Let’s Focus on Preventing Nuclear War, Rather Than Debating “Just War”

NATO leaders announced Wednesday that the alliance plans to reinforce its eastern front by deploying many more troops in countries like Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia — including thousands of U.S. troops — and sending “equipment to help Ukraine defend itself against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.” And while the NATO alliance itself is not directly providing weapons to Ukraine, many of its member countries are pouring weapons into Ukraine, including missiles and rockets, machine guns, and many other items.

In all likelihood, Russian President Vladimir Putin believed that his military would overrun Ukraine within a matter of a few days on February 24, when he ordered an invasion into the neighboring country after a long and massive military buildup on Ukraine’s border.

One month later, however the war continues and many cities in Ukraine have been hit by Russian air raids. Peace talks have stalled, and it is unclear whether Putin still wants to overthrow the government or is instead aiming now for a “neutral” Ukraine.

In the interview that follows, world-renowned scholar and leading dissident voice Noam Chomsky shares his thoughts and insights about the available options for an end to the war in Ukraine, and ponders the idea of “just” war and whether the war in Ukraine could potentially lead to the collapse of Putin’s regime.

Chomsky is widely recognized as one the most important intellectuals living. His intellectual stature has been compared with that of Newton, Galileo, and Descartes. His work has had a tremendous influence on many areas of scientific inquiry including linguistics and logic, mathematics, psychology, media studies and philosophy. He is the author of some 150 books and the recipient of scores of highly prestigious awards, including the Sydney Peace Prize and the Kyoto Prize (Japan’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize), and of dozens of honorary doctorate degrees from the world’s most renowned universities. Chomsky is currently Laureate Professor at Arizona University and Institute Professor Emeritus at MIT.

C.J. Polychroniou : Noam, we’re already a month into war in Ukraine and peace negotiations have stalled. As the West increases military assistance to Ukraine, Putin is increasing the volume of violence. In a Previous interview, you compared Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to the Nazi invasion of Poland. Is Putin’s strategy then straight out of Hitler’s playbook? Is he trying to occupy Ukraine in its entirety? Is he trying the rebuild the Russian Empire? Is this why peace talks have stalled at all?

Noam Chomsky: Very little credible information is available about the negotiations. Some of the information that is being leaked sounds optimistic. There are good reasons to believe that the chances of ending the horror could be improved if the U.S. agreed to participate in a serious manner with a constructive plan.

It is not difficult to see what a constructive program would look like, at least in its general outline. The primary element is commitment to neutrality for Ukraine: no membership in a hostile military alliance, no hosting of weapons aimed at Russia (even those misleadingly called “defensive”), no military maneuvers with hostile military forces.

This would be nothing new in world affairs, even if it was already established. Everyone understands that Mexico cannot join a Chinese-run military alliance, emplace Chinese weapons aimed at the U.S., and carry out military maneuvers with the People’s Liberation Army.

A constructive program is, in short, the opposite of the. Joint Statement on the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic PartnershipThe White House signed the document on September 1, 2021. The document, which was not widely known, declared that Ukraine could join NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization). It also “finalized a Strategic Defense Framework that creates a foundation for the enhancement of U.S.-Ukraine strategic defense and security cooperation” by providing Ukraine with advanced anti-tank and other weapons along with a “robust training and exercise program in keeping with Ukraine’s status as a NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner.”

This statement was another deliberate attempt to poke the bear in its eye. It is another contribution to a process that NATO (meaning Washington) has been perfecting since Bill Clinton’s 1998 violation of George H.W. Bush’s firm pledge not to expand NATO to the East, a decision that elicited strong warnings from high-level diplomats from George Kennan, Henry Kissinger, Jack Matlock, (current CIA Director) William Burns and many others, and led Defense Secretary William Perry to come close to resigning in protest, joined by a long list of others with eyes open. That’s of course in addition to the aggressive actions that struck directly at Russia’s concerns (Serbia, Iraq, Libya, and lesser crimes), conducted in such a way as to maximize the humiliation.

It doesn’t strain credulity to suspect that that the Joint Statement was a factor in inducing Putin and the narrowing circle of “hard men” around him to decide to step up their annual mobilization of forces on the Ukrainian border in an effort to gain some attention to their security concerns, in this case on to direct criminal aggression — which, indeed, we can compare with the Nazi invasion of Poland (in combination with Stalin).

A constructive program does not only include neutralizing Ukraine, but it also includes other elements. There should be efforts to create a federal arrangement with Ukraine that gives the Donbass a certain degree of autonomy, similar to what is left from Minsk II. This would be nothing new in international affairs. There are no two cases exactly the same, and there is no perfect example. federal structures exist in Switzerland and Belgium, among other cases — even the U.S. to an extent. This problem might be solved by serious diplomatic efforts, or at the very least contained.

The flames are real. Since 2014, it is estimated that 15,000 people have been killed in conflicts in this region.

Crimea is left to the West. The West has two options regarding Crimea. The West has two options regarding Crimea. One is to accept that Russia’s annexation is an inevitable fact of life at the moment. It is irreversible without taking drastic actions that would endanger Ukraine and possibly many more. The other is to disregard the highly likely consequences and to strike heroic gestures about how the U.S. “will never recognize Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea,” as the Joint Statement proclaims, accompanied by many eloquent pronouncements by others who are willing to consign Ukraine to utter catastrophe while advertising their bravery.

These are your options, whether you like it or not.

Does Putin want to “occupy all of Ukraine and rebuild the Russian empire?” His announced goals (mainly neutralization) are quite different, including his statement that it would be madness to try to reconstruct the old Soviet Union, but he might have had something like this in mind. If so, it’s hard to imagine that he and his circle still do. Russia would occupy Ukraine and make the experience in Afghanistan seem like a picnic in a park. By now that’s abundantly clear.

Putin does have the military capacity — and judging by Chechnya and other escapades, the moral capacity — to leave Ukraine in smoldering ruins. This would be the end of any occupation, no Russian empire and no Putin.

Our eyes are rightly focused on the mounting horrors of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. It would be a mistake, however to forget that this Joint Statement is just one of the many pleasures that imperial minds are quietly conjuring up.

A few weeks ago, we discussed President Biden’s National Defense Authorization Act, as little known as the Joint Statement. This brilliant document — again quoting Michael Klare — calls for “an unbroken chain of U.S.-armed sentinel states — stretching from Japan and South Korea in the northern Pacific to Australia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Singapore in the south and India on China’s eastern flank” — meant to encircle China, including Taiwan, “ominously enough.”

It is possible to ask China how it feels about the U.S. Indo-Pacific command’s plan to increase the encirclement and double its spending in fiscal 2022. to develop “a network of precision-strike missiles along the so-called first island chain.”

For defense, the Chinese are, of course. [government has]There is no reason for concern.

There is little doubt that Putin’s aggression against Ukraine fails just war theoryNATO is morally responsible as well for the crisis. What about Ukraine arming civilians in order to resist the invaders’ attacks? Isn’t this morally justified on the same grounds that resistance against the Nazis was morally justified?

Just war theory, regrettably, has about as much relevance to the real world as “humanitarian intervention,” “responsibility to protect” or “defending democracy.”

It seems like a logical truth that people in arms have the right of self-defense against a brutal aggressor. It is a sad reality that questions will arise if we stop to think about it.

Take the resistance to the Nazis. There could not have been a nobler cause.

It is easy to understand and sympathize both with Herschel Grynszpan’s motives in assassinating a German diplomat in 1938 and the British-trained partisans in assassinating Nazi murderer Reinhard Heydrich, May 1942. Without qualification, one can admire their courage as well as their passion for justice.

That’s not the end, however. The Nazis used the first to justify the atrocities of Kristallnacht, and the Nazi program was further pushed towards its horrendous results. The shocking Lidice massacres were the result of the second.

Events have consequences. The innocent may suffer, sometimes terribly. People with a moral bone cannot ignore such questions. These questions will be raised when we discuss whether and how to arm those who courageously resist the violence of murder.

That’s the least of it. In this instance, we must also ask ourselves what risk we are willing to take for a nuclear attack, which would not only bring down Ukraine but go far beyond that to the unthinkable.

It is not encouraging. over a third of Americans favor “taking military action [in Ukraine] even if it risks a nuclear conflict with Russia,” perhaps inspired by commentators and political leaders who should think twice before doing their Winston Churchill impersonations.

There are ways to provide the necessary arms to Ukraine’s defenders to repel the aggressors and avoid dire consequences. It is not easy to believe that this is a straightforward matter, and can be settled with bold statements.

Do you expect dramatic political developments within Russia if the war rages on for a longer period of time or if Ukrainians continue resisting even after the formal battles are over? After all, Russia’s economy is already under siege and could end up with an economic collapse unparalleled in recent history.

I don’t know enough about Russia even to hazard a guess. One person who does know enough at least to “speculate” — and only that, as he reminds us — is Anatol Lieven, whose insights have been a very useful guide all along. He regards “dramatic political developments” as highly unlikely because of the nature of the harsh kleptocracy that Putin has carefully constructed. Among the more optimistic guesses, “the most likely scenario,” Lieven writes, “is a sort of semi-coup, most of which will never become apparent in public, by which Putin and his immediate associates will step down ‘voluntarily’ in return for guarantees of their personal immunity from arrest and their family’s wealth. Who would succeed as president in these circumstances is a totally open question.”

It’s not always a pleasant question to ask.