or Survival, Noam Chomsky suggested that our leaders, facing the choice
in the book's title, might well opt for hegemony over survival. "There is ample
historical precedent," he wrote, "for the willingness of leaders to threaten
or resort to violence in the face of significant risk of catastrophe. But the
stakes are far higher today. The choice between hegemony and survival has rarely,
if ever, been so starkly posed."
Thanks to the declassification
and release (by The National Security Archive) of documents related to America's
first Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), developed in 1960, we now know
just how true this was over four decades ago. What we know, in fact, is that
our military high command had laid out, and our top civilian leadership approved,
a plan for the possible
launching of a first strike meant to deliver over 3,200 nuclear weapons
to 1,060 targets in the then-Communist world. Had all gone well, at least 130
cities would have simply ceased to exist. Official (classified) estimates of
casualties from such an attack ran to 285 million dead and 40 million injured
and some military men feared that the lethal effects of fallout on the United
States itself from such an apocalyptic attack might be devastating. Given the
underestimation of those fallout effects at the time, such an attack might indeed
have meant, in a world of bizarre imperial conundrums, hegemony rather than
survival. As it happens, we've had a SIOP ever since and still have one today.
But what kind of an instrument of overkill it may be remains highly classified.
The paperback version of Hegemony
or Survival, America's Quest for Global Dominance (part of The
American Empire Project series) has just been released with a new afterword
by Chomsky in which he returns to the subject of dominion and our fate. He considers
ways in which the Bush administration's elevation of force as a principle above
all else has driven up the levels of terrorism, of violence, and of danger to
our long-term survival. It should not be missed and neither should the
book. Shortened and slightly adapted, the afterword appears below. (If by the
way, you want to re-experience "the most dangerous moment in human history,"
the Cuban Missile Crisis, through Chomsky's eyes, and sample a chapter of the
book, see Cuba in
the Crosshairs.) Tom
The Resort to Force
by Noam Chomsky
As Colin Powell explained the National Security
Strategy (NSS) of September 2002 to a hostile audience at the World Economic
Forum, Washington has a "sovereign right to use force to defend ourselves"
from nations that possess WMD and cooperate with terrorists, the official pretexts
for invading Iraq. The collapse of the pretexts is well known, but there has
been insufficient attention to its most important consequence: the NSS was effectively
revised to lower the bars to aggression. The need to establish ties to terror
was quietly dropped. More significant, Bush and colleagues declared the right
to resort to force even if a country does not have WMD or even programs to develop
them. It is sufficient that it have the "intent and ability" to do so.
Just about every country has the ability, and intent is in the eye of the beholder.
The official doctrine, then, is that anyone is subject to overwhelming attack.
Colin Powell carried the revision even a step further. The president was right
to attack Iraq because Saddam not only had "intent and capability" but
had "actually used such horrible weapons against his enemies in Iran and
against his own people" with continuing support from Powell and his associates,
he failed to add, following the usual convention. Condoleezza Rice gave a similar
version. With such reasoning as this, who is exempt from attack? Small wonder
that, as one Reuters report put it, "if Iraqis ever see Saddam Hussein
in the dock, they want his former American allies shackled beside him."
In the desperate flailing to contrive justifications as one pretext after
another collapsed, the obvious reason for the invasion was conspicuously evaded
by the administration and commentators: to establish the first secure military
bases in a client state right at the heart of the world's major energy resources,
understood since World War II to be a "stupendous source of strategic power"
and expected to become even more important in the future. There should have
been little surprise at revelations that the administration intended to attack
Iraq before 9-11, and downgraded the "war on terror" in favor of this objective.
In internal discussion, evasion is unnecessary. Long before they took office,
the private club of reactionary statists had recognized that "the need for
a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of
the regime of Saddam Hussein." With all the vacillations of policy since
the current incumbents first took office in 1981, one guiding principle remains
stable: the Iraqi people must not rule Iraq.
The 2002 National Security Strategy, and its implementation in Iraq, are widely
regarded as a watershed in international affairs. "The new approach is
revolutionary," Henry Kissinger wrote, approving of the doctrine but with
tactical reservations and a crucial qualification: it cannot be "a universal
principle available to every nation." The right of aggression is to be
reserved for the U.S. and perhaps its chosen clients. We must reject the most
elementary of moral truisms, the principle of universality a stand usually
concealed in professions of virtuous intent and tortured legalisms.
Arthur Schlesinger agreed that the doctrine and implementation were "revolutionary,"
but from a quite different standpoint. As the first bombs fell on Baghdad, he
recalled FDR's words following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, "a date which
will live in infamy." Now it is Americans who live in infamy, he wrote,
as their government adopts the policies of imperial Japan. He added that George
Bush had converted a "global wave of sympathy" for the U.S. into a
"global wave of hatred of American arrogance and militarism." A year
later, "discontent with America and its policies had intensified rather
than diminished." Even in Britain support for the war had declined by a
As predicted, the war increased the threat of terror. Middle East expert Fawaz
Gerges found it "simply unbelievable how the war has revived the appeal
of a global jihadi Islam that was in real decline after 9-11." Recruitment
for the al-Qaeda networks increased, while Iraq itself became a "terrorist
haven" for the first time. Suicide attacks for the year 2003 reached the
highest level in modern times; Iraq suffered its first since the thirteenth
century. Substantial specialist opinion concluded that the war also led to the
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
As the anniversary of the invasion approached, New York's Grand Central
Station was patrolled by police with submachine guns, a reaction to the March
11 Madrid train bombings that killed 200 people in Europe's worst terrorist
crime. A few days later, the Spanish electorate voted out the government that
had gone to war despite overwhelming popular opposition. Spaniards were condemned
for appeasing terrorism by voting for withdrawing troops from Iraq in the
absence of UN authorization that is, for taking a stand rather like that
of 70 percent of Americans, who called for the UN to take the leading role
Bush assured Americans that "The world is safer today because, in Iraq,
our coalition ended a regime that cultivated ties to terror while it built
weapons of mass destruction." The president's handlers know that every word
is false, but they also know that lies can become Truth, if repeated insistently
There is broad agreement among specialists on how to reduce the threat of
terror keeping here to the subcategory that is doctrinally acceptable,
their terror against us and also on how to incite terrorist atrocities,
which may become truly horrendous. The consensus is well articulated by Jason
Burke in his study of the al-Qaeda phenomenon, the most detailed and informed
investigation of this loose array of radical Islamists for whom bin Laden is
hardly more than a symbol (a more dangerous one after he is killed, perhaps,
becoming a martyr who inspires others to join his cause). The role of Washington's
current incumbents, in their Reaganite phase, in creating the radical Islamist
networks is well known. Less familiar is their tolerance of Pakistan's slide
toward radical Islamist extremism and its development of nuclear weapons.
As Burke reviews, Clinton's 1998 bombings of Sudan and Afghanistan created
bin Laden as a symbol, forged close relations between him and the Taliban, and
led to a sharp increase in support, recruitment, and financing for al-Qaeda,
which until then was virtually unknown. The next major contribution to the growth
of al-Qaeda and the prominence of bin Laden was Bush's bombing of Afghanistan
following Sept. 11, undertaken without credible pretext as later quietly conceded.
As a result, bin Laden's message "spread among tens of millions of people,
particularly the young and angry, around the world," Burke writes, reviewing
the increase in global terror and the creation of "a whole new cadre of
terrorists" enlisted in what they see as a "cosmic struggle between
good and evil," a vision shared by bin Laden and Bush. As noted, the invasion
of Iraq had the same effect.
Citing many examples, Burke concludes that "Every use of force is another
small victory for bin Laden," who "is winning," whether he lives or dies.
Burke's assessment is widely shared by many analysts, including former heads
of Israeli military intelligence and the General Security Services.
There is also a broad consensus on what the proper reaction to terrorism
should be. It is two-pronged: directed at the terrorists themselves and at
the reservoir of potential support. The appropriate response to terrorist
crimes is police work, which has been successful worldwide. More important
is the broad constituency the terrorists who see themselves as a vanguard
seek to mobilize, including many who hate and fear them but nevertheless
see them as fighting for a just cause. We can help the vanguard mobilize this
reservoir of support by violence, or can address the "myriad grievances,"
many legitimate, that are "the root causes of modern Islamic militancy."
That can significantly reduce the threat of terror, and should be undertaken
independently of this goal.
Violence can succeed, as Americans know well from the conquest of the national
territory. But at terrible cost. It can also provoke violence in response,
and often does. Inciting terror is not the only illustration. Others are even
In February 2004, Russia carried out its largest military exercises in two
decades, prominently exhibiting advanced WMD. Russian generals and Defense Minister
Sergei Ivanov announced that they were responding to Washington's plans "to
make nuclear weapons an instrument of solving military tasks," including
its development of new low-yield nuclear weapons, "an extremely dangerous
tendency that is undermining global and regional stability . . . lowering the
threshold for actual use." Strategic analyst Bruce Blair writes that Russia
is well aware that the new "bunker busters" are designed to target
the "high-level nuclear command bunkers" that control its nuclear
arsenal. Ivanov and Russian generals report that in response to U.S. escalation
they are deploying "the most advanced state-of-the-art missile in the world,"
perhaps next to impossible to destroy, something that "would be very alarming
to the Pentagon," says former Assistant Defense Secretary Phil Coyle. U.S.
analysts suspect that Russia may also be duplicating U.S. development of a hypersonic
cruise vehicle that can re-enter the atmosphere from space and launch devastating
attacks without warning, part of U.S. plans to reduce reliance on overseas bases
or negotiated access to air routes.
U.S. analysts estimate that Russian military expenditures have tripled during
the Bush-Putin years, in large measure a predicted reaction to the Bush administration's
militancy and aggressiveness. Putin and Ivanov cited the Bush doctrine of "preemptive
strike" the "revolutionary" new doctrine of the National
Security Strategy but also "added a key detail, saying that military
force can be used if there is an attempt to limit Russia's access to regions
that are essential to its survival," thus adapting for Russia the Clinton
doctrine that the U.S. is entitled to resort to "unilateral use of military
power" to ensure "uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies,
and strategic resources." The world "is a much more insecure place"
now that Russia has decided to follow the U.S. lead, said Fiona Hill of the
Brookings Institution, adding that other countries presumably "will follow
In the past, Russian automated response systems have come within a few minutes
of launching a nuclear strike, barely aborted by human intervention. By now
the systems have deteriorated. U.S. systems, which are much more reliable, are
nevertheless extremely hazardous. They allow three minutes for human judgment
after computers warn of a missile attack, as they frequently do. The Pentagon
has also found serious flaws in its computer security systems that might allow
terrorist hackers to seize control and simulate a launch "an accident
waiting to happen," Bruce Blair writes. The dangers are being consciously
escalated by the threat and use of violence.
Concern is not eased by the recent discovery that U.S. presidents have been
"systematically misinformed" about the effects of nuclear war. The
level of destruction has been "severely underestimated" because of
lack of systematic oversight of the "insulated bureaucracies" that
provide analyses of "limited and 'winnable' nuclear war"; the resulting
"institutional myopia can be catastrophic," far more so than the manipulation
of intelligence on Iraq.
The Bush administration slated the initial deployment of a missile defense
system for summer 2004, a move criticized as "completely political,"
employing untested technology at great expense. A more appropriate criticism
is that the system might seem workable; in the logic of nuclear war, what counts
is perception. Both U.S. planners and potential targets regard missile defense
as a first-strike weapon, intended to provide more freedom for aggression, including
nuclear attack. And they know how the U.S. responded to Russia's deployment
of a very limited ABM system in 1968: by targeting the system with nuclear weapons
to ensure that it would be instantly overwhelmed. Analysts warn that current
U.S. plans will also provoke a Chinese reaction. History and the logic of deterrence
"remind us that missile defense systems are potent drivers of offensive
nuclear planning," and the Bush initiative will again raise the threat
to Americans and to the world.
China's reaction may set off a ripple effect through India, Pakistan, and
beyond. In West Asia, Washington is increasing the threat posed by Israel's
nuclear weapons and other WMD by providing Israel with more than one hundred
of its most advanced jet bombers, accompanied by prominent announcements that
the bombers can reach Iran and return and are an advanced version of the U.S.
planes Israel used to destroy an Iraqi reactor in 1981. The Israeli press adds
that the U.S. is providing the Israeli air force with "'special' weaponry."
There can be little doubt that Iranian and other intelligence services are watching
closely and perhaps giving a worst-case analysis: that these may be nuclear
weapons. The leaks and dispatch of the aircraft may be intended to rattle the
Iranian leadership, perhaps to provoke some action that can be used as a pretext
for an attack.
Immediately after the National Security Strategy was announced in September
2002, the U.S. moved to terminate negotiations on an enforceable bioweapons
treaty and to block international efforts to ban biowarfare and the militarization
of space. A year later, at the UN General Assembly, the U.S. voted alone against
implementation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and alone with its new ally
India against steps toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. The U.S. voted
alone against "observance of environmental norms" in disarmament and
arms control agreements and alone with Israel and Micronesia against steps to
prevent nuclear proliferation in the Middle East the pretext for invading
Iraq. A resolution to prevent militarization of space passed 174 to 0, with
four abstentions: U.S., Israel, Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands. As discussed
earlier, a negative U.S. vote or abstention amounts to a double veto: the resolution
is blocked and is eliminated from reporting and history.
Bush planners know as well as others that the resort to force increases the
threat of terror, and that their militaristic and aggressive posture and actions
provoke reactions that increase the risk of catastrophe. They do not desire
these outcomes, but assign them low priority in comparison to the international
and domestic agendas they make little attempt to conceal.