With the recovery of China’s economic and military power in recent years, US defense preparations have become heavily focused on the western Pacific.
However, the United States is a global player with security concerns in other regions.
Europe is arguably the region of greatest geopolitical importance to Washington, as it is the cradle of Western civilization and its geography makes the region more vulnerable to cross-border aggression.
In the coming years, a great power struggle in which American forces are involved in Eastern Europe is at least as likely as in the Western Pacific.
Washington has no formal obligation to defend Taiwan if that country is attacked; He. She is being Committed by treaty to the defense of several NATO countries that share a common border with Russia.
The greatest challenge currently facing US military leaders in Europe is to secure allies with the required set of resources and resolve to be reliable coalition partners in deterring Russian aggression.
One of the countries that seems poised to become more important as America’s European partner is Italy.
Despite being a major military power, Italy never managed to live up to the respect that Britain, France, and Germany enjoyed in Washington.
But times changed, and the circumstances of Italy in the coming years made it a first-class ally of America in the same way that Australia and Israel were.
Here are five reasons, among others, why Italy is earning renewed respect in Washington as a reliable partner in Western security.
Relations within NATO are shifting. America’s most important military alliance is evolving in ways that make the largest European members less useful as regional partners. Britain withdraws from the continent. France calls for alternative security arrangements. Germany displays a paradox of military spending, which leaves the Bundeswehr in a state of chronic unpreparedness.
Meanwhile, in the Mediterranean, Turkey has largely lost its position as the anchor of the southern side of the alliance, due to ongoing tensions with the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey’s expulsion from the F-35 fighter program effectively prevents it from matching the air power of other major players in the region.
Against this background, Italy emerges as a country reliably committed to Western alliance and democracy. Its economy, which is currently growing faster than that of Germany, is among the most advanced in the world. The cultural affinity between America and Italy is well known. At least two Italian Americans are preparing to run for the presidency of the United States in 2024.
The location of Italy is well suited to the needs of the Alliance. The geographical conditions of Italy are ideal for the formation of the security conditions in the Mediterranean – the most important water mass in Western history. Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily, where long-range reconnaissance aircraft are deployed, is approximately equal distances from Beirut and Gibraltar on opposite sides of the sea. It is also a short trip by air to the most turbulent countries in North Africa, most notably Libya.
In the north, the country’s territory so far extends to Central and Eastern Europe, with Italian F-35s stationed there within a non-fueled range of Poland’s border with Belarus. NATO stores tactical nuclear weapons at two bases in the north, which constitute a powerful component of the alliance’s deterrence of Russian aggression.
Rome’s foreign policy complements Washington’s policy. Italy consistently supports coalition undertakings, having contributed to more than two dozen peacekeeping and other stabilization efforts. It sent troops into Afghanistan during the early stages of the war there, and is involved in virtually every multilateral organization whatever the outcome, from the United Nations to the Group of Seven to the World Trade Organization.
In recent months, Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government has shown an interest in getting more involved in the quadripartite alliance of America, Australia, India and Japan created to counter Chinese ambitions in Asia.
Draghi’s predecessor had a brief flirtation with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, but Draghi has since alienated Italy from Beijing and shown a keen interest in developing closer ties with New Delhi – underscoring his country’s preference for democratic partners.
The Italian military is making the right investments. Italy abolished conscription in 2004 and today has a highly professional army of 371,000 fighters divided equally between active duty and paramilitary personnel. The Navy is the dominant naval power in the Mediterranean, and is organized to include a light aircraft carrier, four air defense destroyers, ten frigates, eight diesel-electric submarines and three amphibious ships.
A copy of the Italian frigate has been certified by the US Navy and is being built by Fincantieri in Wisconsin. Meanwhile, Italy has become a pivotal partner in the US tri-service F-35 fighter program, with plans to purchase 60 different types of Air Force and 15 variants from the Navy. Italy supplies critical parts and assemblies for the F-35, and is one of the very few partners that can assemble the entire aircraft.
The Italian Air Force also operates the Boeing 767 and Lockheed Martin C-130J aerial refueling tankers.
Like Poland, a NATO country that has become more important since Russia’s seizure of Crimea, Italy is taking advantage of its limited military budget to purchase advanced American weapons. Like Japan, Italy has a sophisticated defense industrial base inhabited by companies like Fincantieri and Leonardo that can produce world-class military systems locally. Its offerings of armored vehicles are among the best in the world.
The political elites in Rome and Washington trust each other. There was a time not so long ago when Italy’s domestic policies were so unpredictable that they tended to undermine the country’s reputation in Washington as a reliable partner. With similar unpredictability now afflicting American political culture, American policymakers are in no position to criticize their ally’s accidental domestic abuses.
With so many Western allies currently facing unusual domestic conditions, it is easier to appreciate Italy’s record as a pro-democracy and pro-American country. Few countries have influenced American culture as much as post-war Italy, and few countries have provided more ancestors to the present-day population of the United States.
So, in addition to tangible actions, there is an emotional component to the US-Italy strategic partnership that comes from people in both countries who believe they have similar values and share a common heritage.