US-EU Relations

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Matic Primc

Spekter (Slovenia), September 10, 2008

PRIMC: What is the political relationship between the EU and the US? How does US influence show itself in domestic and foreign policy within the EU? Are there any areas of policy which exibit sharp breaks between US and EU policy?

CHOMSKY: During World War II, the US laid plans for global hegemony, assigning each region of the world its »function« within the system that was designed. Europe of course was the region of greatest importance. The US (with British support) therefore devoted considerable effort to ensuring that Western Europe would be reconstructed in ways that conformed to US interests. That entailed such actions as undermining the anti-fascist resistance, restoring much of the traditional order including Fascist and Nazi collaborators, re-establishing the Mafia (and with it, the international narcotics industry), and much more. But there was also concern from the earliest days that Europe might pursue an independent path and become a »third force« — perhaps something like De Gaulle’s vision of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. The US therefore always had an ambivalent attitude towards European unification. It offered US corporations enormous advantages because of their scale and depth, and it could be a supporter of US global designs. But on the other hand, it was potentially powerful enough to pursue an independent course.

US attitudes towards the EU conform to these long-lasting concerns. They were made quite explicit in Donald Rumsfeld’s distinction between »Old Europe« (bad) and »New Europe« (good) when the US was trying to drum up support for the Iraq war. The criterion distinguishing them was very clear: Old Europe consisted of the countries where the government took the position of the large majority of the population, and opposed the war. New Europe consisted of the countries where the government opposed even larger majorities of the population and followed orders from Washington. The leaders of New Europe were Italy’s Berlusconi and Spain’s Aznar, who was even invited to the Azores summit where Bush and Blair declared war. Aznar joined with the support of 2% of the population, and was therefore hailed as a leader in bringing democracy to the world.

All of this passed without comment, at the same time that Western intellectuals were lauding themselves for their profound dedication to Bush’s democracy crusade. The events reveal,, once again, that there are few limits to conformism to power on the part of the educated classes.

But there was more to the Old-New Europe distinction than that. Old Europe was the industrial and commercial heartland, and the center of potential European independence: Germany and France. The US wants to reduce their influence and increase its own. Therefore it has strongly favored admission into the EU of former Soviet satellites, which it assumes will be easily controlled, and will bring Europe into closer conformity to US global ambitions.

By and large, Europe has gone along with US demands, even while strongly disagreeing with Washington’s positions. That has happened all over the world. It might not persist into the future, however.

PRIMC: The foreign policies of the US and Slovenia seem to be very similar. Despite very large public oposition (only 3.6% supported military action at the time the troops were sent) Slovenian army is both in Afghanistan as well as Iraq, Slovenia supported the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state and yet does not support recognition of South Ossetia. What do you beleive is the reason for this similarity?

CHOMSKY: That is for people who know about Slovenia to answer. And, in my opinion at least, to change, at least if Slovenians hope to live in an independent and democratic society.

PRIMC: We hear pledges about promoting democracy, reducing poverty and fostering developement both from the EU and the US. Are these pledges genuine and how do they present themselves in foreign policy actions?

CHOMSKY: Everyone speaks about these goals, even Stalin. Accordingly, they carry no information, even in the technical sense: they are the predictable oratory of leaders. In the case of the US, the matter has been carefully studied, right in the mainstream. The leading scholar/advocate of Democracy Promotion is Thomas Carothers, a highly respected figure, who describes himself as a neo-Reaganite. He has written several books on the topic, reaching right to the present. He concludes, ruefully, that US administrations support democracy if and only if that conforms to their strategic and economic objectives. Every president, he says, is oddly »schizophrenic« in that regard. In simple language, it is sheer fraud, like most pronouncements of noble intent on the part of the powerful.

On poverty and development, unfortunately, it is much the same, also a well-studied matter. I have not looked into scholarship on the EU with comparable care, but from what I know, I think the picture is much the same, with scattered exceptions.

It is interesting to compare policy with public attitudes. Take foreign aid. Americans consistently object that foreign aid is too high: we are giving away our hard-earned money to worthless foreigners. However, when asked what they think the right level should be, they consistently give a figure far higher than what it is. That suggests that people are quite decent, but have been victimized by incessant propaganda. I do not know of similar studies in Europe.

PRIMC: Why do you beleive NATO keeps expanding given the fact that it was created to defend Europe against the Soviet Union which ofcourse does not exist anymore?

CHOMSKY: The rational conclusion is that it was not created to defend Europe against the USSR, even though that might have been one purpose. Another rational conclusion, also supported by its earlier history, is that from the US perspective, a primary goal – maybe the primary goal – was to ensure that Europe would be subject to US control. There is no space to review the matter here, but there is ample documentary and historical evidence supporting such conclusions.

PRIMC: How do you perceive the recent conflict in Georgia? What are the global implications of it?

CHOMSKY: Afraid I can’t answer this briefly. I’ll attach a current article about it.

PRIMC: What role did the US and EU play in the breakup of former Yugoslavia? Was it an engineered dissolution of a country or was it merely helped along and made sure to develop along the wishes of the »west«?

CHOMSKY: Putting aside Slovenia, which is a special case, public opinion in Yugoslavia seemed to be in favor of maintaining the federation. The US at first took the same position. Under German initiative, the EU quickly recognized Croatia without taking into account the rights of the substantial Serb minority. That was a recipe for civil conflict, which soon ensued. As Yugoslavia fractured, the US entered in support of the Bosnian Muslims, mostly for great power reasons. Clinton convinced Izetgebovic to reject the Vance-Owen plan, thereby undermining the best hope for a peaceful settlement and laying the basis for vicious conflict, which ended with a settlement not very different from that plan, except that hopes for peaceful reconstruction are far more remote. A great deal of self-serving mythology has been concocted by Western intellectuals about all of this, impossible to unravel here.

PRIMC: It seems there is a trend in the world of countries reducing their social support networks which is very unpopular. It has been happening in Slovenia as well. We hear that this is necessary in order to foster economic developement and that we are forced to do this because of globalization. It seems though that some areas of the world seem to be developing quite well even though they are radically increasing social spending. What part does globalisation play in this process if any and is it really unavoidable?

CHOMSKY: Many words of political discourse have two meanings: a literal meaning, and a doctrinal meaning that is used for political warfare. The term »globalization« is no exception.

In its literal meaning, »globalization« refers to international integration. Virtually everyone is in favor of globalization in this sense. Its most active and committed proponents are those who meet in the annual World Social Forum, and the associated regional and local social forums all over the world. They are called »anti-globalization,« which means that they oppose globalization in the doctrinal sense: a specific form of international economic integration designed by multinational corporations and the powerful states that cater to them, and of course designed in the interests of the designers. This form of »globalization« involves a mixture of liberalization and protectionism, and many measures that have little to do with trade in any meaningful sense, though the term »trade« is often introduced to allow them to fall under World Trade Organization rules. Naturally, this form of »globalization« and the neoliberal doctrines in which it is couched call for weakening social support systems while increasing the power of what has properly been called »the conservative nanny state« that serves the interests of concentrations of economic power. Perhaps some ideologues actually delude themselves into believing that this has to do with economic development. It doesn’t. For most it is probably just a device to increase their power and influence.

PRIMC: Nonetheless of all the influence the US has exerted on the world, that influence seems to be declining globally, partly due to the weakening of the US economy and also due to loss of whatever moral luster it seemed to have in the past. Is this perception correct? Will the decline be reversed and if not is the american empire likely to go as quietly as the soviet empire did?

CHOMSKY: The Bush administration, demonstrably, succeeded in greatly increasing dislike and fear of the United States throughout the world. Nevertheless, the US remains by far the most powerful state in the world, and has enormous advantages in just about every dimension. There is no reasonable comparison to the old Soviet Union. There is little reason to doubt that it will continue to be the major actor in the world scene for some time to come. There is much talk about the rising power of China and India, and their return to the position of global prominence they maintained before European colonization. But they have enormous internal problems. Merely to illustrate, in the UN Human Development Index China ranks 81 and India 128 (actually below its ranking before the partial neoliberal reforms). Europe could, as before, follow an independent path, but there seems to be little sign of that at present.