Italy is likely to be peculiar among EU member states, as it has not formally adopted a whole-of-government approach (WGA) to external crises and conflicts. However, since the 1990s, it has increasingly felt the need to ensure coherence among different dimensions of its foreign and security policy in the framework of crisis-management initiatives, and it has pursued a WGA on a case-by-case basis without significantly upgrading or adapting the relevant administrative structures and coordination arrangements.
The absence of national-level documents explicitly outlining a WGA can be explained by the absence of a national security strategy and some peculiarities of Italy’s political and institutional system, such as historical and political difficulties in dealing with the concept of ‘national interest’ and the ambiguity surrounding that concept. Despite some recent improvements, the prime minister (or, according to the constitution, the ‘president of the Council of Ministers’) remains a relatively weak figure from an institutional point of view compared to analogous positions in other major EU member states. There is weak national sentiment for historical reasons, and a track record of coalition governments with relatively short stays in power (despite some exceptions) does not facilitate the emergence of a sense of a shared purpose. What’s more, as foreign policy has grown closely connected to domestic politics and its intricacies, it has been losing what has traditionally been its largely bipartisan nature.
As a consequence, there is no real tradition in Italy of cross-government joint analysis and strategies. Indeed, there is little institutionalised coordination within the government (and even less when relevant ministers belong to different parties in a coalition government). And there is a lack of institutional memory at the level of political leaders and of an institutionalised lessons learned process.
Since WGA is both a matter of national culture and a highly political concept that can be better defined and implemented when there is a broad consensus on a shared vision of crises and conflicts and of the country’s role in responding to them, the above-mentioned details explain why a WGA has yet to find its place in official government documents. Nevertheless, the shortcomings of Italy’s political and institutional systems have still not prevented the country from implementing an ad hoc WGA. What’s more, with its own distinctive features, this WGA has been providing added value to both national and international initiatives.
In the last 20 years, the Ministry of Defence has been increasingly embracing the concept of employing a ‘comprehensive’ or ‘integrated’ approach. This has created greater space for WGA initiatives and – by joining forces with the foreign service, local governments (at the regional and municipal levels), and civil society – it has contributed to defining a special Italian ‘species’ of a WGA for dealing with external conflicts and crises.
Italy remains a committed supporter of the strategies adopted in multilateral fora, such as the EU Global Strategy, the UN Integrated Approach, NATO’s CIMIC concept, the OECD’s WGA and the OSCE’s comprehensive approach to security. Furthermore, it also supports increased cooperation among international organisations (EU-UN, NATO-UN, EU-NATO, EU-UN-AU, etc) aimed at establishing a more comprehensive approach at the international level.
In fact, inputs for a gradual and case-by-case implementation of a WGA in Italy first came from NATO and then, more substantially, from the EU. Indeed, the EU played a key role in raising Italy’s awareness about the WGA concept and in influencing and shaping its related activities. Even before the adoption of the joint communication by the European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on the ‘EU’s comprehensive approach to external conflict and crises’ in 2013 and of the EU Global Strategy (EUGS) in 2016, the EU’s debates and documents on the comprehensive/integrated approach to external conflicts and crises had a clear influence on policies and behaviours at the national level.
On the other hand, the impacts of the strategies of other international organisations have been rather sectoral and limited in scope to date. For example, NATO’s evolving doctrine on enhanced civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) initially had a positive impact on the Ministry of Defence’s approach to such cooperation. However, the military-driven nature of the doctrine creates certain limitations, and it mainly plays a role in security-related efforts. For this reason, its potential for moving in the direction of a broader WGA strategy are limited.