Review. Three books shed light on the Italian arms sector, bringing to view the often dark and controversial corners where our country exports spaghetti and mandolins side by side with death.

Italy at gunpoint, between reticence and rhetoric

According to the Budget Law, in the new year the Italians will have to bear the burden of a controversial inheritance: a new overall increase in military spending, with an extra €700 million earmarked for the purchase of new armaments. But it is certainly not the domestic market that is the driving force behind the made-in-Italy arms industry, which is distinguished by the presence of Leonardo and Fincantieri among the world’s top 100 major arms manufacturers.

To understand the quantity and quality of the Italian arms industry, three books shed light on the sector, both export-oriented and domestic, bringing to view the often dark and controversial corners where our country exports spaghetti and mandolins side by side with APCs, helicopters, rifles and pistols. Weapons large and small, prized by many armies across the world and quite widespread across Italy as well. An important sector for warfare itself, but actually far less important than we think in terms of its economic contribution to the country.

In Il Paese delle armi (Altreconomia, €15), Giorgio Beretta, an analyst of the Permanent Observatory on Light Weapons and Security and Defense Policies (OPAL), from the Peace and Disarmament Network and a well-known contributor to il manifesto, writes that “Italy is the country of weapons … (but also) of opacity and reticence, of silence and connivance: attitudes aimed above all at hiding the facts – and data – but perfectly useful to feed the rhetoric.” The rhetoric is about security, of course, but also about the value of the arms industry to the country. Is it really that significant? Not at all.

Just to start with, the production of arms and ammunition for civilian use, touted as a leading sector, is worth about 0.05 percent of GDP: the equivalent of the toys sector, excluding video games. Does it give many people jobs? Not true either: it employs just 3,500 (10,000 including subcontractors and the auxiliary sectors), a figure that is in decline and amounts to just 0.03% of the nationwide workforce. Much of Beretta’s book is devoted to the role of gun sales and the laws that should regulate them in Italy, and how to improve corporate responsibility and licensing regulations.

The book Crisi globali e affari di piombo (“Global Crises and Lead Business,” Seb27, 128 pages, €15) by Futura D’Aprile takes up many of the same themes, but while Beretta delves into the domestic market, the central role in D’Aprile’s work is given to the analysis of Italy’s authorized military exports between 2015 and 2021, noting the inconsistencies between “governments’ political choices and the laws that regulate this type of export,” with the result being that Rome “continues to supply military material to countries at war … exploiting legal loopholes and gray areas.”

Beretta sheds light on this willful opacity on the sales of arms to the Saudis and Egyptians, Erdogan’s Turkey, Libya, Turkmenistan or Pakistan. Such opacity is fueled by political motivations, the circumvention of transit rules and legal loopholes to feed a “militarized financial economic system,” writes Alex Zanotelli in the preface to D’Aprile’s work, “that is waging endless wars out of greed and avarice,” turning “homo sapiens into homo demens.” D’Aprile also deconstructs the myths: military arms sales are not negligible but “constitute less than 1 percent of GDP, less than 0.7 percent of exports, and less than 0.5 percent in terms of employment.” We could do without them.

The third book analyzes the presence of nuclear weapons in our country: it is a study carried out by the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms to examine the possibility of resorting – as a support for political action – to the judicial route, national or international, against the storage of nuclear armament on Italian territory.

The book, sponsored by Abbasso la guerra, edited by Elio Pagani and Ugo Giannangeli, Parere giuridico sulla presenza di armi nucleari in Italia (“Legal Opinion on the Presence of Nuclear Weapons in Italy,” 185 pages, €18, Pressenza/Multimage), to which the lawyers from IALANA Italia contributed, recalls that there are about 13,400 nuclear warheads in the world today, with new ones still being developed. And there are five NATO countries on European soil that possess nuclear weapons: Italy is among them, with bases in Aviano (Veneto) and Ghedi (Lombardy), with at least 40 B61 nuclear bombs (which officially do not exist). In addition, Ghedi has expanded its facilities to house the new F35 fighter jets (we are set to buy 90 of them, each for €155 million) capable of carrying new and even more dangerous nuclear warheads (the B61-12s).

The research, which analyzes the state of the art of national laws, international treaties and denuclearization campaigns, concludes that “the presence of nuclear weapons on Italian territory could have criminal relevance and lead to the criminal liability of those who have imported and those who possess nuclear devices on Italian territory,” putting forward the possibility of “a complaint/legal petition” that would push for an investigation into possible legal liabilities. These are likewise weapons we could really do without.

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