NEW YORK, APRIL 25 – Italy is the top troop contributor to UN peacekeeping operations from NATO, the EU and the Western European and Others Group (WEOG). Almost all of its 1,080 uniformed personnel are deployed in UNIFIL in Lebanon, but as of February 2017, Italy was participating in four UN peacekeeping operations. Italy is also the 8th largest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping assessed contributions, writes Giulia Tercovich, GEM Erasmus Mundus Fellow at the University of Warwick, in a new paper on Italy’s role in UN peacekeeping published on Providing for Peacekeeping, a project of the International Peace Institute, the Elliott School at George Washington University, and the Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect at the University of Queensland.
Italy’s engagement with UN peacekeeping operation goes back a long time. Since the 1960s- that is only a few years after its admission to the United Nations in December 1956- Italy took part in the United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC) sent to pacify that country ravaged by civil war. It did not begin well: in 1961 thirteen Italian aviators were taken hostage and then slaughtered shortly after landing in Kindu, in the Congo-Léopoldville (the former Belgian Congo). Their bodies, cut with machetes, were discovered only months later.
In spite of this inauspicious beginning, Italy has since participated in 33 UN peacekeeping operations, “its approach of periodic engagements and disengagements mainly driven by changes in foreign policy priorities linked to internal political issues”, writes Tercovich.
She highlights four main turning points in the Italian commitment to UN peacekeeping. 1) UNOSOM II mission in Somalia (1993), when the then Minister of Defense Salvo Andò asked the Italian Parliament to support the UN’s efforts in Somalia because it was time for Italy to stop being a “security consumer” and start being a “security provider” 2) Italy’s contribution to the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK, 1999), when Italy increased its total contribution to UN forces from an average of less than 100 troops to 156 troops in September 1999 (out of which 57 troops were allocated to UNMIK); 3) Italy’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq after the attacks of September 11 (2001–05), “which illustrated a progressive decline in contributions to UN operations”; 4) The engagement with the UNIFIL II mission in Lebanon in 2006, which remains Italy’s largest contribution.
Tercovich’s paper focuses on several aspects of Italy’s commitments in UN peacekeeping. She is also pointing out on a number of key champions for peacekeeping operations. One is the former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who served as UN Special Envoy for Sahel (2012-14). Prodi, who also served as Chairman of the United Nations-African Union High-level Panel for Peacekeeping in Africa (2008), was the main promoter of Italy’s engagement in UNIFIL II (2006). Since November 2015, the Italian General Paolo Serra is the senior military advisor to Martin Kobler, the head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). Previously, he served as Head of Mission and Force Commander of UNIFIL II (2012-14). Since 2007, Italy has provided three of the four Force Commanders for UNIFIL II: besides General Serra, his successor General Luciano Portolano, and General Claudio Graziano, the current Armed Forces Chief of Staff. It is rare for the leadership of a UN mission to repeatedly assign top officials of the same nationality.
Overall – Tercovich notes – UN peacekeeping benefits from supportive Italian public opinion and enjoys support from political parties from both the left and right. “The fact that Italy has recently experienced no causalities in UN-led operations makes it easier for Italian citizens to accept the missions, and more difficult for parties that traditionally oppose military intervention (i.e. left-wing parties and the Northern League) to justify their opposition”. She argues that this might change if the new emerging Five Star Movement (M5S) plays a prominent role after the next Italian elections.
To read Giulia Tercovich paper in full, click here.(@alebal)