Italy, although it considers itself to be a middle-sized power on par with France, the United Kingdom, and Germany, has been incapable of playing an international role comparable to theirs, instead keeping a low-profile foreign policy. This has not been due to any material constraints—Italy’s profile has remained consistently low, through economic times both good and bad—but rather to the country’s strategic culture, a mixture of realpolitik and pacifist tendencies. This book sets out to analyze the influence of Italy’s strategic culture on its foreign policy. It conducts an exploratory case study to show if hypotheses generated by the strategic culture approach can shed some light on the puzzling Italian behavior in the international arena (puzzling because Italy shows a less assertive foreign policy vis-à-vis other middle powers in the same rank). The first chapter considers the main interpretations of Italian foreign policy and their limitations. The second and third chapters review the literature on strategic culture, stressing its utility for the Italian case. The fourth chapter describes the country’s strategic culture through the Liberal, Fascist, and Republican periods, and the fifth chapter analyzes the influence of ideational factors on Italy’s behavior abroad. Conclusions sum up the various emerging evidences. Scholars of political science, international relations, strategic studies, and comparative politics will find this work to be of interest.
Paolo Rosa is associate professor of political science in the Department of Sociology and Social Research and the School of International Studies at the University of Trento.
Ideas regarding war, the enemy and the use of military force translated into preferences for different strategic options. Post-war Italian strategic culture prioritized diplomacy as a means to solve conflict. When choosing between offense and defense, defensive strategies were preferred to offensive strategies, in contrast to the Liberal and Fascist periods. The definition of the strategic options was influenced by the legacy of World War II and by Italy’s membership of the Atlantic alliance, as well as by the evolution of NATO’s strategic concept regarding the use of the nuclear power. Both these experiences were filtered by the anti-war attitude developed by the policymakers. Hence, war was seen as a viable option only in a defensive/multilateral framework, in response to an attack. Given Italy’s geopolitical position, this led to the elaboration of a security policy centered on the defense of the country’s north-eastern border. The various circulars that have been published by the Army’s General Staff reflect these basic concepts. In the first 30 years of the Republic, four series of documents dealing with the role of the army were published: series 3000, 600, 700 and 800. The first series (3000) still reflected a WWII concept of war and was based on predictions of a typical conventional conflict. The next two series (600 and 700) were issued to account for the nuclear turn in the United States’ policy in the 1950s (the strategy of “massive retaliation”). Series 800 was formulated to account for the reshaping of nuclear policy (determined by NATO’s shift from “massive retaliation” to “flexible response”). Regarding the choice between offensive and defensive actions, Italian military thought was unquestionably in favor of the latter option. Also as far as the use of tactical nuclear weapons was concerned, the operational doctrine series 600 clearly emphasized the advantages of defense. The doctrinal debate also took into account the possibility of maneuver warfare and of offensive strategies, but, as emphasized by General Filippo Stefani, this was more a theoretical exercise for defining the possible threats to be faced, rather than actual operational options for the Italian Army (Stefani 1989: 156). The preference for defensive action is confirmed by the Navy and Air Force’s operational doctrines. The Italian Navy had been severely limited by the clauses of peace treaty after WWII, as it was forced to cede part of its fleet to the victorious countries and was prevented from building up any combat units for offensive purposes. In the various phases that marked the rebuilding of a national fleet and witnessed the gradual substitution of units equipped with the most up-to- date technology for old pre-war ships, military planning was always focused on defense. At first, when the only ships in the Mediterranean were those of allies, the naval operational doctrine only allowed for the defense of the Italian coast on the border with Yugoslavia and for the escort of convoys in the case of a conflict with the USSR. The modernization programs launched in the 1950s revealed this underlying general approach, according to which the primary task was “to create a modern ‘escort’ force” (Ramoino 1989: 189). Even if in the following years – with the gradual withdrawal of the French and British fleets from the Mediterranean, and the menacing appearance of the Russian fleet – the strategic framework became more complex, the principal missions of the Italian navy continued to be fundamentally defensive, in collaboration with the other Western fleets. As had been the case with the other two services, Italy’s membership of NATO was essential for the Air Force to overcome the constraints imposed upon it by the peace treaty and to initiate a program of modernization. Whereas the Air Forces of other nations were assigned strategic tasks, Italy’s Air Force was entrusted with the tactical support of ground troops and air defense (Arpino 1989: 211). Over the next two decades, little changed, and despite international developments and improvements in weapons systems technology, defense and tactical missions continued to be at the center of the Air Force’s operational planning. Such priorities were more in line with the thinking of General Amedeo Mecozzi, who was strongly against the offensive use of the Air Force, than that of General Giulio Douhet, who was a theorist for the offensive role of air power between the World Wars (MacIsaac 1986). The most striking features of the Italian strategic culture, which emerge from the interweaving of different political cultures (primarily Catholic and Communist) with the pragmatic calculations of politicians, can be summed up in the words of three historians who have studied these issues in detail (Goglia, Moro, Nuti 2006b: 22):
The Republican age appears [...] to be largely characterized by a culture of peace and, indeed, by heated public debate (the case of the socialist/communist campaigns and the Christian Democratic polemic in response is typical) about it. Merely a remnant of a past to be quickly forgotten, war was expressly rejected in the Constitution, while the entire issue of the military and defense endured a long process of delegitimization which led to even research on the subject being regarded with suspicion. After WWII, public opinion, politicians and Italian political culture (whose role in influencing foreign policy became especially important, as in the case of the beginning of détente, or of the bitter debate around nuclear weapons within NATO) were increasingly drawn towards rejection of the war. They insisted on the primary importance of international cooperation and opted, if not for pacifism, for a systematic policy of mediation and of peace (not without, however, a degree of instrumentalism).
The end of the Cold War triggered a re-examination of the Italian security policy (Foradori, Rosa 2007a). It impacted on the propensity to use military force. This has occurred without straying from a defensive-based approach, and especially by carving out an important role for the Italian Armed Forces in the increasing number of peacekeeping and peace-building missions, which have eventually provided a link between the antimilitarist approach and the growing use of the military instrument. This has not led to any substantial change in strategic culture. The political elites have tried to respond to the new threats and opportunities that have emerged after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 while remaining within the limits (although occasionally stretching them considerably) defined by the post-war strategic culture.
Courtesy by Lexington Books.