Anna Molnár e Lili Takács Italy: an aspiring mediterranean middle power wavering between bilateralism and mullateralism
Italy: an aspiring mediterranean middle
power wavering between bilateralism and
Itália: uma potente potência média mediterrânea
oscilando entre bilateralismo e multilateralismo
Italia: una aspirante a potencia media mediterránea
oscilante entre bilateralismo y multilateralismo
Anna Molnár
Lili Takács
DOI: 10.5752/P.2317-773X.2020v8.n2.p47
Received in September 01, 2019
Accepted in December 16, 2019
Italy managed to be an important actor in European aairs, its status as middle
power was several times called into question. Italy’s domestic political instability,
the frequent government crises, severe economic and nancial problems hinder
the country’s goal to become a recognized middle power, especially in the
Mediterranean region. Bilateral and multilateral tools are used alternately by
government coalitions to carry out foreign policy which has been dominated by
migration. Due to the afore-mentioned internal problems security and defence
policy is not capable of supporting foreign policy to the necessary extent.
Keywords: Italy. Mediterranean. Middle power. Armed forces. Foreign policy.
A Itália conseguiu ser um ator importante nos assuntos europeus, seu status de
potência média foi questionado várias vezes. A instabilidade política doméstica
da Itália, as frequentes crises governamentais, os graves problemas econômicos
e nanceiros dicultam o objetivo do país de se tornar uma potência média
reconhecida, especialmente na região do Mediterrâneo. Ferramentas bilaterais
e multilaterais são usadas alternadamente por coalizões governamentais para
levar a efeito a política externa que foi dominada pela migração. Devido aos
problemas internos acima mencionados, a política de segurança e defesa não é
capaz de apoiar a política externa na medida necessária.
Palavras chave: Itália. Região mediterrânea. Potência média. Forças armadas.
Política externa
1. Anna Molnár is an Associate
Professor at the National University of
Public Service (Budapest) and Head of
the Department of International Security
Studies. She is the Head of International
Public Management bachelor’s program.
She was the Head of Programme of
MA in international studies at the
University of Pannonia at the University
of Pannonia (Institute of Social Sciences
and International Studies, Veszprém) be-
tween 2010 and 2013. She received her
Ph.D. in international relations from the
Corvinus University of Budapest (2003).
Her published papers cover a wide
range of topics whose central theme is
focusing on security studies, EU CFSP/
CSDP, europeanization of Hungary, the
European Union’s Mediterranean policy
and on the Italian history and politics.
She gives courses at Hungarian and
foreign universities on European inte-
gration, international studies and Italian
politics. She had a Bolyai Research
Fellowship of the Hungarian Academy
of Science (2007–2010). ORCID: 0000-
2. Lili Takács is a PhD candidate at
Doctoral School of Military Sciences at
the National University of Public Service
in Budapest. Her research focuses
on Italian foreign and security policy
within the Mediterranean region, and
Italian-Libyan relations. ORCID: 0000-
estudos internacionais • Belo Horizonte, ISSN 2317-773X, v. 8, n. 2, (jun. 2020), p. 47 - 69
Italia logró ser un actor importante en los asuntos europeos, su condición
de poder medio fue cuestionada en varias ocasiones. La inestabilidad política
interna de Italia, las frecuentes crisis gubernamentales, los graves problemas
económicos y nancieros obstaculizan el objetivo del país de convertirse en una
potencia media reconocida, especialmente en la región mediterránea. Las herra-
mientas bilaterales y multilaterales son utilizadas alternativamente por coali-
ciones gubernamentales para llevar a cabo una política exterior que ha estado
dominada por la migración. Debido a los problemas internos antes menciona-
dos, la política de seguridad y defensa no es capaz de apoyar la política exterior
en la medida necesaria.
Palabras clave: Italia. Mediterráneo. Poder medio. Fuerzas Armadas.
Política exterior.
Ever since the end of World War II – but more from the Risorgi-
mento – Italy always tried to be recognized as a real European power,
preferably equal to France and Great Britain, its goal has been entering the
restricted club of decision maker major powers. Italy has always dened
itself as a middle power, although its international ranking is constantly
changing, it can be considered as “the last one amongst the big ones, rst
one amongst the small ones.” (BONVICINI; COLOMBO, 2011, p. 12).
The aim of this paper is to analyse the main directions of Italian
foreign and security policies and the intrinsically linked development of
its armed forces during the crisis of the so called “second republic”. We
intend to analyse the military strength and also the foreign and security
strategies of this middle power. The rst chapter of the study provides a
conceptualisation of middle powers and displays the main characteristics
based on which we consider Italy a middle power. We provide a general
outlook on how middle powers have been discussed by scholars in aca-
demic literature. The second chapter examines the main directions of
Italian foreign policy, the third one analyses the most important strategic
documents, then the current programme of forces development (Docu-
mento Programmatico Pluriennale, DPP) is displayed. The main trends of
defence expenditures and Italy’s contribution to international missions
are analysed in the last part of the study. Using the methodology of docu-
ment analysis, this research is based on governmental and parliamentary
sources, news items, speeches, interviews and reports.
Italy as a middle power
The denition of middle powers, their structure, their role and
their behaviour has become subject of studies only after the end of the
bipolar era when researches started to focus on the relationship between
the US and its minor allies. However, the academic interest towards the
concept of middle powers is still scarce, even though the bipolar system
represented an exception in the history of international politics, as previ-
ous centuries were characterised by a multipolar power system, where
Anna Molnár e Lili Takács Italy: an aspiring mediterranean middle power wavering between bilateralism and mullateralism
the most stable political entities were middle sized. Historian Paul Ken-
nedy states that throughout the 19th century middle powers were the
decisive actors in the international arena (KENNEDY, 1987). As for a long
time middle powers were characterised as ‘good international citizens’
without further specics, no commonly accepted denition exists. In our
analysis we accept Adam Chapnicks functional denition according to
him middle powers are basically small powers which temporarily evolve
to a middle status as a function of their contribution to a specic interna-
tional issue (CHAPNICK, 1999).
Several attempts were made to classify states based on aggregated
economic criteria. For example Holbraad made a classication of powers
using GDP and population as indicators in his article ‘Middle Powers in
International Politics’, however it resulted that both Japan and Nigeria
can be dened as middle power in spite of the economical and other huge
dierences within these countries. As a result of these kind of analytical
shortcomings, and of the fact that with qualitative tools it is hard to dis-
tinguish between regional powers and middle powers the quantitative
approach has been abandoned and a qualitative approach started to dom-
inate academic debates. Newer studies indicate that in the New World
Order behavioural and diplomatic indicators are more decisive at the ex-
pense of military and economic factors, thus middle powers are dened
by the dimension of their diplomatic networks and the issues promoted
within the international community (BISCOTTINI, 2016). Studies using
mixed methodology - combining statistical, normative and behavioural
method - are the most recent attempts to redene middle powers. J. Ping
in his work Middle Power Statecraft aims at identifying middle powers in
Asia and in the Pacic region rst by collecting all the countries of the re-
gion based on the composition of international organizations then by us-
ing the following analytical tools: population, geographic area, military
expenditure, GDP, GDP real growth, value of exports, GNI per capita,
trade as a percentage of GDP and life expectancy at birth. There seems to
be an accordance amongst scholars about the behaviour of middle pow-
ers, many authors have dened middle power behaviour as characterized
by such traits as mediation, coalition-building, multilateralism, and com-
promise brokerage (COOPER, 1997; COOPER; HIGGOTT; NOSSAL,
1997; HIGGOTT; COOPER, 1990; HOLBRAAD, 1971). Indeed, middle
powers are most often characterized by their tactics: compromising,
building coalitions, participating in international organizations, forging
consensus and maintaining international order (STEPHEN, 2013).
[f]rom military point of view – based on capabilities – Martin Wright dened
middle power as “a power with such military strength, resources and strategic
position that in peacetime the great powers bid for its support, and in wartime,
while it has no hope of winning a war against a great power, it can hope to inict
costs on a great power out of proportion to what the great power can hope to
gain by attacking it. (WRIGHT, 1978, p. 65)
Since all of the above mentioned denitions have shortcomings,
we use synthetic concept of middle power as it was stated by Matthew
Stephen: rstly, middle power should denote a state with middling ma-
terial capabilities. Secondly, only those states with middling material ca-
pabilities and the behavioural traits of middlepowermanship qualify as
estudos internacionais • Belo Horizonte, ISSN 2317-773X, v. 8, n. 2, (jun. 2020), p. 47 - 69
middle powers. In other words, both middle capabilities and middle pow-
er behaviour are necessary conditions for middle power status, but only
simultaneous fullment of both criteria is sucient to qualify as a middle
power (STEPHEN, 2013).
Based on our accepted denition, Italy can be considered a middle
power from behavioural and functional points of views. Italy is member
of the G7, it is one of the oldest supporter and one of the funding mem-
bers of the European integration process. Italy is an active participant
of international peace keeping missions and operations According to the
2018 statistics of the International Monetary Fund Italy has the eights
economy in the world (INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND, 2018).
In military strength rankings Italy has been ranked somewhere between
the eights-eleventh place for the last few years, from Europe it has been
outranked only by France, the United Kingdom and Germany (GLOBAL
FIREPOWER, 2018). From the fties U.S. tactical nuclear weapons have
been stationed on Italian soil. At the same time it has to be highlighted
that France and the United Kingdom have always been more visible and
active within the NATO and the European Union, due to several reasons:
Italy’s domestic political instability, the frequent government crises, se-
vere economic and nancial problems as a consequence of slow increase
or stagnation of Italian economy since the middle of the nineties all hin-
dered Italy’s international activity and damaged its reputation. In spite of
its internal problems Italy is actively participating in international orga-
nizations, promoting multilateralism which usually prevails over bilater-
alism in its foreign policy.
Main directions of Italian foreign policy
Italian foreign policy’s strategic framework can be considered sta-
ble since it was formed after the Second World War. Its pillars are Europe-
an integration (EU); relations with the United States and the Atlanticism
of NATO; and Mediterranean relations characterised mainly by bilateral
relations with countries on the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea
and by the EU framework, the so-called Union for the Mediterranean
(GILLI; UNGARO et al, 2015).
Although the strategic framework of Italian foreign policy re-
mained mostly intact as the Second Republic was born at the beginning
of the nineties, the centre of its gravity shifted often. In the centre of the
foreign policy carried out by centre-right governments from the middle
of the nineties we nd Atlantic values: strong ties to the U.S. and Israel,
and the intensication of bilateral relations driven by personal and eco-
nomic relations, as it can be seen in the cases of Libya and Russia. In the
same period the foreign policy of centre-left governments focused more
on deepening European integration, they had a more open attitude to-
wards Arab states, and preferred multilateralism over bilateralism. Alto-
gether, in spite of the shifts of focus, Italian foreign policy can be charac-
terised by a particular combination of bilateral and multilateral relations
and by the so-called ‘Levante approach’ (BONVICINI; COLOMBO, 2011)
which focuses on external trade policy considerations.
Anna Molnár e Lili Takács Italy: an aspiring mediterranean middle power wavering between bilateralism and mullateralism
In its traditional foreign policy and geopolitical target areas (Bal-
kans, Mediterranean, partly the Central European region) Italy has al-
ways been slightly confronting with other European powers (e.g. France,
Great-Britain, Germany) which also wanted to extend their sphere of in-
uence there. It has to be highlighted that Italy rarely played a decisive
role in the international arena and even when it did, it was only for a short
period, as it can be seen in the case of Libya. Italy was hit hard by the 2008
nancial crisis and due to the long-lasting economic crisis, the interna-
tional marginalisation of the country increased (BONVICINI; COLOM-
BO, 2010; COLOMBO, 2014).
Since the beginning of 2000s one of the main challenges of Italian
security and foreign policy was how to tackle illegal migration. Before
the Arab Spring (2011) Italian governments, lacking a genuine European
migration and asylum policy, used bilateral tools to tackle illegal migra-
tion. During the period of 2001-2006 and of 2008-2011, political parties (es-
pecially the Northern League) of the centre-right governments of Silvio
Berlusconi made illegal migration a national security issue.
The Second Republic of Italy plunged into a deepening internal and
external, political and nancial crisis in 2011. From this period on, Italian
foreign and security policy’s priorities focused explicitly on dual crisis
management: addressing the nancial-economic problems and challeng-
es posed by illegal migration. In 2011 the sovereign debt crisis reached
Italy, and the Italian sovereign debt market was on the brink of collapse
which could have meant that Italy would have to leave the Eurozone.
In the same year the deteriorating security situation resulting from the
Arab Spring and from the collapse of Gheddas system in Libya lead to
the increase of illegal migration through the Mediterranean Sea. Italy’s
situation was aggravated by the fact that the head of the centre-right
government, Silvio Berlusconis international reputation eroded gradu-
ally and the country sank into a foreign political isolation in the second
half of 2011. After Berlusconi resigned in November 2011, Mario Montis
technocratic government tried to improve Italy’s situation. Even though
Montis foreign policy did not dier signicantly from its predecessor’s
policies, the countrys international reputation improved considerably af-
ter he was appointed Prime Minister. Monti emphasised the importance
of multilateral relations, in contrast to Berlusconis preference of bilateral
and personal relations (MOLNÁR, 2012).
After the Arab Spring, the collapse of Libya posed new challenges
for Italian politics. The Italian governments of recent years have dealt
with illegal migration using both bilateral and European crisis manage-
ment tools. Although the major Italian political parties have been divided
over the governments’ responses to illegal migration since 2013, the Ital-
ian governments have managed to balance realist (pragmatic) and “Euro-
peanized” approaches.
Following the nancial and political crisis of 2011 several coalition
governments based on the cooperation of centre-left and centre-right par-
ties tried to strengthen Italy’s international role in order to avoid interna-
tional marginalisation. Since 2011 several Italian diplomats have achieved
key positions within European institutions: Mario Draghi in the Euro-
estudos internacionais • Belo Horizonte, ISSN 2317-773X, v. 8, n. 2, (jun. 2020), p. 47 - 69
pean Central Bank, Federico Mogherini as High Representative of the
Union for Foreign Aairs and Security Policy, Antonio Tajani as Presi-
dent of the European Parliament, General Claudio Graziano as head of
the EU’s Military Committee. These improved Italy’s negotiating power
and reputation, and the country’s foreign policy became more visible for
the European Union. However, this trend has been reversed by the Con-
te administrations more Eurosceptic attitude, and Italian foreign policy
became once again more confrontational.
From 2011, in the period of dual crisis management Italian govern-
ments put focus on European integration – while maintaining strong At-
lantic relations – since they considered the European Union an adequate
tool for crisis management and thereby for the representation of national
interests. After the general elections of 2013, during the XVIII legislature
three coalition governments were in power: Enrico Letta’s government
(from April 2013 to February 2014) was followed by Matteo Renzi (Febru-
ary 2014 to December 2016) and then by Renzis former Minister of For-
eign Aairs, Paolo Gentiloni (from December 2016 to the end of the leg-
islature). The foreign policy of all three above-mentioned governments
concentrated on addressing the challenges of economic-nancial prob-
lems and migration-refugee crises. On the whole, Italian national inter-
ests were represented in a European disguise, a federalist EU policy with
the explicit goal of deepening European integration was in the centre of
Italian foreign policy.
After almost 400 migrants drowned near Lampedusa in October
2013, the Letta government approved ‘Mare Nostrum’ humanitarian-mil-
itary mission (DA MARE..., 2017). The primary goal was to manage the
crisis on European level, and Italy became the main advocate of EU’s joint
action. In 2014 during the Italian Presidency of the European Council,
migration became one of the key priorities (PREZIDENZA ITALIANA
ization of the ambitious foreign policy goals was hindered by the insu-
ciency of human and material resources at disposal (MAGRI, 2013).
‘The European Union remained the principal eld of action of
Italian foreign policy during the Renzi government: the country ex-
pressed itself in favour of a joint European action in order to reduce
migratory pressure. By actively contributing to the EU’s public dis-
course about migration, Italy’s foreign policy goal was to avoid further
marginalization and to strengthen the country’s role in the integration.
However, the internal structural problems (e.g. high public debt, lack of
economic growth) set back Italy’s eorts to carry out decisive foreign
policy (GRECO, 2016).
The Italian Presidency of the Council in the second part of 2014
contributed signicantly to the improvement of the country’s reputation.
Federica Mogherinis appointment as High Representative of the Union
for Foreign Aairs and Security Policy can be seen as the success of Italian
diplomacy’s activities. In November 2014 the unilateral Italian mission of
Mare Nostrum was replaced by Frontex’s Triton operation. This was an
important step for Italy and even though Tritons scope and budget was
remarkably smaller, it was a joint European mission. In 2015 partly due to
Anna Molnár e Lili Takács Italy: an aspiring mediterranean middle power wavering between bilateralism and mullateralism
an Italian proposal and to the active role of High Representative Mogher-
ini, the EU decided to enlarge the scope and budget of Triton; to start EU-
NAVFOR MED joint military operation and to elaborate the main pillars
of common migration and asylum policy.
Italian governments actively contributed to the debate on the fu-
ture of European defence. In August 2016 the Gentiloni-government
elaborated the plan of the so-called ‘Schengen for Defence, a plan for a
deeper integration in the eld of common security and defence. It pro-
posed two possible solutions: building on the potential of the Lisbon
Treaty (strengthening the cooperation of PESCO (Permanent Structured
Cooperation), the 44th article or the defence industry) or creating a so-
called ‘Schengen for Defence’. In the latter case a group of member states
– rst of all the founding members – would create a multinational Eu-
ropean force with its own budget and command under the ‘Schengen
for Defence’. According to the plan the cooperation would be open for
other member states to join. This new form of cooperation would then
be transposed gradually into the EU Treaties (GENTILONI; PINOTTI,
2016; MOLNÁR, 2018a).
After Matteo Renzi resigned, Paolo Gentiloni took his position as
Prime Minister. Gentiloni pursued the same foreign policy by focusing
on joint, EU-level solutions and bilateral negotiations in order to address
migration and refugee crisis to stop the ow of illegal migrants arriv-
ing via the central Mediterranean route. At the same time Italy support-
ed by all possible means the internationally recognized Government of
National Accord in Libya (e.g. the Hippocrates mission, deployment of
two military ships to Libya and the decision to send 100 Carabinieri to
Libyas southern border) (MINISTERIO DELLA DIFESA, 2016). Italian
Special Forces have been deployed to Libya since 2016 (RAME, 2016). The
rst signs of reducing migration successfully emerged while the Genti-
loni-government was in power. The role of Minister of Interior Marco
Minniti cannot be denied in the process, since he was responsible for ne-
gotiating and concluding agreements with smaller Libyan power groups
The decades old economic problems, the lack of expected growth,
the protracted addressing of illegal migration from Libya had a negative
eect on the re-election chances of the ruling coalition led by Gentiloni.
Parallel to this process, the public condence in European institutions
declined signicantly (EUROBAROMETER, 2018).
After the general elections of 2018 Lega and Movimento 5 Stelle
gained power and made illegal migration a national security issue. The
strategic planning of the new Eurosceptic and populist coalition diers
considerably from the former governments’, it does not follow the ‘tradi-
tional’ directions of the last decades. The Eurosceptic government’s most
spectacular foreign policy shift is the alienation from the German-French
political trends.
The Conte-government’s rhetorical goals are in a clear contrast
with previous governments. Rome – opposed to the will of the previous
government – did not support the participation in the European Interven-
tion Initiative proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron (DIBEN-
estudos internacionais • Belo Horizonte, ISSN 2317-773X, v. 8, n. 2, (jun. 2020), p. 47 - 69
EDETTA, 2018). The new government’s position on addressing migrant
and refugee crisis became more radical, as it was conrmed when Italian
ports were shut down in front of the rescue ships of NGOs. Although the
number of conicts between Rome and the EU is growing, it needs to be
highlighted that Italy is still interested in a European solution.
As it was shown, Italian foreign policy became gradually dominat-
ed by the tackling of illegal migration since the beginning of the 2000s.
This trend was given a new impetus by the Arab Spring and the collapse
of Libya, as security aspects of the problems became more evident, ur-
gent steps needed to be taken by Italian decision-makers. The govern-
ments alternated bilateral and multilateral tools in search of an eective
solution, however in the absence of a functioning common refugee and
asylum policy, bilateral relations tend to be preferred in tackling migra-
tion, while multilateral relations – through the nancial mechanisms of
the EU – are used to handle economic and nancial problems. The bilat-
eral handling of illegal migration is strengthened by the fact that the new
government coalition explicitly made migration a national security issue.
Strategic documents of Italian foreign and security policy
In spite of pressing foreign policy challenges, no foreign and se-
curity policy strategy was prepared on a national level until 2015. Even
though a number of strategic documents existed, there was no real, com-
prehensive national security strategy, the White Book of Defence
, 2002
(MINISTERO DELLA DIFESA, 2002) can be considered the last one. This
White Book focused on new threats - mainly ethnical conicts - arriving
from the South and South-East; in sharp contrast with the White Book of
1985 which put the bipolar worlds traditional East-West confrontation in
the centre of its attention. The new White Book paid particular attention
to the threats emerging after 9/11 and on global war on international ter-
rorism. In connection with the afore-mentioned threat, armed forces had
new tasks: the focus of their activities shifted from direct area protection
to international missions, from military personnel to infrastructure and
equipment. In this period the new goal of increasing defence expendi-
tures emerged (MINISTERO DELLA DIFESA, 2002).
Another document setting out the directions of foreign and secu-
rity policy was the ‘Report 2020 – choices of foreign policy’ prepared in
2008 during the Prodi government. The Report emphasized three main
areas of crisis zones: Western Balkans, the so-called enlarged Mediter-
ranean (Mediterraneo Allargato) and Afghanistan, as a clear clarication
of the fact that from the Italian point of view crises zones had moved
from the East to the South. As a consequence of its geographic location,
Italy is particularly exposed to threats arriving from these areas, but at
the same time it has to be taken into account that these zones are eco-
nomically important for Italy. This document gave priority to the tack-
ling illegal migration coming from the Balkans and the Mediterranean
Region. According to this strategy it was not enough to rely on bilateral
treaties, but more international and European cooperation were needed
(DAS; MASSARI, 2008).
3. Libro bianco della Difesa
Anna Molnár e Lili Takács Italy: an aspiring mediterranean middle power wavering between bilateralism and mullateralism
Even though no ocial medium- and long-term strategy was sub-
mitted, we can interpret the annual decree of the Minister of Defence
about next year’s security duties
as a short-term strategic framework for
Italian armed forces. The decree analyses international environment, se-
curity duties and nancial resources needed to their realization on an
annual basis.
The lack of a comprehensive foreign and security policy framework
had been apparent even before the necessary reforms were started. The
public and political debate in progress since the Berlusconi government
about the acquisition of 90 F35 Joint Strike Fighter revealed the necessity
for elaborating reform plans. After the political, public and stakeholder
debate in 2014 the new White Book on Italian foreign and security policy
was published in 2015 (MINISTERO DELLA DIFESA, 2015).
The White Book aimed at preparing the reorganization of armed
forces and at continuing to carry out the reforms started in 2012 by then
Minister of Defence Giampaolo Di Paola. Structural and budgetary reor-
ganisation was a primary goal of the reform process. Based on this docu-
ment, the rst pillar of Italy’s security is the European Union, the second
one is NATO, however, strong ties to the countries of the transatlantic
region and active participation in joint initiatives are equally important.
Regarding the EU, the White Book determined Italian support to deepen
Common Security and Defence Policy and emphasized the importance
of cooperation between NATO and the European dimension of defence.
International organizations, responsible involvement in their ini-
tiatives and in international missions have a fundamental role in safe-
guarding national interests. On the whole Italy’s security is based on
three pillars favouring multilateral relations: 1) European integration, 2)
strong transatlantic relations (NATO), and 3) Global relations (UN) (MIN-
ISTERO DELLA DIFESA, 2015). Compared to previous documents, this
White Books approach can be valued as more pragmatic, it emphasized
more the importance of national interests, so that development trends in
defence policy can be more easily determined. Parallel to the elaboration
and approval of the 2015 White Book, Italy expressed its renewed com-
mitment to acquire 90 F35 ghter planes until 2027.
Since 2013 the Ministry of Defence has issued annually the Pluren-
nial Programmatic Document (DPP) as a framework for defence expen-
diture, replacing the Minister’s above-mentioned annual decree. The
latest DPP regarding the period between 2018 and 2020 was submitted
by Elisabetta Trenta Minister of Defence with a signicant delay in No-
vember 2018. The document has been eagerly awaited since it provides
information about the new government’s vision regarding the defence
sector. Structural changes cannot be detected in this DPP since many
programmes, commitments, even 2018 defence budget had already
been approved by the previous DPP, submitted and approved by the
previous centre-left government. The system of submitting multiannu-
al documents regarding the defence sector (e.g. DPP) guarantees conti-
nuity in armament programmes and international commitments, since
the pillars of Italian defence can by modied only in part by the often
changing governments. Similarly to previous documents, this DPP also
4. Nota Aggiuntiva allo Stato di Previ-
sione della Difesa
estudos internacionais • Belo Horizonte, ISSN 2317-773X, v. 8, n. 2, (jun. 2020), p. 47 - 69
analyses international security environment as a short-, medium- and
long-term strategic framework, while related tasks and necessary nan-
cial resources are also displayed (MINISTERO DELLA DIFESA, 2018).
Even though the latest DPP is quite similar to the previous one, the new
concepts and interventions of the new Minister of Defence are slightly
perceptible, not only in the political priorities (Annex D), but in the
frequent use of the concepts “dual use” and “resilience, which seem to
be the guiding principles of the new document, however the 2018-2020
DPP can probably be considered as a transitional document. Since the
current Italian defence strategy originates from previous DPPs as well,
apart from examining the 2018-2020 DPP, we also take into consider-
ation the contents of 2017-2019 DPP.
National commitment in the reference framework (Impegno nazionale
nel contesto di riferimento)
The rst part of the current DPP analyses Italy’s international en-
vironment and determines national commitments based on the main
strategic directions so that the specic armament programmes could be
tted into a coherent framework. By carrying out the armaments pro-
grammes according to the strategic development directions of the DPP,
Italian armed forces should possess adequate capacities to address new
threats, including guaranteeing economic and energy security and mi-
gration. It should be emphasized that in the latest DPP the following are
considered to be factors of instability: terrorism, migration ows, natural
disasters, calamities and organized crime, whereas military competition
amongst states or hybrid conicts would be secondary.
Italian geostrategic priorities remain the Euro-Atlantic, Euro-Med-
iterranean and Middle-Eastern regions. The rst two are considered as a
safety net and international engagement within the security triad of NA-
TO-UN-EU, the third and fourth are considered more of a challenge. As a
consequence, Italian armed forces need to possess the necessity capacities
within the state borders and in the territories of the crises zones in order
to address the afore-mentioned challenges.
The Euro-Mediterranean region is the rst strategic direction: it
should be interpreted as an open geopolitical region, where the eects
of trends and crises occurring in the Sahel, Horn of Africa and in the
Persian Gulf cumulate, aecting Italy directly through the Southern
shore of the Mediterranean Sea. The current DPP highlights Libya,
as the most important country in the region from Italian perspective:
alongside their historical ties, Libya is a strategic priority for Italy due
the security and energy security reasons (MINISTERO DELLA DIFE-
SA, 2018). Libya is important to manage the ow of migrants and ref-
ugees arriving via the central Mediterranean route to Italy. According
to FRONTEX, 170,664 people reached Italian shores mainly from Libya
in 2014, while 153,946 did so in 2015, and 181,376 in 2016 and 118,962
arrived in 2017. Due to eorts of the EU and Italy only 23,485 people
reached Italian shores in 2018 (FRONTEX, 2019). Italy imports oil and
gas from Libya which was its sixth supplier of oil (5%) and the third
Anna Molnár e Lili Takács Italy: an aspiring mediterranean middle power wavering between bilateralism and mullateralism
of natural gas (7%) in 2016 (ALDO, 2018; MINISTRY OF FORIGN AF-
Increasing the stability of the Mediterranean region is Italy’s na-
tional security interest, in this region Italian armed forces should have
the capacities to lead even multinational, coalition forces. In order to
successfully decrease social tensions related to illegal migration arriving
through the Mediterranean Sea, it will be a decisive factor for Italy how
it can conduct a decisive foreign policy in the region, in spite of its limited
defence expenditures and military capabilities, which are disproportion-
ate to the country’s economic potential and size (MOLNÁR, 2018b). Ni-
ger appears in the new DPP as a fundamental country for the security of
the Sahel region (MINISTERO DELLA DIFESA, 2018). The appearance
of Niger in the document is hardly surprising, considering that the bi-
lateral defence agreement signed in 2017 resulted in the launch of a new
Italian military mission in Niger which started in late 2018, when the new
government was already in power.
Syria and Iraq are the most important crisis zones in the Middle
East: besides jihadist threats, proxy wars of global and regional powers
raise the level of instability, the use of military power might be neces-
sary amongst political and diplomatic actions. The decrease of Iraqi and
Lebanese tensions are national priorities for Italian defence policy, the
reinforcement of their autonomous defence and security forces should be
supported not only on multilateral, but even on bilateral level (MINISTE-
The DPP mentions shortly the Western Balkans and Afghanistan
due to the ongoing military missions with signicant Italian partici-
pation: KFOR in Kosovo and NATO-RSM in Afghanistan. The active
participation in the security triad of the Euro-Atlantic region can be
evaluated as Italy’s contribution to international security and a safety
shield for the country. Italian proactivity within the NATO is in line
with the strategic priorities, since in the implementation of NATO’s
Framework for the South the Allied Joint Force Command in Naples
plays a substantial role. Through its successful command Italy intends
to strengthen its leading role in addressing crises emerging in the Med-
iterranean region. Regarding the European Union, Italy’s responsible
participation in the security of the Euro-Atlantic region equals to the
realization of an actual and functioning Common Security and Defence
Policy (CSDP), European Defence Agency and European Defence Ac-
tion Plan (MINISTERO DELLA DIFESA, 2018). We need to highlight
the fact that the renewed support for CSDP is slightly in contrast with
the governing parties’ Eurosceptic views.
The strategic directions of Italian security and defence policy are
clearly reected in multilateral (UN, NATO, EU) and bilateral military
missions, the majority of missions are present in the countries at the
shores of the Mediterranean Sea or in the African states alongside the
major migration routes through the sea.
In connection with the international environment and strategic
directions, it should be mentioned that the most important Italian doc-
ument which can be considered as defence strategy for the county does
estudos internacionais • Belo Horizonte, ISSN 2317-773X, v. 8, n. 2, (jun. 2020), p. 47 - 69
not mention Russia, in contrast with the so-called government contract.
According to the contract between M5S and Lega – which constitutes the
base of Giuseppe Contes government – there are three major regions to
be considered priorities from the points of view of security and defence
policy: NATO, Russia and the Mediterranean region (CONTRATTO…,
2018), however, the DPP does not reect this ambition.
Development of the forces based on the current DPP (Sviluppo dello
strumento militare)
The second chapter of the document synthetizes the strategic
guidelines, operational needs and the medium- and long-term devel-
opment directions of Italian armed forces, furthermore analyses and
evaluates the ongoing investment programmes. Even though this
study does not aim at analysing the current armament programmes
and projects, we should highlight the fact that the modernisation and
maintenance of the materials and systems used by the Special Forces
– which are more easily deployed in order to tackle new risks, such as
the ones emerging the ‘enlarged Mediterranean’ region – is in prog-
ress. New equipment, such as optoelectronic devices for night vision or
for the surveillance of special vehicles are to be acquired (MINISTERO
DELLA DIFESA, 2018). Several projects, such as the modernisation of
C-130J transport aircrafts, the maintenance of the operational capaci-
ties of the C27J eet, the acquisition of 16 CH47F Chinook helicopters,
or the development of the UAV platforms can be used either by Special
Forces or by multinational military missions (MINISTERO DELLA
DIFESA, 2017).
Defence expenditures
New challenges emerging after 1989 and 2001 led to changes in
NATO policies and military reforms in member states. In Italy one of
the first steps was the introduction of professional armed forces by
the abolition of conscription in 2004 (LEGGE, 2014). Decision-makers
in Italian defence sector realized that reforms are necessary in order
to tackle emerging external threats. The implementation of a more
definite foreign and security policy was hindered by the fact that
due to the effects of economic downturn, defence expenditures have
been declining since 2005 (GASPARINI; MARTA, 2008). The lack of
a sound strategic framework and of political will necessary to carry
out structural reforms set back the planning and the implementation
of military reform; however, the economic and financial crisis of 2008
had such a disastrous effect on Italian budget that military reforms
became indispensable.
After the crisis of 2011 the Monti administration started the reform
of defence budget and the preparation of military reform as part of a gen-
eral budget reform. In 2012 Giampaolo Di Paola Defence Minister – with
the support of the Prime Minister and the political parties supporting the
government – started to review armed forces, aiming not only at mili-
Anna Molnár e Lili Takács Italy: an aspiring mediterranean middle power wavering between bilateralism and mullateralism
tary budget cuts, but even at restructuration and downsizing
. Accord-
ing to the reform, savings should be recycled into the defence budget
(MARRONE, 2012).
When analysing defence budget allocations we must take into
consideration that allocations were calculated on the basis of the Finance
Act of 2017 which was approved in December 2016, so allocations and
actual expenditure items can sometimes diverge.
DPP is supposed to provide information about the approximate
defence allocations for the coming years. However, it is already known
that severe interventions and scal eorts are to be carried out regard-
ing the 2019 budget, meaning that previsions of next years’ defence
expenditures will change signicantly. We have to take into consider-
ation that defence funds come from multiple sources, as we can see in
the case of the integrated defence budget, which means that more vari-
ables can change the nal budget. As a consequence of the above-men-
tioned reasons it is hard to determine the exact defence budget of Italy.
Data provided by the Ministry of Defence is often not calculated ac-
cording to the approved NATO methodology.
Defence expenditures are decreasing: according to the current
DPP defence expenditures account for 1.19 percent of the GDP in 2017
(20269.1 million euros), 1.19 percent in 2018 (20968.9 million euros),
while short-term projections are the following: 1.15 percent in 2019
(21017. million euros) and 1.1 percent in 2020 (20646.1 million eu-
ros) (MINISTERO DELLA DIFESA, 2018). In the past decade, start-
ing from the outbreak of the economic crisis in 2008 defence budget
decreased by 4.1 percent at current value which can be considered a
severe backdrop.
Trends: Ordinary defence budget vs. defence budget comprising all funds 2008-2018
(black: ordinary defence budget; red: defence budget comprising all funds)
Source: Documento Programmatico Pluriennale 2018-2020, pp. 94.
5. The reform maximized the number of
armed forces in 150.000 person instead
of the 2012’s 183.000. The number of
civilians employed by Italian armed for-
ces will decrease from 30.000 to 20.000.
The 43.000 person redundancies need to
be carry out gradually by 2024.