Interview on the Nuclear Issue in International Relations

Leopoldo Nuti, Frédéric Bozo, Frédéric Gloriant and Marilena Gala (f.l.t.r.)

Leopoldo Nuti, Frédéric Bozo, Frédéric Gloriant and Marilena Gala (f.l.t.r.)

Today we had lectures by Frédéric Gloriant, Marilena Gala, Leopoldo Nuti and Frédéric Bozo about the nuclear issue in international relations. Each of the lecturers had a different focus in this context. After their presentations we asked them to give us a short interview to deepen our understanding of the nuclear issue in international relations.

At the end of the interview you will find a short introduction of the lecturers!

Do you think it is still possible to achieve a world without nuclear technology or is it already too late?

Leopoldo Nuti: I don’t think nuclear technology can be de-invented. I think when you talk about a world without nuclear weapons, even assuming that eliminating all nuclear arsenals were possible, it would be a huge task. How can you erase the knowledge which is necessary to make nuclear weapons? It is basically impossible to make sure that even without the hardware – the weapons themselves –, states could no longer be capable of making them. Frankly, I do not think this is a realistic goal even though you have perfectly legitimate speakers who say so, e.g. from Barack Obama to the so called “four horsemen” Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Sam Nunn and Frank Perry They said that a nuclear-free world was possible. So who am I to say they are wrong? I see that as a fairly difficult task to be accomplished and I think it is much more likely to find a way to create some form of joint control on nuclear weapons if we want to try and restrain their possible use. So, I do not think you can put the nuclear genie back in the bottle and eventually destroy the bottle.

Frédérik Bozo: If you look at the situation in Iran, it brings considerable terrain to understand what can be done: That you cannot de-invent the atomic bomb. The key issue is to control the dual use.

Frédérik Gloriant: I wanted to add something about “global zero”: When there are such proposals you always have to keep in mind that there are ulterior motives. In this case, the US has an enormous conventional arsenal, so even if there were no nuclear weapon in the world any more, they would still be the largest military power by far. You have to keep in mind the balance of power when interpreting one country’s discourse about nuclear weapons. Talking about Iran, I think perhaps the most ambitious objective in terms of arms control would be to keep Iran as a nuclear threshold country. You cannot erase the fact that they have nuclear knowledge; you can reach a point of equilibrium where Iran would be kept as a threshold country.

Marilena Gala: I totally agree with all of them. Let me answer very synthetically by asking you another question: Do you believe in a global government? It is basically the same question.


How has the public perception changed during the time about the nuclear issue in general?

Marilena Gala: It has changed dramatically. There is no regular trend. Of course at the beginning, nuclear weapon development meant high technological devices, it meant sort of endless progress for humanity. Then we had the first huge nuclear accident, which was in 1954. This was the moment, when consciousness about the danger of the nuclear fallout started to spread all over the world. And now you see the first steps and these are made by the major powers. Our steps may also respond to this pressure on the part of the public opinion. So let’s stop atmospheric testing. It was not the only reason as well of course. They had many other important political reasons in terms of the balance of powers and many other things. But that was the first response. Then you see the different kind of public opinion reactions, which were also the result of the manipulation of the governments as well. I’ve seen the documents of the Unites States even related to the fifties, where you can really read that the US-Government was suggesting to some associations of physicists to underplay the nuclear fallout danger. Now, I mean it is a difficult issue to analyze as one has these extreme reactions which are really difficult to analyze because of the role-playing of the single governments sometimes.

Frédéric Gloriant: It is tricky as there is a huge diversity of positions among countries within the same area, e.g. Europe. In Western Europe you have very diverse public positions and therefore very diverse debates. For example, in Britain, the disarmament movement began already in the fifties whereas the formation of this kind of movements in France was quite slow and remains very weak, even today. It is very different depending on the country about which you ask the question. There are some similarities but also huge differences among the European countries.

Frédéric Bozo: I agree with what Frédéric Gloriant was saying. France has been immune to any kind of debates regarding the nuclear issue for a very long time. After Fukushima a debate has been emerging. It is not like Germany but there’s some kind a convergence. A former French Minister of Defense is now advocating France’s abounding of its nuclear arsenal, which would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

Leopoldo Nuti: I would stress what Frédéric Gloriant was saying before: The diversity in the prospective between the countries is staggering. If you look outside of Europe, for instance India, the nuclear dimension is a matter of great nationalistic pride. There are photographs of these parades: People looking very happy and proud going down the streets while holding all sorts of colorful portraits of missiles in their hands. Another example would be Iran. Being able to mastering a fuel-cycle is making them stand tall. It is not just a matter of being capable to prepare for war and produce weapons. It is also a matter of achieving what is still regarded as a significant scientific and technological success. So, in terms of public opinion you ask the right question, but you also have to ask, which public opinion we are talking about, because there is no such thing as a global public opinion. There seem to be moments when we are moving to that direction, for example after Fukushima. And after several years, I am not sure of how many reactors were actually shut down after Fukushima.


Do you think EURATOM is a failure or a success? And why?

Leopoldo Nuti: I think it’s the most remarkable failure in the history of the European integration and if I can afford to be blunt: It proves that the Federalist’ enthusiastic interpretation of European integration is wrong. Basically the Federalist’s assumption is that the states will shut off their national trappings and eventually converge into a supranational identity even if there will be difficult times before achieving that goal. They see the struggle against the nation state as a struggle against a multi-headed beast like a hydra: Every time you cut one head the head comes out somewhere else. Eventually it is the task of the illuminated elite to push states towards this direction and win the fight. If you look at the history of the economic integration, you have ups and downs, you have cycles of success and failure, but the federalist assumption is pretty much an accurate description. Who could have guessed that we would have a common currency and the European Central Bank forty years ago? So things seem to fit in this pattern. Now look at EURATOM. It’s a history of one failure after the other. The fact is, that EURATOM never managed to achieve what was meant to be achieved. Now it is reduced basically to be the main guarantor of security in terms of controlling and verifying the safe-guards of the European civilian plants; it’s basically all that it does – very little more. Whenever there was a talk of a Joint European Enrichment Plan, that project failed. It depends what you mean by success, but certainly when the negotiations started on EURATOM and the common market, EURATOM was regarded as the more important of the two. The common market was a side-show. What really mattered was that we Europeans would be able to master the energy market to help modernize Europe.

Frédérik Bozo: I would argue that the main reason why EURATOM failed was that some of the six countries wanted it for military reasons.

Frédérik Gloriant: Coming back to the federalist idea, I would say that when you read the writings of Jean Monnet about European integration, you can see that he does not think in strategic terms, he thinks in a very functionalist way on how Europe will be built and how nations will fuse into one unit to reach a better economic efficiency. However, he doesn’t think of this fusion of nations in a strategic way; he doesn’t give any answer to the crucial political question: how the problem of sovereignty will be resolved. The power relationship with the US for example is not a topic as such in Jean Monnet. So there is something idealistic in his writings and the concept of sovereignty is not thought about. In this respect, there is a weakness in Jean Monnet’s thoughts.

Leopoldo Nuti: And Jean Monnet is really keen on EURATOM, more than on the common market. He thinks that this is really what Europe needs to make a big jump forward.


According to some scholars, the case of Syria might guide the world towards a new bipolar era. In fact Russia is abandoning its isolationism and getting more involved in international affairs. Do you think that this could cause a new Cold War including a new nuclear arms race?

Marilena Gala: First of all I am not so sure that Russia has followed an isolationist policy. I don’t really agree in that sense. The Cold War is so deeply connected to a world where two different systems in terms of ideology, economy and social organization of the nations that were competing with each other. It is impossible to recreate that sort of competition. It was a competition about how the future world should look like. Right now, there’s nothing going on like that. Russia is not that sort of a global power as the Soviet Union from the seventies onwards. It is true, that Russia is a big power, even being involved in other areas in the world, but this doesn’t mean that the Cold War is back again. It is not going to be recreated and adjusted to the new world. I don’t see anything like that developing at the moment.

Frédérik Bozo: I approve of what Marilena Gala just said, even though I want to add two things: What happens to Russia and Syria illustrates a long-term debate of how we missed to build a world order after the Cold War Era: First by failing to bring Russia into a sort of Western enlarged community. It is clear that Russia became frustrated by this in the first decade of the century. The thought that the West was not being fair towards Russia in the nineties and the first decade of the century was raised by Putin probably after the Iraq war. So they decided to play not an isolationist card, but more a more nationalist card. The second point is, when it comes to Syria the Western powers have basically taken Russia for granted in the Middle East and other regional crises. They are also discarding and dismissing Russia’s – sometimes valid – arguments on what was to be done or not to be done. They were not realizing that sometimes Russia had a point. Even though sometimes Putin is not always a pleasant partner, he was saying interesting points on Syria that we should have listened to. So, I think that has nothing to do with the Cold War, even though there have remained some attitudes of the Cold War Era on both sides. I don’t see his as leading to a possible confrontation, even though people like to scare themselves. It is just for the show.

Leopoldo Nuti: I agree with all of them. I think what the whole period of the Cold War made unique is the combination of the distribution of power between two major centers and some few smaller actors. At the height of the Cold War the distribution of power was basically strictly bipolar and each one of these two centers of gravity represented a strong ideological view on the idea of the future of the evolution of mankind. So the uniqueness of the Cold War was a very heavy ideological dimension which was combined with the distribution of power. You no longer have that. You don’t have anyone claiming to be the future of mankind and you don’t have a bipolar system. You have a unipolar distribution of power in terms of military power, because you have one power which is military more powerful than anyone else and you have an economic multipolar world system in which there are at least several centers of gravity (for instance in Asia, in South America and across the Atlantic). If you want to find a historic example of a confrontation with Russia, think of England facing the Czarist Empire in the 19th century and trying to prevent the Czarist Russia to getting control of the Dardanelles.


 Please describe your presentation in one phrase!

Frédérik Bozo: On the INF the French were right, the American were wrong.

Marilena Gala: The Power of the European Persuasion

Leopoldo Nuti: 50 shades of Grey. History is not black and white. Don’t look for the easy way out. Look for the complications and the intricacies.

Frédérik Gloriant: My presentation tried to uncover the roots of Franco-British misunderstanding about both Europe and nuclear weapons. This is an important issue as it is still present today and represents a very serious obstacle to European unity.




Leopoldo Nuti

Leopoldo Nuti

Leopoldo Nuti: He is Professor of History of International Relations and director of the Doctoral School in Political Science at the University of Roma Tre. Since March 2006 he is Director of CIMA. A graduate of the Universities of Florence (laurea), George Washington U. (M.A. in International affairs) and Rome (Ph.D. in History of International relations), Prof. Nuti has been a Fulbright student, NATO Research Fellow, Jean Monnet Fellow at the European University Institute, Research Fellow at the CSIA, Harvard University, Research Fellow for the Nuclear History Program, Senior Research Fellow at the Norwegian Nobel Institute, Visiting Professor at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris and a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Centre for International Scholars. Mr. Nuti has published extensively in Italian, English and French on US-Italian relations and Italian foreign and security policy.

Frédéric Bozo

Frédéric Bozo

Frédéric Bozo: He is a Professor at the University of Paris III: Sorbonne Nouvelle, where he teaches contemporary history and international relations. He is also a Senior Research Associate at the Institut français des relations internationales (IFRI) where his focus is on Atlantic and European security issues. His prior teaching positions include the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (1989–1992), the University of Paris X-Nanterre (1992–1994) and the University of Marne-la-Vallée (1994–1998). He is also a member of the Centre de recherche sur l’histoire du monde Atlantique (CRHMA/ Research Center on the History of the Atlantic World, university of Nantes) and of the Groupe français pour l’histoire de l’arme nucléaire (GREFHAN, the French branch of the Nuclear History Programme). Bozo received his PhD in contemporary history from the University of Paris X-Nanterre (1993) and his Habilitation from the University of Paris III (1997). An alumnus of the Ecole Normale Supérieure and the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, he holds an Agrégation in history; he has also studied at Harvard University and speaks English fluently.

Frédéric Gloriant

Frédéric Gloriant

Frédéric Gloriant: A PhD student in History of International Relations at the University of Paris III (Sorbonne Nouvelle). He focuses on Franco-British relations during the de Gaulle-Macmillan era (1958-1963) and on the process of how the two countries developed divergent visions of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture during this key period. Previously, he studied humanities (Classics and Philosophy) at the École Normale Supérieure and Sorbonne, and received his training in political science, history and international relations both at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris (Master of “Sciences-Po”) and at the University of Newcastle, from which he received his MA in Politics in 2007.

Marilena Gala

Marilena Gala

Marilena Gala: She is Professor at Roma Tre University in Rome. Between 2003 and 2008, she has been a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre, in 2003 and 2010. Currently, she is a Lecturer of History of International Relations at the Department of Political Sciences of the University of Rome III. Ms. Gala teaches there a graduate course on nuclear power in the international system. She is a specialist in Cold War transatlantic relations and arms control and is currently working on a book project on transatlantic relations from the European security standpoint between the climax of détente and the end of the Cold War.

by: Chiara Villani, Dora Czeferner, Nike Pulda and Oreste Bocco


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *