Chomsky: "The Majority of the World Supports Iran"
By Subrata Ghoshroy
October 3, 2008
In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview, Chomsky discusses the
global politics of Iran's and India's attempts to become nuclear
On Wednesday night, in a vote of 86 to 13, the U.S. Senate passed a
historic nuclear deal with that will allow the United States to trade
with India in nuclear equipment and technology, and to supply India
with nuclear fuel for its power reactors. The deal is considered
hugely consequential by its supporters and opponents alike -- and a
significant victory for the Bush administration.
Last month, Subrata Ghoshroy, a researcher in the Science, Technology
and Global Security Working Group at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, met with Noam Chomsky in his office at MIT, where he is
the institute professor of linguistics. "Before we started our
discussion," Ghoshroy writes, "Professor Chomsky asked me to give him
a little background information. I told him that I was researching
missile defense, space weapons and the U.S.-India nuclear deal."
Ghoshroy is a longtime critic of the U.S. missile defense program and
a former analyst at the Government Accountability Office who in 2006
blew the whistle on the failure -- and attempted cover-up -- of a key
component of the program: a $26 billion weapon system that was
the "centerpiece" of the Bush administration's antimissile plan.
Ghoshroy and Chomsky discussed the then-pending nuclear deal, which
would sanction trade hitherto prohibited by U.S. and international
laws because of India's refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty and the nuclear tests it conducted in 1998. Ghoshroy has
written several articles criticizing the U.S.-India deal as a triumph
of the business lobby -- an assessment Chomsky agreed with. He said
that Condoleezza Rice is actually on record admitting what is truly
behind this deal, which he characterized as a "non-proliferation
Ghoshroy's subsequent conversation with Chomsky touched on a number
of interweaving topics, including: India and the importance of the
non-aligned movement; the myths of free trade and the so-
called "success" of neoliberalism; Washington's historic opposition
to promote new world economic and information orders; Latin America's
growing independence; the West's hypocrisy over Iran's nuclear
program -- and MIT's ironic role in it during the shah's regime; and,
finally, U.S. elections and the prospects for change.
The result is a two-part interview, the second of which will run on
AlterNet tomorrow. Part One begins with India, the Non-Aligned
Movement, and why a "majority of the world supports Iran." (The Non-
Aligned Movement, which consists of some 115 or more representatives
of "developing countries," originated at the Asia-Africa Conference
in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955, which was convened mainly by newly
independent former colonies from Africa and Asia to develop joint
policies in international relations. Jawaharlal Nehru, then India's
prime minister, led the conference. There, "Third World" leaders
shared their similar problems of resisting the pressures of the major
powers, maintaining their independence and opposing colonialism and
neo-colonialism, especially Western domination. India continued its
vigorous participation and leadership role in NAM until the end of
the Cold War. For further reading, visit the NAM Web site.)
Subrata Ghoshroy: (Comparing India) with the situation in Latin
America, there is a lot more explicit stance (in Latin America)
against imperialism and toward independence.
Noam Chomsky: It exists (in India), but I think that India should be
in the lead, as it was in the l950s when it was in the lead in the
SG: This is the tension in the Indian situation. The Indian
government, the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, they
think NAM is anachronistic and a relic of the Cold War.
NC: I think that they are quite wrong. I think that it is a sign of
the future. The positions of the Non-Aligned Movement, and the South
Commission before it, and alongside of it, are pretty sound. A good
indication of how sound they are is they are almost entirely
suppressed in the West, which tells you a lot.
Take the question of Iranian enrichment. The U.S, of course, takes a
militant position against it, which is kind of ironic because the
same officials who are now having tantrums about it are the ones who
supported the same programs under the shah. MIT is right at the
center of that; I can remember in the l970s there was an internal
crisis at MIT when the institute authorities pretty much sold the
nuclear engineering department to the shah in a secret agreement. The
agreement was that the Nuclear Engineering Department would bring in
Iranian nuclear engineers, and in return, the shah would provide some
unspecified -- but presumably large -- amount of money to MIT.
When (this was) leaked, there was a lot of student protest and a
student referendum -- something like 80 percent of students were
opposed to it. There was so much turmoil, the faculty had to have a
large meeting. Usually faculty meetings are pretty boring things;
nobody wants to go. But this one, pretty much everybody came to it.
There was a big discussion. It was quite interesting. There were a
handful of people, of whom I was one, who opposed the agreement with
the shah. But it passed overwhelmingly. It was quite striking that
the faculty vote was the exact opposite of the student vote, which
tells you something quite interesting, because the faculty are the
students of yesterday, but the shift in institutional commitment had
a major impact on their judgments -- a wrong impact, in my opinion.
Anyway, it went through. Probably the people running the Iranian
program today were trained at MIT. The strongest supporters of this
U.S.-Iranian nuclear program were Henry Kissinger, Cheney and
Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz.
SG: This was right around Nixon?
NC: This was in the mid-'70s. Kissinger now says, "How can Iran be
pursuing a peaceful program when they have so much oil -- they don't
need nuclear energy." In 1975 he was saying the opposite. He was
saying, "Of course Iran has to develop nuclear energy. It cannot rely
upon its oil resources." Kissinger was asked by the Washington Post
why he had completely changed his judgment on this issue. He was
quite frank and honest. He said something like, "They were an ally
then, so they needed nuclear energy. Now they are an enemy, so they
don't need nuclear energy." OK, I appreciate honesty. It is ironic to
see this developing right now.
When you read the media on this, say the New York Times, the coverage
is uniform. "Iran is defying the world." "Iran is defying the
The fact of the matter is that the majority of the world supports
Iran. The non-aligned movement supports Iran. The majority of the
world is part of the non-aligned movement. But they are not part of
the world, from the U.S. point of view. It is a striking illustration
of the strength and depth of the imperial mentality. If the majority
of the world opposes Washington, they are not part of the world.
Strikingly, the American population is not part of the world. A large
majority of Americans -- something like 75 percent -- agree that Iran
has the right to develop nuclear energy, if it is not for nuclear
weapons. But they are not part of the world either. The world
consists of Washington and whoever goes along with it. Everything
else is not the world. Not the majority of Americans. Not the
majority of countries of the world.
All of this illustrates many things, among them the importance of the
non-aligned movement. Just as the South Commission was important, the
same is true of NAM. But the commission's important positions were
never quoted or mentioned; they were treated as insignificant. They
are not insignificant.
The same is true of NAM. India should be in the lead of ensuring that
the voice of what is euphemistically called "developing countries"
should be heard, should be influential and should be powerful. Not
just what comes out of Washington and London!
(In India), on one hand, there has been significant growth and
development in the past 20 years or so. On the other hand, the
internal problems are simply overwhelming. If you look at the human
development index, for example, when the neoliberal reforms, so-
called, began, India was 125th or so. Now it is 128th, the last time
I looked. Meaning that the fundamental internal problems of India
which are so overwhelming, when you just even walk the streets, have
clearly not been addressed. If you go to places like Hyderabad or
Bangalore, you see wonderful laboratories, high-tech industries,
software and a few miles away a sharp increase in peasant suicides
coming from the same source. The same social and economic policies
are driving both processes.
In places like West Bengal, there has been serious internal strife
over land rights and industrial development, and I don't think that
the Left has worked out a way to come to terms with that
constructively. On issues like the U.S.-India nuclear pact, from what
I read of the Left's positions, I have found them quite
disappointing. They seem to be opposing the pact on nationalist
grounds, that India might be surrendering some element of
sovereignty. But the real problem is quite different; it is a major
step toward undermining the Non-Proliferation Treaty -- as India's
refusal to join it and its secret bomb was in the first place. You
know that India does have a tradition about disarmament and non-
alignment and so on going back to Nehru, of pressing for nuclear
disarmament, non-alignment and so on, and the U.S.-India pact is
directly counter to that honorable tradition. And I would have
expected the Left to be emphasizing this.
SG: And what you are saying is that this is where the Left should be
much more vocal and active?
NC: To an extent, they are. It is very hard to break through Western
propaganda. This was dramatically true in the l970s, in the early
period of decolonization, when there were calls for a new
international economic order, a new information order -- a
restructuring of the world to give the voiceless some voice. The
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was an
important institution at the time. UNESCO was pressing for an
international information order in which the Third World would have a
voice. There was bitter opposition to that here. It was really brutal
here; UNESCO was practically destroyed.
SG: And the U.S. left UNESCO for a while?
NC: First it practically destroyed UNESCO, and then it left it for a
long time. Media and commentators were full of outright lies about
how UNESCO was trying to destroy freedom of the press, and so on and
so forth. What they were trying to do, very clearly, was to break the
Western monopoly and to allow independent voices to appear. That is
intolerable to Western intellectual communities. We have to have an
absolute monopoly; otherwise it violates freedom.
There is quite a good book on this running through the details. It is
called Hope and Folly, and it could never be reviewed, because of the
devastating story that it tells about the efforts of the media and
the intellectual community and so on to destroy UNESCO out of fear
that it might open the international communications system to Third
World voices. Take a look at the book -- it is very devastating, and
what happened is incredible.
The same thing happened with the new international economic order.
Instead of a new international economic order of the kind that UNCTAD
was pressing for, which made a lot of sense, what happened was the
opposite. That's when the West -- with U.S. and Britain in the lead --
rammed through neoliberal programs, which have been pretty much of a
disaster. International economists often say it has been a great
success, pointing to average growth rates and the rise out of poverty
during the past 30 years. That is a scam. The rising growth rates and
rise out of poverty are primarily from China. But China was not
following neoliberal rules. They were pursuing a policy of export
orientation with a state-directed economy. State-directed export
orientation is not the Washington consensus. Muddling the two things
together is real dishonesty.
SG: I see. Because of sheer numbers in China? A billion Chinese are
NC: If you have a billion Chinese who are growing, the average growth
rate increases. So you have an increase in average growth rate mainly
through the efforts of countries that are not following the rules.
The same is true of India. One of the reasons that India escaped the
Asian financial crisis was that it maintained financial controls.
SG: Right, which would not be the case anymore.
NC: Not anymore. But in that period (it was the case). It escaped the
disaster that took place. Take South Korea: It has had spectacular
growth. It is heralded as a success of neoliberal principles. That is
not even a bad joke. In South Korea, the controls over capital were
so strict that a capital export could bring the death penalty. What
does that have to do with neoliberalism? It was a state-directed
economy, more or less on the Japanese model. Incidentally, just to
make the irony even more extreme, one of the leading state-based
economies in the world is the United States. Surely, everyone at MIT
knows that. What pays their salaries? MIT is part of the funnel by
which the taxpayer pays the costs and takes the risks of high-tech
development, and the profits are ultimately privatized.
NC: That's where you get computers and Internet and the biotech. The
entire high-tech economy almost derives from the dynamic state sector.
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