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Chomsky Attacks U.S. Abuse of Sovereignty Rights

By Rima Arnaout

Professor of Linguistics Noam Chomsky addressed a packed audience in 26-100 Tuesday in a talk entitled “Freedom, Sovereignty, and Other Endangered Species.”

The talk, sponsored by the Technology and Culture Forum at MIT, drew so many listeners that many latecomers were directed to Building 34 to watch a live video feed of the event.

Technology and Culture Forum Coordinator Rev. Jane S. Gould introduced Chomsky as someone who “has publicly, for four decades, addressed contemporary issues .... Welcome to those lucky enough to be here.”

Chomsky began with a definition of the sovereignty of a nation, “the right of political entities to be free from outside interference.”

But sovereignty is abused in the name of humanitarian intervention and international trade by world powers -- namely the United States, Chomsky said.

Throughout the twentieth century, the U.S. and other global powers have considered sovereignty the “duty of civilized states to conquer others, which is what we now call humanitarian intervention.”

Chomsky said that that abuse is largely responsible for the humanitarian atrocities that have taken place throughout the 20th century but most notably through the last year in Kosovo and East Timor.

Chomsky also criticized the U.S. and the World Trade Organization, and noted that the U.S. undermined the United Nations’ attempts to keep sovereignty from becoming the right of powerful nations over weaker ones.

The WTO is crafted to take sovereignty “away from people and put it in the hands of investors,” Chomsky said.

Chomsky discussed the rhetoric of humanitarian intervention and of bringing civilization and rights to an impoverished people that surrounded Japan’s invasion of Manchuria, Mussolini in Ethiopia, and Hitler’s annexation of the Sudetenland

“A century later the same rhetoric resounds with about as much plausibility,” Chomsky said.

Chomsky argued that the U.S. uses the same rhetoric to justify both the U.S. bombing in Yugoslavia and its lack of action during Indonesia’s massacres of the East Timorese.

U.S. action condemned in East Timor

In particular, Chomsky attacked U.S. policy in Indonesia, tracing back to U.S. support of former President Suharto.

Suharto invaded Indonesia in 1975 “with extensive U.S. aid and support,” Chomsky said. “He had come to power with a Rwanda-style slaughter and was received with unrestrained enthusiasm” by the United States.

Suharto stayed “our kind of guy” until 1997, Chomsky said, when he lost control after Southeast Asia’s economic collapse. And with just a word from the United States, Suharto handed power over to Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie within two days of our communication of discontent, Chomsky said.

“All that needed to be done was for the U.S. to advise Indonesia that the game was over. The issue of sovereignty never arose ... [Indonesia’s sovereignty over East Timor] was based on the fact that the U.S. had authorized it,” Chomsky said.

Furthermore, Chomsky pointed out that U.S. military intervention and support in the affairs of countries like Indonesia, Yugoslavia, and Israel has gone against numerous resolutions made by the United Nations since 1949.

The UN rules “against humanitarian intervention because it would always be the right of the strong to attack the right of the weak,” Chomsky said.

Serbian bombing, Israeli policies

“The U.S. consistently opposed the rule of law and consistently” espoused “rule of force,” Chomsky said. He noted that the United States used the ‘rule of force’ in Yugoslavia as well as Indonesia over the past year.

“Outside the West, [the U.S. bombing of Yugoslavia] was roundly condemned,” Chomsky said. The U.S. had in fact anticipated that the bombing would increase the number of violent acts against Kosovar civilians, he said.

“It was never the intention of political leadership to deal with ethnic cleansing, and, in fact, most of it happened after the bombing,’ Chomsky said.

In a question and answer session after his speech, an audience member asked Chomsky why he didn’t mention America’s support of Israel as an example of America’s might makes right interpretation of sovereignty. Last Friday Israel launched air strikes in south Lebanon in response to the death of an Israeli soldier.

“What is called in the West terrorism in the rest of the world would be called resistance,” Chomsky said.

The U.S. condemns Hezbollah’s actions “in their own country against an occupying country,” Chomsky said. Lebanese aggression against Israel “is the result of occupation ... bombing plants in Beirut [as Israel did] is a straight-out war crime.”

However, Chomsky said that U.S. sanctions against Israel would create a backlash against Palestinians and Lebanese, much like the bombing of Yugoslavia caused increased human rights atrocities against Kosovars. “[Sanctions] would make Israel respond in a way that would make Milosevic look like Mahatma Ghandi,” Chomsky said.