particularly US arms manufacturers, that make such a profit from this, more than a billion dollars a day that’s being spent on the bombing of Yugoslavia. We are talking to Professor Noam Chomsky, professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, author of dozens of books, including Profit Over People: Neoliberalism & Global Order, which is published by Seven Stories Press. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Noam Chomsky, talking about the bombing of Yugoslavia, NATO, what this means for NATO and for US arms manufacturers. Noam?

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

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

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

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

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

AMY GOODMAN: You mean, it wasn’t developed by Al Gore.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Surprise. As late as 1994, pretty recently, Bill Gates was so uninterested in the internet, he wouldn’t even attend conferences concerning it. At that point, it had already been developed for thirty years, mainly within the state sector, the military and then the National Science Foundation.

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

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

AMY GOODMAN: With the strengthening of Milosevic.


AMY GOODMAN: And finally, have you been called to be on any of the corporate networks to be a talking head, to offer your years of expertise looking at global politics?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Foreign corporate networks, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And in the United States?

NOAM CHOMSKY: The usual.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, thank you for being with us. And I encourage people to call the networks — ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN — and ask them, where is Noam Chomsky? Why do they put military generals on the payroll to offer their analysis, and yet not put peace activists and other analysts on the payroll to talk about their views? Noam Chomsky has been our guest, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, well-known author, activist. One of his latest books, Profits Over People: Neoliberalism & Global Order, by Seven Stories, though it is hard to keep up. Thanks for being with us, Noam Chomsky.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Good to be with you.

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