Renowned academic and political analyst Noam Chomsky recently spoke about a disturbing upshot of the Syria strikes. But despite the British media giving near wall-to-wall coverage of the strikes themselves, it’s been very quiet about this concerning effect.
Escalating towards nuclear war
Chomsky and Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg discussed the topic of nuclear war at the University of Arizona on 24 April. The editor-in-chief of The Intercept, Betsy Reid, moderated the discussion.
During the event, Chomsky spoke about the recent military action in Syria by the US, the UK and France in response to an alleged chemical attack. He asserted that the action, although “mostly symbolic”, did have a consequence. He explained [57.26]:
Russia threatened, I don’t know if they’re going to do it, but they threatened to… install advanced anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems in Syria.
Chomsky is referring to a claim [paywall] made by Russian officials to the Kommersant on 23 April. They told [paywall] the newspaper that Russia may provide S-300 anti-aircraft defence systems to Syria. Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has also spoken on the matter, saying [paywall] the country has not yet decided whether to do so.
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Chomsky continued, noting one player in the region which has vowed to oppose the deployment of such a defence system:
Israel’s not going to tolerate that… Israel, they announced right away, and will do it, will do whatever they can to destroy them. At that point, they get into confrontation with the Russians. What goes on then?
Israel has targeted [paywall] Syrian defence systems regularly recently. But Russian officials have said [paywall] there will be “catastrophic consequences” if Israel attacks the advanced systems, should it deploy them. For its part, Israel has vowed [paywall] to “destroy” any system that attacks one of its aircraft.
Asking for disaster
Chomsky also noted another issue in the rising tensions between Russia and the US, the UK and France. He raised the 2016 decision of NATO – of which the US, the UK and France are part – to place troops in Eastern Europe. NATO used fears over Russia’s ‘expansionism’ to justify its actions. Chomsky said [55.43]:
The simple fact of advancing NATO to the Russian border… is virtually asking for disaster.
Chomsky argued that this “sets up situations” that could easily lead to the two sides coming into conflict with each other.
Ellsberg has recently published a book on nuclear war. Called The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, it’s based on his time in the Pentagon. And, from his experience, he agreed with Chomsky’s warning that escalation could easily occur. Ellsberg said:
I think it’s been a miracle that we haven’t had a two-sided nuclear war [over the last 70 years]. And it will be another miracle if we go another 70 years… we have gotten away with it so far but, as Noam was saying, it’s taking a gamble that… is hard to describe in moral terms.
A chronicle of human madness
The idea of our leaders taking a “gamble” with nuclear war is indeed “hard to describe in moral terms”. But that’s exactly what they’re doing. NATO poses a direct threat to Russia, a heavily nuclear-armed state, by deploying on its borders. And the US, the UK and France bombed its ally – Syria – over an alleged chemical attack before confirmation of it, and who carried it out, had taken place. Now, one of America’s closest allies – Israel – is threatening to “destroy” the systems Russia has said it might use to protect its ally from “aggression”.
As Chomsky notes in the discussion, Ellsberg has described his book on nuclear war as a “chronicle of human madness”. And that “madness” doesn’t appear to be dissipating any time soon. In fact, it appears we’re dependent on Russian restraint, and its leader not to respond in kind, in order to not topple over the brink.
Given that Western leaders and media outlets largely characterise Russia as an irrational, violent, and arrogant rogue state, that’s very alarming indeed.
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