3-5 APRIL 2007 - VISIT TO ITALY [SUB-COMMITTEE ON TRANSATLANTIC RELATIONS]
1.The Sub-Committee on Transatlantic Relations, led by Chairman Egemen Bagis (TR) visited Rome on 3-5 April 2007 to discuss eminent transatlantic security issues. High on the agenda during the exchanges were the fight against internationally active terrorist groups, NATO's continuing transformation and operations in Afghanistan. The delegation met with Giorgio Napolitano, President of the Republic, the Deputy Ministers for Defence, Foreign Affairs, and the Interior as well as with the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committees of the Italian Senate and Chamber. Briefings by independent experts concluded the programme.
2. According to Deputy Foreign Minister Ugo Intini, Italy's foreign policy puts strong emphasis on achieving the political unity of Europe, the further development of the Atlantic Alliance, and strengthening of security in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Official Italian speakers stressed that the nature of current and future security challenges call for an integrated response, including military, diplomatic, economic, financial and other means. Therefore, Italy also favours continuing European integration, including in the Common Security and Defence Policy. Host country speakers welcomed the EU's efforts to build up military capabilities, which are 'mirroring those of NATO', according to Senator Sergio de Gregorio, Chairman of the Senate Defence Committee. He added that EU capabilities should be complementary to those of NATO. This view was shared by other members of the Italian Senate's Foreign Relations and Defence Committees in a joint meeting with the delegation. However, NATO's relations with the EU and with the UN needed to be clarified, Senator Lamberto Dini noted.
3. In the meeting, Giovanni Lorenzo Forcieri, Deputy Minister of Defence, gave a comprehensive briefing on the profound transformation process of the Italian armed forces. The ongoing military transformation comprises not only a structural re-organisation that emphasises improving the capabilities, but also focuses on the quality of the armed forces. The Italian armed forces will therefore become more deployable and the troops' transition reflects an effects-based approach. The transition from a conscript army to a professional one has also led to a downsizing of the active soldiers to currently 190,000 he said. Italy recognizes that developments in the neighbourhood - including the broader Middle East - better defence, and projections of stability are only possible if Allies are able to integrate forces with each other. As a result, Italy is putting stronger emphasis on improving its forces' interoperability with that of Allies and Partners.
4. The plan is to build a force of approximately 12,000 troops that are ready and deployable to low intensity missions in three theatres simultaneously, the Deputy Minister informed the delegation. He was hopeful that this goal could be accomplished in about 10 years time. The transformation of the Italian armed forces will continue in line with developing new threats.
5. At present, Italy has approximately 8,000 troops deployed in 3 different theatres, namely in Kosovo, Afghanistan (where it has deployed approximately 2,000 soldiers in the Herat area) and Lebanon as part of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) mission. Italian troops currently participate in 22 missions worldwide, which cost approximately € 1 billion.
6. Italy remains a staunch supporter of the Alliance, according to senior government officials and parliamentary representatives. Senator Dini, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, also emphasised that the support for the Alliance comes from all political forces in Italy. Emphasising that Rome is willing to shoulder a fair share of the burden, Senator de Gregorio, pointed out that Italy has increased its defence budget and has adapted its defence and security strategy.
7. Host country speakers recognised and endorsed the continuing transformation of the Alliance. Senator de Gregorio anticipated that future operations will be increasingly complex and will thus require multinational responses. The Allies should consider complementing NATO's "hard power" capabilities by adding "soft power" capabilities, Deputy Foreign Minister Intini suggested. Arguing that today's security threats are increasingly disconnected from geography, Carlo Masala of the NATO Defence College, saw NATO's future in "operations, operations, operations". Allies need to be able to defend themselves against threats even before they materialise, he suggested and proposed that the Allies need to discuss using force pre-emptively in extreme emergencies. However, some host country interlocutors raised the question if NATO has the legitimacy to intervene "out-of-area" and Senator Gustavo Selva cautioned that the distinction between prevention and pre-emption might be clear in English, but not in other languages.
8. Relations with physically distant partners are now becoming more institutionalised, Mr Masala said, adding that the Riga Summit has "unlocked the door" to training partners, including in the Middle-East, the Persian gulf and Central Asia.
9. However, "operational coherence" in the Alliance is still lacking, according to Mr Masala. While the Allies now possess deployable forces, political will and financial resources are lacking, which is rendering these forces not operational, he said.
10. Carlo Masala suggested that NATO become a "globalist" alliance, which acts on a case-by-case basis, adding that "it is high time to start the process to devise a new strategic concept". A new Strategic Concept would renew the commitment to a strong transatlantic relationship, focusing on operations and putting more emphasis on public opinion.
11. Several speakers underlined the parliamentary dimension of the Alliance. Fausto Bertinotti, President of the Chamber of Deputies, said that parliamentary action should meet today's security challenges, including terrorism and the stabilisation of unstable regions. Senator Antonio Cabras, Head of the Italian Delegation to the NATO PA, stressed that new mission of NATO require the endorsement of national parliaments. Alluding to the ongoing transformation of the Alliance and the need to have a new Strategic Concept, Senator Dini voiced concern that some governments may want to transform the Alliance without having a ratified treaty.
12. In a meeting with the delegation, the President of the Italian Republic, Georgio Napolitano, endorsed the important role of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly for continued transatlantic dialogue. Chairman Bagis emphasised the Assembly's role in the continuing transformation of the Alliance and reminded participants that the Assembly has spearheaded NATO's "open door" policy. Moreover, the Assembly is also establishing contacts to possible partner countries such as Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and others, he added.
13. The delegation also had a chance to discuss NATO's ongoing operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo. Regarding the former, the broad agreement was that there is no alternative but to lead the Afghanistan mission to success. Noting that the mission there is "difficult", Mr Forcieri said that one must not forget what has been achieved so far. Carlo Masala of the NATO Defence College, said that the Alliance is still facing "some major problems" in Afghanistan, which are primarily political, as well as those related to public opinion. Similarly, Roberto Menotti, Senior Research Fellow at the Aspen Institute Italia, warned that too many in Europe begin to see Afghanistan as resembling Iraq, which would make maintaining public support for the mission more difficult. One reason why the public in Allied countries has become increasingly sceptical about the Afghanistan mission is that some of the governments portrayed Afghanistan as a peacekeeping and a humanitarian reconstruction mission, which it probably was not, Mr Menotti added. Arguing that "the output in Afghanistan is totally out of sync with the financial input", Mr Masala noted that the Allies need a strategy of engagement.
14. Italian interlocutors stressed the need to expand security in the country. Senator Selva underlined that ISAF mission is an assistance and security mission and that it is essential to win the hearts and minds of the population. Since the government in Kabul is too weak to improve the living conditions of Afghans, the Allies need to help the government of Afghanistan to provide tangible results. Mr Selva suggested that small, concrete projects that show immediate results and improved living conditions are important. Umberto Ranieri, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, called for a more comprehensive approach to stabilise Afghanistan. Assen Agov (BG), Vice-Chairman of the Sub-Committee, emphasised that the Italian discussion over whether or not Rome will continue its military contribution to Afghanistan had an important impact on the discussion in Bulgaria. He called upon his colleagues to be aware of the international ramifications of such discussions.
15. The delegation also briefly touched on the issue of existing national caveats. Karl A. Lamers (DE), Vice-Chairman of the Assembly, reminded participants there is a clear agreement that Germany takes over the security in the northern part of Afghanistan. Moreover, Germany has expanded its contribution to ISAF by sending Tornado reconnaissance planes. In emergencies, German troops would also temporarily be deployed in the south, he added, but warned that security in the north would be diminished as a result .
16. Participants commended the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) for its successful operation in the UN-administered province. Mr Lamers and others expressed support for a proposal put forward by UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari. Host country speakers and members of the delegation shared the view that it is important to have a UN Security Council agreement on the final status of Kosovo as soon as possible. Senator Selva reminded the delegation of the "standards before status" approach of the international community. He and others noted that Belgrade plays a crucial role in finding a consensus. Discussions revealed a general view that the EU will play a crucial role after a settlement on the status. Deputy Foreign Minister Intini underlined the importance of providing all South-East European countries with an incentive to join the EU.
17. The meetings in Rome also provided an opportunity to discuss Mediterranean security, particularly the situation in Lebanon, as well as the situation in Iraq and the Persian Gulf. Overall, Italian interlocutors considered the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon to be very successful. UNIFIL's 13,000 soldiers assist the Lebanese Army in securing stability in southern Lebanon as stipulated by UN Security Council resolution 1701. Paul Keetch (UK) expressed concern that Hezbollah is rearming and that it is expanding its arsenal to include also surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and anti-tank weapons. The only logical reason for Hezbollah's rearming is to fight Israel, and he continued to say that if Iran would come under attack, Hezbollah would launch attacks against Israel. Laure Borgomano-Loup suggested that even if Hezbollah is rearming, it does so at a much slower pace. For this and other reasons, the UNIFIL mission must be prolonged, she added. Regarding Hezbollah, she commented that although it still receives support and arms from Syria and Iran, it is primarily a Lebanese political organisation. This view was shared by Lucio Caracciolo, Chief Editor of the Italian Review LIMES, who added that a stable Lebanon could only be following an agreement with Iran.
18. As for Iran, Mr Caracciolo suggested that the Iranian regime has been the "beneficiary" of the so-called "war on terror", among others since the toppling of the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq removed Tehran's principal adversary in the Gulf. The 2006 war in Lebanon has demonstrated Iran's ability to reach beyond its borders and the country is becoming a regional power, he added. During the meetings, participants also criticised the seizure of 15 British sailors and Royal Marines by Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Shatt al Arab on 23 March. One member of the delegation argued that by taking hostages, Iran provided the best argument for deploying a missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic, which is strongly criticised by Russia who fears the missiles could be used against them.
19. A "military solution" to meet the challenge generated by Tehran's nuclear and missile programmes and its alleged support for terrorist groups "might throw back Tehran about 20 years", Mr Caracciolo said. However, he and others warned that it would not be possible to contain a military conflict regionally. Andrey Zhukov (RUS) said that Moscow is against a military solution to the Iranian problem. He warned that an armed action against Iran would result in armed conflict all over the globe. Mr Caracciolo expressed hope that a military conflict can be avoided and argued that a possible compromise could be based on a "Japanese solution", namely that Tehran would have a civil nuclear programme, but not a military one. One speaker noted that Iran faces huge economic and energy-related difficulties, caused by sanctions. Moreover, he added, there is a current battle of forces for power. Deputy Foreign Minister Intini reminded the delegation that Iran also has a number of congruent interests, including tackling drug production in Afghanistan since it suffers heavily from Afghan drugs. According to Deputy Interior Minister Marco Minniti, Iran has approximately three million drug addicts, which is a major concern for the government.
20. Having just returned from a visit to Baghdad, Deputy Foreign Minister Ugo Intini briefly discussed recent developments in Iraq. There is no easy solution to the complex problems in the country, he said. The Iraqi government is revisiting de-Bathification, as it realised that this was a mistake. Mr Bagis warned that the disintegration of Iraq is the worst-case scenario for the country and the region as a whole. He suggested that Iraq as a state does not exist today and pointed out that most of the Iraqi ruling class have left. According to Ms Borgomano-Loup, the large number of Iraqi refugees who have fled the civil war in their country has a significantly negative impact on the Syrian economy. President Assad wants to have direct dialogue with the US and the EU in order to end his country's international isolation.
21. Discussions revealed a broad agreement that finding a solution to the Mid-East conflict would advance a possible solution in Iraq. Ending the circle of violence in the Middle East would require making Hamas a part of a peace agreement, Chairman Bagis said. In this context he referred to earlier Turkish talks with Hamas and reminded participants that Yasser Arafat was considered as a terrorist before he received Nobel Peace Prize. However, pointing to the "instability" of the regional security environment and the current weakness of main actors, Ms Borgomano-Loup and Mr Caracciolo considered the chances for settling the Middle-East conflict as very slim. To curb radicals from their popular support, Ms Borgmano-Loup said that is important to avoid policies that could further increase radicalisation, cautioning that military force could be counterproductive. Alluding to the Middle East conflict, she called for a balanced approach, which should avoid openly declaring oneself with one side and against another and added that the West should not isolate Hamas. Roberto Menotti, Senior Research Fellow, Aspen Institute Italia, agreed and commented that the role of military forces in tackling the threat posed by terrorist groups is limited.
22. Deputy Interior Minister Marco Minniti briefed the delegation about the threat posed by terrorist groups. While domestic terrorism, which peaked in the 1970s, still poses a minor problem, it is internationally active terrorist organisations, first and foremost Islamist-Jihadist terrorist groups that is the main threat to Italy today. As a result, approximately 85% of the Italian Ministry of Interior's focus is on these groups.
23. Preventive efforts to tackle the problem of terrorism include activities to prevent recruitment of terrorists, the Deputy Minister said. In this context, the authorities monitor religious sites, the Internet, and the prison circuit, among others. However, he emphasised that the Italian authorities observe the principles of religion. Moreover, special attention is also given to the monitoring of financial activities. How effective the measures to prevent terrorist attacks have been is difficult to assess, Minitti said, adding that "everything which has not happened has been prevented".
24. The Deputy Interior Minister also said that it is crucial to have a system that accurately assesses the reality of the threat. Human sources play a crucial role in obtaining intelligence, he stressed and added that "nobody has a license to kill" or a "license to kidnap". According to Mr Minniti, 47 individuals have been expelled from Italy in 2005-2006 for reasons of terrorism. There were 50-60 preventive operations within the last year. The measures taken to tackle the terrorist threats in Italy enjoys broad political support, Mr Minniti underlined that the counter terrorism bills were passed unanimously by the Italian parliament.
25. Italy has five police forces, including some specialised police forces such as the Guardia di Finanza whose role is to track and prosecute financial crimes, drug trafficking, customs and borders control on earth-sea and air, illegal immigration, money laundering, terrorist financing, smuggling, maintaining public order and safety, money counterfeiting, and cybercrime. The Guardia di Finanza also has a Military Corps. Another specialised police is the Carabiniere, which also feature special forces, the ROS (Raggruppamento Operativo Speciale), Mr Minitti said. The ROS is an elite unit founded in 1990 to deal with organised crime, subversive activities, terrorism and the more complex types of crime. An anti-crime section is found in every city district public prosecutor's office. Italy is further improving its existing intelligence network and the co-operation between the different police forces and has therefore set up a co-ordination centre for terrorism, Mr Minitti said.
26. Naturally, meeting the challenge posed by terrorist groups like al Qaeda also requires international co-operation, which has considerably improved after 9/11. In this context he referred to the "excellent" police co-operation through Interpol. There is, however, room for improvement in strengthening international co-operation on intelligence exchange on the EU- and NATO-levels.
27. A visit to Selex, part of the Finmecchanica Group and Italy's largest Italian aerospace group, concluded the highly informative visit to Italy. At Selex, Remo Pertica, Co-Chief Operating Officer, Angelo Pansini, Senior Vice President for Strategy and Product Planning, and other representatives of Selex informed the delegation about the contribution of modern technology in tackling today's threats, including those posed by terrorist groups.