As China’s economic and military power has grown in recent years, U.S. defense preparations have been heavily focused on the Western Pacific.
However, the United States is a global player with security concerns in other regions.
Europe is arguably the area of greatest geopolitical importance for Washington, as it is the cradle of Western civilization and its geography makes the region much more vulnerable to cross-border aggression.
In the years to come, a great power conflict involving American forces is at least as likely in Eastern Europe as it is in the Western Pacific.
Washington is not formally committed to the defense of Taiwan if that nation is attacked; this is committed by treaty to the defense of several NATO countries sharing a common border with Russia.
The greatest challenge facing U.S. military leaders in Europe today is finding allies with the right mix of resources and determination to be reliable coalition partners in deterring Russian aggression.
Italy is a country that looks set to become more important as America’s European partner.
Despite being a major military power, Italy never managed to achieve the level of consideration enjoyed by Britain, France and Germany in Washington.
But times have changed, and Italy’s situation positions it for years to come as America’s leading ally, in much the same way as Australia and Israel.
Here are five reasons, among others, why Italy is gaining new respect in Washington as a trusted partner in Western security.
Relations within NATO are evolving. America’s largest military alliance is evolving in a way that makes the largest European members less useful as regional partners. Britain is withdrawing from the continent. France calls for alternative security measures. Germany is ambivalent about military spending, which leaves the Bundeswehr in a state of chronic unpreparedness.
Meanwhile, in the Mediterranean, Turkey has largely lost its status as an anchor of the alliance’s southern flank, due to lingering tensions with the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey’s ejection from the F-35 fighter program effectively prevents it from matching the air power of other key players in the region.
In this context, Italy stands out as a nation reliably committed to the Western alliance and to democracy. Its economy, which is currently growing faster than that of Germany, is one of the most advanced in the world. The cultural affinity between America and Italy is well known; at least two Italian-Americans are set to run for president of the United States in 2024.
The location of Italy is well suited to the needs of the alliance. Italy’s geographic circumstances are ideal for shaping security conditions in the Mediterranean Sea, the most important body of water in Western history. Sigonella Naval Air Base in Sicily, where long-range surveillance planes are deployed, is almost exactly equidistant from Beirut and Gibraltar at opposite ends of the sea. It is also a short plane ride to the most troubled countries of North Africa, notably Libya.
In the north, the country’s territory stretches so far into central and eastern Europe that the Italian F-35s stationed there are within range of the Polish border with Belarus. NATO stores tactical nuclear weapons at two bases in the north, constituting a powerful element of the alliance’s deterrent against Russian aggression.
Rome’s foreign policy complements Washington’s. Italy consistently supports alliance companies, having contributed to more than two dozen peacekeeping and other stabilization efforts. He sent troops to Afghanistan at the start of the war and is an active participant in virtually every multilateral organization of any size, from the United Nations to the G7 to the World Trade Organization.
In recent months, Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government has shown interest in becoming more involved in the quadrilateral alignment of America, Australia, India and Japan set up to counter Chinese ambitions. in Asia.
Draghi’s predecessor had a brief alliance with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, but Draghi has since moved Italy away from Beijing and has shown great interest in developing closer ties with New Delhi, stressing the preference of his country for democratic partners.
The Italian army is making the right investments. Italy eliminated conscription in 2004 and today has a highly professional army of 371,000 combatants split equally between active duty and paramilitary personnel. Its navy is the dominant maritime force in the Mediterranean, consisting of a light aircraft carrier, four air defense destroyers, 10 frigates, eight diesel-electric submarines and three amphibious ships.
A version of the Italian frigate was adopted by the US Navy and is being built by the firm Fincantieri in Wisconsin. Meanwhile, Italy has become a key partner in the US three-service F-35 fighter program, with plans to purchase 60 Air Force variants and 15 Navy variants. Italy is providing critical parts and assemblies for the F-35 effort and is one of the few partners who can assemble the entire aircraft.
The Italian Air Force also operates the Boeing 767 air tanker and Lockheed Martin C-130J transport.
Like Poland, a NATO country that has grown in importance since Russia took Crimea, Italy is using its limited military budget to purchase advanced American weapons. Like Japan, Italy has a sophisticated defense industrial base populated by companies like Fincantieri and Leonardo that can produce world-class military systems locally. Its armored vehicle offerings are among the best in the world.
The political elites of Rome and Washington trust each other. Not so long ago, Italy’s domestic politics were so unpredictable that it tended to undermine the country’s reputation in Washington as a reliable partner. With a similar unpredictability now infecting American political culture, American policymakers are unable to criticize the occasional domestic excesses of their ally.
With so many Western allies currently facing unusual internal conditions, it’s easier to appreciate Italy’s record as a pro-democracy, pro-American nation. Few nations have influenced American culture as much as Italy in the postwar era, and few nations have provided more ancestors to the current American population.
So beyond the tangible measures, there is an emotional component to the US-Italy strategic partnership that comes from people in both countries believing they have similar values and share a common heritage.