Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema feels the first response to 9/11 should have been “peace in Jerusalem, not war in Baghdad.” Mr. D’Alema is a leftist who was also Italy’s Prime Minister from 1998-2000, the first with origins in the Italian Communist Party. He has been a journalist for 25 years, was Editor-in-Chief of L’Unità and has authored several books. He thinks that, with a serious regime of verifications, the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal could be a positive step if it makes India a part of the international system of controls. Excerpts from an interview in Mumbai:
Massimo D’Alema: “We think it important for the United Nations to come back to Iraq. The whole international community must be involved, not just the Americans.”
What are the core issues of Indo-Italian relations and how are they evolving?
India has a strategic partnership with a group of important countries and not Italy. Our first goal is to establish a strategic partnership with India. That’s despite different points of view on some issues like U.N. Security Council reforms. We view India as a very important emerging power, with whom we strongly share values, including democracy. Both also have Centre-Left coalitions at this point.
In Berlusconi’s time, Asia was seen as a threat, because of competition. We are changing that. Within a few months, [Italian Prime Minister] Prodi, myself and other Cabinet members have visited China, India, Vietnam, Korea and other Asian nations. We seek to establish strong political and economic ties.
How does Italy view the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal?
Let me be frank. Italy is a strong supporter of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. We favour nuclear disarmament, a reduction of nuclear arsenals. India’s nuclear tests left Italian public opinion disappointed. But that was some years ago. Now we have to be realistic about the situation. The deal could represent a positive step provided it implies a serious regime of verifications. Through this deal, India becomes a part of the international system of controls. Controls on civilian nuclear programmes and controls on export of nuclear materials. Without in any way interfering in Indian internal affairs, I consider those positive steps not just as Indo-U.S. relations, but part of the international system of nuclear controls. That would be positive. It is not just by chance that El Baradei and the IAEA have been positive towards these developments. Ours is not exactly the point of view of the U.S. administration.
Why a different yardstick for Iran, then?
The first difference is that India is a reliable and responsible partner. What is worrying about Iran is not only the nuclear programme but a lack of transparency — plus threats towards countries like Israel. Iranian nuclear weapons would not be acceptable for stability. At the same time, the Italian view is to have a diplomatic solution and a true trade-off. Such a step would let Iran give up on nuclear bombs but gain on the civilian programme. Iran is a part of the international community and important to the stability of the region. We must recognise that role of Iran. The current strategies are not working. A ‘war scenario’ approach would be a disaster. To avoid that, you need not just sanctions but more political initiatives and negotiations, without isolating nuclear issues. No ‘regime change’ approach either! We must guarantee there is no threat to Iran.
The Italian government declared the Iraq war a grave error and said it would withdraw its troops from there. Do you think that your other allies there should do the same?
The decision was to withdraw our troops in an orderly way with the Iraqi government’s cooperation. We were against the war but [we] favour stability and democracy in Iraq. We are training the Iraqi police and army.
We think it important for the United Nations to come back to Iraq. The E.U., the whole international community must be involved, not just the Americans. We consider the national reconciliation process there to be vital. The withdrawal of other troops is a matter between the Iraqi government and the USA, for instance. The reconciliation process anyway implies the gradual withdrawal of foreign troops. Even within the USA, there is more and more pressure for that.
Where does Italy stand today on the ‘War on Terror’ strategy?
I cannot say it was a mistake but we in the western world, we made a lot of mistakes. For instance, there was too much unilateralism, which is not working. Also, whatever the theory, the idea on the ground reflected a ‘Clash of Civilisations’ approach. That is wrong. Terror is a problem for all humanity, not just the western world. We need an alliance with the Islamic world in order to isolate terrorism.
The first response to the 9/11 attack ought to have been peace in Jerusalem, not war in Baghdad. Even the Bush administration seems now to understand that ‘The Coalition of the Willing’ approach is not working. We need more international institutions [involved]. The Lebanese problem gives you a contrast. There, the U.N. came back to the region. Europe was united. It was a totally different approach.
However, as Prime Minister during the Kosovo crisis, you supported the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. In retrospect, was that wrong?
Kosovo was very different. The Serbians had occupied Kosovo and our goal was to stop the war. We tried diplomacy; it failed. When NATO attacked, there was a Serbian occupation on and 8,00,000 refugees had fled to Albania. And before entering Kosovo, the E.U. also obtained a Security Council resolution.
Europe’s appetite for globalisation seems diminished. Is this to do with the rise of Asian power and the emergence of China and India? Does Europe feel threatened now?
In the 90s, the optimistic notion was that you could have globalisation through market economy, liberalisation — without any political ties to achieve it. It was an enormous ideological mistake. We understood that after 9/11. I remember President Clinton wrote that we were witnessing the dark side of globalisation. We got a conservative new approach — unilateralism, centred around the USA … that’s one approach. We need a new progressive approach. Political initiatives, stronger multilateral relations, not to demonise but humanise globalisation. To fight poverty, reduce inequalities, address climate change seriously. An approach of building peace and security [which is more than fighting terrorism]. Globalisation needs global institutions. The G-8 is an outdated formula and more and more a negative symbol. A G-14 or other forums, which includes the main emerging powers, may be useful.
Of those global institutions you speak of, the World Trade Organisation has failed the developing countries. E.U. and U.S. subsidies continue to devastate third world agriculture.
We are for reforming our agricultural common policy, to reduce subsidies for exports and to create better conditions for emerging countries. An agreement at the Doha round will be very important. We have to be more flexible on some things. More access to our markets for developing countries’ goods. But the developing nations too must be flexible on services, etc. We are a quality economy and we need to protect that quality. We have problems involving [violations of] Intellectual Property Rights. We must also work together to encourage the Americans. I fear there is a danger of a retreat to protectionism in the U.S., for instance.
You’ve written a lot on the Left and future challenges. You played a leading role in the Communist Party of Italy’s conversion into the Democratic Party of the Left. And you have argued for a new left culture with no bonds to Marxism.
We consider Marx an important element of our cultural heritage — more Marx, than Marxism. But we do need a New Left. New even from the Socialist experience or tradition. We are building such a New Left.
How relevant then is the Socialist International, of which you were elected Vice-President in 2003?
The Socialist International is the main political forum in the world without any doubt. Though it’s not enough. The U.S. democrats are outside it, for instance. It is not possible they can be part of it, but it is possible to work together with an array of different traditions. The New Left needs different cultural roots and traditions — and not just socialism. Socialism was a very important tradition of the last century. But the new vital issues, for instance those related to the environment, are not coming from the Socialist tradition.
Would you want a new culture in your profession of journalism too? A break with the Murdoch, Berlusconi, Maxwell phenomenon?
The freedom of information is a serious issue. It is more and more threatened by not just monopoly but also economic power. It’s not just a Berlusconi. Banks and industrial groups own newspapers in Italy. Newspapers are free to attack politicians. But not economic power. Not owners and [top] managers. So it’s a partial, if important, freedom.
We’d like to change: more open, competitive markets, create new opportunities in media markets. It’s difficult. The strong presence of the Right in Parliament ensures that. But yes, these are major issues not just for Italy but I feel, for the Western world and for democracy.