The Italian Defense White Paper: Italy in the Cross Hairs


2015-06-04 By Robbin Laird

The Italian government promised to deliver a white paper on defense and they have done so in April 2015.

More than a decade has elapsed since the last one, and it has been a decade of rapid change.

Italy is in the cross hairs in many ways as it tries to sort out as effective a defense policy as possible.

The EU is under pressure with the Euro crisis deepening and the future of Greece uncertain within the Euro and more generally.

The ISIS battle is not a foreign policy one, but on Italy’s doorstep in Libya.

Migrants are surging from North Africa and elsewhere and creating a genuine humanitarian, economic and political crisis.

Russia has returned as a direct threat to Europe; and the Chinese as an external power has entered the Med and Europe in major ways.

The economic crisis plus high operational tempos have put real pressures upon Italian defense forces and modernization efforts.

No White Paper could “solve” these challenges; but at least it could provide some guidance or perhaps a compass to navigate the way ahead.

As Tom Kington of Defense News put at the time of the publication of the White Paper:

The paper’s strategic ambition for Italy to take a central role in Mediterranean military affairs is likely to face an early test as European leaders grapple with a military response to the thousands of migrants sailing annually from Libya to Italy and the Libya-based people who send them.

Concern over the smugglers turned to alarm on April 19, when a fishing boat loaded with about 850 migrants capsized, leaving only 24 survivors.

With Europe favoring military action to destroy the boats used by the traffickers, Italy has pitched itself as the leader of a potential operation, which could possibly use Italian drones for surveillance and Italian aircraft for strikes. But UK media reported that Britain might also suggest itself as leader of a campaign.

“With Libya back on the agenda, no one else is more familiar with the country than Italy, thanks to its relationships there,” said retired Gen. Leonardo Tricarico, a former head of the Italian Air Force and now president of the Italian Intelligence Culture and Strategic Analysis Foundation, a Rome-based think tank.

Gaining military primacy in the Mediterranean means maintaining a full spectrum of capabilities for use in the region, while sticking to coalition roles based on “plug-and-play” capabilities outside the region, the paper states.

As the authors of the White Paper indicate at the outset:

This White Paper for international security and defence provides a strategic analysis and a mid-term outlook and political guidance, in order to shape Italy’s military as to successfully tackle current and future challenges.

In an unstable and increasingly insecure international environment, Italy must take on with ever greater focus and pragmatism its security needs and be able to look beyond current contingencies while developing a wider comprehensive approach to crisis management.

As a matter of fact, Italy must closely follow those worrying drivers that mold the global scenario, and focus on developments that may jeopardize national interests, with the final aim of a direct commitment for their safeguard.

Italy bears national interests in both the Euro-Atlantic and Euro-Mediterranean regions, being these areas intertwined and essential for its security requirements.

Our proactive participation in common security and defence policies should be aimed at granting stability and ensuring defence in the Euro- Atlantic region, dissuading and deterring military aggressions and political coercion. Developing similar and effective security architectures in the Euro-Mediterranean compels Italy to make it a focus of its efforts.

Beyond these higher priority regions, the need to tackle security threats that are global in nature and to respect Italian cultural tenets enshrined in the Constitution, call for a wider involvement, under the aegis of International Organizations, in the management of international security, even if with a lower level of ambition.

A fundamental need can be therefore outlined: sharing security and defence within international institutions where Italy is a proactive player, in coherence with a true comprehensive approach. As a matter of fact, such response is, today, the only realistic solution to bolster a solid and enduring security environment in the international arena.

A major challenge facing Italy is simply that the emergence of the Euro-Med region replacing any clear security and defense demarcation between the two has become a central reality. 

The challenge is how to deal with the reality of the intersection of threats “abroad” with threats “at home.”


To gain further understanding about the White Paper and the evolving Italian approach, I did an interview with my colleague Francesco Tosato, Senior Analyst at the Rome-based Centro Studi Internazionali, in late May 2015.

Tasato is in charge of the Military Affairs Desk at the Center. He graduated in Economics at Cà Foscari University of Venice in 2008, he earned a master in Administration, Finance and Management Audit at Sole 24 Ore Business School.

Previously he was already contributor for Ce.S.I. regarding military affairs, defense industry, new procurement programs of Italian Armed Forces and analyst of foreign military systems.

At the same time, he performed different roles in the marketing area of communication agencies, international commercial enterprises and financial companies, dealing about market and competitor’s analysis, creation of marketing and communication plans, data analysis and budgeting

Question: What is the most interesting thing that came out from the White Paper, from your perspective?

Francesco Tosato: The most important thing was that we had a White Paper.  We started a process of focusing upon our defense.  We do not have the tradition of doing White Books or Papers.  It is important to get broader public informed discussion about defense.

We clearly need to rethink our armed forces up against the threats we face now.

What do we want to do in the future with our forces?

In other words, put the discussion of the future of the armed forces into the center of a public debate, which is crucial to get the kind of support we need for the modernization of the forces.

Question: As the European and Mediterranean dynamics blend together, Italy is at the center of the emergence of a new Euro-Med region.  How do you view this?

Francesco Tosato: The White Book focuses directly on what you are talking about.  We need to focus our efforts on the Euro-Mediterranean region as our key priority.

Next up is the Horn of the Africa as a key priority.

But clearly other operational demands will come up with which we will deal, but in terms of priorities, these are two the most pressing ones.

We clearly have defined our core focus in the White Book – the Euro-Med region.

Comment: The commitment to do some serious strategic thinking about the challenges in the Euro-Med region is clearly a welcome one for the allies of Italy.  We need to roll up our sleeves and work very concrete ways to work together in the region.

Francesco Tosato: We clearly need to share our responsibilities and to work with allies in dealing with the Euro-Med challenges.

But we need to take a lead role, and work closely with France and Spain, for example.

We need to reshape our forces to work in this core area of focus for our responsibilities.

We need to collaborate in terms of both NATO and the European framework.  This collaboration will be driven by bilateral or trilateral efforts, rather than by a larger European force.

Question: What building blocks does Italy have that can allow Italy to play a key role in meeting these responsibilities?

Francesco Tosato: In the White Paper, three pillars are identified. European cooperation, NATO collaboration and the UN framework are those frameworks.

With regard to industrial relationships, the White Paper focuses on the need to strengthen national technology but in alliance or collaborative frameworks.

We need to integrate into new projects and new products.

There is a clear necessity to expand pooling and sharing of forces among European allies, such as the European Transport Command or of technologies as could be the case with the new European initiative on unmanned air systems.

This new agreement could provide a way ahead for cost sharing and technological co-development among core European players.

Question: The Dutch have highlighted the importance of Italy both in terms of the F-35 program as well as training solutions.  This clearly is an example of European collaboration as well?

Francesco Tosato: The Italian Air Force and industry have very good training capabilities and the two countries are working to move ahead with joint efforts as well.

his could be a building block for shaping a European training center as well.

This is one of our technologies to share with our European and other allies in shaping a collaborative environment for the Air Forces.

This could be linked with F-35 programs and with other European states, which will not operate the F-35.

We need to work the 4th and 5th generation context and in which we train pilots to operate in the evolving integrated context.

This kind of collaboration can give us more capability at less cost.

Euro Med Region

Question: Clearly another question posed by the White Book was the way ahead for the Italian Forces. 

Could you clarify the approach identified?

Francesco Tosato: There is a clear focus on reshaping the structure of the Italian Armed Forces.

The forces need to become more joint, notably with regard to logistics integration. 

There needs to be an operational command created under the Chief of Defense or the CHOD.

The services will do training and readiness; the operational command will be transferred to the CHOD.

We are changing the doctrine of the Armed Forces as part of the decisions announced in the White Book.

And an additional perspective from the Italian point of view has been provided by Pietro Batacchi of Rivista Italiana Difesa.

According to Pietro Batacchi, the White Paper provides an opportunity to have a more open debate about defense which involves all the key stakeholders.

Writing as the White Paper was being worked on in 2014, Batacchi highlighted what he saw as key principles:

The central role for NATO;

The UN remains a useful forum to discuss and deal with a number of global issues;

The EU is of limited utility in shaping common action projects in defense and security and this is due to the fact that “Europe lacks a leader from a military point of view capable of guiding, coordinating and directing the other members”;

Italy can take the lead in a number of Mediterranean efforts, including as appropriate military ones.

“The Libyan crisis has shown that vital interests of Italy are not perceived as such by other European countries and this must be for our country a useful lesson and an incentive to prioritize scenarios based on our own national interests.”

With the release of the White Paper in 2015, Pietro Batacchi argued that the promise of the White Paper had been realized in two key ways.

First, the process was one in which the key stakeholders did participate, so the discussion underlying the crafting of the White Paper could become a dynamic one, energizing a 21st century approach by Italy to defense and secrutiy.

Second, the White Paper recognized the seriousness of the threats to Italy and highlighted the need to reinforce the Euro-Atlantic relationship and to prioritize the Mediterranean one.

“The Mediterranean is the priority area for the intervention of our forces and the area in which our country must be able to intervene at all levels of the operating spectrum (Regional Full Spectrum), and taking the leadership of a coalition as appropriate.

For challenges facing Italy in the evolving Euro-Med region and possible approaches to evolving capabilities see the following: