The text of the full interview is below:
Jay: It’s amazing that you’re taking so many interview requests recently. I’m curious about the ethos behind that.
Chomsky: Well, I’m too old to go out to demonstrations anymore—civil disobedience and stuff like that, I can’t manage it. So I do what I can.
To start off, I wanted to ask you about an appearance of yours on CBC Radio nearly 40 years ago. You were being interviewed by Canadian liberal radio icon, Peter Gzowski [also known as “Captain Canada”] on the public broadcaster’s flagship show, Morningside. You’ve talked about how, when you were previously invited onto Morningside, Gzowski would encourage you to speak about the misdeeds of the U.S. government. But, on this occasion, you turned the tables and started talking about the crimes of Canada—in particular during the Vietnam War. At that point, Gzowski descended into what could be described as a tantrum.
Do you think this interview style reveals something about how the Canadian media operates?
Well, every time I came to Canada, which was in those days pretty common, I would have an interview with Gzowski, but this was the last one. I have a feeling if you look back, you’ll find that this was the second one in a pair. The first one did break up in a tantrum, and there were a lot of listener protests. So he called me back and said, “Could I have another one?” We had another one.
That was it. You don’t talk about Canada. In the first interview of this pair, he invited me as usual to give a talk. And when he asked, “When did you get here?” I said, “I just landed at War Criminal Airport.”
He said, “What do you mean, War Criminal Airport? We say Lester Pearson here.” And then he went off [laughs]. I used to be on CBC fairly regularly, but not in recent years.
I mean, it sounds like you’re being provocative, intentionally challenging the media strictures—the limitations of debate in Canada. What are your observations about what’s allowed to be debated in Canada?
If I come to talk about crimes in the United States, it’s fine. In fact, I have a book called Necessary Illusions, which was broadcast as a Massey Lecture on CBC. Those were all about U.S. crimes, the U.S. media suppression, doctrinal control, and so on. It was a bestseller in Canada for months, but never mentioned in the United States.
Inverse is also the case. It’s fine to talk about U.S. crimes in Canada. I could talk about Canadian crimes in the United States, but there are some things you don’t talk about.
We see this right now, very dramatically. It happens to be the 20th anniversary of the Iraq War. This the worst crime of the century by far. There’s a lot of commentary about it. Here’s a challenge: see if you can find one statement anywhere near the mainstream that says there was a war of aggression in violation of the UN Charter. The kind of war for which Nazi war criminals were hanged.
It’s obviously true, but can you find one statement? I haven’t read everything, but I read a lot. What I’ve read is what you’re hearing now: “It was a mistake. Bad, bad war. The United States wanted to save the Iraqi people from an evil dictator, but we did it badly. Didn’t turn out right. A couple of things went wrong.”
Hans Von Sponeck—a distinguished figure internationally—wrote a detailed book about Iraq under the sanctions. He knew more about Iraq in the 1990s than anyone. He had inspectors all over the place. It’s called A Different Kind of War. It’s a discussion of how the sanctions were vicious, brutal, destroying the civilian population while strengthening that dictator.
What happened to the book? Well, you tell me how often it was reviewed in Canada. I can tell you in the United States, it was zero. England was participating in the sanctions too. Reviews in England? Zero.
In terms of the Iraq War, it seems like Canada thinks of itself as not having participated. What would you say to that view?
I don’t know the exact details of Canada’s participation. They didn’t join in the direct invasion, but I think they participated in the later actions of the occupation—you can look into that.
Typically, Canada follows along with whatever the United States does. During the Vietnam War, that wasn’t just people like Lester Pearson. Canada was a member of the International Control Commission, which was basically spying for the United States.
George W. Bush—the same criminal who invaded Iraq—when he decided the time had come to overthrow the elected government of Haiti once again, as the U.S. had before, Canada happily joined in the kidnapping of the president and sending him off to Central Africa.
Our foreign minister at the time in 2004—Bill Graham—actually said that what Canada had to do to get back in the good graces of the U.S. after not participating in the invasion of Iraq, was to invade Haiti instead.
[Laughs dryly]. That’s a nice comment. Canada has joined the United States and France—which was the worst criminal in torturing Haiti for years, going back to 1798, when the Haitian revolution took place. The countries of the West, led by Britain and France—the United States joined in—essentially attacked Haiti. They were not going to permit a free country of formerly enslaved people in the Western Hemisphere.
It was continuous—the U.S. didn’t recognize Haiti until 1862.
One of the worst cases was 1915, when Woodrow Wilson invaded Haiti. Haiti was refusing what was called “progressive legislation” proposed by the United States, which gave U.S. corporations the right to buy up Haiti. It was also toying with Germany and other countries—can’t have that, this is our hemisphere. The invasion was murderous: maybe 15,000 people killed, torture, a lot of war crimes.
NATO’s role in U.S. hegemony and its provocation of the war in Ukraine
I wanted to get into NATO. “A primary function of NATO,” as you have written, “is to ensure the subordination of Europe to the U.S.” In the context of Canada, can you explain how that works and how Canada contributes to that military alliance and that agenda?
It’s through military production, participation in NATO activities, and support for NATO expansion.
Remember that at the last NATO summit the mission was expanded to the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Those are part of the “North Atlantic” now.
The idea is to enlist Canada and Europe in the U.S. campaign against China. Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine—apart from the criminality of the invasion—was also an act of criminal stupidity from [Putin’s] point of view. It drove Europe into the pocket of the United States.
Europe has other options: the natural commercial trading partners of Europe are to the East. The German-based industrial system in Europe, which has been very successful, is highly reliant on resources from Russia. Russia doesn’t have much of an economy, it’s about the same level as Mexico, but has enormous resources—not just petroleum, but also minerals. Also, it’s a path to the huge China market.
That’s their natural alliance. It’s been a long issue—right through the Cold War—whether Europe should become an independent force in world affairs with interactions with the East, or should it be in Washington’s pocket under NATO? Putin solved that problem. He gave the United States its fondest gift on a silver platter: Europe.
Europe’s suffering for it. They’re declining—they may even de-industrialize. The United States is doing fine.
At a small fraction of the colossal U.S. military budget, it’s seriously degrading one of its only military competitors. That’s a bargain.
Fossil fuel industries and the military industry are just ecstatic over their huge profits. The military industry has new markets opening up as they show off their weapons in Ukraine. Just from every point of view, it’s a huge bonanza for the United States.
For the rest of the world, it’s quite different. I mean, Ukraine itself has been devastated, along with, partially, Russia. The countries of the Global South are suffering from the curtailment of grain and fertilizer resources from one of the main producers, the Black Sea region.
For years, it’s been a standard demand on the left that we should disband NATO—that Canada should pull out of NATO. It’s become much more difficult to make that case. Elite opinion in Europe and Canada has shifted even more dramatically in favor of the alliance. And even in long-term NATO holdouts, like Finland and Sweden, the tide has turned.
And to join, as you said, means military spending, joint activities, promoting expansion, submitting to U.S. leadership. What do you think that activists or anti-war groups should be saying about NATO in the present context?
Well, they should be telling the truth. That’s what the left should be doing. The truth is that Putin did give Washington a tremendous gift. He gave a pretext for NATO to not only exist, but expand.
Finland and Sweden are interesting. They are under absolutely no threat. They’re just gloating over the fact that the Russian military is so weak—they can’t conquer cities a couple of kilometres from the border. But all of a sudden, they’re going to attack major military powers like Finland and Sweden. It’s beyond comical.
The left in Finland and Sweden has been talking about what’s actually happening. They’re already partially integrated into NATO—they join exercises and so on. If they fully join NATO, their advanced military industry will have great prospects, access to markets. They can move towards becoming more militarized right-wing societies, integrated with the NATO system.
Is Canada being defended by NATO? Who’s been defended by NATO? Nobody. I mean, in fact, one very good East European historian Richard Sakwa pointed out a couple of years ago that NATO exists mainly to deal with the consequences of its existence.
It’s the NATO expansion to the borders of Russia that was the provocation that led to the invasion of Ukraine. If they didn’t expand, you wouldn’t have an invasion. In fact, the crucial issue up till almost days before the invasion was: can Ukraine be neutralized?
No Russian leader is going to accept Ukraine, right in the geopolitical heartland of Russia, to be a couple of hundred kilometres from Moscow over an open plane—the scene of invasions. They’re not going to allow it to be heavily armed as part of a hostile military alliance. Not a single Russian leader would ever tolerate that.
Up to the end, Putin was saying, “We insist on a neutral Ukraine, move towards the Minsk agreements.” No reaction from Washington: “Not our business, we’ll expand as we like.”
What would the reaction be if China wanted to bring Mexico and Canada into a hostile military alliance aimed at the United States. No objection, I’m sure.
Do you think it’s silly for Russia to feel threatened by Ukraine on its border, given that it’s a nuclear power?
It’s not Ukraine, it’s Ukraine as a part of NATO. NATO is the most violent, aggressive alliance in the world. Here, we talk about it as a peacekeeping alliance—really?
Serbia, Iraq, Libya—what’s the peacekeeping alliance?
One of the things that the United States did in this century, which isn’t discussed enough, is that they started dismantling the arms control regime, which had been steadily established with difficulty over 60 years. George W. Bush dismantled the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.
That’s very serious for Russia, it means putting ballistic missile defences close to the Russian border.
The pretext was that you have to defend Europe against non-existent Iranian missiles. You’re a Canadian intellectual, you may buy that story. Everybody else in the world laughed. In reality, these are actually first-strike weapons.
Then along comes Trump. He eliminated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty—the Reagan-Gorbachev treaty. That means short-range missiles in Europe, 10 minutes flight time from Moscow.
Ukraine is a traditional invasion route. Take a look at a map: flat terrain right to Moscow and St. Petersburg. I’m sure Germans went through there twice in the last century. No Russian leader is going to allow it to be part of a hostile military alliance.
In the past, you’ve said you support the right of Ukrainians to defend their territory and you’ve said that the military aid is on the one hand provocative, but on the other hand justified to an extent and that it has to be carefully calibrated. Where do you feel like the calibration is at right now?
Up until recently, it’s been pretty reasonable. The weapons sent were defensive, but now that’s changing. It’s been acknowledged and public that U.S. so-called advisors and personnel are actually directing much of the fire of the advanced missiles, like the HIMARS and so on. Now the U.S. is supplying tanks. It’s recently moved up to jet planes. Where’s it gonna go next?
Russia recently announced that they might consider putting tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. That’s very dangerous. But why are they doing it? I think it’s almost certainly a warning to NATO, to the United States saying, “If you keep escalating, we’re going to react.”
Notice that Russia has not yet seriously hit western Ukraine. Joe Biden went to visit Kyiv, Janet Yellen went to visit Kyiv.
How many foreign leaders do you remember going to visit Baghdad when the United States and Britain were smashing it to pieces? They didn’t visit.
Peace activists were pulled out of the country, inspectors were pulled out of the countries so they had a chance to survive. This is a very different thing. It’s not a British-American kind of war, it doesn’t go after destroying everything.
It could expand to Kyiv, to western Ukraine, to supply lines, run into NATO supply lines. Then you’re moving up the escalation ladder.
You can move up to terminal war with not much difficulty.
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