Interview: We Are Eelam Tamils

Sri Lanka will not become an economically viable country without a political resolution to the demands of Eelam Tamils, Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran a New York-based Attorney who served as the legal advisor to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, told Sri


Colonial Legacies and Post-Colonial Realities: Vijay Prashad in Conversation

In this insightful discussion, Vijay Prashad, a prominent Indian historian and commentator, shared his valuable insights on various subjects, including the role of the Indian diaspora in shaping global perspectives on Indian politics and culture, his motivation to study the intersections of imperialism, capitalism, and globalization, and the enduring effects of colonialism on India and other colonized nations. Through his profound knowledge and expertise, Prashad provided thought-provoking perspectives that shed light on significant historical and contemporary issues.

As the Director of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, Prashad continues to shape critical discourse and provoke thoughtful analysis. Prashad has authored numerous influential publications, which serve as intellectual milestones in understanding historical and contemporary issues. With a profound understanding of global politics, Prashad’s works unravel the intricate intersections between power, culture, and resistance, offering invaluable insights into the complexities of our world.

Excerpts of the interview;

Question [Q]: As an Indian historian and commentator, how do you see the role of the Indian diaspora in shaping global perspectives on Indian politics and culture?

Answer [A]: The Indian diaspora is varied, oscillating between people who have almost no politics to people who are adherents of the far-right. There was a time when the Indian diaspora was the home of the Left. The first left-wing Indian political party was established in California in 1913. It was the Ghadar Party. Many of those who were attracted to it later went to the USSR to learn how to become Communists, and then went on to join the Communist movement in India. The Communist Party of India was founded in Tashkent (USSR) in 1920, mostly by emigré Indians, a different kind of diaspora. But, after independence, the nature of migration changed, as sections of the Indian middle-class left the country for economic reasons and their political life mirrored the journey of the Indian middle-class within the country. The middle-class Indian diaspora today is the exact complement of the Indian middle-class inside India.

Q: What motivated you to study and write about the intersection of imperialism, capitalism, and globalization, particularly in relation to the Global South?

A: I was born and brought up in Kolkata, India, which is a city of great marvels but also a city of immense inequality. To people like me, born into education and means, the striking aspect of our lives was the gap between what we experienced and the absolute devastation of poverty that defined the lives of people around us. That social inequality hit me hard and continues to strike me. It is what forced me to learn about why inequality is reproduced, to seek answers from the facts, and therefore to discover that the source of such inequality was the ugly profit-driven system of capitalism that had absorbed wretched hierarchies that predate capitalism, such as the caste system. Why was India not able to transcend the caste hierarchies and the ugliness of capitalism? It was not just because of the greed of the Indian bourgeoise and the landlords, but also due to the immense power of the neo-colonial structure maintained by the former colonial powers. You can’t understand the poverty on the streets of Colombo, for instance, without having a full understanding of the imperialist system.

Q: In your work, you often highlight the impact of imperialism on the countries and regions it has affected. How would you describe the lasting effects of imperialism on India and other colonized nations?

A: Firstly, it is important to note that British imperialism – which ruled India for centuries – stole tens of trillions of pounds from the Indian people. Several economists have tried to calculate this enormous ‘drain of wealth’. Profits made in India and wealth built in India were not reinvested in the country but taken and invested in the United Kingdom. This led to a cascade of underinvestment in India, and therefore the impoverishment of the country. Second, as a consequence of this underinvestment – the lack of use of capital formed in India – was that there was reduced employment opportunities for the people, including lack of investment in agriculture that led to the catastrophic famines of the Victorian Era. Third, the British imperial state in India failed to invest in social development – namely in health and education – which grievously impacted the living conditions of people. When the British were booted out of India, the literacy rate was a mere 13% (in the UK, during the same period, the literacy rate was about 98%). These three impacts – theft of capital to the UK, the underinvestment in Indian agriculture, and the lack of social investment – have had long-term, catastrophic impacts on India.

Q: Some critics argue that anti-imperialist movements and ideologies often romanticize and idealize certain regimes or leaders, even when they may have engaged in oppressive practices. How do you respond to these critiques, and how can anti-imperialist movements avoid falling into this trap?

A: The journey out of the neo-colonial structures is not easy. People in very poor countries, with backward state institutions, struggle to establish their sovereignty over their territory and to create dignity for their people. They face attacks ceaselessly, which often leads beleaguered states to turn inward. The problems within the path of anti-colonial projects are nothing compared to the problems that structure those failures, namely the neo-colonial system. It is convenient for the old colonial powers to point fingers at the problems inside the post-colonial states, but harder for them to accept their own role in creating the enabling conditions for state failure and oppressive practices.

Q: What are some key challenges faced by post-colonial countries in achieving economic and political sovereignty, and how can they address these challenges effectively?

A: The most important challenges are two: first, the obduracy of the old colonial powers who refuse to allow for sovereignty and thereby use any means (including invasions and coups) to hold onto power (even if they allow for flag independence), and second, the theft of wealth by the colonial powers that leaves the new states in a dependent relation to their former colonial rulers, but this time not through political power but through economic interconnections. If a post-colonial state tries to establish its sovereignty over its own territory and raw materials (such as Chile in the early 1970s), it faces economic sabotage and then a coup (1973). This story repeats itself over and over again.

Q: Your work often critiques Western interventionism and imperialism. However, some argue that there are instances where international intervention can be justified, such as in cases of genocide or human rights abuses. How do you navigate this complex ethical terrain?

A: Obviously, there must be room for external intervention in times of genuine genocide. That principle is not established by the United Nations. However, that principle is also misused by the West to fulfill its own aims. For instance, it used the term genocide to justify the destruction of Libya in 2011 (after the bombardment ended, Amnesty International showed that there was nothing like genocide happening in Libya). Furthermore, Western interventions – such as in Iraq – have led to massive destruction (including loss of life and human rights abuses). We need to be very careful when we hear talk of genocide, since the term has been used instrumentally by Western powers to justify their own military interventions for their own narrow imperialist ends.

Q: The concept of “third worldism” has been central to your analysis. Could you explain this concept and its relevance in today’s global context?

A: Actually, I do not use this term, since the term itself is not precise enough. I use the term ‘Third World Project’ to specify the social dynamic set in place at the tail end of the colonial era, when colonized states got together to drive a combined agenda against the neo-colonial system. These states met in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955, and then later established the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961. This Third World Project was destroyed in the 1980s during the Third World debt crisis, when they lost their political strength due to the devastation of their economies and the use by the West of the International Monetary Fund to damage the integrity of the new states. Today, we have a different context, different possibilities. That is our history.

Q: Marxist ideologies have been widely criticized for their historical association with authoritarian regimes. How do you address these criticisms, and what do you believe is the role of Marxism in building a just and inclusive society?

A: The term ‘authoritarian regime’ is an ideological term. Its most scientific basis was provided by Hannah Arendt in her The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), which made the case that fascism and communism are much the same thing. The association between fascism and communism is not only analytically lazy but it performed a task for the Western imperialist states that wanted to defame communism despite the historical role played by the USSR in the destruction of Nazism. So, what do we mean by authoritarian regimes? We do not add in their list the totalitarian regimes set in place by Western imperialism after the coups in Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954), nor the money-driven democracies in the West that have corrupted democracy and driven people into either total social passivity or neo-fascist rage. Marxists stand against these kinds of totalitarianisms.

Q: Climate change is an urgent issue facing the world today. What are your thoughts on the responsibility of wealthy nations in addressing climate justice and supporting the Global South in tackling environmental challenges?

A: My thoughts are not as significant as the treaty obligations of the Western powers, who signed the 1992 Rio framework of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’, which means that they recognize the common problems of environmental destruction and climate change but see that there are differentiated responsibilities based on the historical abuse of the planet by the imperialist powers. This is a treaty obligation. And yet, the West has not lived up to their own obligation. They should be taken to the International Criminal Court for this malfeasance.

Q: Your book “The Darker Nations” focuses on the rise of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Bandung Conference. How do you view the relevance and legacy of these movements in the present-day geopolitical landscape?

A: Today, the context of that period when the Third World Project shone is very different. Certain states in the developing world – China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, South Africa – have taken on an important role in global leadership. The establishment of the BRICS (2009) and the emergence of the New Non-Alignment has opened up new possibilities. This opening is built on the legacy of the past, but it does not repeat them. These large states no longer want to accept the claim by the West that their parochial interests are universal. These states want to put forward their own national interests. We have to closely study this New Non-Alignment.

Q: Identity politics has become a contentious topic in recent years. What is your perspective on the role of identity-based movements in social and political struggles, and how can they contribute to broader movements for justice and equality?

A: The term identity politics is very general. Of course, there are historical social hierarchies – such as the caste system and patriarchy – that have to be frontally challenged and defeated. These will take place by broad based struggles against caste and patriarchy. An idea has come to the fore that only the victims of these systems can fight in this struggle. This narrows the fight and makes it weaker. We need to assemble broad based struggles of all people to fight to liberate humanity from wretchedness.

Q: How do you view the relationship between Marxism and anti-imperialism? Do you think Marxism provides an effective framework for addressing the unique challenges faced by post-colonial societies?

A: Marxism is one of the only frameworks that properly addresses the crisis-ridden system of capitalism that produces imperialist tendencies amongst its most powerful countries. No other theory of the world properly explains the cycle of crises and the punctuality of wars. If another theory comes along, let me know.

Q: However, some argue that globalization and capitalism, despite their flaws, have brought significant economic development and lifted millions out of poverty. How do you respond to this argument, and what alternative economic models do you propose?

A: If you look at the UN data, you will find that the country that has lifted the most number of people out of poverty is China. And the Chinese people have not eradicated absolute poverty through globalization and capitalism. They have done so, as our Tricontinental study shows, by the central work of the Communist Party of China and the state apparatus, which in a very studious and clear way went after certain social problems that had to be overcome for poverty to be eradicated. Countries that have weakened state structures – a necessary byproduct of extreme neoliberalism – have seen their poverty rates rise.

Q: Your analysis often focuses on the negative impacts of imperialism and capitalism. However, can you acknowledge any positive aspects or unintended consequences that may have emerged from these systems?

A: Can’t see any.

Q: In your view, what are some key lessons that can be drawn from the history of anti-colonial struggles, and how can they inform and inspire contemporary movements striving for liberation, self-determination, and social justice?

A: The most important lesson is from the hard work of the people who built these movements, their patience in working to establish the mass character of their movements, and the sacrifices they underwent to establish their movements and our freedom. Hard work, patience, and sacrifice: three things that we have to learn for our own times.

Q: In conclusion, as artificial intelligence continues to advance, there are concerns about its potential impact on the global workforce. How do you envision the future of work in a world increasingly driven by AI, and what steps can be taken to mitigate any negative effects on employment?

A: Capitalism necessary applies the latest in science to enhance the productive forces, whose advancement lifts the productivity rate but then eventually leads to crisis upon crisis as the rate of profit falls. This is a cycle of increased productivity and then heightened crisis that has been ongoing since the late 19th century. AI is just the latest in a new technological breakthrough. The only way to mitigate the negative impact of unemployment is to socialize the gains from productivity, which is another way of saying to transcend capitalism and go to socialism.

UN Economist Highlights Global Economic Challenges, Calls for International Unity

A leading UN economist has highlighted key global macroeconomic developments and emphasized the need for stronger international cooperation to address mounting economic challenges.

In an exclusive interview with Xinhua on Tuesday immediately after the launch of the Mid-year Update to the UN’s World Economic Situation and Prospects report, Hamid Rashid, chief of the Global Economic Monitoring Branch at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and lead author of the report, cautioned about the possibility of “slower long-term growth” and indicated that a return to pre-pandemic growth rates remain unlikely both in developed and developing economies.

He warned of a potential prolonged period of “subpar growth,” underscoring the importance of understanding this new economic reality.

The interview delved into the intensified fiscal and monetary policy challenges in the current economic scenario. Rashid described the “trilemma” faced by policymakers in developed economies, who strive to stimulate economic growth, tame inflation, and maintain financial stability.

He acknowledged the difficulty of achieving all three goals simultaneously and explained that policymakers in developing countries, such as China and others, “have more fiscal and monetary space to navigate these challenges.”

Rashid highlighted the risk faced by the largest economies, as they need to maintain a tight monetary stance and tighten fiscal positions, which limit their options for expansionary measures for stimulating economic growth. This presents “a unique challenge” for policymakers in advanced economies.

Discussing the balance between taming inflation, ensuring financial stability, and fostering economic growth and employment while managing international spillover effects, Rashid acknowledged the complexity of the task.

The economist emphasized that policymakers in advanced economies “face challenging trade-offs,” where it may be hard to maintain financial stability while raising interest rates further to tame inflation. Maintaining inflation at the target level will require not only even higher interest rates but also “significant spending cuts,” which will dampen economic growth and have long-term implications.

Rashid further explained the international spillover effects of monetary tightening in the United States, which results in capital outflows from the developing countries and depreciation of their currencies. This, in turn, affects developing countries’ interest rates, cost of capital and investment, “adding an additional layer of complexity to the global economic challenges.”

Shifting the conversation to notable trends and shifts in global economic outlook since the previous report, Rashid highlighted “early signs of financial instability risks,” particularly in the U.S. banking sector. While these risks have been sporadic and not yet been widespread, they “expose vulnerabilities” due to rapid interest rate increases, which impact long-term bond prices and the balance sheets of the banks holding U.S. government bonds.

This “poses significant financial stability risks” that require careful attention, he added.

Regarding central banks’ response to inflation and monetary policy tightening, Rashid emphasized their focus on maintaining low inflation as the primary goal. However, achieving the 2 percent inflation target set by the U.S. Federal Reserve may “come at a high cost.” This includes keeping interest rates high, affecting credit channels and household spending, and potentially leading to lower economic growth. While the possibility of a recession remains uncertain, positive outcomes cannot be ruled out either.

Rashid expressed his key concern for the world economy, highlighting that many developing “countries on the verge of default,” struggling to provide fiscal support to economic growth due to high debt burdens.

He stressed the importance of international cooperation and restructuring debt “to provide more fiscal space for developing countries.”

Rashid called for common understanding and increased international cooperation, particularly with private creditors, to ensure a more equitable and sustainable solution. This would enable developing countries to have the necessary resources to support economic activities and “mitigate the risk of a significant global economic downturn.”

When asked about the projected slowdown in global growth being less severe than previously anticipated, Rashid acknowledged the resilience of household spending and he also cautioned about the ongoing monetary tightening measures. These measures might lead to significant weakening in household spending, resulting in a slight downward adjustment of growth forecasts for 2024.

However, he reassured that the expected recession or slowdown would likely be “shallower and of shorter duration.”

Highlighting the positive developments in the global economic situation since the report’s launch in January, Rashid emphasized an upward revision in growth forecasts.

Initially projected at 1.9 percent, the global economy is now expected to reach 2.3 percent. This positive adjustment is attributed to “the resilience of household spending” in developed economies like the United States and Europe, which account for a significant portion of economic activity.

Additionally, the recovery and reopening of China’s economy have also contributed to the more optimistic growth outlook, Rashid said.

China provides substantial opportunities to ASEAN countries, says Indonesian official


The economic growth and market in China, the world’s second-largest economy with a population of over 1.4 billion people, provide substantial opportunities for ASEAN countries, an Indonesian official has said.

“China’s economic influence is a significant driving force behind the RCEP’s (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) development in 2022,” Deputy for Coordination of International Economic Cooperation under the Indonesian Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs, Edi Prio Pambudi, told Xinhua in a written interview during the two-day 42nd ASEAN Summit opened Wednesday.

The RCEP free trade pact comprises 15 Asia-Pacific countries including the 10 ASEAN member states of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, and ASEAN’s five trading partners, namely China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

“China’s participation in the RCEP provides member countries with access to a massive consumer market … offers substantial opportunities for ASEAN exporters,” he said.

Deeming China as an economic powerhouse, the official also said that the inflow of foreign direct investment from China to ASEAN countries “strengthens ASEAN’s economic development.”

The economic official also highlighted China’s key role in ASEAN countries’ integration into global value chains.

“The RCEP introduces the regional value chain that provides greater opportunities for ASEAN’s manufactured products to participate in the global value chain. China, as a significant player in the global production base for manufacturing and high technology products, is and will remain crucial in this context,” said Pambudi.

Noting threats of global geopolitical uncertainties and economic slowdown to ASEAN’s post-pandemic recovery and economic outlook, he expressed the hope that the economic ties between ASEAN and China will deepen to help the regional bloc cope with the situation.

“Strengthening trade facilitation measures, reducing trade barriers, and promoting regional integration initiatives like the RCEP can boost intra-regional trade and enhance ASEAN’s resilience to global economic challenges,” said Pambudi

The Pitfalls of Unrestrained Capitalism: Climate Disaster, Financial Collapse, and Military Conflict

The following is excerpted from David Barsamian’s recent interview with Noam Chomsky at

David Barsamian: On March 20th, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its latest report. The new IPCC assessment from senior scientists warned that there’s little time to lose in tackling the climate crisis. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “The rate of temperature rise in the last half-century is the highest in 2,000 years. Concentrations of carbon dioxide are at their highest in at least 2 million years. The climate time bomb is ticking.” At COP 27 he said, “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator. It is the defining issue of our age. It is the central challenge of our century.” My question to you is: You’d think survival would be a galvanizing issue, but why isn’t there a greater sense of urgency in addressing it in a substantial way?

Noam Chomsky: It was a very strong statement by Guterres. I think it could be stronger still. It’s not just the defining issue of this century, but of human history. We are now, as he says, at a point where we’ll decide whether the human experiment on Earth will continue in any recognizable form. The report was stark and clear. We’re reaching a point where irreversible processes will be set into motion. It doesn’t mean that everybody’s going to die tomorrow, but we’ll pass tipping points where nothing more can be done, where it’s just decline to disaster.

So yes, it’s a question of the survival of any form of organized human society. Already there are many signs of extreme danger and threat, so far almost entirely in countries that have had the smallest role in producing the disaster. It’s often said, and correctly, that the rich countries have created the disaster and the poor countries are its victims, but it’s actually a little more nuanced than that. It’s the rich in the rich countries who have created the disaster and everyone else, including the poor in the rich countries, face the problems.

So, what’s happening? Well, take the United States and its two political parties. One party is 100% denialist. Climate change is not happening or, if it’s happening, it’s none of our business. The Inflation Reduction Act was basically a climate act that Biden managed to get through, though Congress sharply whittled it down. Not a single Republican voted for it. Not one. No Republican will vote for anything that harms the profits of the rich and the corporate sector, which they abjectly serve.We should remember that this is not built in. Go back to 2008 when Senator John McCain was running for president. He had a small climate program. Not much, but something. Congress, including the Republicans, was considering doing something about what everyone knew was an impending crisis. The Koch Brothers’ huge energy conglomerate got wind of it. They had been working for years to ensure that the Republicans would loyally support their campaign to destroy human civilization. Here, there was deviation. They launched an enormous campaign, bribing, intimidating, astroturfing, lobbying to return the Republicans to total denialism, and they succeeded.

Since then, it’s the prime denialist party. In the last Republican primary before Trump took over in 2016, all the top Republican figures vying for the presidential nomination, either said that there’s no global warming or maybe there is, but it’s none of our business. The one small exception, greatly praised by liberal opinion, was John Kasich, the governor of Ohio. And he was actually the worst of all. What he said was: of course, global warming’s happening. Of course, humans are contributing to it. But we in Ohio are going to use our coal freely and without apology. He was so greatly honored that he would be invited to speak at the next Democratic convention. Well, that’s one of the two political parties. Not a sign of deviation among them from: let’s race to destruction in order to ensure that our prime constituency is as rich and powerful as possible.

Now, what about the other party? There was Bernie Sanders’s initiative, the Sunrise Movement’s activism, and even Joe Biden at first had a moderately decent climate program — not enough, but a big step forward from anything in the past. It would, however, be cut down, step by step, by 100% Republican opposition, and a couple of right-wing Democrats, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. What finally came out was the Inflation Reduction Act, which could only get through by providing gifts to the energy corporations.

It brings to the fore the ultimate insanity of our institutional structure. If you want to stop destroying the planet and human life on Earth, you have to bribe the rich and powerful, so maybe they’ll come along. If we offer them enough candy, maybe they’ll stop killing people. That’s savage capitalism. If you want to get anything done, you have to bribe those who own the place.

And look what’s happening. Oil prices are out of sight and the energy corporations say: Sorry boys, no more sustainable energy. We make more money by destroying you. Even BP, the one company that was beginning to do something, in essence said: No, we make more profit from destroying everything, so we’re going to do that.

It became very clear at the Glasgow COP conference. John Kerry, the U.S. climate representative, was euphoric. He basically said we’ve won. We now have the corporations on our side. How can we lose? Well, there was a small footnote pointed out by political economist Adam Tooze. He agreed that, yes, they’d said that but with two conditions. One, we’ll join you as long as it’s profitable. Two, there has to be an international guarantee that, if we suffer any loss, the taxpayer covers it. That’s what’s called free enterprise. With such an institutional structure, it’s going to be hard to get out of this.

So, what’s the Biden administration doing? Let’s take the Willow project. Right now, it’s allowing ConocoPhillips to open a major project in Alaska, which will bring online more fossil fuels for decades. They’re using known methods to harden the Alaskan permafrost. One of the great dangers is that the permafrost, which covers enormous amounts of hidden fossil fuels, is melting, sending greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which will be monstrous. So, they’re hardening the permafrost. Big step forward! Why are they doing it? So, they can use it to exploit the oil more effectively. That’s savage capitalism right in front of our eyes with stark clarity. It takes genius not to see it, but it’s being done.

Look at popular attitudes, Pew does regular polling. They recently asked people in a poll to rank in priority a couple of dozen urgent issues, though nuclear war, which is as great a threat as climate change, wasn’t even listed. Climate change was way down near the bottom. Much more important was the budget deficit, which is not a problem at all. Thirteen percent of Republicans — that’s almost a statistical error — thought climate change was an urgent problem. More Democrats did, but not enough.

The question is: Can people who care about minimal human values, like, say, survival, organize and act effectively enough to overcome not only governments, but capitalist institutions designed for suicide?

Barsamian: The question always comes up and you’ve heard it a million times: The owners of the economy, the captains of industry, the CEOs, they have children, they have grandchildren, how can they not think of their future and protect them rather than putting them at risk?

Chomsky: Let’s say you’re the CEO of JPMorgan. You’ve replaced Jamie Dimon. You know perfectly well that when you fund fossil fuels, you’re destroying the lives of your grandchildren. I can’t read his mind, but I suspect that what’s going through it is: If I don’t do this, somebody else will be put in who — because it’s the nature of such institutions — will aim for profit and market share. If I’m kicked out, somebody else, not as nice a guy as I am, will come in. At least I know we’re destroying everything and try to mitigate it slightly. That next guy won’t give a damn. So, as a benefactor of the human race, I’ll continue to fund fossil-fuel development.

That’s a convincing position for just about all the people doing this. For 40 years, ExxonMobil’s scientists were way in the lead in discovering the threats and extreme dangers of global warming. For decades, they informed management that we’re destroying the world and it was just tucked away in some drawer somewhere.

In 1988, James Hansen, the famous geophysicist, gave Senate testimony, essentially saying, we’re racing to disaster. The management of ExxonMobil and the other companies had to consider that. We can’t just put it in the drawer anymore. So, they called in their PR experts and said, “How should we handle this?” And they responded, “If you deny it, you’ll be exposed right away. So don’t deny it. Just cast doubt. Say, maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t. We haven’t really looked into all the possibilities. We haven’t understood the sunspots, questions about cloud cover, so let’s just become a richer, more developed society. Small footnote, we’ll make a lot more profits and later on, if there’s any reality to this, we’ll be in a better position to deal with it.”

That was the propaganda line. Very effective PR. And then you get the Koch Brothers juggernaut and the like buying the Republican Party, or what used to be a political party, and turning them into total denialists, claiming maybe it’s a liberal hoax, and so on.

The Democrats contributed to this in other ways. One interesting thing about the recent election in areas along the Texas border: Mexican-Americans, who had always voted Democratic, voted for Trump. Why? Well, you can easily imagine: I’ve got a job in the oil industry. The Democrats want to take away my job, destroy my family, all because those liberal elitists claim there’s global warming going on. Why should I believe them? Let’s vote for Trump. At least I’ll have a job and be able to feed my family.

What the Democrats didn’t do was go down there, organize, educate, and say, “The environmental crisis is going to destroy you and your families. You can get better jobs in sustainable energy and your children will be better off.” Actually, in places where they did do that, they won. One of the most striking cases was West Virginia, a coal state, where Joe Manchin, the coal industry senator, has been blocking so much. My friend and colleague Bob Pollin and his group at the University of Massachusetts, PERI, the Political Economy Research Institute, have been working on the ground there and they now have mine workers calling for a transition to sustainable energy. The United Mine Workers even passed resolutions calling for it.

Barsamian: What about what’s going on in the banking sector given the collapse of the Silicon Valley Bank, followed by Signature Bank, and the problems at First Republic Bank?

Chomsky: First of all, I don’t claim any special expertise in this, but the people who do, serious economists who are also honest about it like Paul Krugman, say very simply: we don’t know. This goes back almost 45 years to the deregulation mania. Deregulate finance and you shift to a financial-based economy, while de-industrializing the country. You make your money out of finance, not out of building things — risky endeavors that are very profitable but will lead to a crash and then you call on the government, meaning the taxpayer, to bail you out.

There weren’t any major banking crises in the 1950s and 1960s, a big growth period, because the Treasury Department kept control of the banking industry. In those days, a bank was just a bank. You had some extra money, you put it there. Somebody came and borrowed money to buy a car or send his or her kid to college. That was banking. It started to change a little bit with Jimmy Carter, but Ronald Reagan was the avalanche. You got people like Larry Summers saying, let’s deregulate derivatives, throw the whole thing open. One crisis after another followed. The Reagan administration ended with the huge savings and loan crisis. Again, call in the friendly taxpayer. The rich make plenty of money and the rest pay the costs.

It’s what Bob Pollin and Gerry Epstein called the “bailout economy.” Free enterprise, make money as long as you can, until the crisis comes along and the public bails you out. The biggest one was 2008. What happened? Thanks to the deregulation of complicated financial products like derivatives and other initiatives under Bill Clinton, you got a crash in the housing industry, then in the financial industry. Congress did pass legislation, TARP, with two components. First, it bailed out the gangsters who had caused the crisis through subprime mortgages, loans they knew would never be paid back. Second, it did something for the people who had lost their homes, been kicked out on the street with foreclosures. Guess which half of the legislation the Obama administration implemented? It was such a scandal that the Inspector General of the Treasury Department, Neil Barofsky, wrote a book denouncing what happened. No effect. In response, lots of workers who voted for Obama believing in his hope-and-change line became Trump voters, feeling betrayed by the party that claimed to be for them.

Barsamian: The Ukraine war is now in its second year with no end in sight. China has proposed a peace plan to end it. What are the realistic chances of that happening anytime soon?

Chomsky: The Global South is calling for some negotiated settlement to put an end to the horrors before they get worse. Of course, the Russian invasion was a criminal act of aggression. No question about that. Ukrainians have a right to defend themselves. I don’t think there should be any question about that either.

The question is: Will the United States agree to allow negotiations to take place? The official U.S. position is that the war must continue to severely weaken Russia. In fact, the United States is actually getting a bargain out of this. With a small fraction of its colossal military budget, it’s severely degrading its major military opponent, Russia, which doesn’t have much of an economy but does have a huge military. You can ask whether that’s why they’re doing it, but that’s a fact.

There’s a pretext: if we continue to support the war, we’ll put Ukraine in a better negotiating position. Actually, they’ll likely be in a worse one, since that country’s being destroyed by the war, economically. Virtually their entire army’s gone, replaced by new recruits, barely trained. Russia’s suffering badly as well, but if you look at their relative power, who’s going to win in a stalemate? It’s not a big secret. Ukraine is likely to be destroyed and yet the U.S. position is: we’ve got to continue, got to severely weaken Russia, and by some miracle, Ukraine will become stronger.

Britain follows the United States. But what about Europe? So far, its elites have gone along with the United States. Its people, not so clear. Judging by polls, the public is calling for negotiations. The business world is deeply concerned. Putin’s criminal aggression was also an act of criminal stupidity from his point of view. Russia and Europe are natural commercial partners. Russia has resources and minerals, Europe technology and industry. Instead, Putin handed Washington its greatest wish on a silver platter. He said: Okay, Europe. Go be a satellite of the United States, which means that you will move towards deindustrialization.

The Economist magazine among others has been warning that Europe’s going to move towards deindustrialization if it continues to back the NATO-based, U.S.-run war, which much of the world now regards as a proxy war between Russia and the United States over Ukrainian bodies. Actually, it goes well beyond that. In response to U.S. demands, NATO has now expanded to the Indo-Pacific, meaning the U.S. has Europe in its pocket for its confrontation with China, for encircling it with a ring of states heavily armed with U.S. precision weapons.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has called for a commercial war to prevent Chinese development for a generation. We can’t compete with them, so let’s prevent them from getting advanced technology. The supply chains in the world are so intricate that almost everything — patents, technology, whatever — involves some U.S. input. The Biden administration says that nobody can use any of this in commercial relations with China. Think what that means for the Netherlands, which has the world’s most advanced lithographic industry, producing essential parts for semiconductors, for chips. It’s being ordered by Washington to stop dealing with its major market, China, a pretty serious blow to its industry. Will they agree? We don’t know. Same with South Korea. The U.S is telling Samsung, the big South Korean firm, you’ve got to cut yourself off from your major market because we have some patents that you use. The same with Japanese industry.

Nobody knows how they’re going to react. Are they going to willingly deindustrialize to fit a U.S. policy of global domination? The Global South — India, Indonesia, Latin American countries — is already saying, we don’t accept such sanctions. This could develop into a major confrontation on the world scene.

Barsamian: Rafael Grossi, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has been warning of the dangers posed by nuclear reactors in Ukraine. Shelling and fighting near them could, he says, trigger “a nuclear disaster.” Meanwhile, the Biden administration is going ahead with the “modernization” of U.S. nuclear weapons. Is this another example of when the lunatics control the asylum?

Chomsky: Unfortunately, one of the major problems Dan Ellsberg and some others have been trying to get us to understand for years is the growing threat of nuclear war. In Washington, people talk about it as if it were a joke: let’s have a small nuclear war with China! Air Force general Mike Minihan recently predicted that we’re going to have a war with China in two years. It’s beyond insanity. There can’t be a war between nuclear powers.

Meanwhile, U.S. strategic planning under Trump, expanded by Biden, has been to prepare for two nuclear wars, with Russia and China. Yes, those Ukrainian nuclear reactors are a major problem, but it goes beyond that. The United States is now sending tanks and other weaponry to Ukraine. Poland is sending jet planes. Sooner or later, Russia’s likely to attack the supply routes. (U.S. military analysts are a little surprised that it’s held back this long.) You have leading figures from Washington visiting Kyiv. Do you remember anybody visiting the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, when the United States was pounding it to dust? Not in my recollection. In fact, a few peace volunteers were ordered out of the country, because it was being so devastated. Ukraine’s being badly hit, but if Russia goes on to attack Western Ukraine including the supply routes, maybe even beyond that, then direct confrontations with NATO become possible.

In fact, it’s already moving up the escalation ladder. How far will it go? You have people in the hawkish sector suggesting that maybe we can sink the Russian Black Sea fleet. And if so, they’re going to say, thank you, that was nice, we didn’t really care much about those ships, right?

In fact, to go back to that Pew poll, they didn’t even list nuclear war as one of the issues people could rank. Insanity is the only word you can use for it.

Barsamian: Speaking of planetary dangers, the START Treaty between the U.S. and Russia established limits on deployed strategic nuclear warheads. Recently, Russia suspended its participation in it. What’s the danger of that?

Chomsky: Russia was sharply condemned for that. Rightly. Negative acts should be criticized. But there’s some background to it we’re not supposed to talk about. The arms control regime was painstakingly developed over 60 years. A lot of hard work and negotiation. Huge public demonstrations in the United States and Europe led Ronald Reagan to accept Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s proposals for the Intermediate Short Range Missile Treaty in Europe, a very important step in 1987. Dwight D. Eisenhower had initiated thinking about an Open Skies Treaty. John F. Kennedy took some steps. Over time, it developed, until George W. Bush became president.

Since then, the Republican Party has been systematically dismantling 60 years of arms control. Bush dismantled the Antiballistic Missile Treaty. That was crucial. It’s a great danger to Russia to have ABM installations right near its border, since those are first-strike weapons. Trump came along with his wrecking ball and got rid of the Reagan-Gorbachev INF Treaty and later the Open Skies Treaty. He was after the New START Treaty, too, but Biden came in just in time to agree to Russian proposals to extend it. Now, the Russians have suspended that one. All of this is a race to disaster and the main criminals happen to be the Republican Party in the United States. Putin’s act should be condemned, but it hardly took place in isolation.

Barsamian: U.S. intelligence recently issued its Annual Threat Assessment. It says, “China has the capability to directly attempt to alter the rules-based global order in every realm and across multiple regions as a near-peer competitor that is increasingly pushing to change global norms.” That phrase “rules-based global order” is vintage Orwell.

Chomsky: It’s an interesting phrase. In the United States, if you’re an obedient intellectual commentator and scholar, you take it for granted that we must have a rules-based order. But who sets the rules? We don’t ask that question because it has an obvious answer: the rules are set by the Godfather in Washington. China is now openly challenging it and, for years, has been calling for a UN-based international order, supported by much of the world, especially the Global South. The U.S. can’t accept not setting the rules, however, since it would involve a strict bar against the threat of, or use of, force in international affairs, which would mean barring U.S. foreign policy. Can you think of a president who hasn’t engaged in the threat of, or use of, force? And not just massive criminal actions like the invasion of Iraq. When Obama tells Iran that all options are open unless you do what we say, that’s a threat of force. Every single U.S. president has violated the UN-based international order.

And here’s a little footnote you’re not supposed to cite. They’ve also violated the U.S. Constitution. Read Article Six, which says that treaties entered into by the United States are the supreme law of the land every elected official is bound to observe. The major post-World War II treaty was that UN Charter, which bans the threat or use of force. In other words, every single U.S. president has violated the Constitution, which we’re supposed to worship as given to us by God.

So, is China becoming a “peer competitor”? It is in the regions surrounding it. Look at the war games run by the Pentagon and they suggest that, if there were a local war over Taiwan, China would probably win. Of course, the idea is ridiculous because any war would quickly explode into a terminal one. But those are the games they play. So, China’s a peer competitor. Is it acting properly and legally? Of course not. It’s fortified rocks in the South China Sea. It’s in violation of international law, in violation of a specific judgment of the UN, but it’s expanding.

Still, the primary Chinese threat is initiatives like bringing Saudi Arabia and Iran together and so throwing a serious wrench into U.S. policies going back 80 years to control the Middle East. Strategically, it’s the “most important area in the world,” as the government put it, and China’s horning in on that, creating a political settlement that might reduce tensions, might even solve the horrifying war in Yemen, while bringing together Washington’s primary ally there, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, its major enemy. That’s intolerable! For the U.S. and Israel, it’s a real blow.

Barsamian: Your classic book with Ed Herman is Manufacturing Consent. If you were updating it today, you would, of course, replace the Soviet Union with China and/or Russia and undoubtedly add the growth of social media. Anything else?

Chomsky: Those would be the main things. Social media is not a small point. It’s having a very complex effect on American society. Go back to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The majority of the population thought that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. Beyond outlandish, but they had heard enough propaganda here to believe it. Social media is only making all of this worse. A recent study of young people, of what’s called Generation Z, and where they get their news found that almost nobody reads the newspapers anymore. Almost nobody watches television. Very few people even look at Facebook. They’re getting it from TikTok, Instagram. What kind of a community is going to try to understand this world from watching people having fun on TikTok?

The other effect of social media is to drive people into self-reinforcing bubbles. We’re all subject to that. People like me listen to your program or Democracy Now. We don’t listen to Breitbart. Conversely, the same is true. And another monster is coming along, the chatbot system of artificial intelligence, a wonderful way to create disinformation, demonization, defamation. Probably no way to control it. And all of this is part of manufacturing consent. We are the best and the brightest. Get those people out of our hair and we’ll run the world for everybody’s benefit. We’ve seen how that works.

The pursuit of profit, competition, and private property are the pillars of the capitalist economic system. [ Illustration Credit:]

Barsamian: How do we overcome propaganda and what are some techniques for challenging savage capitalism?

Chomsky: The way you challenge propaganda is the way you’re doing it, just more — more active, more engaged. As for savage capitalism, there are two steps. The smaller is to eliminate the savage part. It’s not exactly utopian to say: let’s go back to what we had pre-Reagan. Let’s have a moderately harsh capitalism in which there are still some decent wages, rights for people, and so on. Far from ideal, but much better than what we’ve had since.

The second step is to get rid of the core problem. Let’s go back to the early stages of the Industrial Revolution in the United States. Working people took it for granted that the wage contract was a totally illegitimate assault on their basic rights, turning you into what were openly called “wage slaves.” Why should we follow the orders of a master for all of our waking lives? It was considered an abomination. It was even a slogan of the Republican Party under Lincoln that this was intolerable. That movement lasted into the early 20th century before finally being crushed by Woodrow Wilson’s Red Scare, which basically wiped out the Socialist Party and the labor movement. There was some recovery in the thirties, but not to that extent.

And now even that’s gone. People regard it as their highest goal in life to be subjected to the orders of a master for most of their waking lives. And that’s really effective propaganda, but it can change, too. There already are proposals for worker participation in management that are anything but utopian. They exist in Germany and other places and that could become: Why don’t we take the enterprise over for ourselves? Why should we follow the orders of some banker in New York when we can run this place better? I don’t think that’s all that far away.

Barsamian: The lunatics seemingly control the asylum. What signs of sanity are out there to counter the lunatics?

Chomsky: Plenty. There’s lots of popular activism. It’s in the streets. Young people calling for the decent treatment of others. A lot of it is very solid and serious. Extinction Rebellion, the Sunrise Movement. Let’s save the planet from destruction. There are lots of voices. Yours, Democracy Now, Chris Hedges, lots of sites, AlternetCommon DreamsTruthout, The InterceptTomDispatch, many others. All of these are efforts to create an alternative world in which human beings can survive. Those are the signs of hope for the world.

Copyright 2023 David Barsamian and Noam Chomsky

We Are Living Through a Paradigm Shift in Our Understanding of Human Evolution


There’s a paradigm shift underway in our understanding of the past 4 million years of human evolution: ours is a story that includes combinations with other Homo species, spread unevenly across today’s populations—not a neat and linear evolutionary progression.

Technological advances and a growing body of archaeological evidence have allowed experts in the study of human origins and prehistory to offer an increasingly clear, though complex, outline of the bio-historical process that produced today’s human population and cultures.

For the most part, the public is presented with new findings as interesting novelty items in the news and science coverage. The fuller picture, and the notion that this information has valuable implications for society and our political arrangements, doesn’t usually percolate into public consciousness, or in centers of influence.

But there is an emerging realization in the expert community that humanity can greatly benefit from making this material a pillar of human education—and gradually grow accustomed to an evidence-based understanding of our history, behavior, biology, and capacities. There’s every indication that a better understanding of ourselves strengthens humanity as a whole and makes connection and cooperation more possible.

The process will realistically take decades to take root, and it seems the best way at this point to accelerate that process is in articulating the big picture, and giving people key footholds and scientific reference points for understanding.

I reached out to discuss some of the bigger conclusions that are emerging from the research with Professor Chris Stringer, who has been at the forefront of human evolutionary understanding for decades. Stringer helped formulate the “Out of Africa” model of our species’ origins and continues to pursue pioneering projects at the UK Natural History Museum in London as research leader in human origins in the Department of Earth Sciences.

Jan Ritch-Frel: A good place to start is that we know that today’s humans produced fertile offspring with relative Homo species that had separated from us hundreds of thousands of years ago, and this went on with ancestor species for as far back as scientists are able to trace. This is against a backdrop that for primate species it was possible to produce fertile offspring with other species sharing a common ancestor as far back as 2 million years—with a generally decreasing chance of success across the passage of time and divergence between Homo species.

Chris Stringer: We know that our species produced some fertile offspring with Neanderthals, and with Denisovans. We also have negative evidence that there were limits on infertility between some of the Homo species because we don’t find a lot more evidence of it in our genomes (at least at the level at which we can detect it)—thus matings between more distantly related species either didn’t occur, were not fertile, or we can’t detect them at the level of our current technology.

There are barriers, and we know that in our genomes today, there are areas of deserts where there’s zero Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA. And we know that some of those deserts are in areas that influence things like speech and vocalization, and how the brain works. There are also suggestions that male children may have been less fertile or infertile compared with the female children of those hybrid matings. At the level we can detect it, there is no strong evidence so far of infertility between Homo sapiens and our more distant relatives such as Homo floresiensis or Homo naledi.

So we don’t yet know all of the Homo species which could have hybridized or did hybridize during the last 2 million years, but certainly some of them would have been interfertile. We know that we, Neanderthals, and Denisovans were interfertile, for example.

Ritch-Frel: Unpacking what you’ve said here, it changes the coordinates of how we explain human evolution to ourselves—not a linear progression, but a series of combinations, of different groups that occasionally produced advantages for survival. In some cases, survival for a migrating Homo population could be assisted by hybridizing with a resident species that had survived in a region for hundreds of thousands of years or more, picking up their adaptions—to the immune system, to the ability to process oxygen, or other traits—not to mention the informational exchange of culture and lifestyle.

The more one learns about this, the easier it is to see that the passage of time is better thought of as just an ingredient in the human evolutionary story. With this in mind, it’s easier to grasp how far astray the concept of “primitive” can take us in understanding ourselves and our evolutionary process.

As the world begins to put this information at the center of human education, it’s so important to get the root words right as best we can.

Stringer: “Archaic” and “modern,” “human” and “non-human”—they’re all loaded terms. What’s a human? And there are many different definitions of what a species is.

There are some people who only use “human” for sapiens, and then the Neanderthals even wouldn’t be human. I don’t agree with that, because it means that we mated with “non-humans” in the last 50,000 years, which I think makes the conversation very difficult.

In my view, the term “human” equates to being a member of the genus Homo. So I regard the Neanderthals, rhodesiensis, and erectus as all being human.

And the terms “modern” and “archaic”—these are difficult terms. And I’ve tried to move away from them now because on the one hand, the term “modern” is used for modern behavior, and it’s also used for modern anatomy, so these terms get confused. For example, some ancient human fossil findings have been described as “anatomically modern” but not “behaviorally modern”—I think that’s just too confusing to be useful.

When we look at the early members of a Homo species, instead of having the term “archaic,” as in having “archaic traits,” I think it’s clearer if we use the term “basal.” Basal puts us on a path without the confusion and baggage that can come with terms like “archaic,” “primitive,” and “modern.” In this usage, “basal” is a relative term, but at least one where we can come up with criteria (such as skeletal traits) to delineate it.

It helps here to consider the evolutionary process outside of Homo sapiens. Neanderthals had a process of evolution as well from the period they split off with our common ancestor. Neanderthals at the end of their time were very derived, quite different from how they started potentially 600,000 years ago, and yet under conventional thinking they are called “archaic” (compared with us “moderns”). Over the period of hundreds of thousands of years, they developed a number of new physical features that were not there in the common ancestor with Homo sapiens. For example, they developed a face that was pulled forward at the middle, a spherical cranial shape in rear view—even some of the ear bones were a different shape. And like us, they evolved a bigger brain. The derived Homo neanderthalensis looked quite different from their ancestors 300,000 years earlier.

So let’s scrap the verbal framework of “primitive” and “archaic” and “modern” and go with “basal” and “derived” along both our and the Neanderthal lineage.

Ritch-Frel: Another recent shift in understanding is the story of how we learned to walk. A growing body of research suggests it happened on tree branches and that our arms had a role to play in providing balance.

Stringer: When you look at orangutans and gibbons, who are our close living relatives over in Southeast Asia, we see that when they’re in the trees they already are walking upright, and they branch walk. Some of the tenderest leaves and fruits are out on the ends of branches, so using their longer arms, they will actually walk along the branches, supporting themselves by holding on with one or two hands to the branch above. And then they can also jump across easily from the ends of the branches to the next tree, to carry on feeding.

So the view is that this is a physique that is pre-adapted to bipedalism. Their bodies are already part-adapted to an upright posture, and the pelvis is already in a situation where they can support themselves on two legs. The working idea would be that our ancestors went through a similar stage where they were branch walking, feeding in the trees, beginning to regularly get their body into an upright position. And then when they come down between trees, the trees maybe start to thin out if areas become drier, and they stay upright as they walk between the trees until they get to the next clump of trees.

I don’t think we really have a very convincing evolutionary alternative scenario. Consider that this adaption to bipedalism takes place over millions of years. If you imagine a creature that is on all fours, what’s going to make it start walking upright and do it for long enough for the skeleton to be modified by evolution to become fully bipedal? They have to survive along the way of that process. Very difficult to imagine.

People like Darwin originally speculated that bipedalism came out of the need to use tools or carry things, and it’s certainly useful to do those things, once you are bipedal. But what’s going to modify a skeleton, modify the musculature and all of that, in the way that evolution tells us that primates evolve over the course of generations?

Ritch-Frel: Taking that point as to the origins of learning to walk, it leads into the discussion on two Homo fossil groups found in Southeast Asia, Homo floresiensis on the island of Flores, Indonesia, and luzonensis in Callao Cave on the island of Luzon in the Philippines—and floresiensis with an adult height at somewhere only a bit over a meter tall.

Floresiensis caught the attention of the world public back in 2003. We were presented with the discovery of a “primitive creature,” one that more often gets called an “it” than a person. The more curious members of the public who dig deeper into this discovery are usually told that these “hobbits” were a product of evolutionary dwarfism, often found on islands, where larger creatures are reduced in size from resource constraints and smaller gene pools. Always present in discussions about floresiensis is a focus on their small “primitive” brains. We’re beginning to learn that size may not matter as much as the layout of the brain when we compare ourselves to our ancestors and their core capacities. (I’ll ask you more about this later on.)

More recently, in 2019, archaeologists announced a fossil discovery found almost 2,000 miles away in the Philippines currently given a species name Homo luzonensis that has a lot of similarities to floresiensis.

Until their discovery, it was thought that the first hominins/humans to arrive in Southeast Asia were Homo erectus, who is known to have left Africa about 2 million years ago.

It’s notable that some experts argue floresiensis was able to walk, but not run. And that floresiensis’s humerus, the upper arm bone, was longer than its femur, the upper leg bone. This is typical of a body type adapted for climbing. The wrist bones also point to climbing. That kind of evolutionary branch, I understand, goes back closer to somewhere beyond 2.5-3 million years ago, and would force a rethinking about which Homo species locomotion style first left Africa and possibly set the stage to influence and hybridize with African relatives who came after.

Floresiensis/luzonensis is an area where there is no consensus among the experts—and the public might find the schools of thought illustrative about the frontiers of our understanding about the human evolutionary story.

Stringer: Some experts argue that the most convincing scenario is that the floresiensis material is derived from Homo erectus—that this is a dwarf form of Homo erectus that somehow got to Flores, underwent dwarfing, and… retained some erectus characteristics. We know erectus left Africa approximately 2 million years ago. Some of the dental features of floresiensis have been suggested to be clear evidence of an erectus ancestry. For this idea to work, floresiensis would have needed to have an ancestor who independently developed or redeveloped basal features—features which look more like ancestral features of previously developed species in Africa. As you’ve mentioned, the body proportions, the upper body that seems to show adaptations for climbing. Perhaps floresiensis may have gone back into the trees for feeding. That’s a possibility.

This dwarfing process would have had to occur subsequently in the island migration process in Southeast Asia. That is a scenario which some people who know their Homo erectus fossils will argue is there. That’s one school of opinion on floresiensis.

And on the other hand, you have some experts working along the lines you’ve alluded to, that actually this is evidence of a pre-erectus exit from Africa. A Homo habilis or even an australopithecine grade came out of Africa, somehow got all the way over to Southeast Asia, in terms of fossils we know about, and maybe on Luzon in the Philippines as well for Homo luzonensis. In favor of that, we’ve got these basal features in the wrist bones and in the pelvis and the shoulders, and the smaller brain.

That’s a pretty convincing scenario. But if you agree with that, then you’ve got to conclude that some convergent, or independently similar, evolution in their teeth toward Homo erectus had to happen. Aspects of the skull look erectus-like. Floresiensis has a small face that’s tucked under the cranial vault, which required some derivation. Floresiensis would have had to have both independent similar evolution to erectus, and a return to some more basal elements of their ancestors.

There is a compromise view, that floresiensis is the product of a basal erectus. Some of the erectus skeleton fossils found at a site called Dmanisi in the country of Georgia, they’re much smaller-brained. One of the fossils has a brain size not too different from floresiensis.

We could be starting from an erectus that’s smaller-bodied, smaller-brained, and maybe then it could have gotten across to Flores eventually, and evolved and survived there for more than a million years. We have to bear in mind that we actually don’t know the full anatomy of erectus anyway. So what were the wrist bones like in Dmanisi? Were they like those found in Flores? We simply don’t know yet, because they’re not preserved so far.

In any of these cases you’ve also got the mystery of how they even got to Flores—there are no land bridges there that appear when sea levels drop during ice age periods. The people who argue floresiensis was more closely related to humans via the erectus line suggest there was a capability of maybe using watercraft to get to Flores.

But the other option is that its arrival on Flores was accidental. Tectonically this part of Indonesia is one of the most active areas in the world, caused by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. There was a major tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004. People were found out at sea days later, surviving on clumps of vegetation. That was something that happened in the last 20 years. When you’ve got a time scale of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of years potentially, these “rare” events can happen. We know that’s how many other animals must have gotten across to these islands between Java and Papua New Guinea/Australia.

It’s possible that some ancestors of floresiensis were maybe foraging in mangrove swamps on the coast, and a tidal wave ripped a whole area away, and they’re left in there, and somehow miraculously a few weeks later they arrive on Flores or on another island, because it could have been accomplished in stages. It doesn’t have to be straight all the way to Flores.

Ritch-Frel: Whether floresiensis rafted by design or accident, there is this other piece of evidence that we identify with human advancement—stone toolmaking. Archaeologists found at two sites on the island of Flores tools associated with butchering meat that are 700,000 and even over a million years old.

With floresiensis, we have a body that was perhaps unable to run, able to walk, but better suited for climbing. We have a brain described as tiny, yet able to make tools. Turning to the 2013 discovery of Homo naledi in South Africa, we have 230,000-to-300,000-year-old evidence of another Homo species that had curvature on the finger bones that is associated with primates who spend their time climbing, and also a hand bone structure that allows people to bring complexity in their toolmaking. It has a foot structure similar to ours. Like floresiensisnaledi also has a brain much smaller than ours, but also like floresiensis, it has a similar brain structure. Tools have been found in the area that the archaeologists believe may have been created by naledi.

The archaeological team that is working on the naledi site tells us there is evidence of a culture with traits that we and our cousin species would recognize—returning to the same cave to deposit their dead, and using fire to navigate it. Neanderthals left a record of depositing dozens of their dead in a cave in Spain called Sima de los Huesos about 430,000 years ago. Whether what we are looking at in these caves are cases of mass murder or ritual or something else, we just don’t have the evidence to say. In Bruniquel cave in France, we have evidence of Neanderthal use of fire and potentially habitation in the cave at least 175,000 years ago.

Remembering the dead, of course, is not unique to us. Elephants visit and mourn the remains of their relatives and herd members throughout the decomposition process. Chimpanzee mothers will carry their dead infants with them for days.

Stringer: Naledi is very intriguing. We can explain the survival of floresiensis long term and its divergent evolution in isolation, and Homo sapiens doesn’t get there until maybe the last 50,000 years, and then floresiensis disappears. But in the case of naledi, we’ve got it in South Africa, on a continent where we’re pretty sure Homo sapiens had already evolved, where other Homo species, such as rhodesiensis, were present. And yet naledi is surviving in South Africa with an ape-sized brain successfully, seemingly, and may be spending its time deep in the cave systems there.

I have been one of the critics of the intentional burial disposal idea, because I’ve argued that “How complex could the behavior be of a creature with a brain the size of a chimpanzee or a gorilla?”

But I’m more than happy to be surprised by much greater complexity in Homo naledi when peer-reviewed research makes the case for it (which may be soon).

Ritch-Frel: There’s a big emphasis on the size of the brains of our relatives in the public and expert conversation on human origins, for comparing ourselves to our ancestors and cousins. In the case of floresiensis and naledi, the public conversation keeps returning to how small their brains are. Naledi had a brain size of 600 milliliters; each of us has around 1,300. Could that be a bit of a red herring in terms of their core capacities? Should we be putting more emphasis on the layout of the core brain structures? Does that deserve to get some more emphasis in comparison to us?

Stringer: The whole question of brain size and complexity of behavior, it’s been a long-running debate.

Neanderthals and sapiens have relatively big brains in the Homo family. You can see a rough correlation between increasing behavioral complexity in stone tools and the size of the brain. It’s a rough correlation, not a one-to-one. That’s why I think naledi is going to be very important, because if the research team demonstrates complexity of behavior I think it will certainly put a nail in the coffin of the idea that a small hominin brain can’t accomplish complex things.

Ritch-Frel: Given that, and going back to some of the tree-dwelling morphologies retained, is it fair to wonder now whether the intelligence that humans tend to prize about themselves and use as a marker of our difference from other animals was developed up in trees rather than exclusively on the ground? We know that young chimpanzee females make dolls, for example, with which they simulate child-rearing.

Stringer: I think even looking at chimps and gorillas, they have clear intelligence greater than most other creatures, most other mammals. Certainly it was there in the common ancestor. So I think the common ancestor of us and chimps about 7 million years ago already had complex behavior and potentially even toolmaking behavior at that early stage.

Why not? So I think yes, it could have started to develop in the trees. And as I say, orangutans are intelligent too. So I think the common ancestor would’ve had that degree of intelligence. But there are arguments that by the time we get to Australopithecus, there has been some restructuring of the brain, which implies maybe a reorganization for more complex thought.

Ritch-Frel: We now know that there are at least as many as five distinct human species that were living on Earth as recently as 70,000 years ago: Homo sapiensneanderthalensisdenisovafloresiensis, and luzonensis. And we can demonstrate through several lines of evidence that they not only had different anatomy, but that they also had varying physical capacities, and behavioral traits or tendencies.

A 1-meter-tall human species in Indonesia had a foot that made running difficult. Research tells us that Neanderthals tended to be aggressive, be morning people, have depression; that they would have struck us as dogmatic, and that they had repetitive behaviors.

On top of this, we also know that sapiens across the planet today carry genomic material from hybridizing with at least six Homo species, some of whom we think went extinct as an independent, separate species long before 70,000 years ago. Two of these species we can name, Neanderthal and Denisovan, and the other four science hasn’t named yet—but we have genomic evidence for these “mystery ancestors.”

It’s not yet part of the public conversation, but can you see a future where people might identify themselves and their behaviors as typical of their family, religion, regional origins, and also of their inheritances from ancestor species in an environment where understanding ourselves strengthens the bonds of cooperation and provides us with a universalizing framework of relatability?

Stringer: There’s definitely evidence of sapiens interbreeding with Neanderthals, and that is still thought to be one fairly closely related group of Neanderthals that hybridized with Homo sapiens. But for Denisovans, it’s at least three different population groups of Denisovans who diversified approximately 300,000 years ago that interbred with Homo sapiens in different parts of Asia and Southeast Asia.

And back to your question about identity. Yes, I think that we know from studies of what the Neanderthal DNA is doing in us today that bits of Neanderthal DNA are related, for example, to whether you’re a morning or an evening person. We know that some bits of Neanderthal DNA have given protection against COVID. The age of menopause and the start of menstruation. Addictive behavior appears to be related in some cases to bits of Neanderthal DNA.

There are suggestions that autism, schizophrenia, certainly autoimmune diseases, they also are influenced to an extent by the presence of Neanderthal DNA, and probably we will find similar things for Denisovan DNA. So it’s certainly affecting us, our core biology, our personalities.

And for Denisovans, in some populations there’s double the amount of Denisovan DNA than Neanderthal DNA. Populations in Southeast Asia have Neanderthal DNA at the same level as, say, Europeans or Asians, but they’ve got an additional maybe 4 percent of Denisovan DNA. So theoretically we imagine that’s going to have an even greater effect. We know it affects the immune systems, but it may have other effects as well.

Credit Line: This article was produced by Human Bridges, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Unmasking Western Hypocrisy: A Candid Interview with Russian Ambassador to Sri Lanka



by Our Diplomatic Affairs Editor

Recently, Our Diplomatic Affairs Editor had the opportunity to conduct an exclusive interview with the Russian Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Levan S. Dzhagaryan, at the Russian Embassy in Colombo. The interview covered a range of topics including the longstanding relationship between Sri Lanka and Russia, the current state of bilateral relations, the de-dollarization campaign of Global South, and the Ambassador’s message to foreign diplomats.

Ambassador Dzhagaryan shared his thoughts and insights on these important issues, providing valuable perspectives on the challenges and opportunities facing Sri Lanka and the wider international community. The interview provided a unique opportunity to gain deeper insights into the perspectives of one of the most senior Russian diplomats in the region, and sheds light on the current state of relations between Sri Lanka and Russia, as well as the broader geopolitical dynamics shaping the world today.

Levan S. Dzhagaryan has an extensive diplomatic career that includes working in various regions around the world, including the Middle East. He has served as a diplomat for over three decades, beginning his career in 1987. He has worked in Iran, Afghanistan, and other countries in the region, gaining invaluable experience in dealing with complex political and diplomatic situations.

In the late 1980s, Dzhagaryan served as a diplomat in Afghanistan during the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan, a period of intense conflict and political turmoil. This experience provided him with a unique perspective on international relations, conflict resolution, and the importance of dialogue and cooperation between nations.

Read the excerpts from the interview; 

Question: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for accepting our request. Let’s start this interview with your assessment of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. How is the situation there now?

Answer: This is not a conflict between Ukraine and Russia, but rather a conflict between Russia and Western countries, particularly the United States of America. What we are expecting is for Ukraine to announce that it is a NATO country. Then they can officially deploy their forces, which they are currently doing unofficially, near the Russian border by forcing a direct threat.

Imagine if Russia deployed our missiles close to the United States, as happened in Cuba in 1962, and everyone knows what happened. Now the same thing is being done by the United States in our border countries. How on earth can that be justified? When they do it, it is justifiable, but when others do it to ensure their borders, it is not acceptable and is called an “unprovoked war” or “invasion.” This is nothing but a double standard.

Question: You are pointing at the West, but the more the crisis drags on, the more people suffer. Responsible parties must take immediate steps to solve this problem. Do you have anything in mind in terms of conflict resolution?

Answer: To resolve this crisis, China is playing a significant and remarkable role. To cease the ongoing violence and find a lasting solution, China last month proposed a 12-point peace plan. Some provisions of this plan that may lay a foundation for peace negotiations, but Ukraine is continuing to play a hoodwink as they cannot decide by themselves. Ukraine is obviously a puppet government. They are under American and certain European countries’ control. Ukrainians are not decision-makers. Everything they do depends on Washington. Therefore, they are afraid of a ceasefire, as a ceasefire would benefit unarmed civilians. What they want is more suffering for civilians and for the war to continue. These manipulators don’t want peace, and if they continue like this, we have no alternative but to continue the war and upgrade it into a full-scale war.

Question: If you can talk about the geopolitical landscape in this crisis, what is the biggest threat to Russia at the moment?

Answer: The current geopolitical scenario is a threat to our sovereignty and independence. Russia is an independent country, and the US does not like independent countries. That is why they are trying to undermine China. The new world order is giving us an opportunity to understand who we are and how the West has bullied us. The threat Russia is facing is not an isolated threat. This is exactly what the Global South is facing at this moment. That is why the Global South is coming together.

Question: You have repeatedly stated that Russia is unfairly targeted by the West. Can you explain your perspective on this issue?

Answer: Indeed, we firmly believe that Russia is unfairly targeted by the West. We have always been willing to cooperate with any country on an equal footing. In the past, we have had strong relationships with charismatic political leaders in the West who understood Russia’s integrity. We worked together while protecting mutual respect and sensitivity. One example is Germany, where Russia helped to prosper its economy. However, some countries have recently blown up energy pipelines, attempting to blame Russia, but their efforts have been unsuccessful. We have urged the UN Security Council to set up a working group to investigate this crime, but it is being refused. Everyone knows who is behind this attack, and it was not simply a group in Ukraine, but a sophisticated attack. Therefore, after the incident, President Biden, Under Secretary Nuland, and others shared their joys. It is evident that Americans were using trade with European countries to promote their trade, and this is precisely what has happened. As a result, Europeans are now forced to purchase expensive LNG, and they will soon realize who their true enemy is.

Question: Many countries abstained from voting on the Russian resolution at the UN Security Council on Nord Stream Sabotage. Can you comment on this?

Answer: Yes, only three countries stood in favor of our resolution. Other countries refrained from voting due to enormous pressure from the United States and its allies. We have to ask, if these countries had nothing to do with this international terror act of sabotaging the pipeline, why are they afraid of conducting an impartial investigation? Why won’t they allow Russians to be a part of this investigation?

Question: The West has responded to your allegations by saying that they are unproven. How do you react to this?

Answer: If our allegations are unproven, then we are willing to participate and cooperate in an investigation. However, they have continued to deny our demands for an impartial investigation. This attack is an act of state terrorism and shameful inhumanity. They have no right to blame other countries. The country that created ISIS has no right whatsoever to criticize other countries. President Trump even publicly told Hilary Clinton, when she was Secretary of State, “You should be rewarded by ISIS because you have created them.”

Levan S. Dzhagaryan as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to Sri Lanka talking to Sri Lanka Guardian [ Photo: Laknath Seneviratne]

Question: Let’s talk about your role as a Russian diplomat. You served as the Russian Ambassador to Iran before your assignment here in Colombo. What do you see as the biggest threat Iran is facing today, and how can Russia help address it?

Answer: Iran is a beautiful and rich country with friendly people. However, since 1979, Iran has been suffering from unfairly targeted sanctions imposed by the US and EU. Despite this, Iran has managed to create a strong economy. I particularly saw that Iranian youth are true patriots and are well-versed in mathematics and sciences, which is a huge national potential. But the US is always poking Iran and trying their best to destabilize the country using different tools. Certain media outfits and social groups funded by the West situated abroad are trying to defame Iran and topple the government. The West can’t tolerate when there is an independent country. As a true friend with historic roots, Russia maintains a strong relationship with Iran, and we have mutual respect for each other. China’s move to normalize relationships with other Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, is significant, and I hope we can work towards strong relationships with other Arab countries, particularly Turkey and Syria.

Question: The interesting point is the US doesn’t have a physical mission in Iran, but during the Obama administration, they started nuclear negotiations. How do you see this?

Answer: Switzerland is keeping a special unit to maintain the Iran-US relationship, and there are a few other Western missions operating in Tehran. At the time, they were very cooperative, which ultimately resulted in a good deal. But later, it turned into a blunt attempt to interfere with Iran’s internal affairs.

Question: The Iraq intervention is now 20 years old, and the crisis in the Middle East continues. Do you see any light at the end of the tunnel in the region?

Answer: Many issues need to be solved, and as a diplomat, I’m optimistic about it. However, the Iraq intervention by the US and its allies, like in many other countries, is a gross violation of international laws and conventions, as well as the United Nations Charter. Just like how they destroyed Iraq, Americans are destroying Syria. The presence of American troops in Syria is not only unnecessary but also a gross violation of the country’s sovereignty. Who invited them to Syria? Nobody. They are just there to loot, yes; loot the natural resources from Syria. Our demand is to withdraw the American troops from Syria quickly and start a dialogue with the government headed by President Asad. As far as I understand, the President is ready for a dialogue with opposition groups. I think all parties should come to a compromise to end this brutal crisis instigated by the West.

Question: But at the same time, those regimes, be it Syria, Iraq, Libya, or elsewhere, are blamed for serious violations of human rights?

Answer: What are human rights? It is a well-formulated tool for double standards. Americans have a lot of problems inside their country; if they are concerned about human rights, they should solve their issues at home first before dictating to other countries on how to protect human rights. They turn a blind eye to certain countries of their choice but attack other independent countries for not bowing down to their dictations. Look at Latvia and Estonia; many Russians are there without identities. Does the West talk about that? No, because they maintain friendship with them. What about the killing of Darya Dugina by Ukrainian assassins? Do any “human rights nations” or any human rights protection and promotion organizations talk about it? Not at all. Their hypocrisy is crystal clear. Those who deny the actions of the Ukrainian government are not persecuted, and those who speak against it are. In my opinion, whenever the Western allegations on human rights come up, first see their ulterior motives and track records, then you can see the double standards and hypocrisy there. What you have to be careful of is not allowing those hypocrites to interfere in your internal affairs.

Question: Do you think, in this situation, the Global South moving forward to establish a multipolar world is a realistic dream?

Answer: It is indeed realistic, and more and more countries in the Global South are coming together after centuries of bullying and undermining. The West has deceived us with their lies right from the beginning; how can we trust them? The United Nations itself rules out that Americans violated international laws and conventions. If they start bragging about human rights protection and promotion, my message is very clear: please stand up and see yourself in the mirror. In Syria, my message is even clearer: “Yankees, go home!”

Question: Well, give us your take on the recent visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Answer: We are very happy about this significant move. We are not a military alliance. We don’t force threats to anyone else, but we stand for securing our borders and sovereignty. We are focused on the humanitarian field, more importantly, the economy of each other.

Question: However, the US Dollar is still dominating the global economy.

Answer: We must work towards getting rid of the US dollar as the dominant currency. Our priorities are to establish an undisrupted supply chain, prevent external meddling in internal affairs, and achieve independent economic sustainability. The de-dollarization campaign is gaining momentum and trades between countries using local currencies are increasing. Russia, China, Iran, India, and Saudi Arabia have all seen success in these trades. The era of US dollar dominance is coming to an end, and these are positive signs. I hope the Global South will become even more united and strong to face future challenges.

Question: But whenever this discourse on de-dollarization comes to light, there will be a Western-sponsored war that breaks out. For instance, when Saddam Hussein started selling oil to Europe using European currencies, the United States bombed Iraq. When Muammar al-Qaddafi of Libya started selling oil for gold, the United States bombed Libya. I’m afraid the same scenario might be repeated soon to divert attention from the deepening financial crisis in the West.

Answer: It is indeed possible. As you correctly point out, Western powers may create a tipping point to divert attention from their domestic issues and focus on external enemies. It is ironic that most of the time, the “external enemy” is also created by them. For instance, in the case of Libya, it was a transit point connecting the West and Africa. Muammar al-Qaddafi was a nice man to the West and bribed many Western political leaders. Ultimately, he paid the price, but at what cost?

Levan S. Dzhagaryan as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to Sri Lanka talking to Sri Lanka Guardian [ Photo: Laknath Seneviratne]

Question: With complex and interconnected challenges, how can a country like Sri Lanka work together with Russia and other like-minded countries? You know Sri Lanka is under many obligations over its current financial predicament.

Answer: I understand that the situation in Sri Lanka is crucial and serious. We are pursuing a very balanced position on Sri Lanka, in terms of our bilateral relationships and other international issues, including the Ukraine crisis. We hope Sri Lanka will be able to settle its domestic problems soon. As the Russian ambassador, I would like to reaffirm that we do not interfere in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka. Our message is that Sri Lanka is rising by itself and overcoming challenges, and I don’t think anyone has the right to lecture Sri Lanka on what to do.

I may sound like I’m extremely anti-American, but I am not. American people are a grateful people, and they have created a very strong nation with many talented people in many subjects. We respect the American people, but we cannot agree with the aggressive and provocative actions of the United States government, including the Congress.

Question: Sri Lanka and Russia have maintained longstanding relationships since the USSR era. How do you plan to strengthen our bilateral relationship during your time as the Russian ambassador to Sri Lanka?

Answer: As a new ambassador to South Asia, I have proposed several projects to the Sri Lankan government that can take our relationship to the next level. Although our focus is currently on Ukraine and defeating its puppet regime, we are also looking to expand our agricultural and trade ties while encouraging more Russian tourists to visit Sri Lanka.

Question: Finally, as a senior Russian diplomat, what message do you have for foreign diplomats?

Answer: My message is simple: Learn, learn, and learn. Try to study the true history of the country you are working on and be modest. Be open to dialogue and listen to each other. While dedicating yourself to your motherland, also try to love and respect the country you are working in. Arrogance or the desire to interfere in the internal affairs of a country will only complicate the situation and lead you nowhere.

The CIA’s Legacy: Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones on Key Events that Shaped American Intelligence


Exclusive to Sri Lanka Guardian

by Our Diplomatic Affairs Editor

In his most recent book, A Question of Standing, historian and former political candidate Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones takes a close look at the first 75 years of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the recognizable events that have shaped its history. In a recent interview with our diplomatic affairs editor, Jeffreys-Jones discussed the ongoing relevance of the CIA and the vital intelligence function it continues to perform in a wide variety of situations.

Born in Wales in 1942, Jeffreys-Jones boasts an impressive academic background, including a B.A. from UCW Aberystwyth and a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. He has held numerous postdoctoral fellowships and research awards, including from the Leverhulme Trust, the British Academy, and the Fulbright Programme. For many years, Jeffreys-Jones was a Professor of History at the University of Edinburgh and the chair of its Department of History, the largest department of any description in a non-collegiate UK university.

Jeffreys-Jones is the author of five edited books and twelve more books as the sole author, including The American Left: Its Impact on Politics and Society since 1900 and The Nazi Spy Ring in America: Hitler’s Agents, the FBI, and the Case that Stirred the Nation. He is also the founder and former chair of the Scottish Association for the Study of America, where he currently serves as honorary president.

Read on for Jeffreys-Jones’s insights into the CIA’s past, present, and future

Sri Lanka Guardian (SLG): What inspired you to write A Question of Standing, and what do you hope readers will take away from it?

Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones (RJJ): My interest in espionage arose from an earlier concern with labour spies. One day, my friend Draguliub Zivojinovic suggested, in the light of that concern, that I look at the papers of English novelist Somerset Maugham, who, it transpired, spied on the Bolsheviks in St Petersburg on behalf of the UK and USA. It sparked my long-term interest in intelligence history. More recently, with the approach of the 75th anniversary of the CIA, I noticed there was no up to date survey of the agency’s history. I thought there was an opportunity to meet that need and at the same time to correct what in my view seemed to be certain misconceptions. The book is organized chronologically and around particular themes that most readers will recognize, such as Cuba, Iran, and the killing of Osama bin Laden. I hope readers will take away a better understanding of topics in which they are already interested, and take the opportunity to develop a broader view, too.

SLG: The CIA has been a controversial agency throughout its history. What, in your opinion, are some of the key moments or decisions that have shaped its reputation?

RJJ: There has been a tendency to take a US-centered view of this matter. According to this perspective, the CIA’s reputation for anticipating events had proceeded from one trough to another. Failure to predict when the Soviets would achieve atomic capability, to anticipate the Yom Kippur War, and to forestall 9/11, are legendary. The assumption is that between these events the agency has registered a stream of unknown triumphs, unknown because of the secret nature of the business. On the operational front, too, visible disasters have affected perceptions. The failure of the Bay of Pigs operation to overthrow Fidel Castro in Cuba is an example. There have also been perceived operational triumphs, such as the killing of Bin Laden, an event that inspired a spontaneous gathering of people outside the White House chanting ‘CIA! CIA!’

A main argument on my book is that the reputation of the CIA outside America is a different story. The CIA’s overthrow of democratically elected governments in Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s produced an adverse reaction in non-aligned nations and contributed to the USA’s loss of a majority in the UN General Assembly. They were disasters masquerading – in the USA – as successes. Outside the USA the Bay of Pigs was a culmination of woes, not (as perceived in the USA) a first-time occurrence.

SLG: Your book takes a balanced approach to the CIA, neither celebrating nor condemning its actions. Can you talk more about this approach and how you arrived at it?

RJJ: US and other reviewers of the book comment on my objectivity. My non-partisanship can be explained by the fact that I am neither a US citizen who has grown up unconsciously supportive of American perspectives, nor a citizen of a victim country that has been adversely affected by the CIA’s actions, and thus takes an instinctively critical stance.

The point could be made that I am not quite so objective as reviewers say, as I am British, and the UK is a loyal supporter to the USA in international affairs. However, there is a further gloss here. I grew up in a small Celtic country. My native language is Welsh, not English. When kids of my generation went to the cinema in Wales and saw ‘Western’ movies, we cheered the ‘Indians’ and booed the US cavalry. Long ago, the Celts were victims of Roman, then Norman, then English imperialism. Even if that is a fading memory, resistance to external domination remains in the blood.

SLG: In your view, what is the most important contribution that the CIA has made to US foreign relations over the past 75 years?

RJJ: Restraint. The sober intelligence estimates supplied by civilian analysts in the CIA have helped more than once to enable the USA to step back from the brink of disaster. In the 1950s, the CIA discredited a distorted view of Soviet intentions and capabilities promoted by the military. In the 1970s the agency supplied intelligence that led to a limitation of the nuclear arms race. In the 1980s its reports facilitated the end of the Cold War. In 2007, a famous intelligence finding discredited claims that Iran was constructing nuclear weapons. In all these cases, bloodthirsty militaristic hawks were kept at bay.

SLG: How has the role and standing of the CIA changed over time, and what factors have contributed to these changes?

RJJ: One factor is that in times of international tension American citizens rallied to support the CIA, seeing it as a patriotic institution. Conversely, in periods of detente, such as in the 1970s and 1990s, there were press criticisms and congressional investigations. Since 9/11, the picture has changed, and people have post-Cold War priorities. For example, the CIA plunged in Republican voters’ esteem when the agency confronted President Trump over the Russian attempt to manipulate the 2016 presidential election. Outside the USA, the drivers of standing have been different. For example, I have never met an American who did not approve of President Obama’s decision to kill Bin Laden instead of bringing him to trial. Outside the USA, there are questions about the wisdom and justice of that act, and of the wider policy of assassination by drone.

The domestic standing of the CIA — in the White House, Congress, and public opinion — governs the degree to which it can influence policy. Infractions of civil liberties at home, for example spying on student protesting the Vietnam War, are a sure stimulus to discontent with the CIA. It should be added that the position changed in 2004, when an intelligence reform act reduced the standing of the CIA. After that date, the director of the CIA no longer had the additional job of coordinating the entire intelligence community. That change reflected two events that damaged the standing of the CIA — its failure to anticipate the 9/11 attack, and its erroneous endorsement of the view that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had weapons of mass destruction — a finding that led to the disastrous US invasion of Iraq that destabilized the Middle East.

SLG: One of the chapters in your book focuses on the CIA’s involvement in the War on Terror. How do you evaluate the agency’s performance in this conflict?

RJJ: Not highly. On the tactical level, the CIA can be superficially effective. For example, it can use technology and sometimes information from informers to identify suspects and to kill them, or to ‘render’ (i.e. kidnap and deliver) them to interrogation centers. This kind of operation comes at a cost in terms of ‘soft diplomacy’ as it alienates many who might otherwise by sympathetic with what the US is trying to accomplish. The US projects an image of a country devoted to the rule of law, but certain actions of the CIA make that seem like hypocrisy.

A more fundamental flaw stems from the foreign policy objectives that underpin the CIA’s choice of actions. One person’s terrorist is another person’s patriot, saint, or martyr. Those whom the CIA targets often seem, to the target’s sympathizers, to have right on their side. The classic example, one that evokes strong reactions in the overlapping Moslem and Arab worlds, is the Palestinian resistance movement. America’s one-sided support of the Israeli government’s disregard for Palestinian rights and aspirations has for decades been the single greatest fomenter of international terrorism. To deal with that type of terrorism, policy change is more important than any action the CIA may undertake.

SLG:  The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 is seen as having diminished the CIA’s role. Can you talk about the reasons for this and whether you think it was the right decision?

RJJ: The Act seemed to diminish the CIA’s role because it implied that the agency had been incompetent in regard to 9/11, and then to weapons of mass destruction. These verdicts diminished faith in the agency and caused demoralization within it. In administrative terms, management of the wider intelligence community (including the FBI, National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, etc.) passed from the office of the director of the CIA to the office of the newly created Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Important analytical responsibilities shifted to the Council for National Security, which reported in turn to the DNI. It remains to be seen whether the DNI coordinates intelligence better than the CIA. My view is that the arrangement will remain in place until the next intelligence disaster.No-one can convincingly argue that a Pearl Harbor or 9/11 will never again happen. To return to a subtlety in your question, ‘seen as having diminished the CIA’s role’, all is indeed not as it seems. The CIA is still a powerful and essential tool in the USA’s national security kit. It has an espionage and analytical capacity that remains indispensable.

SLG: Your book defends the CIA’s exposure of foreign meddling in US elections. What do you think are the key challenges facing the agency in this area, and how can they be addressed?

RJJ: The CIA’s John Brennan warned the Russians in advance that any attempt to meddle in internal US affairs would backfire. Consciously or unconsciously, he may have been thinking of the CIA’s own experiences — for examples, the agency’s participation in a plot to overthrow the democratic government of Iran in 1953 created a backlash that continues to the present day.

When President Vladimir Putin’s surrogates ignored Brennan’s advice and secretly tried to discredit Hilary Clinton’s bid for the US presidency in 2016, it was with the intention of strengthening the chances of Donald Trump, a declared friend of Russia. But when the CIA exposed the plot, it made it impossible for President Trump, once elected, to enact his dream of more harmonious Russo-American relations. Arguably, Russian enactment of distrust of NATO via the invasion of Ukraine would not have taken place, had Trump succeeded in his foreign policy goal. A cynic might push the argument further and argue that the CIA should have let matter lie.

As things stand, the key challenges now facing the CIA are how to expedite Ukrainian resistance while, at the same time, facilitating a ‘back channel’ approach to Moscow to try to bring about a return to peace.

A Question of Standing

SLG: Looking to the future, what role do you think the CIA will play in US foreign relations, and what challenges will it face?

RJJ: The CIA will continue to perform a vital intelligence function in a wide variety of situations we can only guess at today. Under the current leadership of President Joe Biden and CIA director William Burns, it would seem that (except for operations no doubt currently underway in Ukraine) the agency has turned a corner and is running fewer undercover action programs. It remains to be seen whether future presidents will have the strength of character to resist taking the apparently easy option of covert action when faced with difficult foreign policy issues.

In intelligence terms, the challenge is to know how and when to change. America was taken by surprise at the time of 9/11 partly because the CIA did not have sufficient foreign-language capacity quickly to translate digital messages emanating from Afghanistan that would have given clues about the attack. But such crises are difficult to foresee. Which languages should CIA specialists learn for the future?

I concur with the warning given by many specialists, that digital threats to national security will become more and more serious. Countering them will take a great deal of technical skill and — a CIA responsibility — counterintelligence. Proportionality needs to be kept in mind. Do you exclude Chinese chip technology at a cost to your communications systems? Would it be better to trade, bearing in mind the economist Adam Smith’s axiom that world trade equals world peace? Does trade-dependency always carry an unacceptable risk of blackmail?

SLG: Finally, what are you working on next, and what can readers expect from your future writing?

RJJ: I have now returned to my earlier interest in labour espionage. Spying on workers was the economic mainstay of America’s ground-breaking Pinkerton National Detective Agency. My near-complete book, Allan Pinkerton: His Life and Legacies, opens with chapters about the agency’s founder, who was born in Scotland, where I now reside. The book goes on to discuss the origins of modern surveillance, and the respective merits of public and private police services. Once Georgetown University Press have published that book, my plan is to write a number of shorter pieces on subjects ranging from the origins of US central intelligence to the politics of preserving non-English languages, especially Welsh.

“Spectacular failure” of U.S.-style democracy implementation in targeted countries, asserts expert

Washington’s attempts to impose a U.S.-style democracy on countries like Iraq and Libya using primarily military means have been a “spectacular” failure. These countries are now left in a state of limbo and destruction, a renowned U.S. expert has said.

“The U.S. has been its own worst enemy over these past 20 years in the way it has gone to kind of hammer democracy into shape in these countries using primarily military means or (means of) coercion. It has not worked well. It’s hurting itself in the long run,” Sourabh Gupta, a senior fellow at the Institute for China-America Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, told Xinhua in an interview on Friday.

“Democracy, whoever’s style, cannot be imposed with a hammer upon any society. Whatever form of political representation arises in the society from the ground level up, one must understand local circumstances and local situations, and on that basis, build a political representative institution,” said Gupta.

“I’m afraid the U.S. doesn’t have the patience… The U.S. is trying to do this top-down without understanding local societies. And it is pretty much understandable that it has failed and failed spectacularly in many countries on which it has tried to,” he said.

“And I would say beyond the patience, it is doing this for national interest purposes than for really deepening democracy per se,” said Gupta.

Gupta criticized Washington’s intention to hold the so-called Summit for Democracy as an attempt to sow division.

“The whole purpose of democracy is inclusiveness. There is nothing inclusive about it here. This is about trying to create coalitions of the willing to participate in a us versus them competition,” he said.

“That is the real problem behind this because what the Summit for Democracy does is that it does not get down to tackling many of the real issues that we face in the global system today, which requires for a more UN-centered and more inclusive approach to solutions. And that is not where the summit is leading, and that is unfortunate,” said Gupta.

The expert said, “little by little, the summit itself is flagging and losing its vitality.”

Gupta said the Summit for Democracy in 2021 did not produce any “key deliverable. “There was nothing really. It turned into a nice grand show without any meaning,” he said.

The summit is meant “more to divide than unite” because Washington has invited countries to attend “purely on the basis of the U.S. national interests,” he said.

“For some of those countries, if it was a pro-America aligned government, it got an invite. If it was a democracy, but did not have a pro-American government, it was disinvited… Frankly, the era of these democracy summits will be known more for the backsliding in terms of democracy than any real material improvement or deliverables coming out of these summits,” he said.

Earth Hour 2023: A Call to Action for the Health of Our Planet

As lights around the world turned off at 8:30 p.m. local time on Saturday to mark Earth Hour 2023, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) warned that the next seven years will be crucial to stop irreversible nature loss and climate change.

This year’s event is needed more than ever to inspire and mobilize millions of people to take action and shine a spotlight on critical environmental issues, the WWF urged.

“Switching off lights is great for creating awareness and celebrating, but we also want people to reflect and act on nature because the challenges we are facing are so big,” Cristianne Close, WWF’s deputy global conservation director, told Xinhua in a recent video interview from Brazil.

“In 2014, the Galapagos Islands banned plastic bags during Earth Hour. In 2019, Indonesia planted thousands of mangroves,” she said.

Now in its 17th year, Earth Hour is the WWF’s flagship global environmental event and was created in Sydney in 2007.

Over the years, it has grown to become the world’s largest grassroots movement for the environment, inspiring individuals, communities, businesses and organizations to take tangible environmental action.

“The climate and the nature crisis are completely linked. We cannot see them as separate. If temperatures are not kept at 1.5 degrees Celsius, we will lose much more nature. Wildlife populations have already plummeted by an average of 69 percent since 1970 and we really need to create awareness of this,” Close said.


Earth Hour has featured many of the world’s most iconic landmarks switching off their lights, from the London Eye in Britain to the Eiffel Tower in France and the 2,000-year-old Colosseum in Italy.

“The two main things we want from governments and businesses is to really implement the transition towards clean energy and phase out fossil fuel. That’s a must for everybody,” Close said.

“Nature is said to be linked to at least 50 percent of the global gross domestic product (GDP). We depend on nature for economic well-being,” she added.

“That’s why we are calling on businesses and governments to really, really create this awareness. Earth Hour is a way of society signalling to leaders ‘we care’ and we need to do something about it before it’s too late,” she said.

This year, apart from the symbolic “lights off” moment, the WWF is calling on individuals, communities, and businesses across the world to “give an hour for Earth” and spend 60 minutes doing something positive for the planet.

Ideas range from cleaning up beaches, planting trees, cooking dinner with sustainable ingredients, or getting friends together for an Earth Hour event, the WWF said.


This year’s Earth Hour comes hot on the heels of the historic Kunming-Montreal Agreement at COP15, which in December committed the world to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030.

Close told Xinhua the next seven years will be crucial for ensuring that the decade ends with more nature and biodiversity than when it began, not less.

She also said it was not too late yet to achieve the target and stay under the 1.5 degrees Celsius climate threshold needed to avoid irreversible damage to the planet.

“These are very big policy requests. Now our focus is on implementing them. Translating these high-level policies into national policies and regulations that can be implemented on the local level and help the livelihoods of the people that depend on it,” Close said.

Close also reinforced China’s crucial role in taking action against climate change and nature loss: “We are pleased and thankful for the role that China played with the COP15 presidency in Montreal. China really kept the momentum going.”

“They were really instrumental in allowing 196 parties to reach a consensus for the mission of halting and reversing nature loss by 2030. China really played a strong role,” she said.

The WWF is an independent conservation organization based in Gland, Switzerland, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries and regions.

Its mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which people live in harmony with nature.

Exclusive: Ukraine Stands Firm Against Russian Aggression, Says Charge de Affairs


by Our Diplomatic Affairs Editor 

During an exclusive interview with our diplomatic affairs editor at his New Delhi office, Ivan Konovalov, Charge de Affairs a.i. at the Embassy of Ukraine in the Republic of India (concurrently in Sri Lanka), expressed his belief that Ukraine would achieve more victories on the battlefield this spring. He emphasized that the Ukrainian people have never desired to engage in war but were compelled to defend themselves against the aggression of Russia. Konovalov asserted that this conflict is imperialist in nature, indicating that Russia’s actions are driven by a desire for territorial expansion and control.

Furthermore, Konovalov stated that the victory of Ukraine would represent a triumph for democracy across the globe, as it would be a victory for the principles of self-determination and the right of nations to decide their own fate. He highlighted the importance of recognizing that the conflict in Ukraine is not merely a regional issue but rather a struggle for values that are fundamental to the democratic world. Ultimately, Konovalov’s comments underscore the ongoing importance of supporting Ukraine in its efforts to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Excerpts from the interview;

Sri Lanka Guardian (SLG):  You are playing a key role in these extraordinary times to protect Ukraine’s national interests; What challenges do you and your teammates face as a diplomat representing a country now at war with neighbouring Russia?

Ivan Konovalov (IK): Our small in comparison but capable team in the Embassy is working hard to change the perception of Ukraine in the countries of our accreditation – India, Bangladesh Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal. It’s a priority for Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, as it is stated by the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to work closer with the countries of Global South on different aspects of cooperation. 

SLG: Exactly one year ago, Russia launched a limited military action against your country calling it “demilitarisation and denazification”. Please give a brief overview of the situation as this conflict has completed a year.

IK: First of all let us please use the right words (terms) and timings. It’s not just a conflict, and it’s not a limited military action. It’s Russian full scale war against Ukraine or Russian aggression against Ukraine. Russia is aggressor, Ukraine is a victim of Russian aggression. 

In 2014 Russia started this war with illegal annexation of Crimea and further Russian aggression in the East of Ukraine.

So we have 9 years of Russian war against Ukraine and 1 year of full scale aggression against Ukraine.

As of now Ukrainian Armed Forces could kick out Russian occupiers from 40% of territories occupied since February 2022. This spring will bring more victories on the battlefield for Ukraine. 

SLG: Some people are arguing that Ukraine is fighting someone else War; in fact, Ukraine is a “scapegoat”, they say.  May I have your take, please?

IK: Ukrainians have never chosen war, it was imposed by Russia. This war is imperialist in its nature, one should understand this. Russia couldn’t accept the collapse of Soviet Union and if they conquered Ukraine – that would be just a first step, they would continue this barbaric practices with other countries which they consider to be the sphere of their interests.

We are fighting for our freedom and independence. we fight against Russia protecting others in Europe from this threat and our partners understand this very well.

Ukraine as any other democracy in the world wants to decide its destiny without external dictatorship which Russia tries to impose through our history. 

We have our own will to join the EU and NATO as we consider ourselves as an integral part of Europe. 

SLG: At the beginning of the conflict, both countries tried to find a solution through negotiation. Do you still believe that Ukraine can find a solution through negotiation? If not, what is the way out?

IK: Moscow has no intention for peace. When they talk about negotiations it means they want time to regroup and replenish supplies and further relaunch their attack on Ukraine. It’s obvious.

Negotiations can happen and should happen one day. But the reason for the negotiations about future peace deal can only begin after unconditional withdrawal of Russian troops from the territory of Ukraine within the internationally recognised borders including Crimea. This is also stated in the UN General Assembly Resolution as of 23 February 2023, which was supported by 141 countries.

SLG: What is the outcome of the 10 points peace formula introduced by your president but unfortunately, rejected by Russia stating that the formula is the basis for negotiations?

IK: Russia has not yet shown any readiness to bring a lasting peace, and continues to perpetrate international terrorism, commit genocide against Ukrainians, and commit war crimes.

The Peace Formula’s ten elements, which may be followed collectively or individually, have the potential to bring about long-term peace in Ukraine, Europe, and the globe. We welcome countries from all across the world to join us in making it a reality. 

The EU has approved President Zelenskyy’s Peace Formula and committed to actively working with Ukraine to put it into action, which demonstrates that the Formula is completely consistent with core European values and ideals.

Ukrainian Peace Formula is based on respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of any country, with any aggression against a sovereign country being completely unacceptable and those responsible for any

such acts facing justice.

SLG: Do you think NATO and Western countries, who are pouring military equipment, will stand with Ukraine to find a lasting solution soon?

IK: We are deeply grateful to all our allies and all peace-loving states of the world for their support in our fight against evil. Russia has to be defeated so this won’t repeat in future. Our partners are clear – they will stand with Ukraine as long as it takes, till the victory.

Victory of Ukraine is a victory of a democratic world.

SLG: You are representing Ukraine in South Asia; tell us your take on the responses you have from the countries here.

IK: The countries of our accreditation don’t support Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and this is very important. We are grateful for this position. I believe there is much more we can do to deepen our relationship on the mutually beneficial basis.

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