Failed States Book Summary - Failed States Book explained in key points
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Failed States summary

Noam Chomsky

The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy

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Brief summary

Failed States by Noam Chomsky examines the role of powerful nations in creating and maintaining failed states around the world. He argues that the actions of global superpowers perpetuate instability and poverty in vulnerable countries.

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    Failed States
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    The United States claims a special status that allows it to ignore international law.

    People often think of the United Nations (UN) as an international democratic body in which all the nations of the world get to have a say, more or less equally.

    This is hardly the case. In fact, some aspects of democratic procedures at the United Nations are hardly democratic at all. Certain countries, most notably the United States, have a much larger say in this international organization than any other country.

    This is due partly to the United States’ role as a permanent member on the United Nations Security Council, a special group of nations responsible for keeping conflict at bay in the world.

    There are five permanent council members – France, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and the United States – and this permanent membership allows these countries to sometimes ignore international law.

    Such freedom can easily lead to corruption, as was seen in the council’s Oil-for-Food Program. The program was designed to allow Iraq to sell the country’s oil on the world market in exchange for food, medicine and other humanitarian necessities – but that’s not all it did.

    An investigation in 2005 found that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had received an astounding $1.8 billion in kickbacks under the program. Many US corporations were involved in these kickbacks, and there is no doubt that the US government knew what was happening.

    Despite this, the United States’ powerful position at the United Nations meant that it could use its influence to avoid sanctions.

    The United States enjoys special treatment even when it comes to how the United Nations defines words – like “torture.”

    According to the US Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, “torture” describes only acts that are analogous with the physical pain resulting from organ failure or even death. Anything less intense, therefore, is not considered torture.

    Contrast this with the definition codified by the Geneva Convention, which states: “Torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person“ in order to extract information or confession, or intimidate others.

    The discrepancy here is glaring – and frightening.

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    What is Failed States about?

    In Failed States, author Noam Chomsky details the ways in which the United States has used its power to relentlessly pursue its own geopolitical and economic interests. The book cites examples from throughout history to demonstrate why the United States’ stated goal of promoting democracy is inconsistent with its own actions, at home and abroad.

    Best quote from Failed States

    Treaties are not legal obligations for the United States, but at most political commitments.

    —Noam Chomsky
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    Who should read Failed States?

    • Anyone critical of US foreign policy
    • Anyone interested in international politics
    • Anyone interested in history

    About the Author

    A prominent cultural figure and political thinker, Noam Chomsky is a world-renowned American linguist who is also Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has authored over 100 books, and was voted the “world’s top public intellectual” in a 2005 poll.

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