The Case for Italy Leaving NATO

While the NATO partners were meeting in Paris to decide  whether  to  intervene in Libya, the then Undersecretary of the Italian Defense Ministry, Guido Crosetto, received a phone call from the Chief of Staff of the Italian Air Force. French military jets  had entered Italian air space without permission, heading towards Libya, and wanted to know whether to shoot them down (here is the link for those who speak Italian).  At the time it was unclear why Sarkozy was so eager to topple Qaddafi that he risked the ire of his NATO partners,  perhaps his recent arrest over allegations of receiving bribes from the former Libyan dictator clears up the mystery. In any case, no order was given and Qaddafi was eventually killed.   

Sarkozy's violation of Italian air space is emblematic  of Italy’s position within NATO.  Although blessed with a strategic location in the middle of the Mediterranean, Italy has never been little more than a junior partner whose sovereign rights can be trampled upon and national interests can be ignored.  As long as the Soviet Union was around one could make the argument that keeping Italy from falling into communist hands trumped all other considerations, but the Soviet empire and Warsaw Pact are long gone. What is the rationale for Italy to stay in NATO?  I see none.

Thirty-three Italian soldiers lost their lives in Iraq for no other reason than Italy is a NATO member. Fifty-three Italian soldiers lost their lives in Afghanistan, again for no other reason than Italy is a NATO member.  How did toppling Saddam serve Italian interests? It didn’t. Why should Italian soldiers continue to risk their lives for the lost cause that is Afghanistan?  A photo of women wearing miniskirts in Kabul in the 1970s doesn't’ justify spending one more minute in that desolate land. (After 16 years Afghanistan I am inclined to believe that the photo in no way represented the values or wishes of the broader Afghan society.It more likely represented the values of a small, urban elite.) Unlike the United States,  Italy was not founded on universal principles to be spread around the world. Italians have no moral obligation to spread democracy or defend freedom around the world - and neither does the United States but let's leave that fight for another day.

Besides shedding Italian blood in conflicts having nothing to with Italy, in recent years  NATO has engaged in actions that have damaged Italy’s security and economy. The chaos that followed removing Qaddafi from power resulted in hundreds of thousands of Sub-Saharan migrants making their way through Libya to Europe and creating a pathway through which Islamic terrorist and other criminals could reach Italy. - not to mention the social and financial burden associated with mass migration. Hillary relished the killing of Qaddafi - “We came, we saw, he died” - but  It was Italy that paid the price for her victory lap.

The confrontation between Russia and the United States over Crimea cost the Italian economy billions of Euros just as the country was digging itself out of the devastating financial crisis of 2008. Whether Crimea is part of Russia or Ukraine has no impact on Italian security or financial interests – the same is true for the United States but let's also leave this fight for another day. Last month, Italy felt compelled to expel Russian diplomats over the allegations that Putin ordered the poisoning of a former Russia spy and his daughter. Tit for tat over an alleged poisoning in Salisbury, England doesn’t serve Italian interests. This morning Trump was blasting Putin on Twitter over another alleged chemical attack. If Italy doesn't find the exit door from NATO it could very well find itself involved in a military conflict with Russia.  

The only argument favoring  Italy staying in NATO is that a partnership with the world’s most powerful military serves as a deterrent, leaving could jeopardize Italy’s security –although, as mentioned, NATO caused the migrant invasion instead of stopping it. But the alternative could be Italy and the United States entering into a bilateral security arrangement whereby Italy trades its strategic location for American military protection -no need for a multi-lateral agreement that commits Italy to defend the likes of Erdoğan's Turkey. If America refuses the arrangement, Italy could turn to Russia and offer a much more attractive alternative to Syria when it comes to having access to the Mediterranean.  Or better yet, let Italy declare itself another Switzerland.

Despite making lots of noise about NATO being obsolete and ending pointless wars on the campaign trail, Trump has not been able to overcome the Cold War mentality that permeates Washington or the financial interests that keep NATO and the perpetual war machine running. Under Trump’s watch NATO has added a new member, Montenegro, and Ukraine has effectively, although not formally, also joined the organization. If Italy wants to avoid facing the prospect of sending more of its soldiers to die for causes that have nothing to do with its interests  or be forced to support actions that undercut its economy, it must immediately take steps to leave NATO.