Air Date: April 16, 1996 Program 9616


Various Italian citizens
Richard Butler, Ambassador of Australia to the United Nations
Nabil Elaraby, Ambassador of Egypt to the United Nations


JEFF MARTIN: This is Common Ground, a program on world affairs and the people who shape events.

FRANCESCO GALIMBERTI: The main issues for sure are the taxation, to a better and more equal taxation system. And the second one is to have a more severe and organized police.

MARTIN: In this edition of Common Ground—the Italian elections. Much is at stake. The politics are fluid, and it's not clear that the election results will be decisive.

GALIMBERTI: The main problem the new government will have to face is unemployment. At this point, I don't think that neither Ulivo nor Polo have clear understandable strategies for the unemployment.

MARTIN: And then later, banishing nuclear weapons from the face of the earth.

RICHARD BUTLER: There is a unique moment in time available to us now to do what the world community has promised to do for a long time, but never kept that promise; namely, eliminate nuclear weapons, and we mean zero.

MARTIN: Common Ground is produced by the Stanley Foundation. I'm Jeff Martin.

Italy is holding national parliamentary elections this month. The country has been politically unstable for the past few years, having been racked by corruption scandals, Mafia terror, and the collapse of traditional political parties. This month's election pits a center-left coalition led by the former Communist party against a center-right group led by industrialists and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlucsconi. The coalitions are sufficiently fluid, however, that no matter who wins, party realignments may lead to continued instability. Reporter Reese Erlich traveled through Italy to get a pulse of the voters. He begins this report at Europe's largest power plant located in Civitavecchia (chiv-ee-ta vekia), 80 kilometers west of Rome.

REESE ERLICH: The National Energy Electrical Company power plant seems to stretch for miles. Huge plumes of white smoke pour into the crystal blue sky while workers scurry about below. A company spokesman offers a tour of this state-owned company known as ENEL.

SPOKESMAN: This one is the turbine. The steam from the boiler turns the turbine.

ERLICH: At 12 o'clock sharp, work stops and the 400 ENEL workers run wildly to the lunchroom. The company subsidizes lunch for everyone here, only one of a series of benefits that include relatively good wages, generous pensions, and virtually lifetime employment. Conservative politicians now want to privatize ENEL along with many other state-owned industries. Many blue collar workers oppose the privatization, saying it will only add to the country's 11 percent unemployment. Francesco Galimberti, a 45-year-old machine operator, wears the traditional work uniform of blue cotton pants, jacket, and cap.

GALIMBERTI: I will vote for the PDS, which is the evolution of the whole Communist party. I vote for them because I feel protection for the policies they have for the laborers, the workers. I am a little bit preoccupied, because during this election they are opening the left coalition to the more liberal and democratic center forces, and that will bring maybe to the privatization of some industries like ENEL.

ERLICH: Italians face a lot of other problems: a tottering state health care system, declining schools, insufferable state bureaucracy, and high taxes. But some people advocate radically different solutions than the workers at ENEL. Here at the Palazzo di Congressi in Rome the general union of Italian workers is holding a convention. It's the only one of four Italian union federations to support right-wing parties. Giuseppe says he will vote for Polo Per Libertad, the liberty poll coalition headed by conservative businessman and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

GIUSEPPE: The main issues for sure are the taxation. So a better and more equal taxation system. A fairer tax system. And the second one is to have a more severe and organized police. Yes. I'm quite worried about that, because I have young sons.

ERLICH: What does he think of Berlusconi?

GIUSEPPE: He's a reliable man.

ERLICH: Okay. When he was elected, he was supposed to be a nonpolitician who was going to change Italy, but then he was indicted for corruption. Does this change his view at all of Berlusconi?

GIUSEPPE: Who hasn't been convicted of bribery in Italy?

ERLICH: That attitude seems to sum up the views of many Italians. During the 1994 elections, corruption scandals led to the collapse of the country's two major parties. This year, corruption causes nary a blip on the public's radar screen. Like their US counterparts, Italian voters seem more concerned about image and personality. Factory worker Alesandro Vannoni says that in 1994 she voted for the PDS; but now she plans to vote for the National Alliance, the far right-wing party led by Gianfranco Fini. It is allied with Berlusconi's coalition. Is she concerned about charges that the National Alliance is neo-Fascist?

ALESANDRA VANNONI: Yes. I am a little worried; but I don't vote for the party, I vote for the person. That's Fini. I like him and what he says. That's why I'm giving my trust to him. I like him because he's very understandable when he talks and, above all, I like the proposal to cut taxes.

ERLICH: Far from the workers' rally, National Alliance leader Gaetano Rebecchini sits at a long wooden desk in the office of his construction company. The office used to be a Marquis' palace as attested by the fixed stone walls and 300-year-old ceramic floor tiles. Rebecchini is one of a number of wealthy business people who back the National Alliance. He's anxious to dispel charges that his party is neo-Fascist.

GAETANO REBECCHINI: At the 1995 convention of the National Alliance, the party rejected the revolutionary road. Our party broke from the Italian Social Movement, the old neo-Fascist party. Italian Fascism combined traditional Italian cultural values with a revolutionary perspective. The National Alliance has rescued those rightist cultural values while rejecting the revolutionary road. Those values had been forgotten, particularly after the war. In that way we lost the concept of our country itself. A lot of Italians didn't talk at all about country. They lost their cultural identity. They confused their national cultural identity with the concept of Fascism.

ERLICH: Rebecchini stresses that Italy must solve its problem of unemployment.

REBECCHINI: Our solutions are based on the principle of freedom for economic enterprises. Their success will lead to economic development for sure. The Berlusconi government, despite its problems, created 300,000 more jobs. This happened in the first three to six months while Baerlusconi was in power.

ERLICH: Giorgio Napolitano is a leader of the party of the Democratic left.

GIORGIO NAPOLITANO: This is absolutely unfounded. According to official statistics, there was a loss of 240,000 jobs during the seven months of Berlusconi government. But the point is not this. This is a quarrel on the figures, which doesn't mean very much. The point is that Berlusconi had not at all a strategy for creating new jobs. He made very easy promises, "I create one million new jobs," never saying how. Also in the new program they just say, "Well, we'll have enterprises paying less taxes and consequently creating new jobs." This is an oversimplified and demagogic approach to a very complex question such as unemployment in Italy.

ERLICH: Napolitano and others on the left maintain that the National Alliance remains a neo-Fascist group despite the sophisticated rhetoric of some leaders. Gianfranco Fini, they say, only provides a suave, well-dressed image. They call him a Fascist in a double-breasted suit. Ironically, one National Alliance militant agrees with them. Interviewed outside a political rally, Rocco, who only gives his first name, says he voted Fascist for the last few elections. Now he supports the National Alliance.

ROCCO: I want a more authoritarian state, not a dictatorship, but more authority for the state. We have too many problems with crime.

ERLICH: Rocco would like to see the National Alliance reunite with the neo-Fascist Italian Social Movement.

ROCCO: I hope they can get together again, because there really aren't substantial differences. They differ on tactical issues more than on ideology. I don't like Berlusconi. Giancarlo Fini is a better leader. Fini represents the social right; Berlusconi is a capitalist, and he represents big capital.

ERLICH: Rocco and businessman Gaetano Rebecchini represent two diverging trends within the National Alliance. They both support far right social policies, admire Mussolini, and are ardent anti-Communist. But Rocco supports militant authoritarianism and rails against big business. Rebecchini believes that big business should play a leadership role in the party and that he can cool down the Fascist hotheads. Time will tell if these trends continue to coexist or if one side wins out. Such differences aren't the only problem facing the party. In the past, the Mafia had allied with the Christian Democrats against the left. Antonio Carlucci, a special correspondent for the magazine, Espresso, says now the Mafia is backing the National Alliance and Berlusconi.

ANTONIO CARLUCCI: In 1994, surely we have evidence in the investigation, and we have the votes. La Coza Nostra choose to vote the right-wing of the coalition, particularly Forza Italia, the party of Mr. Berlusconi, and Alianza Nazionale, a new emergence of the Fascist party. I don't know what will happen in the future. I think that today we continue to vote on the right-wing of the coalition, because I don't think that they can suppose to receive something between the coalition of center-left.

REBECCHINI: It is difficult to say what the Mafia does, but it is very clever.

ERLICH: National Alliance leader, Rebecchini.

REBECCHINI: Maybe some Mafia organizations, assuming Polo will win, will vote for Polo. But there is no agreement between Polo and the Mafia. It's difficult to believe that they could have an agreement with the National Alliance, because the National Alliance has always been very strongly opposed to the Mafia and asked for stronger crackdowns. Historically, the Fascist movement defeated the Mafia. There's always a flip side to being called a Fascist. For people who believe we are Fascists, they know we don't get Mafia support.

ERLICH: There are 29 national parties in Italy, from refounded Communist to neo-Fascist. But the two leading coalitions are each trying to appear centrist. The PDS has allied with the current prime minister and former international monetary fund executive, Lamberto Dini. Both sides take almost identical stands on major issues. They are so similar, in fact, that Confindustria, the country's employers' association, is not taking sides in the election. For years, Confindustria backed conservative parties. Federico Galdi is Director of International Affairs for Cofindustria.

FEDERICO GALDI: We don't support any party, but we discuss politics. Of course, we want to advocate interest of the economic business community in front of political life, government, and parliament.

ERLICH: It would seem to be that Polo's general program would come closer to matching Confindustria's.

GALDI: It used to be very interesting for a number of industrialists, especially in the north, because it was in a way the new perspective. Unfortunately, the experience in the government with Polo was not very satisfactory. So in a way, we have also had quite good reaction on the so-called technician government like Mr. Ciampi and Mr. Dini. In a way, we are prepared to accept even an alternate possibility between central-right and central-left.

ERLICH: Back at the ENEL power plant in Civitavecchia, workers express a similar ambivalence. While most will vote for Ulivo, the central-left Olive Tree Coalition, they aren't happy.

GALIMBERTI: The main problem the new government will have to face in unemployment. At this point I don't think neither Ulivo nor Polo have clear, understandable strategies for the unemployment. Because they need to redistribute all the labor force. They have to cut somewhere and to redeploy somewhere else, but no one exactly says how they will do it.

ERLICH: Ironically, both left and right, unions and industrialists, agree on the major problems facing Italy. They also agree that the two major coalitions are unlikely to make the fundamental changes necessary to straighten out Italy's economic and political problems. For Common Ground, I'm Reese Erlich in Rome.

MARTIN: When Common Ground continues, an Australian-led effort to rid the world of not some but all nuclear weapons.

RICHARD BUTLER: It is true that so long as any country has even one nuclear weapon it is as inevitable as the night follows the day that other countries will also seek to acquire them.

MARTIN: Printed transcripts of Common Ground and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details on ordering. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts varied programs and activities meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.


MARTIN: Since the dawn of the nuclear age, there have been efforts to limit, reduce, and control both the number and spread of nuclear weapons. And now from Australia comes a new movement to eliminate these weapons altogether. Keith Porter has the story.

KEITH PORTER: The idea of a nuclear weapon-free world is embraced by some people, feared by others, and dismissed by many as both impractical and impossible. Yet the concept has gained new strength by the end of the Cold War and by the creation of a high-level international commission by outgoing Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating. One member of the so-called Canberra Commission is Australian Ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Butler.

BUTLER: Putting it at its simplest, Prime Minister Keating was firmly of the view that there is a unique moment in time available to us now to do what the world community has promised to do for a long time, but never kept that promise; namely, eliminate nuclear weapons, and we mean zero. For that purpose we have created this international commission made up of 16 world experts on the subject of nuclear weapons to produce a report which we will give to the world community in September 1996 at the General Assembly. That report will answer the question, "Why get rid of nuclear weapons?" And how to do it, how to create a world free of nuclear weapons.

PORTER: Another member of the Canberra Commission is the Ambassador of Egypt to the United Nations, Nabil Elaraby.

NABIL ELARABY: Up to now, all attempts to call for some kind of a clear-cut program to eliminate nuclear weapons came from nonnuclear weapon states in the Third World. So it was the first time that a major world power with alliances decided it was about time to take a stand. They established the Canberra Commission. The support they give to the members of the commission and actually the way both the Prime Minister of Australia, Paul Keating, and the Foreign Minister, Gareth Evan—the way they expressed themselves and the way they committed their country to produce a meaningful, reasonable program to be put to the General Assembly next year is extremely important.

BUTLER: We chose the membership globally; that was the first consideration. These people had to come from around the world. We chose them because of their expertise, and I want to emphasize, Keith, the whole range of expertise. We've got everything. We've got people who have had their hands on nuclear weapons, really run the systems, like General Lee Butler who is in charge of the Strategic Air Command for a number of years until recently; Field Marshall Lord Carver from Britain, who is in charge of their Armed Forces. We have people who are in charge of governments. The former Prime Minister of France, Michael Rocard is one of us; people who have spent a lifetime in arguing the case against nuclear weapons. Joseph Rotblatt was given the Nobel Peace Prize—that kind of experience. The four corners of the globe. The range of experience from hands-on to intellectual. That's the mix we looked for, and that's what we got.

PORTER: A broad range of expertise, also a conscious decision to include both state and NGO actors?


PORTER: That's perhaps one of the most important ways this differs from the usual discussion on this topic where you have states talking with states instead of nongovernmental organizations who have long felt left out of that discussion.

BUTLER: Yes. I think so. What's unusual about this is what Nabil Elaraby has already said, that a government initiated it, but that it didn't decide to do the usual number, like journalists interviewing journalists, of government people talking to government people. We've got a mix there of all sections of the community as well as all sections of the globe. That's what makes it different, together with this underlying firm commitment to zero. I want to emphasize that. We've had one meeting of the commission, and it was agreed after a very serious debate. Michael Rocard, for example, came to the debate a bit less than convinced that zero nuclear weapons was the right objective. Maybe a small number, but maybe not zero. Now I'm not, you know, abusing confidences in saying that. He has said that publicly himself. We knew that when we invited him to join. I want to emphasize that point. In other words, we didn't only ask people to join the commission who were already converts; we asked people because of who they were—their integrity, their expertise, their knowledge.

Now, we had our first debate at the first meeting; and we all agreed, including former Prime Minister Rocard, that the right objective is zero nuclear weapons. Now that in itself, I think, has shown that this approach is right.

PORTER: Our experience has been with, in this country at least, the SALT talks and the START talks and the rest of the sort of arms control situation that we've been involved in for 45 or 50 years, it's always been reduction, not elimination. Is elimination realistic?

ELARABY: First of all let me say it is very hard, and it's not a short-term project. It will take some time. But I believe that the best argument for the elimination of nuclear weapons is self-interest. The whole of humanity needs that. Once this will dawn on the leaders, I think they will make the right decisions.

PORTER: Right. Ambassador Butler? Realistic?

BUTLER: It's hard as hell. As Nabil has just said, it will take time. One thing that I know to be elementally true is that doing the right thing is important, but it is essential, which is more than important, to do the right thing in any matter, to do the right thing for the right reason. Your motivation and objective are fundamental. That's why it is so important that we have already agreed here that the objective must be zero. Only with that agreement, in other words the right reason, will we build a credible proposal for those who really do have responsibility for the security of states to adopt. Were we to say something less than zero, we would inevitably build a proposal for the reduction of nuclear weapons which would never be implemented, because there would always be some states that would say, why the hell should we cooperate with that, because in the end there will be some of these things left and as long as there are any left, then others will want to acquire them. That's the inner mechaniques of proliferation. So we got it right. The right reason here is zero.

ELARABY: One added reason also, one should say, is that with respect to the weapons of mass destruction which are nuclear, chemical, and biological, in both chemical and biological there are now international measures banning the weapons, banning the position. Now, the most devastating and the one with the most destructive effect is the nuclear. So it makes no sense really that to stick only to nonproliferation which is important at certain stations in life; but after that, particularly, it's not a universal treaty. Also there are some who have succeeded in cheating on the treaty.

BUTLER: Could I just take that up and add to what Nabil has said, because I think he's really put his finger on the central truth. It is true that so long as any country has even one nuclear weapon it is as inevitable as the night follows the day that other countries will also seek to acquire them. And maybe even nonstate actors as well, like terrorist groups. So if you truly internalize that reality, it has a logic that is inexorable and undeniable. It is that no one should have them.

PORTER: We had on our program a professor from the University of Chicago, his name is John Mearsheimer, not that long ago, who said, he expressed his belief that in their hearts most Americans like nuclear weapons and think that they are more or less responsible for keeping the United States secure for the last 50 years.

BUTLER: That wouldn't be the first time that there's been a mass belief about something that is very wrong and be for the wrong reason.

PORTER: Be that as it may...

BUTLER: It happens all the time.

PORTER: question for the two of you is for our American audience that thinks that and who may feel very threatened by the Canberra Commission examining the elimination of nuclear weapons, how would you respond to them?

ELARABY: May I just say something?


ELARABY: Not only all Americans, but I'm sure all Russians, all Chinese, all French, all British, all other, perhaps, countries who have the nuclear weapons now. I mean, whoever has the nuclear weapons thinks that he's safe, but he does not realize the possibilities of accidents, retaliation, proliferation, in the future. The fact that one nuclear weapon or two will explode, we don't know what effect it will have on the human race as a whole. So for the self-interest of everyone in the future for the next generations, which we all have decided in the Charter of United Nations to spare the world from the scourge of war. I think for the sake of the whole human race, we need to have the elimination.

BUTLER: I agree. And addressing the very specific concern that you say you think many Americans may hold, I would say this quite specifically. The Cold War and the nuclear arms race did take place. The Cold War is over; the nuclear arms race has not been brought to conclusion. There's still some 40,000 warheads there. But the idea that the Cold War was won and the nuclear arms race dealt with through the position by either side of large-scale nuclear destructive capability, is unproven. It really is unproven.

Now, my last point. Let's say that that was the case. Let's say that the contention that these weapons helped win the Cold War was true. I don't believe it, but let's say it was true. Fine. That was up until 1989, the end of the Cold War. What have we seen since then and what would we like to see in the future? What we'd like you to see is literally this, no nuclear weapons state will ever have any reason to, or any use for, its nuclear weapons against each other. The most likely nuclear thing to happen to a nuclear weapons state in the future is that a terrorist group will walk in with a nuclear weapon and do it over. In other words, the World Trade Center, but nuclear. One way to prevent that is to eliminate all nuclear explosive devices.

PORTER: Outgoing Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating expects a report by the end of August from Ambassadors Richard Butler, Nabil Elaraby, and the other members of the Canberra Commission.

For Common Ground, I'm Keith Porter.

MARTIN: Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. Transcripts are free; cassettes cost $5.00. To order or to share your comments, write to us at the Stanley Foundation, 216 Sycamore Street, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Ask for Program No. 9616. To order by credit card, call us at 319-264-1500. For Common Ground, I'm Jeff Martin.

B.J. Liederman created our theme music. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.


Copyright © 1996, The Stanley Foundation