On 25 June 2019, the presentation of the report “Molto Agitato” took place in Brussels. The report was wrote by Paul Taylor, Senior Fellow of Friends of Europe and author of several reports on European cooperation on defense. According to the report, Italy plays a crucial role as a security actor in Europe because of its geo-strategic position and its role as a member of the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The role of Rome as a stabilizing force on the southern flank is of vital importance in a region where all the current security challenges converge: the historical rivalry between European countries, the Libyan crisis and civil war, migrations, radicalization and human trafficking. The security challenges are destined to increase in the Mediterranean region because of the current Italian political situation and the lack of an EU and NATO global approach. This opinion was shared by Mary Fitzgerald, analyst and journalist expert in the field of Libya’s crisis, Alessandro Marrone, Head of the Defense program at the Istituto Affari Internazionali, Antonio Missiroli, NATO’s Assistant Secretary General for emerging security challenges and Ambassador Stefano Stefanini, Permanent Representative of Italy to NATO (2007-2010) and senior fellow of the Atlantic Council of the United States, who took the floor during the presentation.

Central Mediterranean :

The author besides working as a journalist in
Paris, also writes the column “Europe at Large” for Politico and he worked for
Reuters as a foreign correspondent in Paris, Tehran, Bonn, Israel/Palestine,
Berlin and Brussels, and as correspondent leader in France, as a diplomatic
editor in London, and finally as editor of European affairs. He explained why
he chose this title for his report. Firstly, “Agitato” in a
musical composition indicates the movement, out of the ordinary. Nowadays, this
is the image we have of the Mediterranean area, which during the last decade
has seen political upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Sudan and Libya, then
the beginning of the Syrian civil war and the failed coup organized by Fetullah
Gulen in Turkey. Secondly, the title also represents the Italian political
situation that since last year has put together two “anti-system” parties
(Movimento 5 Stelle and Lega) which relied on the population’s dissatisfaction
and skepticism to win the elections.

According to the speakers, in this moment, Italy
must face two kinds of instability.

The first one, caused by internal issues, is due
to a lack of a clear foreign program that pushed Rome away from Brussels, Paris
and Berlin. Furthermore, the Italian relations with the White House got worse
after the visit of deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini to Moscow, during which
he showed his skepticism towards EU sanctions and called for closer cooperation
with Russia.

The second one, coming from the Mediterranean
area, shows the lack of an EU and NATO strategy that may help Italy. Indeed,
Italy wants to create two new headquarters to prepare, conduct and evaluate
capacity-building programs in the defense field with joint exercises with
partner countries. But a lot of NATO Member States do not consider this
initiative as a priority.

For the 60th anniversary of the Treaty
of Rome, Permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) was re-launched. Italy leads
(or participates in) 21 of the 34 PESCO projects, adding two in cooperation
with France and most importantly has brought the project of a European drone.
The fronts on which Italy has to face challenges do not end with defense
security issues. The European Commission rejected the Document of economy and
finance approved by the Italian government because deficit financing (reddito
di cittadinanza) and the flat tax are contrary to the rules of the Stability
and Growth Pact. The new government decided to bring the deficit to 2.4% in
2019. Italy is the third most indebted country in the world, the second in
Europe after Greece, with a level of approximately 132% of the GDP.

The combination of these issues does not allow the
country to draw up long-term and stable defense programs, considering also that
Italy has historically adopted an approach based on “engagement, not
”, which is called “Difesa all’Italiana” (Defense
in an Italian way). It is a combination of civil and military means: not being
a historically warlike or a strong military power, Italy has a different


The Italian army is engaged in 40 international
operations in 23 countries: from Afghanistan in South Asia to Latvia, from
Niger and Mali to Iraq, from the Indian Ocean to Somalia. Many of these
missions are under the aegis of NATO and the United Nations. According to
recent estimates, more than 6,000 Italian soldiers are deployed in
international operations (more than German and British). According to the
political theorist Raffaele Marchetti, Italy has a “hybrid diplomacy” based on
custom: Italians are often the first ones to arrive and the last to leave. They
are called “good people » because they combine the tasks of
maintaining security and working with local communities and international agencies
to promote dialogue and sustainable development[1]. For instance, we can point
out the mission to strengthen the capabilities of the Somali security forces
supported by the Carabinieri and the 300 Afghan border police officers who
obtained the qualification of teachers thanks to the training of Italian

This is the “Difesa all’Italiana” based
on engagement and not on combat. Italian military spending is complicated to
calculate because there are 3 defense budgets and only one is submitted to the
Ministry of Defense for examination (equipment is managed by the Ministry of
Economic Development and others expenses are approved by decree of the
government). If, for NATO, Italy is one of the least conspicuous countries in
defense spending with1.13% of GDP, it is also true that if we consider the
other two budgets it reaches 1.26% of GDP. Despite being a country that spends
little on internal and external defense Italy deploys important resources
which, when added to the real defense budget, equals the countries considered
most invested for the EU and NATO.

The Mediterranean area needs a new EU strategy to
face the increasingly hybrid threats coming from the South and to coordinate
diplomatic, economic and political tools in order to develop relations with the
countries of the region. Then, a division of tasks between NATO, the EU and the
coalition of available countries will be necessary: the EU could lead policies
with its soft power and NATO should develop its capacity building by making a
large investment in training and in joint exercises, improving dialogue with
the EU. At national level, an Italian-French agreement is also indispensable to
bring together strategic, economic and migratory interests, improving a
bilateral friendship treaty that includes periodic consultations between Rome
and Paris. Firstly, the two countries should find a common agenda for Libya
including a joint approach to improve security and the fight against human
traffickers. Secondly, they should open to investments enhancing industrial
defense policies. Thirdly, they have to create a new political approach for the
Balkan region, together with Germany.  To
achieve these aims, Italy should start reforming the field of defense,
eliminating waste. According to the experts, the centralization of the armed
forces activities is needed to avoid duplication in order to reduce the costs
for the superfluous personnel and enhance training and exercises. The Italian
strategic approach must therefore be based on a true political-strategic
leadership capacity.

Unfortunately, these goals still seem far away.
Nowadays, Italian policies are based on three characteristics:

  • Frustration: which still pervades public opinion, as it was
    demonstrated by the European elections results,
  • Engagement: which is still stable in many areas of defense but risks to
    be reduced if the costs are cut and the country continues to follow the path
    founded on “engagement, not combat”,
  • Inconstancy of policies: the absence of solid and lasting strategies
    able to improve all sectors that feed the defense industry.

Italy has always shown diplomatic, multilateral and inclusive capabilities and these features produced optimal results. For instance, in 2006, the second Lebanon war broke out. The conflict was precipitated by the 2006 Hezbollah cross-border raid. On 12 July 2006, Hezbollah fighters fired rockets at Israeli border towns as a diversion for an anti-tank missile attack on two armored Humvees patrolling the Israeli side of the border fence. The ambush left three soldiers dead. Two Israeli soldiers were abducted and taken by Hezbollah to Lebanon. Five more were killed in Lebanon, in a failed rescue attempt. Hezbollah demanded the release of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel in exchange for the release of the abducted soldiers. Israel refused and responded with airstrikes and artillery fire on targets in Lebanon. Israel attacked both Hezbollah military targets and Lebanese civilian infrastructure, including Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport. On 11 August 2006, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 1701[2] in order to end the hostilities. The resolution, approved in the following days by both the Israeli and Lebanese governments, called for the disarmament of Hezbollah and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon, with the deployment of Lebanese soldiers. Thanks to pressure from Italy and France to Secretary General Kofi Annan, the resolution also strengthened the capabilities of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for its peacekeeping mission.

The are many actors in the Mediterranean area,
each of whom should have a specific role. Security field cannot be improved if
the European countries most involved in the challenges coming from the area
work on different priorities with divergent objectives. According to experts,
Italy is paying the unjust consequences of French action in Libya, admitting
that the current Italian government, instead of strengthening relationships, is
worsening each kind of dialogue with Paris. At the same time, it is necessary
to improve a constructive dialogue with all concerned actors. Even if the
colonization is over, there is still, and rightly so, a reason to think that
some European countries continue to interact with African local and national
actors in an authoritarian way, fostering the spirit of revenge of those who,
nowadays more than ever, feel themselves exploited either by European
governments or national governments (some instrumentalized by European
countries). A more constructive approach is fundamental. It is estimated that
there will be 2.5 billion Africans in 2050 exceeding the Chinese population.
NATO Admiral James Foggo said: “60% of them will be under the age of 24 years
old. Either we get involved in development and help those young people go to
school and get a jobs or they are going to pick up an AK-47
[3]. A contextualized strategy is
therefore needed, considering that the European continent is facing a
significant population decline with Italy as an extreme case of an ageing
demographic. For this reason a solidarity policy among Member States but also
the creation of a constructive dialogue with the other part of the
Mediterranean are paramount.

Maria Elena Argano

agitato, l’Italia e la Sicurezza mediterranea, Paul Tylor, pp.59


agitato, l’Italia e la Sicurezza mediterranea, Paul Tylor, pp. 37 (english

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