Is the Russian Military a Paper Tiger or an awesome military machine? Make your mind up!
Professor Noam Chomsky is one of the most influential public intellectuals in the world. He has written more than 100 books, including, most recently, Consequences of Capitalism: Manufacturing Discontent and Resistance, co-authored with Marv Waterstone, and, forthcoming, The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power with Vijay Prashad.
He is currently the Laureate Professor at the University of Arizona and Professor Emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy.
Chomsky is known for his anti-war, anti-capitalist, and anti-Zionist positions.
Chomsky’s journey to political prominence began with his anti-Vietnam War essay, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” published in 1967, which led to his inclusion on President Richard Nixon’s enemies’ list in 1971.
On the Ukraine Russian war, Chomsky asked some very awkward questions many on the Left now want to ignore.
This interview has been lightly edited for grammar and clarity.
Noam Chomsky: I’ll just say a couple of words actually, I don’t really have a great deal to say about the question of Sweden also Finland and NATO, mostly puzzlement.
I will be brief and I hope the discussion will help me to resolve my apparent misunderstanding. The puzzles have to do with what seems to be a contradiction. So two ideas are predominant in Western discourse concerning these matters.
Russia is a Paper Tiger…
The first idea is unrestrained, gloating over Putin’s demonstration that the Russian military is a Paper Tiger. It’s incapable even of conquering cities a few kilometres from its border that are defended by a mostly, citizen army. It’s with great excitement about the exposure of the fact that this is a totally incompetent military force. That’s one idea.
Russia is an awesome military machine…
The other idea is that we must cower in terror before this awesome military machine which is about to attack and overwhelmed anyone and everyone in its path, even though it plainly has no capacity to do so and has never even hinted at such a thought. Never mind. We must arm ourselves to the teeth.
We must join the most powerful military machine force in world history. A military alliance that of course pretends to be defensive as all military forces do. But it’s plainly an offensive force as its record clearly demonstrates. And of course, its core military component, US – UK that’s the military base for NATO. They have a long record up to the present of aggression, violence and subversion.
But we have to do this heightening tensions to protect ourselves from the Paper Tiger. That is so incompetent. It can’t conquer cities a couple of kilometres from its border that are not even defended by a major army, but a citizens army.
Well, something seems to be a miss. Well, maybe you can explain it to me.
All the other side Sweden and Finland or substantial military powers. Not on the scale of the United States and Britain but quite substantial. According to military sources which will now be quoting Atlantic Council. Finland has the largest reserve force in Europe and can mobilize 280,000 troops. Still quoting, its decision last year to replace its F18 combat aircraft with F35 fighters. The most advanced in the world will make its air force one of Europe’s best.
For its part, Sweden has also been strengthening its forces. Its military industry is so closely integrated with the United States that the US has even relaxed the buy American condition for Sweden, basically regarding the Swedish military industry as part of the U. S. System.
Both Finland and Sweden have close relations with the United States and NATO. They participate in what are called out of area operations, meaning mostly offensive and aggressive. Despite pretences including the Balkans in Afghanistan and they take part in NATO exercises but that’s not enough to protect themselves from the floundering Paper Tiger.
So that’s my puzzlement. So maybe you can explain to me where I’m missing?
This video was a part section of the “Global conversations” series, University College Stockholm and Sankt Ignatios College organized a discussion on the topic “Sweden in NATO? The Future of East-West Relations after the War in Ukraine.” The guest speaker was Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned political thinker, activist, public intellectual, philosopher and linguist who joined online. The conversation was led by Davor Džalto, professor in the Department of Eastern Christian Studies at UCS.
Professor Chomsky recently came on the Current Affairs podcast to talk to editor in chief Nathan J. Robinson about the threat of nuclear war, how American culture often promotes indifference to the suffering of people in other countries, and the history of U.S. foreign policy that brought us to this point.
Chomsky on Zelensky and where this war is going.
“Well, I would not criticize Zelensky. He’s acting with great courage, great integrity. You can understand and sympathize with his position from where he sits. However, the Pentagon has a wiser stand. Yes, we could enter the war.
We could provide Zelensky with jet planes and advanced weapons. Pretty soon Putin would be radically escalating the attack on Ukraine, would wipe it out which he has the capacity to do. He would be attacking the supply chains that are providing advanced weapons. And we’d be in a war, which would be a nuclear war, which would wipe us all out.
So I’m not criticizing Zelensky; he’s an honourable person and has shown great courage. You can sympathize with his position. But you can also pay attention to the reality of the world. And that’s what it implies.
I’ll go back to what I said before: there are basically two options. One option is to pursue the policy we are now following, to quote Ambassador Freeman again, to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian. And yes, we can pursue that policy with the possibility of nuclear war. Or we can face the reality that the only alternative is a diplomatic settlement, which will be ugly—it will give Putin and his narrow circle an escape hatch. It will say, Here’s how you can get out without destroying Ukraine and going on to destroy the world.
We know the basic framework is neutralisation of Ukraine, some kind of accommodation for the Donbas region, with a high level of autonomy, maybe within some federal structure in Ukraine, and recognizing that, like it or not, Crimea is not on the table. You may not like it, you may not like the fact that there’s a hurricane coming tomorrow, but you can’t stop it by saying, “I don’t like hurricanes,” or “I don’t recognize hurricanes.” That doesn’t do any good. And the fact of the matter is, every rational analyst knows that Crimea is, for now, off the table.
That’s the alternative to the destruction of Ukraine and nuclear war. You can make heroic statements, if you’d like, about not liking hurricanes, or not liking the solution. But that’s not doing anyone any good.
Chomsky on Europe
“Since the Second World War, the U.S. position was that Europe should fall within what’s called the Atlanticist framework, the native framework, which the U.S. runs. Europe should be subordinate to the United States. That’s one option.
The other option is a European Common home, independent force in world affairs, no military alliances—that’s been a struggle all the way through since the Second World War, very much alive today.
Macron and his limited initiatives towards Putin were pushing in the same direction. Putin in his criminal stupidity lost the opportunity. If there had been a single statesman in the Kremlin, what they would have done is grasp that opportunity.
Europe had many reasons to want to have better relations with Russia. Trade complementarity, which is perfectly obvious, lots of reasons. Would have been an inducement; could have worked. We don’t know. They didn’t try it.
Instead, Putin did what every man of violence does: reach for the violent option, attack Ukraine with criminal aggression, and hand the United States on a silver platter its most fervent wish: Europe deep in its pocket. More than ever before.
The greatest gift that the Kremlin could have given Washington, while it stabs itself in the back. That’s called statesmanship. Okay. Quite apart from the criminal aggression.
That happens to be the current state of the world. And Europe is falling for it. Like Germany, we have to arm ourselves to defend ourselves from a military force that can’t conquer a city a couple of miles from its border.