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A March to Disaster: Noam Chomsky Condemns Trump for Pulling Out of Landmark Nuclear Arms Treaty

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President Donald Trump recently announced plans to pull the United States out of a landmark nuclear arms pact with Russia, in a move that could spark a new arms race. President Ronald Reagan and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, in 1987. The INF banned all nuclear and non-nuclear missiles with short and medium ranges. The treaty helped to eliminate thousands of land-based missiles. We spoke with world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author Noam Chomsky in October about the significance of the INF treaty and the impact of Trump’s plan to pull out.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our conversation with the world-renowned professor, linguist and dissident Noam Chomsky. Democracy Now!'s Nermeen Shaikh and I recently spoke to him and asked him to talk about the twin threats of climate change and nuclear war. We spoke in the wake of a new report by Nature magazine that the world has massively underestimated the amount of heat absorbed by our oceans, and President Trump's decision to pull the United states out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, known as the INF. Professor Chomsky began by talking about the significance of this landmark nuclear arms pact with Russia.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, the INF treaty was a very important development. You may recall that in that period, in the early and mid-'80s, the short—this has to do with short-range nuclear missiles. They were being installed in Western Europe, Pershing II missiles in Western Europe, which had a few minutes' flight time to Moscow. If you think what that means, the Russian detection systems are, first of all, far more primitive than ours, but even sophisticated—if they had had sophisticated detection systems, it would have given them barely a few minutes’ warning before a possible heavy nuclear strike, even a decapitation strike, against Moscow. And the Russians were doing the same. They were building short-term missiles aimed at Western Europe. Notice the—not at the United States. This was internal to Europe, short-term—short-range missiles. Well, the 1987 INF treaty ended that extreme peril, sharply reduced it. Missiles were reduced and so on. This was an important step forward. Breaking the treaty reinstates that system.

Now, there’s an obvious way to deal with the problem. Namely, it’s called—it’s kind of a bad word; maybe I ought to spell it—it’s called diplomacy. There have been—the way to deal with the problem is quite straightforward: Do what has not been done as yet—have technical experts from both sides, and neutral ones, investigate the claims that are being made by both sides, and determine if they’re valid. And to the extent that there are, negotiate a way to overcome these violations of the treaty, and then enforce the treaty even further. Carry it further. We should be moving towards eliminating nuclear weapons. Remember that the New START treaty is coming up for renewal. That’s a very important one. START has led to the sharp reduction of nuclear weapons—by no means anywhere near far enough, but nevertheless quite significant.

We should also recall that Trump’s pulling out of the INF treaty has a precursor, namely, the Nuclear Posture Review of the Trump administration, which already called for developing new weapons, tactical nuclear weapons, which themselves greatly increase the threat of a possible war. A target of these missiles can’t know whether they’re conventional or nuclear, or whether they’re short-range or much more powerful missiles. You have a few minutes’ warning time to make these decisions. You look over the history of the nuclear age, and it is practically miraculous that we’ve survived this far. There’s been case after case where we came very—both sides came very close to making a decision to launch nuclear weapons, which means basically terminating human civilization. And miracles like that can’t go on forever. And enhancing the threat is just beyond insanity. Ending the INF treaty not only opens the door for the United States and Russia to develop more dangerous lethal weapons, but, of course, for others to join in, as well, greatly increasing the hazard to all of us. And there are diplomatic options that have not been pursued. And they are the ones that—they are the ones that should be uppermost, not vastly endangering ourselves and everyone else.

Trump also brought up the fact that China is not a partner to the INF. Yeah, they’re not. Well, the way that—that’s because of their particular geostrategic position and their defensive posture in the western Eurasia—eastern Eurasia. Eastern Eurasia. So, the way to deal with that problem is to bring them into the treaty, not to break the treaty and greatly increase the danger to the world.

We should bear in mind that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which has established, since 1947, beginning of the nuclear age—it’s established the Doomsday Clock, where the minute hand is a certain distance from midnight. Midnight means goodbye, termination of all of us. At the beginning, 1947, it was seven minutes to midnight. It’s oscillated up and back since. In last January, after a year of the Trump administration, it moved to two minutes to midnight. That’s the closest it’s been to terminal disaster ever, with one exception, 1953. The United States, then the Soviet Union, exploded thermonuclear weapons, demonstrating that, in our ingenuity, we had devised the means to destroy everything. At that point, the clock did move to two minutes to midnight. Hasn’t gone that close to disaster since. But it did last January.

And now it’s worse. The Nuclear Posture Review, the revelation, since that time, that the U.S. actually has developed a first-strike potential, which could prevent—could eliminate any deterrent to a first strike, then Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review, which calls for extending the nuclear threat, and now this latest step—this is a march to disaster, which is only paralleled by the moves of the administration to race towards the cliff of environmental destruction with eyes open. They know exactly what they’re doing. Trump himself is a firm believer in global warming; the others, as well. But just in order to fill a couple of overstuffed pockets with more dollars, they’re willing to threaten the existence of organized human life.

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