The mood concerning defence in Italy has changed. There is now the political will and determination to have Italy play a major defence role both in Nato and EU. Consequently, Italian defence policy is centred on an ambitious modernization programme to better enable Italy’s armed forces to operate across the multi-domains of air, maritime, land, cyber and space.
By Giampaolo di Paola
The wind is changing in Rome. It is blowing in the direction of a stronger defence committment for two main reasons. First, the need for a strong economic recovery after the deep Covid recession and the recognition that defence expenditure can contribute significantly to such growth. Second, the establishment last February of a new broad coalition government under the premiership of Mario Draghi. Draghi understands the harsh reality of a deteriorating security landscape and the need for Italy to invest more in defence.
The fall of Kabul and the AUKUS pact have also generated a big debate in Italian political and defence circles. The debate is focused on the implications for Nato and EU, but it is also driven by the clear shift of US priorities away from Europe towards the Indo-Pacific region and Washington’s determination to both contain China and compete with it.
As a consequence, the EU, as well as several European leaders, are actively promoting the idea of European Defence and Strategic Autonomy and the need for the EU and European countries to invest more in defence. The EU’s “Strategic Compass”, the first draft of which was delivered in mid-November, is a further indication of the direction and scale of the effort that Europe intends to take on defence. At the same time, Nato is working on revising its Strategic Concept. A key theme is expected to be the rebalancing of Nato defence burden-sharing between the United States and its European allies, with the latter investing more in defence and advanced operational capabilities. It is against this background that the Italian position, as reaffirmed by President Sergio Mattarella, Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Defence Minister Lorenzo Guerini, is now clear and unequivocal: Italy is in favour of a stronger EU defence initiative in partnership with, complementary to, and supportive of NATO and its three core missions of collective defence, crisis management, and collective security.
Italy’s New Defence Policy
It is within this political framework that in July and August 2021 Minister Guerine presented two key Defence Policy Directives to Parliament. The first such directive is the Italian Industrial Defence Policy Directive in the preface of which the Minister spells out the main goal of the policy, which is worth quoting at some length:
“The present enviroment of growing state-power competition shows that the industrial and technological dimensions of the military tool not only represent an economic asset for national growth, but also represents geostrategic value for the country…which also safeguards national technological sovreignty…Italy, in the present and future, and both in Europe and in the wider world, must preserve its industrial and technological defence excellence to protect its national interests and its role in international affairs”.
The second directive is the “ Documento Programmatico Pluriennale (DPP) 2021-2023” The DPP is a triennial planning document for Italian defence that reaches out to the broader horizon of ten years. In the preface Minister Guerini sets out the three main elements of Italy’s defence policy: First, the active repositioning of Italy in international security through the modernization of the Italian military force, and a stronger presence both in Nato and in the EU. Second, establishment of a defence policy based on a strong bond between the Armed Forces and Italy’s national defence Industry. Third, the creation by 2026 of a sizeable national expeditionary intervention force, capable of fulfilling missions across all five operational domains of land, maritime, air, cyber and space (a multi-dominion capable force ).
These three elements represents balanced investments in all elements of the Italian military force and related defence-industrial sectors. To that end, they also include a profound re-consideration of existing defence investments with specific attention to technological innovation, as well as industrial implications and consequences. Italy will also afford greater priority to enabling projects designed to better promote international cooperation.
The 2021 defence budget at €27 billion is 10% higher than in fiscal year 2020. Additional money is being made available for research and development (R&D) and procurement. Italian defence investment for R&D and procurement amounted to €7 billion in 2021 and that will be mantained in the years to come. This figure is well above the Nato target that 20% of the defence budget should invested yearly on new equipment. Therefore, in spite of the Covid crisis Italy’s defence budget is growing and is expected to continue to do so to meet the obligations in NATO’s Defence Investment Pledge of 2% GDP to be spent by 2024.
Italy Marching Onwards
Italy’s defence policy is built on an ambitious modernization programme across all domains so that Rome can play its full and proper role in Europe’s peace, stability and security. To that end, Italy is also investing in advanced capabilities and equipping the Armed Forces for heavy-intensity, high-tech warfare to help ensure a credible NATO deterrence and defence posture. In the European and, indeed, wider international context Italy’s new defence investment is impressive and will also enable Italy’s advanced defence industry to play a major role in Italian defence.
The political mood concerning defence has also changed in Italy and for the better and I now sense there is both the political will and determination to have Italy play the major defence role it should both in Nato and the EU.
Giampaolo di Paola is the former Italian Minister of Defence, Chief of the Italian Defence Staff, and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee. He is also a member of The Alphen Group.