The New Cold War

In May 1994, to a packed house at the Almeida Theatre, Islington, London, Noam Chomsky appeared in debate with John Pilger. Red Pepper hosted the event; Harold Pinter was chair.

Hilary Wainwright [then political editor of Red Pepper; now editor]: Friends and comrades, welcome to this first Red Pepper forum, and also to the magazine. We wanted a way to present or re-establish the art of public conversation. In a sense it's more creative, particularly in the complex times we're in, than relying on an adversarial debate. It's more participatory than just a lecture, and perhaps more personal and pleasurable than a traditional public meeting.

It's appropriate that we're having this public conversation and that the Almeida Theatre is our forum. I'd like to thank Jonathan Kent and Ian McDiarmid for allowing us to have this theatre.

I don't need to introduce any of the three participants. They're all people who are fearless in searching out the truth and then finding every possible platform to make it public. But the more they discover the truth, the more public platforms are closed to them. They're individuals who in their particular chosen craft have achieved the highest possible skills, but aren't bogged down by the narrow professionalism that has stifled British political and intellectual life. In that sense they're that desperately scarce resource, an engaged public intellectual. And just before handing over to Harold Pinter I want to remember another exemplary public intellectual - Ralph Miliband - who died last Saturday, and I think that his determination to create an independent and internationalist left will inspire Red Pepper and be one of the spirits behind this conversation.

Harold Pinter: Thank you. Let me just say that what I intend to do is embark on this discussion for a while, and then in due course I'd like to invite you to participate and ask any questions of Noam Chomsky and John Pilger that you wish.

So let me kick off by saying that John, this title, the New Cold War, was your suggestion because you believe, quite properly I think, that the term the New World Order had been over used and was rather tired. So could you define a little more precisely what you mean by the New Cold War?

John Pilger: Well, of course it's heavily ironic: the original Cold War never ended. The Old Cold War was a war of attrition between the great nuclear powers, but it was a rhetorical stand-off, too. So often we were invited and manipulated to see it simply as a conflict between East and West, yet the Cold War always was, and still is, a war against the majority of humanity. It was a war fought with the blood of "expendable" people over strategic position, resources and it was a war of control - it was an imperialist war. The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States fought in the Third World was relatively insignificant compared with the war fought by the US against people trying to improve their position in the world. The Soviets never matched the Americans as imperialists; they were lousy imperialists outside their own borders.

The US established a network of control throughout the world in the postwar period, and that control has been shored up ever since. Now when the Communist world collapsed, of course the excuse to fight this war against the Third World collapsed with it, so other excuses had to be found, and these have never really been satisfactory. For instance, during the Gulf War, we went through a period of the "demon" excuse. Saddam Hussein was elevated to new Hitler status. This didn't really work but it did for a while; it certainly worked long enough for the US to lead a very considerable force against Iraq and cause the deaths of perhaps 200,000 people, wrecking a large part of the Middle East economy.

There have also been excuses of the Noriega variety: the reason for invading Panama was that Noriega was an international drug dealer, child molester and pornographer, and whatever he was, he had to be caught. Well of course, those weren't the real reasons at all. The US was demonstrating its power yet again.

Panama began the New Cold War, in which an Orwellian language would be employed that would make war equal to peace. For these actions against dictators who had previously been in the pay of, and with a client relationship to, the US, could be put down in the cause of a new peaceful world. But of course this was so transparent, there wasn't really any basis for people to take this on board, as many people hadn't been able to take on board the Communist threat, so I think we're back now to a more transparent Cold War - we're back to what the Cold War always was, a war against the Third World.

There's an interesting description of this, particularly relevant to the recent events in South Africa. One of the strategic planners of the Cold War, Thomas Schelling, referred to a global apartheid system, and he used South Africa as a metaphor for how the world could be planned. He said, and I quote, "If the US was to contemplate gradually relinquishing some measure of sovereignty in order to form not a more perfect, but a more effective legal structure, what familiar political entity might be the basis for our comparison? I find my own answer stunning and depressing: South Africa. We believe in a world that is one fifth rich, four-fifths poor; the rich are segregated into rich countries, and the poor into poor countries. The rich are predominantly lighter skinned, the poor darker skinned. Most of the poor live in homelands that are physically remote, often separated by oceans and great distances from the rich. Migration on any scale is impermissible. There is no systematic redistribution of income. While there is ethnic strife throughout the world, the strife is more vicious and destructive among the poor."

Now although Schelling's thesis may seem provocative, I think there's a great deal of truth in it because it really confirms the way the Old Cold War was laid down by one of Schelling's predecessors, George Kennan, whom Noam Chomsky has many times quoted as one of the real architects of the Old Cold War. In 1948, George Kennan's secret policy document said the main aim of US policy should be to ensure that 6 per cent of the world's population could exploit 50 per cent of the world's resources. Now the figures have slightly changed. It's now 5 per cent to 33 per cent, but when you include the rest of the rich North, the same situation applies. The US leads a world order, and leads a Cold War. It is buttressed by systems that weren't in place until after the Second World War. The media, for instance, and that's an area we will be discussing separately.

The media as a form of control, almost as a sort of counter-insurgency by other means, has become immensely powerful and has helped to confuse our own understanding of media, language and censorship.

The New Cold War means that statistically the rich have never been richer and the poor have never been poorer. The disparity in wealth is now greater than ever since records were kept. This is in large part due to the fact that there is now a structural way of imposing this poverty through international institutions. So you really don't need wars any more, you have the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund imposing structural adjustment programmes in some 70 countries, with Africa still paying back enormous interest on debts while their agricultural land is being stripped. Country after country is forced into a market economy, so there are more structural and also more subtle means of reinforcing the New Cold War than perhaps there were at the time of the Old Cold War.

Harold Pinter: Thank you very much.

Noam Chomsky: Well I agree with what John is saying - I think it could even be extended. It's perfectly true that the Cold War on the Russian side was a struggle to control their own satellites, and to establish the power of the ruling military and bureaucratic elites at home. On the American side, as John pointed out, it was a case of global power, not just regional power.

But the Cold War began with domestic issues in America: At home it meant establishing a certain form of state capitalism, which relied on the Pentagon system of maintaining high technology industry, and that's the reason why the Pentagon is not declining as the Cold War ends. The current budget is actually higher than it was under Richard Nixon and is expected to increase. And that's the core of the way in which advanced technology is sustained under the US system.

Globally the Cold War meant a policy of intervention around the world to ensure that the South would remain in its essentially service role. However, I think one can also say that the Cold War was an example of the North-South conflict. So what was the Cold War about, what was the conflict between the USSR and the US about?

In the early part of the 20th century, Eastern Europe was as impoverished as the Third World is today. In fact it was Europe's own Third World. And that goes back for centuries. Actually it goes back to when Eastern Europe and Western Europe began to separate, along a fault line running right through Germany during the 15th century, with the West beginning to develop and the East becoming an increasingly impoverished service area, providing resources and raw materials, and later on cheap labour and market investment opportunities, and, in the more recent period, a place to export pollution. The usual Third World amenities. And when there was some industrialisation in Russia, it was overwhelmingly based on Western capital. The typical Third World pattern. Well into the 20th century, if you look at the relative wealth of East and West Europe, the East was actually declining relative to the West.

Russia was a slightly unusual part of the Third World. It wanted respect on a bigger scale, and although it was a deeply impoverished peasant society, it had a powerful military in the 18th and l9th centuries.

The logic of the North-South relationship was very clear. The Third World is to play a service role, which means that any attempt towards independent development must be crushed. The British pioneered this in India; India had to be de-industrialised and ruralised, while Britain developed.

When the US took over global leadership in 1945, the policy became quite explicit. The documentary record from the time that John's quoting, in the 1940s, shows that the basic principle is that the US must prevent what is variously called radical nationalism, independent nationalism or economic nationalism. Various names for it, but it always means the same thing: Efforts to strike an independent course. The secret documents explain that the main US interests are threatened by nationalist regimes which are responsive to pressures from their own populations for improvement of low living standards and production for domestic use. That's got be stopped because we had the right to the resources, not they. We have to protect "our" resources.

The place where the US was really able to impose this resolve was Latin America; they had total control in the region after the Second World War. The US was finally able to kick Britain and France out of Latin America and took it over. Then it had to struggle against what was called the philosophy of the new nationalism - which was sweeping Latin America - the belief, the State Department explained in their secret documents, that the first, the prime beneficiaries of a country's resources should be the people of that country, and that these resources should be used for development and equal distribution. Well, that had to be stopped because the prime beneficiaries of the economies of the South were defined as the investors, the rich countries.

The Russian-Western relationship was exactly the same. The Bolshevik takeover was an effort by a Third World country to break out of the pattern of being a service area for Western power, and that could not be permitted.

Independent nationalism is unacceptable to the West, no matter where it is, and it has to be driven back into subordination. In the case of Grenada, you can do it in a weekend; in the case of the Soviet Union it may take 70 years. But these are matters of scale, the logic is essentially the same.

There is a second point that should be mentioned: there is something even worse than the threat of independent nationalism, and that's the threat of it being successful. There's a technical term for this - it's called the rotten apple. A rotten apple might spoil the barrel. Henry Kissinger preferred to call it a virus that might infect other regions. So, for example, Kissinger, when he was working to overthrow the Salvador Allende regime in Chile, warned that Chile was a virus that might infect other countries as far afield as Southern Italy. Kissinger understood that the Chilean army was not going to land in Rome. What he meant was straightforward: the threat that some kind of democratic socialism might succeed in a period when Communism was spreading - it might give other countries the idea that they could do the same thing. So that's what's called being a rotten apple or a virus - and if you look at the record of intervention, you discover that intervention is consistently aimed with the greatest harshness at what Oxfam once called the threat of a good example, the threat that a radical experiment might work.

Russia was instantly recognised to be a virus, that is, it was a model that others might imitate, not only in the Third World, but even at home, as for example, when striking Welsh miners appealed to the Russian model right away. This goes right up to the 1960s, with Harold Macmillan warning John F Kennedy that the Soviet development model might succeed, and in that case would really be dangerous. Not only because that huge part of the world would be "lost", but because others nearer home might try to emulate it. So here you have a huge rotten apple, massive and greater than all the other rotten apples, which provided a model that others might want to follow.

That in essence is the whole North-South conflict, which takes on a life of its own in this case for all kinds of reasons, but the basic structure goes back as far as the British conquest of India, back further if you want to push it, but in India it becomes a major issue and goes right up to the present. And with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Eastern Europe is actually being driven right back to Third World status, so it too is now subject to structural adjustment - and reverts to the standard Third World structure of having a very narrow sector of extreme wealth and privilege and a huge mass of really badly suffering people.

And the reason why in my opinion nothing changed at the end of the Cold War is that the policies continue exactly as before. As John mentioned, despite the changes in propaganda and pretexts, nothing really changes - it goes on exactly as before. The result of victory in the Cold War is that the traditional European Third World is now a genuine Third World once more, and can be integrated as such into the global economy.

This offers new weapons against people in the West. Just as in the past, General Motors, say, could switch production to northern Mexico to undermine wages and working conditions for US workers, now General Motors has put factories in Poland or Hungary where they can get workers for a fraction of the cost of what the business press calls the "pampered" West European workers with their "luxurious lifestyles", which can now be attacked.

And here we have another generalisation: We are now moving into an era in which we go beyond the North-South conflict in the traditional sense - rather it's being completely internationalised. It's becoming possible to establish a Third World model inside the wealthy countries themselves. That's one of the effects of an international economy. And you can see it most strikingly in the US and Britain, which are taking on distinctly Third World aspects, with a growing gap between a small sector of the wealthy and a big mass of "superfluous" people. The proportions are quite different in countries such as the US and Brazil, but the structure is similar. If you look at the gap between rich and poor, country by country, United Nations statistics show the gap between the top 20 per cent of countries and the bottom 20 per cent in terms of wealth approximately doubled between 1960 and 1990, from 30 to 1 to 60 to 1. On the other hand, if you take the world's population and you take the top 20 per cent and the bottom 20 per cent, the gap increased even further. In fact it's now about 140 to 1 between the top 20 per cent across the world and the bottom 20 per cent across the world.

The US is sometimes described as a declining imperial power, which is true if you consider the US as defined by its borders. On the other hand, if you take corporations based in the US, it's not true at all. The US Congress has recently started re-estimating and re-analysing the trade balance, and if you consider the trade balance to be something defined by the US's geographical borders, then there is a huge trade deficit. But if you define the trade balance as production by US corporations no matter where they happen to be, and their exports, you end up with a favourable trade balance. In fact, the share of manufacturing production by US based corporations is actually increasing. That's one aspect of the generalisation of the Third World model.

A good way of finding out who won a war, who lost a war, and what the war was about, is to ask who's cheering and who's depressed after it's over - this can give you interesting answers. So, for example, if you ask that question about the Second World War, you find out that the winners were the Nazis, the German industrialists who had supported Hitler, the Italian Fascists and the war criminals that were sent off to South America - they were all cheering at the end of the war. The losers of the war were the anti-fascist Resistance, who were crushed all over the world. Either they were massacred like in Greece or South Korea, or just crushed like in Italy and France. That's the winners and losers. That tells you partly what the war was about.

Now let's take the Cold War: Who's cheering and who's depressed? Let's take the East first. The people who are cheering are the former Communist Party bureaucracy who are now the capitalist entrepreneurs, rich beyond their wildest dreams, linked to Western capital, as in the traditional Third World model, and the new Mafia. They won the Cold War. The people of East Europe obviously lost the Cold War; they did succeed in overthrowing Soviet tyranny, which is a gain, but beyond that they've lost - they're in miserable shape and declining further.

If you move to the West, who won and who lost? Well, the investors in General Motors certainly won. They now have this new Third World open again to exploitation - and they can use it against their own working classes. On the other hand, the workers in GM certainly didn't win, they lost. They lost the Cold War, because now there's another way to exploit them and oppress them and they're suffering from it. It's the same in England, and in the rest of Europe. The winners and the losers tell you a lot about what the Cold War was about.

Yes, of course, everything goes on as before with regard to the North-South conflict, but we have a new phenomenon, the internationalisation of the economy, which is spreading the Third World model to the industrial societies, offering ways to accelerate production by opening up new areas of exploitation that can be used and are being used to sharpen divisions and to increase domination. So it's the end of one Cold War, but just another stage in the conflict that began with the European conquests of the Third World 500 years ago.

Harold Pinter: I think you've both delineated with great clarity the ideological continuity and a certain implacability about the forces which insist upon that continuity persisting. But it raises another question for me and that is the question of language and how we've been educated to understand these facts. To give one example: I met a diplomat the other day from a European country and we had a word about Guatemala, and he said things were "better" in Guatemala. People often say things like that. I asked him what he thought about the American invasion of Guatemala in 1954, which blatantly and crudely overthrew a democratically elected government by force, and he said: "Oh 1954, that's a very long time ago."And I feel that what we're faced with is a calculated and manipulated blanket on the truth, which not only infects diplomats, but also the media. And I'd like to ask you both to dwell on two specific cases in this respect. One is El Salvador and the other is Indonesia and East Timor.

Now let me just say this: The effects of what happened over the last 40 or 50 years are still there. In El Salvador 80,000 people died. Now it's very convenient for people to forget that. We're encouraged to understand it was a civil war, and that it was the people who had responsibility. I need you to talk about this with respect to how the media worked to distort the facts of El Salvador and East Timor.

Noam Chomsky: El Salvador is a typical case of a virus that was beginning to spread, and which had to be exterminated. El Salvador, and all of central America, obviously has been under US control now for ages. In the 1970s there was the beginning of hope to break out of this system of violence, brutality and oppression. There was the beginning of organising, a lot of it coming from the church. There were church based bible groups which were turning into peasant self help groups; there was union organising. It looked as if there might be a way out of the poverty which had been imposed on El Salvador - a potentially wealthy country - through a century of US domination. Furthermore, it wasn't just happening in El Salvador.

The Anastasio Somoza regime was overthrown in Nicaragua; there were the beginnings of recovery in Guatemala. And it's not just 1954 that was a bloodbath - 100,000 or more people were slaughtered in the last decade. Throughout the region there were stirrings of organisation, much of it initiated by the church. Anybody who knows anything about American history or British history would understand exactly what would happen, namely mass terror. And that's what happened. You've got to destroy the rotten apple and ensure that these regions maintain their subordinate position as raw material producers, export platforms and so on.

So the US launched a reign of terror throughout the region, a terrorist war against Nicaragua, and in El Salvador a war fought by local mercenaries, called the state security forces. It was pretended all along that the US would not know that these death squads and the assassins were part of the government. That was all a total lie, as it was known all along. Documents have now been declassified and they are full of CIA reports back to Washington about how the main death squads are part of the ARENA ruling party and so on. Everybody knew everything all along. The atrocities continued. It wasn't just, did they kill 70,000 or 80,000 people? Remember, this is symbolic murder to teach the people a lesson - the victims were tortured and mutilated in an extremely vicious fashion. Whole regions were devastated. Hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered; over a million became refugees. You know, these are fragile countries. The impact on the economy and ecology is enormous. In Nicaragua for example, they're actually in danger of losing their water supply. El Salvador is a total wreck; it's like Guatemala and Honduras.

The war wasn't going on in Honduras, it was a base for the war, and has still suffered deep impoverishment. Well, the rotten apple, the virus, was exterminated - no more rotten apples. It is now assumed that the popular forces are sufficiently controlled by simply economic restraints, as John mentioned, so that formal elections can be permitted, but few people in Central America are very confused about what this means. There was a Jesuit conference, held in San Salvador last January, which came out with a very interesting document, with a lot of material on the kind of stuff we're talking about. They pointed out that the question of terror in El Salvador has to be viewed from two aspects. One is that regular terror does continue, just to make people aware of the fact that if you step out of line the apparatus is waiting for you. Death squads kill somebody every once in a while just to make sure people understand that. But, secondly, there's something much deeper, and that is the culture of terror, which is established by massacres and torture and mutilation - the effect of the "culture of terror" is to "domesticate the expectations" of the population and make them internalise the values of the rulers. In other words, to make them lose hope, make people recognise that there's never going to be a way out because the gangsters that run the place, the mafia down in Washington, are never going to let them get out of control. And that's the point of a culture of terror: It ultimately domesticates aspirations.

And if you can achieve that, you really have won. To a certain extent, that has been done, but not completely. Amazingly some popular organisations still survive, able to energise themselves enough to maintain or extend whatever solidarity exists.

But El Salvador and Guatemala no longer lead the league for state terrorism in Latin America; they have fallen behind in the competition. The lead has now been taken by Colombia, where mass murder is going on. Political assassinations are running at about ten a day - since 1986 about 20,000 people have been slaughtered. It's a war against the population in the usual style. The targets are mostly peasants and union organisers and members of the opposition, and now Colombia is in first place in Latin America for atrocities. It is now also in first place for US military support. Under President George Bush it became the leading recipient of American military support, plus police, security and armed support. Bill Clinton came in and changed policy, but he made it worse. Under Clinton, US support for the murderers in Colombia has increased; it is now over half the total military aid to all of Latin America. They've taken first place in the table of atrocities. You can read about it in Amnesty International and Americas Watch reports, in church groups' publications and so on, but there's barely a word in the papers.

Harold Pinter: That is my point: None of this is reported.

Noam Chomsky: There is more to it than that: The press is just the part the public sees. A less visible part is that of the intellectual journals, such as Current History, which devoted an issue a month or two ago to Central and Latin America. They had an article by an academic specialist on Colombia, which praised it for its achievements in democracy, despite its inevitable flaws, such as terror.

Harold Pinter: John, there's also been a profound silence about East Timor until quite recently - and I think it's an important issue here too. Would you tell us something about it?

John Pilger: Yes. I'd just like to pick up on what Noam was saying about El Salvador first. It gives you an idea of the virulence of censorship, the most virulent of all being self censorship. In the world today, the culture of censorship compliments the culture of terrorism. And a prime example of that was the vindication of a New York Times report by Ray Bonner, who reported a famous massacre as it happened in 1982 in El Salvador, in which many hundreds of people were murdered by the government and its affiliated death squads. It was an act of state terrorism, done mainly by so-called elite forces, trained, armed, equipped and paid for by the US. Although the massacre itself was recorded, it was generally seen as a mere excess. This one reporter, Ray Bonner, recorded what happened, and the US government and his newspaper didn't like it.

I didn't see his report at the time but I've read it recently, and it is very clear. He follows all the standard journalistic rules about sources; yet he was virtually kicked out of the New York Times for telling the truth. He is, to my knowledge, the only American reporter who wrote such a piece. Many journalists have reported the war against the people of El Salvador, with varying degrees of honesty and purpose, and liberal compassion. But underlying their reports was the same subtext that you found in the Indo-China war: We don't like the way it's being done, but we don't disagree with the principle of what is being done.

And it's interesting that only last week the editor of the New York Times, AM Rosenthal wrote an article which could apply to American actions in El Salvador or indeed anywhere. He defined the imperialist purpose very clearly. He said that the words "values" or "culture" need not be used any more, because the word "America" summed everything up. Frankly, I didn't think this crude stuff was written any more, but of course it is - and by a leading member of the American liberal intelligensia, who was editor when Ray Bonner was writing his pieces from El Salvador. For his pains, Bonner was sent to Coventry, actually he was posted to Poland.

The really shocking thing about East Timor is that the silence over what happened there has been broken by only one or two people, of whom Noam Chomsky is one of the most distinguished and persistent. As Noam rightly says, not only the media but the education establishment, parliamentary debate, almost anything that might provide sources of popular public information, have regarded East Timor as off limits. And I believe this exemplifies the way that the Old Cold War, the New World Order and the New Cold War have been run.

The US, the Canadians, the Australians, the British, the French, the Germans, in other words the West, have all been involved in this campaign of silence. Plus the Japanese. They have all been involved in keeping a dark secret about what has happened in East Timor. East Timor simply followed something else that was also kept secret: The slaughter in Indonesia with Suharto's coming to power.

The more I read about it, the more I remind myself of the degree of bloodshed in Indonesia in the mid-1960s, when Suharto and his generals staged a series of convoluted coups. Then I pick up a copy of a Foreign Office reply to somebody who's written following my television programme on East Timor, in which the Foreign Office describes the Suharto regime as a respectable government, whose assurances can be believed, and I appreciate the enormity of the cover-up of events in that part of the world. The Suharto regime is one of the most bloodthirsty regimes of the 20th century, and who knew? And it couldn't have come to power and shed so much blood had it not had US and other Western support.

Look at what happened in the early 1960s. The popular mass movements that were Indonesia's great achievement after independence, that included the greatest Communist mass movement in the world, alongside other popular mass movements were systematically undermined. Up to 1959, Indonesia had possibly one of the free-est parliaments in the world. There's a lot that was imperfect about Indonesia under Sukarno, who of course was a man of great dictatorial pretensions, but there were experiments in many areas of Indonesian life that provided a model for much of the world.

Certainly there was a hostility to Western imperial interest. Although it says something about the tenacity of Western power that the West was able to supply the Indonesian military direct while Sukarno was virtually at the peak of his power. But when he came to power, something like between half a million and a million people were killed, perhaps 100,000 on the island of Bali alone. When Australians go to stay in certain hotels on Bali, do they know the car parks are mass graves? None of this is known.

Because this precursor to the cultural and physical devastation of East Timor is not known, it follows that what has happened in East Timor is not known. The reason is very simple. Indonesia, described by Richard Nixon as an economic jewel, had everything. It had unlimited markets, virtually unlimited resources: Oil especially. This was a place where the US had an enormous amount to gain. The straits through which American nuclear submarines crossed from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean were strategically vital in the Old Cold War, that is, the war of attrition with the USSR, which justified an enormous nuclear submarine fleet.

As for the media in the 1960s, I've gone back to some of the newspaper reports at the time, and those that report Suharto's bloody coming to power are quite astonishing. South East Asia is described in the American press as "seeing sense", "coming home", "a new kind of civilisation", "a new security". These kinds of Orwellian euphemisms, when applied to mass murder, become staggering in their mendacity and, of course, the same set of euphemisms can be applied to the second stage of Suharto's slaughters, that is, East Timor.

When the British government, which is now Indonesia's biggest arms supplier, says that it can accept assurances from the Indonesian government that its Hawk aircraft or its Rapier missiles or the various other items in its massive arsenal will not be misused, you know they are depending on public ignorance of the issues. Britain gives arms to Indonesia under soft loans that are so close to aid as to be indistinguishable. When the government can say publicly that the Suharto regime is a respectable one, then you know that they're depending on public ignorance.

This may be ignorance of the facts, but governments always underestimate public awareness and scepticism of official stories. Indeed, I've always believed there is a subterranean subversive strand among people in spite of the echo chamber of the media, in spite of their conditioning, even brainwashing. I think there is a critical intelligence among people - call it common sense.

However, the assumption is clearly there, in this government and of course in the US government, the French government and all the other governments that have imposed their will on East Timor, and indeed on Indonesia itself, that the public is ignorant, and so, crimes can be freely committed.

We come back to power and its manifestations. When the United Nations can put down no less than ten resolutions against Indonesia, some of them uncannily similar to those that were put down against Saddam Hussein, and then simply ignore them or, better still, that the US representative at the time, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan could boast that he was able to turn the UN against its own resolutions to quieten things down and to get Indonesia off the agenda, then I think you get a glimpse of where the source of real power is. It says everything about the UN, which has a responsibility to East Timor; it says everything about our own governments, which have reinforced this reign of terror and lied about it.

And their lies are recycled constantly in the press. When the Australian government, which signed what is effectively an illegal treaty - the Timor Gap Treaty with Indonesia under which it exploits a potential of seven million barrels of oil off the cost of East Timor, in other words the oil of another people - can say that the "annexation" of East Timor is something that can be accepted in international law so that they can get on with exploiting the oil, then I think you glimpse again the lawlessness under which imperial power operates.

The same is true in this country. The Foreign Office justifies selling arms to Indonesia by invoking the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which gives every country the right to defend itself, and the British government says we are sending arms to Indonesia because they have a right to defend themselves. You realise again the extent of the Orwellian language, and the assumption of public ignorance of what has happened in those countries. What makes East Timor so shocking is that so many powers have been involved in its suffering, in the destruction of East Timor society. But, of course, the resistance to this by the East Timorese has been quite extra-ordinary.

The silence around East Timor a model for what has happened in other parts of the world, perhaps not in such a form, but in the same general way. It also tells us a lot about the so-called free flow of information that we regard as inherent in our society, or at least some of us still do.

Harold Pinter: Thank you. Can you say something about the relationship between the UN and the US?

Noam Chomsky: Well it is like the relationship between the Chairman of the Board of General Motors and the guy who cleans his car. The UN exists and functions to the extent that the US permits it to. In the last 25 years, for example, the US has been far in the lead in vetoing Security Council resolutions; second place is Britain, our colleague, and third place is France. In the General Assembly, on crucial international issues, the votes run, for example, 150 to one or 144 to two, and in every case it is the minority which decides what happens.

Whether the resolutions are about Cuba or Palestine, they're almost all vetoed by the US or obstructed in other ways. A typical example was Resolution 194, passed in December 1948, the day after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was passed. So they referred to Article 13 of the declaration which states that any person has a right to return to their own country. Resolution 194 stated that this right applies to Palestinians, who were expelled or fled during the war, and it guarantees they have the right to return or to compensation if they choose not to. Of course the US always opposed this because of their support for Israel, but did vote for it in 1948, assuming it was purely theoretical and would never be implemented. It continued to do so until 1993, when the Clinton administration joined Israel in opposing Article 13 of the Universal Declaration.

The UN can function insofar as the US lets it. The Security Council has sometimes implicitly condemned the US, but they can't do it explicitly. So, for example, a World Court decision condemned the US for what it called the "unlawful use of force" against Nicaragua and illegal economic warfare and so on, but of course the US disregarded it. So Nicaragua brought in the Security Council, which voted 14 to one that all states should observe international law, not referring to anybody in particular. That forced a veto and that was that. And it's the same on issue after issue.

Moynihan was particularly honest and, to give him credit, he said in his memoirs that at the time of the Indonesian invasion: "The State Department wanted things to turn out as they did. It was my responsibility to render the United Nations utterly ineffective in any action and I carried that out with no inconsiderable success." And the next sentence of the memoirs says that within the next two months 60,000 people were killed, approximately the proportion of the population that the Nazis killed in Eastern Europe. And then he turns to some other topic. So he's taking credit for having succeeded in killing a proportion of the population comparable to what Nazis did in Eastern Europe, and what's interesting is the general reaction - silence.

I want to add one little footnote to that. The Indonesian massacre in 1965 was reported, in fact rather prominently. For example Time magazine had an 11 page supplement in which it described "the boiling bloodbath" in Indonesia, in which about 400,000 people were slaughtered, Time reported. They thought it was wonderful and others also wrote about it with euphoria. James Reston, the leading liberal commentator of the New York Times, wrote a column called "Gleam of Light in Asia", referring to the fact that this wonderful massacre had been carried out in which hundreds of thousands of peasants had been slaughtered and the country was now back in the pocket of the US. Here the journalist is, in effect, the State Department spokesman, who has lunch with the Secretary of State or some flunky one day and the next day you have the propaganda line printed in the newspaper. He wrote that although Washington was not publicly taking credit for it, nevertheless they had much to do with these successful operations and gave encouragement to the Indonesian generals.

Internal documents show that Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense, wrote to President Lyndon B Johnson saying that we actively encouraged the Indonesian generals and that US universities, where the Indonesian officers were training, had taught them how to carry out this wonderful work. Later, McNamara was asked why the US had given military aid to Indonesia, and he said well, it paid dividends - like 700,000 corpses. All of this was quite public; it was endorsed and was greeted with absolute euphoria. The research project I'd like to suggest to somebody is this: Check the British press reaction in 1965 and 1966 and see what that was like.

The Indonesian situation was used by American liberals at the time as justification for the American war in Vietnam. The line was that the US war in Vietnam had provided a shield behind which the Indonesian generals were encouraged to carry out the "cleansing" of their society. Well, that's what actually happened, and it gives you quite an insight into the nature of Western intellectual culture - I don't think you can do that today, and that's a sign of the improvement that's taken place over the last 30 years. It would be very hard today to celebrate a "boiling bloodbath" in which hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered as a grand achievement.

Harold Pinter: What about the Gulf War?

Noam Chomsky: Well that wasn't presented in the same way. It was presented as defence against aggression. In fact, what was done in the Gulf War was to create the impression that Saddam was about to conquer the world and that it was through our courage that we managed to stop him just in time. It required quite a different kind of propaganda.

Harold Pinter: I think the facts that have been discussed over the last hour or so are pretty monstrous. Now, has anyone in the audience got any questions?

Question from the floor: [Inaudible, but concerning the relationship between the US and Europe]

Noam Chomsky: By about 1960, the US trade balance had shifted in favour of Europe; Europe was beginning to recover after the devastation of the war. At that time Japan had not yet recovered, but about seven or eight years later Japan was our main rival. By 1970 the world was becoming economically tripolar with three major economic centres, the US, Germany and Japan.

This is why President Richard Nixon did one of the most important things in modern history. By 1970, the Vietnam war proved to be costly to the American economy, mainly because of the popular resistance movement. The popular opposition to the war prevented the government from declaring a national mobilisation in the way they had during the Second World War. During the Second World War, under a sort of fascist regime, US industrial output tripled and got the country out of the Depression. And if they'd been able to do that during the Vietnam War, we could have had a big war. It would have been "healthy" to the economy. But they couldn't. The population had to be kept quiet because it was opposed to the war and the result was stagnation and deterioration of the economy.

Meanwhile Europe and Japan were gaining enormously from the Vietnam war: Europeans were condemning the immorality of the US while enriching themselves as much as they could by contributing to the destruction of Indo-China by means of military sales and so on. Canada for example became the world's leading per capita war exporter as part of its contribution to the destruction of Indo-China; same with Britain, same with Japan. By 1970, as a result of these developments, the world was really becoming tripolar. The US still had by far the biggest economy but it also had competitors. And at that point Nixon responded by dismantling the postwar monetary system - that's something of great significance.

The postwar economic system in essence used the US as an international bank. This meant that the dollar was fixed to gold, and other currencies were regulated relative to the dollar; it was a kind of regulated currency system in which the dollar was a form of international exchange. That was extremely beneficial to American corporations. It enabled them to expand; it led to the growth of the current system of multinational corporations. It made it possible for US corporations to expand over Europe and other parts of the world, but by 1970 was becoming unsustainable because of tripolar competition. So Nixon simply dismantled the world system and that led to the period in which we now live, a period when huge amounts of unregulated, speculative capital is having an enormous effect on the world economy.

In a recent study done by the former head of the Federal Reserve in the US, he attributes about half of the decline in growth rate just to this one act, the deregulation of the currencies.

When we move up to 1989, a tripolar structure is even more in evidence. It fluctuates from time to time, with Europe in a bit of a recession and the Japan-based region booming. Actually, if you look closely, South East Asia is a big growth area with one exception, one basket case, namely the one place that has been a US colony for 100 years - the Philippines. So what this means is the basket case is a Latin American style failure but the Japan-based region is moving ahead. You can draw your own conclusions.

On the other hand, the corporations are much less national than they used to be, so it is getting harder to identify Japan and Germany and the US as economic systems. There are US-based corporations, Japan-based banks, German-based corporations, but they are all over the place. For example, Daimler Benz, which is Germany's biggest conglomerate, is shifting production to the new Third World of East Europe, but it is also shifting production to Alabama Ð they recently established a big Mercedes plant in Alabama, where they can get workers 60 per cent cheaper than in Germany because American wages have been driven down. They are now the second lowest in the industrial world; Britain still holds first place.

Daimler Benz can get a plant in Alabama under Third World conditions, the same way they get plants in Eastern Europe. The people of Alabama pay for it, so Daimler Benz gets the land for nothing. They get the infrastructure development paid for by the taxpayer and they get very cheap labour. This kind of phenomenon is eroding the national character of the economies.

The national states haven't disappeared by any means, and the corporations still depend on state power, in fact extensive state power, to channel subsidies to them and to protect them physically against rotten apples and so on. However, nations are part of a global system, and the tripolar conflict exists as part of this system.

If you look at the past, Europe was probably the most savage place in modern history. The amount of brutality and savagery in European history is unparalleled anywhere in the world. That's part of the reason why if we were to describe what happened to the world during the last 500 years honestly, what we would say is that there was a barbarian invasion starting in north west Europe, which simply wiped out everyone else because the people were so savage and brutal that nobody could deal with them.

They didn't necessarily have military advantages or economic advantages; they had a culture of brutality that was without parallel. From Indonesia to the American continent, if you look at military history, people were just appalled by the savagery of the European conquerors; they didn't know you could fight like that, that's not what wars were supposed to be like. Not that they themselves were nice pacifist people, but the culture of European barbarism was something quite new.

It then spread all over the world. In Europe the main activity was slaughtering each other up until 1945. In 1945 it stopped, and it stopped for a very simple reason: Europeans got it into their heads that the next time they went to war they were going to wipe out the world, because the level of military technology had reached the point that the next time we play the game it would all be over. That's why we now have this great discovery that wars don't take place among "democratic" powers. So as a result, there is a period of peace, within the West.

Question from the floor: John has expressed the continuity of what is happening internationally since the end of the Cold War. It strikes me that while it is certainly true that there is no improvement in power relations around the world, there are certain things that have changed. Something has altered, what has gone is stability, the freezing of relations between the major powers of the world. They are now unfrozen to a degree. Tensions about trade are now more tangible than previously. My question is in two parts: to what extent or how do you see that manifesting itself, particularly in a conflict like Bosnia. The second part is something which came up in the course of the discussion on the media. They are also playing a slightly different role now as well. It is certainly uncritical, but it seems more than simply being uncritical, it now plays an important part in the changes that are taking place in the world, and the justification for those changes, so around something like Bosnia the media has been at the forefront of calls for peacekeeping intervention - which might have once been called colonialism or imperialism. Today the media finds itself presenting alternative policies.

John Pilger: Well I can take the second part of your question. You use the word stability - the Foreign Office describes Indonesia as a stable, moderate regime. I don't believe there is stability at all. How can there be stability when there is, in that part of the world for instance, tens and hundreds of thousands of people being killed? How can there be stability in the Middle East when up to a quarter of a million people were killed?

As Noam points out, Western countries don't go to war with each other. But war is conducted by other means, for instance through debt; war is conducted through international financial institutions, such as the IMF, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. All these are agents of a continuing Cold War. Structural adjustment programmes are used in the war against the majority of humanity; they are a relatively recent form of control and a very, very effective one.

And yet here you have a recent report by the United Nations Development Programme, one of their more honest agencies, at least in its studies, which says an international class struggle has never been more violently prosecuted through the international banking institutions. I wonder how much of that is known?

At the time of the Live Aid concert in 1985, when everyone went to Wembley and thought it was a wonderful idea, it seemed that even charity could have a good name through Live Aid. But at that time, no one mentioned in the media, or in any public forum that I can remember, that Africa was giving back more money in a day than they were collecting at Wembley Stadium. Now that is terribly important; it is not just a slick analogy, it is terribly important because that interest repayment from Africa, which has suffered most in the New World Order, has been suppressed.

When I went to Czechoslovakia in 1977, I met a novelist, a member of Charter 77, who was worried about the place of his country in a new order after the fall of Communism. He worried about exactly the scenario that we have described, and he said that at least what the Czechs had was the ability to read between the lines, the kind of popular cynicism that people [in the West] had been denied.

I think that the Western media is critical to the vital details of our perception of the way the world is run, of the suffering in the world, of the imposition of the might of the so-called North on the South. Our perception has, even with new technology, and because of new technologies, been limited by organised misunderstanding. No one knows the number of wars that are ignited, fuelled and funded by ourselves, as taxpayers, round the world, the amount of suffering that is brought down on the heads of people in "underdog" countries by the institutions that are represented often by our friendly high street banks.

When we see the familiar spectacle of starving children on the television, there's seldom an explanation of why those children are starving - an explanation that strays from what I would call "official objectivity", that is, an objectivity in which the critical element is the prevailing or accredited establishment viewpoint. The BBC lives by this false objectivity. We are almost never told that the economy has been changed by decree, almost certainly on the orders of the IMF or World Bank, but also by the rest of the developed governments. The reason many of those children are starving is that the economies have gone over to some ridiculous export, such as coffee, and subsistence farming has been effectively outlawed by the banks.

The change of exports to coffee has probably caused more death by starvation than any other economic structural change throughout the world. So we have the illusion that we live in this information society and indeed we do have what Rupert Murdoch called the "communications revolution". It is extraordinary isn't it? When I started as a foreign correspondent, offering a small bribe to a post office clerk to cable something from somewhere in the world was the only way of hopefully getting a despatch to this side of the world (I say hopefully because it often didn't arrive). Now it is instantaneous; communications have been completely revolutionised, yet we don't have a communications society, we have a media society in which much information is unwelcome. We often confuse information and media, which doesn't invite any kind of understanding of why people are starving around the world; in fact it is hostile to such understanding. The media will allow the odd television programme, the odd piece in the so-called serious press, the odd academic paper will make its way into print, but the general perception of why, of how the world has changed and how the nature of power has not changed, is simply not allowed.

The media society forms an obstacle, and when you have 90 per cent of the world's agency news in the hands of four Western news agencies, the amount of news from Africa comes down to single figures in percentage terms. Television monopoly has benefited from technology. Now you have Time and Warner, Murdoch and CNN. But to get a deeper picture we still turn to the BBC World Service abroad, and hope to be reassured. But if you actually go into Bush House, you'll find they are all staring at CNN monitors!

Censorship is rarely by commission, almost always by omission. We will not be told about the way the new economic order is in fact a war by other means. We don't have to send in the Marines any more. All you have to do is send in the IMF with a structural adjustment programme, and zap and you've got the regime that you want.

One of the great dangers facing South Africa is that the Nelson Mandela government may find itself trapped. I am alarmed when I read of the veneration of this great man by those whom I distrust 100 per cent, about what's going on in South Africa. The global apartheid that I mentioned at the beginning, which was Shelling's metaphor for the world, illustrates this. South Africa will have a structural adjustment programme. The World Bank and the IMF are there. Yet apartheid was always economically based, and one of the really quite disgraceful misperceptions in media coverage of South Africa is to assume that apartheid was all about people sitting at the wrong end of the bus, standing in the wrong queue. Nonsense. Half a dozen companies, Anglo-American companies, ran apartheid, and they shall continue to do so unless the ANC is able to break free of the limits imposed on it.

Noam Chomsky: Maybe I'm overstressing the continuities but I think there's nothing much that is new about this. So for example you can go back and read John Stuart Mill's essay on intervention in 1859, which was a long time ago. John Stuart Mill, let me say, was in terms of integrity and intelligence an aeon beyond the people who are considered great thinkers today. In 1859, he said look, the British are making a bad mistake. Britain is not intervening in Europe and we ought to be doing so. Now the reason we're not intervening, he explained, is because we're an absolutely angelic country. We are unique in human history. Other countries have these bad people but England is just perfect; it is full of God's people. We don't do anything except in the interests of the world, but other people don't understand - they keep imputing bad motives to us. We're depriving the world of our magnificence by refusing to intervene.

This was 1859. Like his father, James Mill, he was an officer of the East India Company. Since John Stuart Mill read parliamentary debates and press reports, he must have been aware of the absolutely savage British reaction to the Indian mutiny. At the time, England held India mostly with Indian troops - you don't want nice British boys out there - so it was mostly Indian troops who were supposed to do all the atrocities and so on. But there was a mutiny in 1857-59 and England went berserk. They put it down with enormous brutality and this was perfectly well known. Everybody knew it, John Stuart Mill certainly knew it, but he was still writing and his audience was accepting that we are such an angelic power that we shouldn't deprive the world of our magnificence - we should intervene in Europe.

Well translate that to today. The US has just gone through, to take recent years, murderous atrocities in Central America, right next door. Hundreds of thousands of people slaughtered, countries destroyed, one piece of the big story. Now the discussion is whether an angelic power like the US, which uniquely in history follows only altruism, should deprive the world of its magnificence by refusing to intervene. The only difference between this and John Stuart Mill 150 years ago is that he was a lot smarter, had a lot more integrity and wrote better. Not a lot has changed.

It is true that circumstances change; the world isn't always the same. Dean Acheson once described England as "our lieutenant, the fashionable word is partner". The British use the word partner. So the US and its British lieutenant can now intervene quite freely. That's changed the rules. In fact, the reason why Britain and the US could put troops in the desert in the Gulf War is because they didn't have to worry about the USSR any longer. In that respect things have definitely changed, intervention is much free. You don't have to worry that somebody might get in your way.

So the magnificent and angelic powers can now do things without any concern that somebody might stop them, so that's the difference. I mean right now for example people are discussing the Burundi and Rwanda massacres. But 20 years ago there were huge massacres in Burundi. At that time, the media decided that it just wasn't very interesting when other people were killed, you didn't have to worry about them. Fundamentally I don't think a lot has changed in this respect.

Harold Pinter: Well, I'd like to thank you all for your attention and to thank John and Noam for a very important and definitive discussion. Before you leave, Denise Searle, the editor of Red Pepper, would like to say a few words.

Denise Searle: Thank you very much. This debate has been a real breath of fresh air. And I'm glad to see from your applause that you agree with me. It really does show the need on the left for a forum where these kind of radical ideas can be given an airing; everything that has been said is absolutely true, but you just never hear it said anywhere else. And that is a kind of censorship.

Professor Chomsky spoke about the culture of terror that exists in a lot of Latin American countries, where people have lost hope of ever being able to bring about change. What we've got here in Britain is a culture of growing cynicism and depression which saps confidence and also deprives people of the hope of bringing about change. One of the things that Red Pepper wants to do is to try and rebuild that confidence and hope, and in a way that's where you come in, because we don't have a monopoly of truth and so we welcome your thoughts and suggestions. So it comes down now to thanking our speakers for a really stimulating discussion - and we hope to do many more of them. Thank you all for coming and participating. And yet again let's thank our speakers.