Interview with Mikail Böök on DiEM25’s draft nuclear weapons platform

Aegina, November 2017

Mikael welcome back to Aegina. You haven’t been here for nine years, since the Capodistrias-Spinelli-Europe seminar in November 2008. Isn’t that right?

That is right.

You and I are both members of the pan-European citizens’ movement DiEM25. This week DiEM25 voted to stand in elections throughout Europe. Do you have any comment on that?

Well actually I hope it will succeed as a pan-European movement. I don’t see how it can have a great success the first time it stands in elections but maybe it can make DiEM25 better known because for instance in Finland it is quite unknown I would say.

But it was also decided that DiEM25 members don’t have to become involved in electoral campaigning if they don’t wish to. And it was decided to establish more thematic collectives. Four of us have already formed a nuclear disarmament thematic collective – you are a member of course – and we have submitted a draft platform to DiEM25’s co-ordinating collective. Are you happy with the content of our draft anti-nuclear-weapons platform?

Oh yes. I am quite happy with that, and with the process we had discussing directly before we submitted it. Actually we have only tried to submit it because it has not been in any way formally noted by the councils of DiEM25. I would like to make a short comment on this electioneering first. I am still only an associate member myself of DiEM25, and that is precisely because I felt that DiEM25 has not presented a more comprehensive political view, especially on the place of Europe internationally, in the world. And for me if we speak about democratizing Europe and we hope that the European Union will become a positive factor in the world. The essential thing for me is to denuclearize entirely.

Right, well we’re going to get onto that. That’s what I wanted to talk about now. There are two elements in our platform that we might like to emphasize. The first was included at your initiative and it is a quote from Altiero Spinelli, one of the key architects of the European Union. “The United States must be prepared to disengage itself militarily and to accept the denuclearisation of Europe.” That’s what you said, and this has been included. Any comment, or shall we go on.

Well, that is something that really needs comment, but that is something which has been, I would say, forgotten, or rather made into some kind of a taboo. I’ve never heard the present leaders of the European Union make this quote. It’s really a quote from another epoch.

The other element in our Draft Platform is the final clause of the Saintes Appeal: “Europe must become a totally nuclear-free zone, so as to contribute to total denuclearization of the planet, without waiting for similar action by other countries or continents.” Now you and I both attended the disarmament rally organized by ACDN, Action des Citoyens pour le Désarmement Nucléaire in May 2008 in the French town of Saintes, and we worked together to have that clause included in the Saintes Appeal. A requirement for independent European Nuclear Disarmament. Do you think that this requirement is relevant now, as it was in 2008?

It certainly is as relevant. Maybe I myself look at it from a little bit different viewpoint because one must recognize that this concept of denuclearization is an extremely complicated process. It is not only a political process. It is even a technical process, which is complicated because of the huge amounts of fissiles and wastes from the nuclear power stations and so forth. To think that Europe will become denuclearized also in the sense of sealing nuclear plants, that will take a long time but certainly I think that the European Union should go in for – we can’t call it unilateral nuclear disarmament…


Independent, without waiting for global agreement, like the Nuclear Non-Prolferation Treaty.

Right, we’re going to talk about that now. What do you think our chances are of having this platform, with these demands in it, accepted by the co-ordinating collectives of DiEM25? What do you think our chances are?

Well, right now at this moment it is autumn. I’m a little bit pessimistic because the reaction to our proposal has been so slow, or even non-existent.

They have been concerned with the electoral opening at the moment.

That does not make me very quiet. Obviously because on the other hand we can say that in the general debate nuclear weapons are sort of….. the threat of nuclear war has to some extent again become effectualized.

Would you agree that the Nuclear Weapons Non Proliferation Treaty has failed and that this makes it more necessary that there should be a European initiative for independent nuclear disarmament? Not waiting for movement from the other nuclear weapons states?

Yes, certainly. But although the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has failed, I wouldn’t say that one should just put it in the dustbin. The diplomacy, the efforts of the governments towards nuclear disarmament must go on and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty also.

Let’s say a few words about the current deadlock over North Korea and its nuclear weapons. In September the French President – and maybe you can show this to the camera. See this. Show it. – In September the French President Emmanuel Macron called upon the United Nations to react quickly to North Korea’s expansion of its nuclear weapons programme. He also said that the European Union must make a clear and united response.

Now there was a reply to this from the North Korean official Ri Tok Son, who said: “It is ridiculous to claim that the nuclear weapons of the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea, which are a deterrent against blackmail and threats from the United States, could target Europe. If nuclear weapons are so bad, France should be the first to abandon its nuclear weapons, because it is not under threat from the nuclear weapons of any state.

Do you think it would be possible for the French President to say anything convincing in response to this challenge from the North Korean official?

That’s a thing I haven’t given much thought to, so I have no comment ready. I think however that France, as other governments, should also have diplomatic efforts and dialogue with North Korea, however strange the policies of the North Korean state might seem.

There are historical precedents for bilateral nuclear disarmament agreements, for example between Brazil and Argentina in 1991. Do you think that European citizens should try to persuade France to sign such a bilateral agreement with North Korea? This could be a step towards resolving the present deadlock, couldn’t it? Particularly if North Korea is attached to its nuclear weapons primarily for reasons of prestige, not because it really needs a so-called nuclear deterrent. That is something that was implied a few months back by President Trump’s former advisor Steve Bannon, who said that North Korea could destroy Seoul in half an hour with conventional weapons.

The later part of your question I didn’t quite get but I would say that I am not at all opposed to the idea that France would sign a separate agreement on non-aggression – a nuclear non-aggression agreement – with North Korea. I am not opposed to that idea. I am opposed to the idea that the European states should be subordinated to American nuclear doctrines.

A number of key figures in today’s climate change debate, particularly people making proposals for geoengineering as a response to climate change, people such as David Keith, Alan Robock, Ken Caldeira, have a pre-history of involvement with nuclear weapons laboratories. Has it ever occurred to you what great similarities there are between the logic of the Nuclear Weapons Non-proliferation Treaty and the logic of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change? In both cases there is an assertion of inequality. For the Nuclear-Weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty the inequality is between the states possessing nuclear weapons and the states not possessing nuclear weapons. For the United Nations Convention on Climate Change the inequality is between the Industrialized countries that are said to have been mainly responsible for global warming or climate change and the developing countries that are suffering, or will suffer, the worst effects from climate change. In both cases the United Nations takes upon itself the mission of defending the weaker parties, in the interests of promoting nuclear disarmament in the first case, and in the interests of promoting what is called climate justice in the second case.

Do you think that it is realistic to hope that the United Nations can achieve either nuclear disarmament, or climate justice, through international negotiations?

The first part of your question that compares the Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty and agreements on climate change – it has not occurred to me to compare them in this way so I have no ready thoughts about that. The second part of your question, which is a really key problem, I think, of the future of mankind. It is generally believed, I think, or at least it is generally said, and held, that the only road is a global agreement between governments. I don’t think so. I think the road is that somebody starts and it is, of course it is extremely complicated because all dimensions of human existence are involved, including the military one, and one should see that to start, to begin, with nuclear disarmament, also signifies implementing, thinking out, a different military strategy, and I think Europe – I think this is something that will happen regionally and Europe could be, or should be, certainly because of its role in world history, taking that initiative, being the first to break with nuclear armaments, to show a way out from that, and not in an aggressive way. I’m also convinced that if France, Germany, Britain, would start with this, or even if a smaller state would get this process running, they would succeed. And the UN agreement on a prohibition on nuclear weapons, which has now been adopted – last July – was started by small states, including Austria and Sweden in Europe.

The economist Jeffrey Sachs was present at the United Nations when President Trump made his first speech there, which was filled with threats against North Korea. Jeffrey Sachs declared himself to be appalled at the behaviour of President Trump, particularly because of the United States inclination towards starting wars. He says that this inclination towards war is something that can be controlled only from the top, and this makes it terrible when at the top you have a person who talks and acts the way that Donald Trump does. Do you think that Jeffrey Sachs is right when he says that the drive towards war and violence and destruction is something that can be controlled only from the top, and if he is, what is the point of having citizens’ campaigns against nuclear weapons, or against environmental destruction or whatever?

Well, you could have left out the last part of your question because that sort of begs the question. I don’t agree with Jeffrey Sachs’ point. I don’t think that the leaders of the governments and states are in control. I don’t think that the processes which lead to wars, especially big conflicts, wars in the traditional sense, like the Napoleonic wars or the First and Second World War…. Of course, there are people who start them, and want them. But to believe that we are in control in that sense of the processes is a mistake.

This hotel that we are in at the moment was the place where at the beginning of this year Yanis Varoufakis spoke to the citizens of Aegina to tell them about DiEM25 and its proposals for Europe. We have made some proposals now to DiEM25 on the subject of nuclear disarmament, and in particular a proposal to be addressed to Mr. Varoufakis’ friend Emmanuel Macron. A proposal for independent European nuclear disarmament, starting from France. Is this a reasonable proposal, and can we hope that it will be accepted or have we already talked about that?

We have talked about that, of course, because we have made the proposal. Of course we think that it is reasonable. I think that many people believe, like us, that it is reasonable. A quite different matter is whether even DiEM25 will manage to adopt a clear policy or see the future in this perspective. Even in our discussions we found immediately the group of people, which is very big, that believe in nuclear deterrence and believe that the nuclear weapons have saved the world from the big traditional conflicts between governments. So that’s a huge obstacle. We have discussed this very much also.

Well let’s see now if we can have some commentary from Jean-Marie Matagne from ACDN, Action des Citoyens pour le Désarmement Nucléaire in Saintes in France. We’ll send him what we said and see what he has to say in response.

Thank you very much Mikail and I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay in Greece.

Thank you.

(The interview was taken by Wayne Hall)


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