On Oct. 30, 2019 the Italian minister of Defense, Lorenzo Guerini, revealed Italy’s National Defense Strategy in front of the parliamentary defense committees, hearing from him for the first time since the beginning of his mandate.

Prior to detailing the strategic interests of Italy, the document recalls the current international security arena, considered to be characterized by threats and challenges. To give some examples, the Italian National Defense Strategy mentions the fight against international terrorism, together with hybrid, cyber, and asymmetrical threats. These security pressures find their application in the “always more assertive role” of some international powers, namely Russia and China, together with other political actors that draw Italy’s concerns because of the risk of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

In this scenario, Italy is committed to maintaining security within its territory and abroad, and it does so by deploying its around 13.000 troops, of which 7.000 are active in domestic operations and the remaining 6.000 are distributed in 37 theatres, in 24 countries of the world.

This data shows to what extent international operations are strategic to Italy. The 37 theatres are NATO, UN and EU operations and these arrangements are defined as the “pillars” of Italy’s framework of alliances.

Italy’s strategic national interest is concentrated in the “Enlarged Mediterranean” geographical area, being the merger of 4 regions: Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Sahel, the Horn of Africa and the Western Balkans.

Starting from MENA, the top priority on Guerini’s agenda is Libya, for which Italy wants peace and stability. These two goals are not considered to be achievable without the collaboration of neighborhood States, as Tunisia and Niger, that can play a strategic role in the fight against migrant smugglers. In addition, peace in Libya is achievable only by including the civil society and the local institutions, already recipients of Italian aid, as shown with the construction of Misurata hospital.

Focusing on the Middle East, the region is perceived as a threat because of the risk of Italian foreign fighters returning to their home country, especially because of the latest developments in Syria, a country for which Italy is committed to find a solution in line with its NATO Allies.

Middle East represents a threat also because of the Gulf region, where Guerini noticed a strong escalation of tensions. For this reason, Italy is said to be reviewing the proposals it received from its European partners, committed to deploy a maritime security naval mission to the area.

Maritime security also recalls Italy’s role in the Eastern Mediterranean region, characterized by the dispute between Cyprus and Turkey, a factor that hinders the procurement of raw materials, mainly hydrocarbons. For this reason, Rome wants to increase its involvement in the region.

Moving to the second geographical area that is part of the “Enlarged Mediterranean”, Sahel is where Italy aims at enhancing cooperation with France. Sahel is a sub-Saharan region of Africa, extending from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. The area is torn by Islamic terrorism since 2001, especially in its northwestern region. There are 3 main terrorist groups in the Sahel: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar al-Din and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad.

The third strategic region for Italy is the Horn of Africa, an area comprehensive of 4 States: Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Somalia. In this African region, Italy is active with its training operations, but its main role is within the EUTM operation in Somalia, where Rome is among its main contributors and has the command since 2014.

The last geographical area that is mentioned as strategic in the latest version of the Italian National Defense Strategy is the Western Balkans region. Here, Italy’s military personnel is being active since more than 20 years, aiming at bringing stability to the region. Western Balkans want to strengthen cooperation with Italy, of which they recognize the role it plays in these southern European countries. For this reason, Italy supports the euro-atlantic integration of the Western Balkans, and, in line with this, it plans to promote an international conference on regional security, with the participation of all interested States.

Part of the document also takes into account Russia and the approach Italy intends to adopt towards Moscow. The Russian Federation is said to worry NATO because of its “increasing assertiveness”. However, the National Defense Strategy reveals Italy wants to follow a “double binary approach” to Moscow, remaining firm, but open to dialogue.

Italy’s 2019 National Defense Strategy also cites Rome’s international positioning, defined by its membership in NATO, EU, and the UN. For what concerns NATO, Guerini confirmed the Italian support to the Alliance, for which the minister aims at increasing his country’s spending percentage, with the goal of reaching the prefixed amount. With regards to the EU, Guerini’s activities will be focused on European Defense, aiming at sharing dossiers and documents and at reaching the strategic autonomy of the EU. Referring to the UN, the National Defense Strategy recalls that Italy is strongly committed in the peace operations under the United Nations mandate, being among the first western contributors and the 8th country in the world for the number of troops deployed in UN operations.

For what concerns domestic security, the National Defense Strategy highlights the goals of reconsidering the military patrolling mission (“Operazione Strade Sicure”), active since 2008, and the determination to modernize the defense industry, promoting national growth and security.

This article was firstly published on Nov. 23, 2019

Jasmine Ceremigna