Multidimensional Threats and Military Engagement: The Case of the Italian Intervention in Libya

The Mediterranean migrant crisis raised public attention to the role played by armed forces in contrasting human smugglers and traffickers . On June 22, the European Council launched the EU naval operation EUNAVFOR Med. Its mission is to: “identify, capture and dispose of vessels and enabling assets used or suspected of being used by migrant smugglers or traffickers”.

In the post-Cold War era, the European armed forces have been extensively used to deal with challenges now considered as global ones given their impact on populations at large such as illegal migration and organized crime. Italy represents a very interesting case because it has constantly deployed naval units, mixed police and military forces, or special operations to face “multidimensional threats” to security in the post bipolar scenario.

But why has Italy employed specifically the military instrument to face transnational and non-military threats?

In a recent article on Mediterranean Politics (here, gated), Venus in Arms’ Fabrizio Coticchia and Michela Ceccorruli have answered such question, focusing on the operation in Libya (2011). The mission is a paradigmatic case regarding the growing interaction of new security challenges: region instability, transnational organized crime, and illegal immigration.

The goal is not to explain the drivers of the whole Italian intervention in Libya but just focusing on the reasons that led Italy to adopt military tools (e.g., the naval units devoted to the humanitarian operation) to contrast non-military menaces.

Through process tracing the research looks at the political debate over the decision-making process in the case of the Italian military engagement in Libya. Three main assumptions are proposed for the understanding of Italy’s military engagement in Libya: military and strategic culture, international norms and domestic dynamics.

As stated in the paper: “According to the first argument we suppose that Rome led the Libyan naval operation to contrast what it conceived a vital threat posed to national security (primarily the flows of migrants towards national shores, but also the mounting role of transnational organized crime and terrorism and the general instability in the neighborhood), considering the armed forces as the most suitable tool to use. Otherwise, why has Italy employed specifically the Navy for a humanitarian purpose? For instance, Civil Protection mechanisms could have been used without involving military units. In conformity with the second argument, we expect that domestic economic interests (mainly that of the military-industrial complex and of the oil-gas sector) found a place in the political debate that pushed Italy to adopt military tools. Finally, according to the third argument, we suppose that the global doctrine of R2P represents a key driver of the Italian military approach. In that sense, we expect an overwhelming role played by the R2P doctrine and the humanitarian intervention argument in the debate during the crisis.”

The empirical analysis has especially ascertained the role of the strategic and military culture and the wide confidence this has gained in the political sphere: “the Armed Forces seem to be well equipped to face new and transnational challenges that in the case of Libya equate especially with the fear of massive outflows en route to Italy and energy disruption, both brought about by the civil war going on“. In general, the multidimensional perception of threat has been clearly observable. Also the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) Doctrine has taken a first seat on the political debate. Finally, Italy has participated to the operations and employed military means (such as the security consultants) when relevant interests proved to be endangered by the civil war.

In summary, the paper has illustrated possible co-existing interpretations as regards the adoption of Italian armed forces to face multidimensional challenges.A broader research agenda is focusing also on additional cases (such as Haiti, Darfur and Horn of Africa).

Stay tune for further analyses and articles.

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