This article is an amended version of the speech given at the Machiavelli 2022 Defense Conference.
My cordial salute to the political authorities, military personalities, Defense experts, media professionals, and kind guests. I thank the organizers of the Machiavelli Center for Political and Strategic Studies for the invitation to participate in the work of this important annual conference. A moment of confrontation on topical and crucial issues that affect our security and defense in a historical phase where our "taken for granted certainties" have - unfortunately - collapsed in the face of the thrust of a reality quite different from the one we had deluded ourselves to know and master.
Occasions for authoritative experts to meet, such as today's, undoubtedly contribute to a better understanding and reflection on all the troubling and worrisome things that are happening; possibly avoiding focusing on the tip of the iceberg but looking more broadly and comprehensively at a series of closely related phenomena. Beginning with what today some continue to call 'exceptional contingencies', 'sudden and unpredictable developments' such as the pandemic emergency or the return of military aggression by a state on its neighbor in the heart of Europe - which moreover has been going on for more than five months without any prospect of a quick resolution - but which in reality represents the consequence of phenomena that have been going on for a long time, perhaps even before the breakup of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the last decade of the last century.
The "end" of history illusion
In that critical phase of change the Western world has, on the contrary, sat back, reassured by the comfortable - as much as erroneous - view of the 'end of history'. Military aspects - an indispensable garrison of security since they have always been a fundamental precondition guaranteeing stability and, therefore, well-being - have been relegated to 'legacies of the past'! Anachronistic and costly frills to be paid attention to only at times - unfortunately frequent - when it seemed necessary to sacrifice significant portions of public spending to achieve alleged savings. When the facts were tested, these choices proved most damaging in an international context that was and is going in the opposite direction.
With the pandemic we have 'suddenly' discovered that globalization had long ago zeroed in on risk assessment based on the distance between us and a potential threat's physical location of onset. Threats that are constantly evolving: we see this with energy and grain supplies, with scarcity of raw materials in which being able to define our range for developing our intervention policy becomes complicated, both for the present and for short, medium or long term projections.
The same is true of economic-financial policy strategies or to those of market penetration. In the climate of continuing competition for access to the planet's valuable resources that are inevitably finite in number and regenerative capacity, but necessary for an increasing number of growing or aspiring economies, the development of a clear geopolitical positioning strategy is even more essential than it was in the past.
The military, reservoir of resilience
It is therefore clear how important an adequate Military Instrument is, without which we expose ourselves to enormous risks. The Armed Forces have always been that 'reservoir of resilience' of strategic value, for themselves and for the nation as a whole, to be deployed when the ordinary management machinery of public administration flags in the face of crisis situations. The essence of the Armed Forces is continuity and effectiveness of action precisely in critical and complex situations; and the tragic 'taster' of the SARS-CoV2 pandemic has shown us with embarrassing eloquence that such circumstances are far from remote, but are likely to be repeated in the future even more frequently and incisively.
Success in the military has also always resided in the ability to maintain a competitive advantage over potential opponents and likely employment contexts. Technological advantage alone, however, may not be enough. First, if not accompanied by the human resources that are vital to enable its effectiveness - now more than ever with the challenge on the speed and complexity of change no longer being played on response time alone but on the ability to grasp the very essence of what is changing! No less important is the awareness that innovation requires not only investment, but also time: time to develop projects, to implement prototypes, to operationalize the new capability to the point of broadening the audience for its use and expertise.
Amid all this, defense and security are functions that need to be assured with continuity. This means that the imperative need to 'capitalize on the existing,' to the fullest and best of our ability, should never be forgotten in order to mitigate and absorb the transient vulnerabilities and discontinuities that the introduction of any technological leap entails.
Looking instead at what has been done, we should all do some retrospective self-criticism on the counter-trend choices of the past decades! Several have related specifically to the military. At certain historical stages, too much emphasis was placed on managing the protection of national interests within alliance systems or in coalitions. Even when these blatantly demonstrated their limitations. An example is the significant contraction of NATO's permanent structure operated in 2009 when a year earlier Russia had already ventured a military invasion against the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Heavy reductions in military and civilian Defense personnel were made with the famous Act 244 ratified on December 31, 2012, whose premises and implementation rationale would not only be disproved as early as 2014 with the seizure of Crimea, but had culpably not even considered what had already blatantly happened and I refer precisely to the Russian occupation of 2008.
They failed to take into account the 2011 intervention in Libya - Operation Unified Protector - with the destabilizing consequences that persist to this day; the emergence and growth in Iraq, between 2006 and 2013, of the ISIS terrorist movement with vague ambitions of state control, which would lead to the proclamation of the 'caliphate' on June 29, 2014, and the progressive military territorial expansion first in the Middle East and then toward Africa; of the various rearmament programs that already characterized, not only the aims of China and Russia - and consequentely the countering aims of India, Pakistan and the entire Indo-Pacific region - but the very investments in the Mediterranean region of nations such as Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Turkey.
So in the face of a world that was going in one direction, we did not do the same. Investment has been few and intermittent, and discontinuity has often been caused by the many changing of governments.
The current strategic scenario
Today we are faced with the 'second chance' that, alas, the current historical moment offers us to adjust our course. The accumulated delays cannot be reset, the mistakes made cannot be undone with a snap of the fingers, but work can be done to mitigate the negative consequences of this.
We come from a period challenged by the pandemic and its direct and indirect effects that will reverberate for a long time to come. On top of that, especially for Europe, we have to deal with Russia's distressing war of aggression over Ukraine. Not to mention that destabilizing phenomena that were already present before January 2020, such as terrorism and the effects of climate change, have far from disappeared. In addition to the current conflict in Europe, the return to a Cold War scenario between the Atlantic Alliance states and the Russian Federation, formalized at the recent NATO summit in Madrid where Moscow once again became the 'enemy' while China was defined as the 'opponent,' is there for all to see. Not to mention that a situation of very high instability has persisted for years on the African continent (Sahel), with many crisis areas where militias and opposing clan groups face each other with scenarios that are difficult to predict.
Meanwhile, the Mediterranean scenario - and more appropriately that of the so-called 'Wider Mediterranean' as the macro-area from the Gulf of Guinea to the Indian Ocean via the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea, the Balkan area, all of North Africa up to the sub-Saharan belt, the Middle East, the Red Sea and the Arab Peninsula with the Gulf - confirms its historical ability to influence over the process of redefining the new world balances. And it does so in two complementary directions:
- its substantial centrality to global trade between East and West since ancient times, strengthened by the enlargement of the Suez Canal but always under threat from the destabilizing phenomena affecting the Red Sea and Indian Ocean area;
- the risks of marginalization from which it is ineluctably threatened should the new Arctic routes and related new horizons of energy and raw material exploration open up as a result of the progressive melting of the polar ice caps.
Italy and the Wider Mediterranean
This space of the Wider Mediterranean, which has both geostrategic and geopolitical significance, is of priority interest for Italy and for the whole of Europe, since the various tensions affecting it - from the unfortunately historical to the emerging ones - in fact trigger processes that reverberate on at least a regional if not a global scale. It is no coincidence that, in addition to being the strategic center of our national interests and borders, in recent years it has seen various medium and large powers seek to gain, re-gain or impose their greater influence, creating further source of concern on the defense and security level.
The importance of the Wider Mediterranean for Italy should be nothing new. A centrality recently confirmed and echoed in Minister Guerini's document last June entitled "Security and Defense Strategy for the Mediterranean," one of the recently issued ministerial directives that set the ministry's priorities for the next three years.
The acquisition of energy resources and their distribution through strategic lines of communication, which see precisely the Wider Mediterranean as the primary target, significantly condition Italy's vital and strategic interests. Apart from source diversification attempts, which are certainly useful, it is therefore easy to understand how ensuring an adequate level of security in the Mediterranean constitutes a critical element that requires the protection of both sources of supply and sea lines and strategic critical infrastructure.
How our military instrument should be
It is therefore essential that Italy possess a defensive military tool calibrated at least on the management of the geo-strategic context of the Wider Mediterranean. A modern, effective and competitive instrument, capable of carrying out a credible deterrence - in readiness or active -, able to ensure a transversal and continuous monitoring of the areas of strategic interest, with an associated readiness to intervene in case of tensions, risks or threats to national interests that can be developed in as preventive a key as possible. An instrument interoperable with those of allied and friendly organizations; also capable, when necessary, of dealing with more significant and prolonged missions, either as part of multinational or coalition arrangements or on a stand-alone basis, as previously mentioned.
All this then translates into the essential requirements of projectability and sustainability, flexibility and modularity of action, and the availability of strategic enablers to be brought to bear in stand-alone interventions or at negotiating tables where multinational ones are prepared.
The military instrument turns out to be irreplaceable, in protecting our fellow citizens, both directly - think of the kidnapped fishermen of Mazara del Vallo or the Italian merchant ships to be protected from pirate assaults in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Guinea - and indirectly, by precisely guaranteeing and protecting the energy supply for the survival of our country's system.
Having a defensive military instrument capable of carrying out international security operations and supporting democratic forces also proves vital in trade relations with those states that are unable to guarantee their own internal stability and that generate uncontrolled migration flows, negatively impacting the stability and security of transit and final destination nations - such as Italy - also because of their close connections with illicit trafficking, terrorist activities and drug and arms smuggling.
Next challenges and mistakes not to make
For Italy, the challenges of the coming years are numerous and require Armed Forces that are ready and effective in all domains, and in this the "Strategic Compass for Security and Defense," approved by the European Council on March 25, and the new Strategic Concept that the Atlantic Alliance Summit adopted in Madrid on June 29 and 30 are clear: border security, maritime security, airspace security, security of cyber infrastructure, protection of national interests, deterrence and countering international unlawful acts, combating terrorism and piracy, trafficking in weapons of mass destruction, human trafficking, drug trafficking, and deliberate pollution.
It is therefore crucial not to make the mistakes of the past, not to fall behind, not to lose specificity, and above all, NEVER forget that the Armed Forces must always be ready to operate in crisis situations, in emergencies, so they cannot be without their specificity and supplies.
The military instrument must be seen as an instrument of the people to defend their rights and as a guarantee from abuse, a guarantee also against those who, through considerable economic capabilities, may seek to affect the world's financial markets, altering the state economies, generating disorder and chaos.
Italy must be ready to play its part, in a decisive way, in the European and allied context. No middle power, like ourselves, can defend itself or operate alone, but Italy can and must stand as a reliable and decisive partner in Europe and on the democratic side of the world, with equal dignity and mutual respect of the world's great powers.
Much has been done, but so much remains to be done, and to reinvigorate this course toward a strong and respected Italy in Europe and the world, what is needed first and foremost is a military instrument that is credible from a capability standpoint and that can rely on adequate and forward-looking financial planning, an effective strategic investment, not an expense.
The European and Atlantic dimensions
The European Union is now more determined to defend the European security order and the fundamental principle that sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence within internationally recognized borders must always be fully respected. We have seen how Italy and other European countries, in supporting Ukraine in the face of Russian military aggression, are showing determination to restore peace in Europe. However, we need an even more cohesive EU in the Defense sector to contribute positively to global security and intensify support for the rules-based international order.
Transatlantic relations and EU-NATO cooperation, in full compliance with the principles laid down in the treaties, are essential elements for our overall security. In this sense, it is now clear to all that a truly united Europe needs a common policy, but it also needs mutual respect for particular national interests and dialogue to find the best way forward for all, with a broad-based EU strategic vision. Only in this way will Europe be able to see in the United States an ally with whom it can deal as an equal, with whom it can produce common and shared strategic lines that take into account, in a balanced way, the security interests and economies of all the represented peoples. And in the face of the increased hostility of the security environment, Italy, in order to be a convincing partner, must be capability credible and able to operate in synergy with its allies.
The future of our Armed Forces
How then do I imagine the military instrument of the future?
On July 1, 2005, with Legislative Decree 115/2005, Italy chose to suspend the draft by focusing on a reduced number of military personnel, offset, however, by the focus on their professionalism, training, motivation and ability to use the excellent technology made available to them. As I have already said, Act 244 of 2012, the so-called "Di Paola" model, acted according to 'linear cut' logics that, if not questionable already at the time of its formulation, turned out to be outdated by events within a short time of their definition. Today more than ever it is necessary to revise both in terms of time and numbers the 244.
With the bill being debated in parliament, Senate Act No. 2597, which has already passed the House of Representatives vote on April 27, 2022 and is following the legislative process in the Senate, it is evaluated to move the deadline for the organic reduction of the Armed Forces to 2033, with a reshaping of the organic allocations and an increase in personnel in prefixed draft to meet the needs in the short term. This new bill confirms the will to refine the Armed Forces overhaul, again toward an entirely professional model but more in tune with the times: a Defense project to be implemented within a congruous timeframe and that is nonetheless synergic and efficient in expressing a more qualified operativeness, fully integrated in the context of the European Union and NATO, and above all that is supported by technology of excellence.
The need to deliver on this commitment provides us with the formula for the military instrument of the future:
- We need to ensure state-of-the-art tools and means, looking at innovation but never losing sight of the need to fully capitalize on what already exists.
- We must have personnel in adequate numbers to handle it, you cannot continue to ask military personnel to make up those shortages originated by 244, personnel who are prepared and properly trained (polygons).
- We need to maintain and strengthen the specificities of individual Armed Forces, recovering their role of 'systemic resilience' through deliberate redundancies, which are crucial in emergency situations, and rethinking the policy of 'integrations no matter what' to reverse the trend of encumbrances in onerous inter-force structures that reduce resilience and depower the basic components of the process that are the Armed Forces.
- We need stable, long-term defense financial planning consistent with all the previously mentioned goals.
In its dramatic nature, the recent conflict in Ukraine has made us realize the need and importance of being able to rely on an adequate system for the defense of one's sovereignty equipped with effective and up-to-date defensive military instruments, considering the military option primarily in terms of deterrence and anticipation of threats.
International military cooperation
It is these concepts on which I insisted a great deal in my recent visit to the OCCAR-EA Agency, an organization formed by six European nations but open to outside participation as well (examples of which are the expressions of interest from Australia and Japan) whose task is to manage cooperative programs in the field of armaments.
Aware that resources are not unlimited and that the complex of tensions, risks and threats is such that no one today can be able to cope with them completely independently, we need to be able to look for common solutions to develop enabling and strategic systems for our missions and operations. As was well pointed out in Bonn, however, this does not mean going so far as to buy all the same products - because that would penalize the R&D push by favoring the use of what already exists on the market - but starting from identifying a shared synthesis on critical capability gaps and drafting related operational requirements.
The added value demonstrated over 20 years by the OCCAR Agency, in addition to the promotion of European armament cooperation, is that of improving the efficiency of processes and, therefore, reducing the acquisition program costs. All with a view to becoming a European center of excellence in program management, in order to achieve the defense systems needed to fill the gaps in the military capabilities of the old continent, avoiding sterile internal competition and becoming competitive to the outside world.
It is these initiatives that enable us, if avoidable, to overcome duplication of studies and experimentation among European nations for similar programs. It is these initiatives that enable us to improve the capacity for defense spending, refining the mechanisms for planning and developing related enabling capabilities, in order to deal more effectively with operational realities and new threats and challenges.
Sticking to the European arena, also important initiatives to be fully exploited are the Permanent Structured Cooperation and the European Defense Fund (PESCO and EDF), so as to jointly develop cutting-edge military capabilities and invest in defense technological innovation, as well as create a new military innovation hub within the European Defense Agency (EDA).
Therefore, not only must our defensive military assets be returned receiving adequate resources - to be framed as investments and not mere costs - but we must also improve our spending effectiveness through coordination and cooperation with our partners.
The human factor
It should be very clear that technological capacity, without adequate human capital, is not in itself sufficient to have an effective and credible military instrument: in this regard, as Undersecretary of State for Defense, I can testify to the fact that Italy can count on military personnel characterized by excellent professional qualities, men and women who are always ready for challenges, both current and prospective.
It is no coincidence that it is only thanks to the sense of responsibility and self-sacrifice of our military if in the face of the mismatch between human resources in heavy decline as a result of Law 244/2012 and the increasing need to employ the military option due to the dynamism of the overall geopolitical picture, Italy has still managed to do its part even in the international arena. But it is an effort that we can no longer abuse, on pain of a breakup by collapse now unfortunately not so far away!
In my institutional visits during this time in government, I have appreciated the excellences of the Defense, realities that were previously little known to me and that are not fully known to the majority of citizens, just as I am perceiving their growing discomfort and disaffection for a condition of employment that is now at the limit of sustainability. Today I am well aware of how our country has a human capital in the Armed Forces on which it can rely, for any kind of emergency. Therefore, it is equally well known to me that this level of professionalism, dedication and sacrifice deserves proper attention! More attention!
The women and men of Defense are confirmed every day as an indispensable resource that every Italian knows he or she can count on, as happened over the past year in the complex management of the pandemic, and as is happening now in the general instability of a precarious geo-political situation. Thinking again about how the Covid-19 pandemic was handled, one cannot fail to see how the Armed Forces demonstrated the added value that Defense is capable of expressing by operating with speed, effectiveness and great generosity, integrating its capabilities in perfect synergy with other state administrations, from the early stages of the aggressive health emergency to the vaccination campaign.
For this extraordinary commitment, carried out every day with silent self-sacrifice and vocation, I want to give credit to the women and men of Defense, in Italy and abroad, at sea, on land and in the sky. But I also want to emphasize that the deployment of more than 10,000 uniformed men and women ( contrasting Covid19) along with the more than 7,000 operating in "Strade Sicure" proves how a deliberate professional and especially physical redundancy of the military and its specific capabilities is essential; constant engagement in activities other than the natural concept of "military" is wearisome if not adequately resupplied and maintained, and leads to the collapse or inadequacy of the instrument when dealing with different emergency Defense situations.
Looking to conclude and summarize what has been said so far, I would like to emphasize, as I have done on other occasions, that the availability of a harmonious military complex, in terms of human resources, means, equipment, and procedures, must be integrated into a political organization, national and supranational, with clear objectives that differ from those of the past. Lessons learned must be clear in order not to make the same strategic mistakes, and the right determination is needed to pursue forward-looking visions consistent with national needs and ready for the changing environment.
Sovereignty protection attuned in the ability to work together as a system; suitable energy strategies consistent with its economic-entrepreneurial complexes; synergistic integration between defense and foreign policy systems. These are only the main examples with respect to the challenges to be faced with determination in the near future. The actions described are ambitious, but achievable with constant political commitment supported and advised by the strategic visions of the individual Armed Forces - which are, in fact, the experts in the field - and enriched by the coordination function typical of the Defense General Staff.
From this point of view, as Undersecretary of State for Defense, I am ready to continue - with even more strength and determination - to make my contribution!