True ‘national interest’ doesn’t go on missions abroad. The debate on military missions abroad that took place on Friday before the Foreign and Defense Commissions should serve as a serious reflection on our country’s strategic vision. In concrete terms, there is talk of increasing military costs, which in 2019 already reached €1.5 billion—a sum that we would perhaps do better to invest in healthcare or schools in the era of COVID-19.
All the more so because now we are even arming Egypt, as Chiara Cruciati wrote yesterday in il manifesto, and we are supporting one of the most brutal regimes in the region without getting even an inkling of justice for Giulio Regeni in return. It is a shameful failure, and we should not pile even more on top of it.
If we were to look at the recent past, after what happened with Libya in 2011, Italy should have withdrawn from any mission abroad in protest. Except for UNIFIL, the UN operation to monitor the ceasefire between Lebanon and Israel, which back in 2006 was one of the (not so many) successes of our diplomacy (under Foreign Minister D’Alema).
In 2011, the French, British and American initiative to strike against Gaddhafi represented Italy’s biggest defeat since World War II. Not only was our biggest ally in the Mediterranean attacked, whom we had received in Rome with great pomp and circumstance only six months earlier, but the collapse of the Libyan regime meant the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the shores of North Africa, a situation that had an influence on the destabilization of the Italian political environment.
The situation has been made even worse by our European and NATO partners, who have been abandoning us to our own devices for years.
But Italy wasn’t even able to protest, because a month after the attacks, it joined NATO in the raids against Gaddhafi and lost all credibility with its partners on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, as the troubled relations with Egypt after the Regeni case dramatically highlighted. Without our contribution and the Italian air bases, the operations against the Libyan dictator would have been slowed down significantly. This has been confirmed by as prominent an expert as the former Army Chief of Staff at the time, General Camporini.
Thus, Italy has made serious errors in judgment in the hope that the winners of the moment would take its national interests into account. That turned out to be another miscalculation.
What compensation have we received from our participation in the NATO mission against Gaddhafi? None at all. On the contrary, everyone—including both supposed friends and adversaries—has leapt at the chance to undermine our position in the Mediterranean, where we have major interests in the energy field.
To this we must add the issue of migrants. The reality is that Mr. Erdogan, who was already the guardian of migration flows on the Balkan route, paid for it by the European Union, is now able to exert influence and engage in blackmail on the Libyan route as well. This is even more serious, because in Libya, Turkey has also used jihadist militias, some affiliated with Al-Qaeda, responsible for massacres against the Syrian Kurds, who were used by the West to fight the Caliphate and then abandoned by the Americans, as well as by us. It’s not only migratory flows that might arrive on the Libyan route, but also something else, far more threatening.
The result is that today, Turkey is occupying Tripolitania, while Russia is deciding the fate of Cyrenaica, together with Egypt and the Emirates. Meanwhile, France, the country that started the war, is on the side of Moscow and in open opposition against Turkey, the second-most-powerful army of the Atlantic Alliance.
Thus it is that every move we make under the aegis of NATO or another European coalition leaves us off balance, and we have to walk a tightrope as a result.
On the one hand, with the Irini naval mission, we are trying to stop the Turkish ships that are violating the embargo, but we are certainly irritating Ankara, whose guests we are in Tripoli. On the other hand, we are trying to rebalance the strategic axis by supporting the regime of Egyptian General Al-Sisi, an enemy of Sarraj and Turkey, with colossal supplies of weapons. In short, we are trying to have the cake and eat it. We are conducting naval maneuvers with the US and France in the Sicilian Channel to contain Erdogan, but we must also negotiate with Turkey, which is opening two military bases in Tripolitania.
Our diplomacy is based on pendulum-like swings, and our missions abroad serve to buy us credit with one presumptive ally or another, hoping that they’ll also defend our interests in return. A hope without too much foundation, given what happened with Libya.
Some of these missions make no sense at all, like the one in Afghanistan that has lasted for 19 years. We have 800 soldiers and a base there that will get us nothing at all, especially if the US and Kabul make the deal with the Taliban. Imagine how great it will be to be in a place where you’ve been chasing your (now former) enemies for years together with the Special Forces.
The new adventure that Italy is about to undertake in the “Coalition for the Sahel” (the French Operation Barkhane together with the Sahel G-5), with the Takuba Task Force, also raises many doubts. It is a mission against terrorism in the Sahel, with the cooperation of 14 European countries but outside the European Union: another demonstration of the French tendency to prefer a Europe that engages in defense à la carte—that is, if it serves the interests of Paris.
However, missions abroad also serve to advertise our war industry. We’re putting our soldiers at risk to make a little extra cash. So if it’s not really necessary, it would be better to stay at home, so we can avoid having to write any more articles full of rhetoric lamenting the geopolitical fate of our beautiful country in the future.