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Panel 1. The evolution of Italian foreign and defense policy in the “Enlarged Mediterranean”: patterns and comparative perspectives

Chair: Fabrizio Coticchia (University of Genova) 
Discussant: Stefano Recchia (University of Cambridge)

Date: Friday 14.00 - 15.45
Room: Aula Jemolo


In 2015, the Italian White Paper clearly identified the “Enlarged Mediterranean” as the fundamental strategic area for protecting national interests. Italian troops have been relocated from Afghanistan and Iraq to Mediterranean, Sahel and Northern Africa. Moreover, several diplomatic and development initiatives have been planned in the region. At the same time, the novelties occurred both at domestic (the new “Eurosceptic” Italian government) and at international level (the “refugee crisis”, the post-ISIL counter terrorism, PESCO, the harsh debate around defense spending within NATO, etc.) pose new challenges and new opportunities for Italian defense policy. Since the end of the Cold War, and especially in the new century, Italian armed forces have been deployed in complex military operations abroad, modifying doctrines and tactics on the ground. Reforms have been undertaken to adapt to the contemporary security context. The literature has gradually addressed such process of transformation. However, further analyses are needed. The panel is particularly interested in papers that take into account issues such as: the relationship between political parties and defense policy, the organizational transformation of Italian armed forces, the new operations in the “Enlarged Mediterranean”, the narratives adopted by relevant political actors concerning security issues, the relationship between Italy, NATO and the EU.
By combining different methodological approaches, the panel aims to provide a relevant contribution to the (still limited) debate on Italian defense policy.


Confirmed Papers: 

  1. Migration and terrorism: the analysis of drivers, debates, and goals behind the Italian military engagement in Niger and Libya
    Michela Ceccorulli (University of Bologna) and Fabrizio Coticchia (University of Genova)

    In January 2018 the parliament approved a new operation in Niger and a broader military involvement in Libya. The Italian leaders openly referred to a “relocation of troops” from Afghanistan and Iraq to Sahel and Northern Africa to support local states in the fight against terrorism and smuggling/trafficking of migrants. Which were the determinants of this strategic shift? The decision could represent a turning point for the post-Cold War Italian defense policy. However, the analyses of the decision-making process that have led to the military engagement have been limited. The paper aims at addressing such gap, investigating the drivers behind the new missions, illustrating the main traits of the planned security assistance and capacity building operations in Niger and Libya. A specific attention will be devoted to the “relative importance” of the two threats/challenges motivating the interventions: irregular migration into the EU (and related smuggling phenomena) and terrorism. Thanks to secondary and primary sources (interviews, official documents, parliamentary proceedings) the paper originally contributes to the current debate on the evolution of Italian foreign, security and defense policy in the broader Mediterranean.

    2) Change in policy, continuity in goals? Italy’s U-turn in the Libyan crisis
    Matteo Colombo and Valerio Vignoli (University of Milan)

    Within the time span of roughly four months, between January and April 2011, Italian foreign policy towards Libya underwent a radical and unexpected turnaround. Since 1998 Italy had established strong political and economic ties with the former colony and its dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, culminated in a friendship treaty ten years later. However, when the international community condemned the regime’s brutal repression of public protest, the Italian government, led by Silvio Berlusconi, abruptly abandoned his ally. In fact, firstly Rome followed UN sanctions, then recognized the Libyan opposition forces as the only legitimate interlocutor and, finally, joined the multilateral military intervention against Gaddafi. Our paper analyses this paradigmatic example of foreign policy change employing Hermann’s (1990) theoretical framework and expert interviews with relevant policymakers, diplomats and bureaucrats. Firstly, we evaluate the impact of three domestic agents: leaders, bureaucracy, and the main Italian energy corporation. Subsequently, we seek to reconstruct the decision-making process that produced the outcome. In our opinion, this case study falls into the ‘programme change’ category, in the sense that Italy continued to pursue its long-term goal of preserving national interests, by adopting a completely different policy on Libya.

    3) The Return of National Interest, the case of Brexit 
    Serena Giusti (Scuola Sant’Anna Pisa)

    Globalisation, multilateralism, intensifying processes of international and regional cooperation/integration, and a proliferation of new actors are among the factors that have expropriated states of many of their prerogatives. The National Interest (NI), whose destiny is intimately linked to that of the State, has shrunk too becoming an old-fashioned concept. Post-bipolar literature has tended to overlook the concept of NI, confining it to the realm of realism and neo-realism. Both theoretical approaches have been discredited by the almost peaceful end of the Cold War and the following fluidity of the configuration of the IS further marginalising NI.
    However, the protracted instability at a system level, along with the diffusion of unusual menaces coming from informal actors, and the effects of a severe global economic crisis, have led to rehabilitate the state as a comprehensive security provider. Following on that, NI has recaptured the international political scene, as it has been refrained in many recent political campaigns. The rhetoric of “My country comes first” (Donald Trump) and “take back control” (Theresa May) has imposed a fresh reflection on the meaning of NI in contemporary international politics. The exploration of NI in a time when populist forces abuse of the term, attributing it rather casually a variety of meanings with serious reverberation domestically and internationally is particularly valuable.
    As argued by Weldes (1996, 276), ‘the national interest’ is important to international politics in two ways. “First, it is through the concept of the national interest that policymakers understand the goals to be pursued by a state’s foreign policy…Second, it functions as a rhetorical device through which the legitimacy of and political support for state action is generated. The ‘national interest’ thus has considerable power in that it helps to constitute as important and to legitimise the actions taken by states”. In other words, NI tells us what states are up to and why.
    In this paper, we are primarily concerned with the second meaning of NI; its rhetorical use. Reference to NI is a government’s ordinary practice for legitimising political decisions and actions, especially in the realm of foreign policy. However, there is often a mismatch between what politicians communicate to the people (rhetoric level) and what they actually achieve. The presence of a discrepancy between the verbal and the factual level unveils either the false intentions of the policy makers, or their incapacity to accomplish what they have promised. Therefore, we retain that NI has great epistemological potentialities, especially at a time of chaotic and contradicting politics. Our purpose is to deconstruct the concept of NI in its main components, which will be used to assess criteria for our case study about the United Kingdom’s decision to trigger article 50 of the EU Treaty (29 March 2017) after the positive result of a referendum. Is that choice corresponding to the country’s proclaimed NI?
    The task is hard because the definition of NI is controversial and susceptible of manipulation. We will avoid the perennial debate on NI and States as protagonist of international politics and on its relevance when interpreting the International System (IS) structure here. We will handle national interest as neutrally as possible as an explicative tool, emancipated from a moral and theoretical appreciation. For doing so, we will need to extrapolate the very essentials of NI. Such an exercise will be supported by compiling the main IR approaches that have dealt with NI. This exercise is complicated because when dealing with NI, international relations pundits have avoided being normative or prescriptive, focusing rather on the genetic aspects of NI.
    We will take distance from the realists that believe national interest is indivisible, objectively identified, and pertains to the foreign policy sphere exclusively. We will also take a nuanced stance vis à vis the post-modern idea that there is no objective truth. We will situate our analysis at a middle ground level, admitting that national interest is composed by a mix of mutable (personalities, public opinion shifting, economic performance, imponderable global dynamics) and stable features (territory, natural resources institutions, collective meanings, national identity) and is made by an invariable and variable component, both susceptible to change over time.
    Highlighting the basics of NI is propaedeutic to the deconstruction of the concept and its use for assessing, and eventually contesting, the choices made in the name of NI. The paper relies on a sort of contrapuntal analysis that confronts any relevant component of national interest with the possible implications of Brexit simultaneously. Numerous independent studies have already given a warning about the manifold ruinous consequences of leaving the EU. Only few of them have envisaged some nutshell paybacks or very limited geographical areas, such as the city of London, that could benefit from abandoning the EU. Incongruities and risks are looming; from the prospected economic losses to possible tensions (e.g. Scotland, Northern Ireland) and widening clevages (geographical, demographic, social). Forecasted consequences, and the incertitude in which Brexit is unfolding (soft, hard, no deal Brexit?), seem to contradict the rhetoric of the British government, hinting that national interest may have been instrumentally used. That fallacious use of national interest risks damaging the British nation. The resurrection of national interest on the political scene therefore deserves attention, especially for its analytical capacity that holds a great political value in terms of contestation also.
    The paper will briefly discuss the meaning and the evolution of the concept of national interest. It will then attempt to deconstruct the concept with the support of international relations (IR) literature on NI. Then, the fundamentals of NI will constitute the backbone framework for the contrapuntal analysis of the Brexit decision, pulling over main NI constituent items with Brexit implications. This kind of analysis should help to highlight the incongruity/congruity between what is expected or wished, and what is likely to be accomplished.