Rogues Gallery,
Rogue States,
Crisis in the Balkans

excerpted from the book

Rogue States

The Rule of Force in World Affairs

by Noam chomsky

South End Press, 2000, paper


Rogues Gallery

Though international norms are not rigidly determined, there is a measure of agreement on general guidelines. In the post-World War II period, these norms are partially codified in the UN Charter, International Court of Justice decisions, and various conventions and treaties., The US regards itself as exempt from these conditions ...

To mention another illustration of contemporary relevance, when Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 it was ordered to withdraw at once by the UN Security Council, but to no avail. The reasons were explained in his 1978 memoirs by UN Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

The United States wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.

He goes on to report that within two months some 60,000 people had been killed. The numbers reached about 200,000 within a few years, thanks to increasing military support from the US, joined by Britain as atrocities peaked in 1978. Their support continued through 1999, as Kopassus commandoes, armed and trained by the US, organized "Operation Clean Sweep" from January, killing 3,000 to 5,000 people by August, according to credible Church sources, and later expelling 750,000 people-85 percent of the population-and virtually destroying the country.

US support for Indonesian aggression and slaughter was almost reflexive. The murderous and corrupt General Suharto was "our kind of guy," the Clinton administration explained, as he had been ever since he supervised a Rwanda-style massacre in 1965 that elicited unrestrained euphoria in the US. So he remained, while compiling one of the worst human rights records of the modern era ...

... Saddam Hussein, was also supported through his worst atrocities, changing status only when he disobeyed (or misunderstood) orders. There is a long series of similar illustrations: Trujillo, Mobutu, Marcos, Duvalier, Noriega, and many others. Crimes are not of great consequence; disobedience is.

Rendering the UN "utterly ineffective" has been routine procedure since the organization fell out of control with decolonization. One index is Security Council vetoes, covering a wide range of issues: from the 1960s, the US has been far in the lead, Britain second, France a distant third. General Assembly votes are similar. The more general principle is that if an international organization does not serve the interests that govern US policy, there is little reason to allow it to survive.

The reasons for dismissing international norms were elaborated by the Reagan administration when the World Court was considering Nicaragua's charges against the US. Secretary of State George Shultz derided those who advocate "utopian, legalistic means like outside mediation, the United Nations, and the World Court, while ignoring the power element of the equation." State Department legal advisor Abraham Sofaer explained that most of the world cannot "be counted on to share our view," and the "majority often opposes the United States on important international questions." Accordingly, we must "reserve to ourselves the power to determine" how we will act and which matters fall "essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of the United States, as determined by the United States"-in this case, the actions that the Court condemned as the "unlawful use of force" against Nicaragua.

The Court called on Washington to desist and pay substantial reparations, also ruling that all aid to the mercenary forces attacking Nicaragua was military, not humanitarian. Accordingly, the Court was dismissed as a "hostile forum" (New York Times) that had discredited itself by condemning the US, which reacted by escalating the war and dismissing the call for reparations. The US then vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling on all states to observe international law, and voted in virtual isolation against similar General Assembly resolutions. All of this considered so insignificant that it was barely reported just as the official reactions have been ignored. Aid was called "humanitarian" until the US victory.

The rogue state doctrine remained in force when the Democrats returned to the White House. President Clinton informed the United Nations in 1993 that the US will act "multilaterally when possible, but unilaterally when necessary," a position reiterated a year later by UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright and in 1999 by Secretary of Defense William Cohen, who declared that the US is committed to "unilateral use of military power" to defend vital interests, which include "ensuring uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources," and indeed anything that Washington might determine to be thin its "domestic jurisdiction."

The human toll is too vast to try to calculate, but for rogue states with tremendous power, crimes do not matter. They are eliminated from history or transmuted into benign intent that sometimes goes awry. Thus, at the outer limits of admissible critique, the war against South Vietnam, then all of Indochina, began with "blundering efforts to do good," though "by 1969" it had become clear "that the intervention had been a disastrous mistake" because the US "could not impose a solution except at a price too costly to itself." Robert McNamara's apology for the war was addressed to Americans, and was either condemned as treachery (by hawks) or considered highly meritorious and courageous (by doves): If millions of dead litter the ruins of the countries devastated by our assault, and still die from unexploded ordnance and the lingering effects of chemical warfare, that is not our concem, and calls for no apology, let alone reparations or war crimes trials.

Quite the contrary. The US is hailed as the leader of the "enlightened states" that are entitled to resort to violence as they see fit. In the Clinton years its foreign policy has ascended to a "noble phase" with a "saintly glow" (according to the New York Times), as America is "at the height of its glory," with a record unsullied by international crimes, only a few of which have been mentioned.

Rogue states that are internally free-and the US is at the outer limits in this respect-must rely on the willingness of the educated classes to produce accolades and to tolerate or deny terrible crimes.


Rogue States


The British used chemical weapons in their 1919 intervention in North Russia against the Bolsheviks, with great success, according to the British command. As Secretary of State at the War Office in 1919, Winston Churchill was enthusiastic about the prospects of "using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes"-Kurds and Afghans-and authorized the RAF Middle East command to use chemical weapons "against recalcitrant Arabs as [an] experiment," dismissing objections by the India office as "unreasonable" and deploring the "squeamishness about the use of gas": "We cannot in any circumstances acquiesce in the non-utilization of any weapons which are available to procure a speedy termination of the disorder which prevails on the frontier," he explained; chemical weapons are merely "the application of western science to modern warfare."

The Kennedy administration pioneered the massive use of chemical weapons against civilians as it launched its attack against South Vietnam in 1961-62. There has been much rightful concern about the effects on US soldiers, but not the incomparably worse effects on civilians. Here, at least. In an Israeli mass-circulation daily, the respected journalist Amnon Kapeliouk reported on his 1988 visit to Vietnam, where he found that "thousands of Vietnamese still die from the effects of American chemical warfare," citing estimates of one-quarter of a million victims in South Vietnam and describing the "terrifying" scenes in hospitals in the South, where children were dying of cancer and hideous birth deformities. It was South Vietnam that was targeted for chemical warfare, not the North, where these consequences are not found, he reports. There is also substantial evidence of US use of biological weapons against Cuba, reported as minor news in 1977, and at worst only a small cotinuing US terror.

These precedents aside, the US and UK are now engaged in a deadly form of biological warfare in Iraq. The destruction of infrastructure and banning of imports to repair it has caused disease, malnutrition, and early death on a huge scale, including more than 500,000 children, according to UNICEF investigations-an average of 5,000 children dying each month. In a bitter condemnation of the sanctions on January 20, 1998, 54 Catholic bishops quoted the archbishop of the southern region of Iraq, who reports that "epidemics rage, taking away infants and the sick by the thousands," while "those children who survive disease succumb to malnutrition." The bishops' statement, reported in full in Stanley Heller's journal The Struggle, received scant mention in the press. The US and Britain have taken the lead in blocking aid programs-for example, delaying approval for ambulances on the grounds that they could be used to transport troops, and barring insecticides for preventing the spread of disease and spare parts for sanitation systems.


Crisis in the Balkans

Every year thousands of people, mostly children and poor farmers, are killed in the Plain of Jars in Northern Laos, the scene of the heaviest bombing of civilian targets in history, it appears, and arguably the most cruel: Washington's furious assault on a poor peasant society had little to do with its wars in the region. The worst period was after 1968, when Washington was compelled to undertake negotiations (under popular and business pressure), ending the regular bombardment of North Vietnam. Kissinger and Nixon then shifted the planes to the task of bombarding Laos and Cambodia.

The deaths are from "bombies," tiny anti-personnel weapons, far worse than land mines: they are designed specifically to kill and maim, and have no effect on trucks, buildings, etc. The Plain was saturated with hundreds of millions of these criminal devices, which have a failureto-explode rate of 20 30 percent, according to the manufacturer, Honeywell. The numbers suggest either remarkably poor quality control or a rational policy of murdering civilians by delayed action. This was only a fraction of the technology deployed, which also included advanced missiles to penetrate caves where families sought shelter. Current annual casualties from "bombies" are estimated from hundreds a year to "an annual nationwide casualty rate of 20,000," more than half of them deaths, according to the veteran Asia reporter Barry Wain of the, Wall Street Journal-in its Asia edition. A conservative estimate, then, is that the crisis this year is approximately comparable to Kosovo, though deaths are far more highly concentrated among children-over half, according to studies reported by the Mennonite Central Committee, which has been working in Laos since 1977 to alleviate the continuing atrocities.

There have been efforts to publicize and deal with the humanitarian catastrophe. A British-based Mine Advisory Group (MAG) is trying to remove the lethal objects, but the US is "conspicuously missing from the handful of western organizations that have followed MAG," the British press reports, though it has finally agreed to train some Laotian civilians. The British press also reports, with some annoyance, the allegation of MAG specialists that the US refuses to provide them with "render harmless procedures" that would make their work "a lot quicker and a lot safer." These remain a state secret, as does the whole affair in the United States. The Bangkok press reports a very similar situation in Cambodia, particularly the eastern region, where US bombardment after early 1969 was most intense.

In this case, the US reaction is (II): do nothing. And the reaction of the media and commentators is to keep silent, following the norms under which the war against Laos was designated a "secret war"-meaning well-known, but suppressed, as was also in the case of Cambodia from March 1969. The level of self-censorship was extraordinary then, as is ~ the current phase.

The. contempt of the world's leading power for the framework of world order has become so extreme that there is little left to discuss. While the Reaganites broke new ground, under Clinton the defiance of world order has become so extreme as to be of concern even to hawkish policy analysts. In the leading establishment journal Foreign A~airs, Samuel Huntington warns that Washington is treading a dangerous course. In the eyes of much of the world-probably most of the world, he suggests- the US is "becoming the rogue superpower," considered "the single greatest external threat to their societies." Realist "international relations theory," he argues, predicts that coalitions may arise to counterbalance the rogue superpower. On pragmatic grounds, then, the stance should be reconsidered. Americans who prefer a different image of their society might have other grounds for concern over these tendencies, but they are probably of little concern to planners, with their narrower focus and immersion in ideology

Rogue States

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