Contributions for this issue were received from Francesco Jonas Badde, Fraser Cameron, Valeria Capranelli, Sofia Cecinini, Matteo Garnero, Greta Zunino.
Italy’s foreign policy in the twenty-first century : a contested nature? / edited by Ludovica Marchi Balossi-Restelli, Richard G. Whitman and Geoffrey Edwards. - London ; New York : Routledge, 2015. - xviii, 245 p. : ill. - (Routledge advances in European politics ; 110). - ISBN 978-0-415-53834-3 ; 978-1-315-74529-9 (ebk)
Originating from two workshops held at the University of Cambridge in 2007 and 2010, this edited volume aims at contributing to the debate on Italian foreign policy that has seen a resurgence in recent years. The authors of the individual chapters, both Italian and non-Italian academics and experts, are well placed to provide an international perspective on the too-often parochial debate on the subject, and succeed in situating Italian foreign policy in a wider framework.
In outlining the plan of the book, the editors have consciously chosen not to adopt a single theoretical approach, leaving individual authors free to take their own angle on the subject matter, be it a geopolitical view, a realist approach, or a constructivist discourse.
After the editors’ introduction laying out the structure of the book, the first section contains two contributions addressing the position of Italian foreign policy in the post-1989 world order, as well as the evolution in the policy-making process. Adopting an historical and policy process perspective, the authors show how existing constraints have prevented Italy from obtaining the full share of its expected “peace dividends”, and investigate the “black box” of policy-making within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The second part of the book deals with Italian foreign policy in its relationship with selected countries and regions. In an interesting contribution, Osvaldo Croci challenges a widespread view of two of the traditional pillars of Italian foreign policy, namely Atlanticism and Europeanism. He demonstrates that no preference for the former over the latter and vice-versa can be found in either centre-right or centre-left governments. In the following chapter, Francesca Spigarelli, Andrea Goldstein and Andrea Brilli focus on the political economy of Italy’s relationship with the BRICS countries, showing how the fragmented and ad hoc basis of Italy’s approach to international trade and foreign direct investments has to some extent hampered the effectiveness of its economic relationships.
The third section, comprising the seven remaining chapters, deals with Italian security and defence policies from a variety of viewpoints, including the role of the armed forces (Lucio Martino), European defence (Claudio Catalano), the role of civil society actors such as the Community of Sant’Egidio (Roberto Morozzo della Rocca) and the challenges linked to mass migration (Germano Dottori and Emanuela Poletti). Despite the lack of a common approach and the fact that they are not updated to events beyond 2012, the chapters provide insightful conclusions on specific aspects of Italy’s defence and security policy. A common thread that emerges from the work is that, notwithstanding its internal political instability, Italy has been able to play a much stronger international role than is often portrayed. With respect to defence, Claudio Catalano argues that Italy has succeeded in obtaining a place at the “core” of European cooperation; similarly, the country’s commitment in terms of personnel and financial resources to crisis-management operations is significant. Both are proof of the widespread acceptance among Italian political decision-makers of Italy’s strong role in interventions abroad, on the condition that these are carried out in a multilateral framework and with a relatively low degree of risk for the personnel involved (Lucio Martino).
While the volume would have benefited from a more uniform approach, the arguments presented in the individual chapters are persuasive and contribute to dispelling common misconceptions about Italy’s international role. As a result, it represents a valuable read for academics and policy-makers interested in Italian foreign policy, as well as for all those interested in the specific issues tackled in the various chapters, which can be read separately. (Francesco Jonas Badde)
National leaders and the making of Europe : key episodes in the life of the European Council / Pierre de Boissieu … [et al.]. - London : John Harper, 2015. - xv, 320 p. : ill. - ISBN 978-0-9929748-9-3 (pbk)
This timely book by ten seasoned insiders working in the Council of the EU, decisively demolishes one of the Eurosceptic’s most cherished myths, namely that decisions in the EU are taken by thousands of unelected bureaucrats. The authors demonstrate that it is the elected heads of state and government, meeting frequently as the European Council, that are the key decision-makers in the EU.
In his foreword, the first permanent president of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, writes about his baptism of fire dealing with the euro crisis. It was because he had served as Belgian prime minister and a member of the European Council that he was accepted by his peers as the man to establish trust, broker deals and reach solutions. Interestingly the European Council was only formally established in 2009 with its own president. Before that, it was subject to the whims of each member state holding the presidency and suffered from a lack of continuity. The change to a permanent president allows more time for both preparation and follow up to summits. There are some, however, who regret the passing of the rotating presidency as it gave each member state a more direct sense of ownership in the EU project.
The book covers some of the most momentous EU summits but starts with the tentative first steps to establish the European Council in the era of Helmut Schmidt and Giscard d’Estaing. As so often in EU history, it was France and Germany that pushed through the proposal that heads of state and government should develop a pro-active leadership role for the EU. The Benelux countries had always been wary of such an intergovernmental leadership group as they thought it would take power away from the European Commission. The Benelux were right in their analysis as the elected leaders have increasingly become the driving force in European policy-making. The agreement on justice and home affairs in Tampere in October 1999, the adoption of the Copenhagen criteria for accession countries and the more recent summits devoted to the euro crisis and the refugee crisis are obvious examples.
Although the leaders do not have a formal right of initiative to propose new legislation they often make their views known to the Commission, whose President is of course a member of the European Council. In the areas of foreign policy, justice and home affairs, and economic and financial policy the European Council is clearly in the driving seat. Interestingly, the authors argue that the Commission and the European Parliament have both benefited from the more institutionalised European Council as both institutions need to work with the Council to achieve the strategic objectives of the Union.
The book provides a fascinating account of the internal machinations behind the conclusions of select European Councils, such as the infamous “I want my money back” fight at Fontainebleau in June 1984 with Margaret Thatcher securing a hotly-disputed rebate for the UK or the squabbles over the guidelines and timetable for the introduction of the euro at Maastricht in December 1991. Other leaders secured their revenge on Mrs Thatcher a year later in Milan when they voted to hold an intergovernmental conference that was to lead to the Single European Act, the first of a series of treaties over the next two decades (Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon).
As part of the backroom deals surrounding the 2001 Nice Treaty which concentrated on institutional affairs, the European Council subsequently met in Brussels rather than in the member state holding the rotating presidency. Nobody thought of asking the citizens of Brussels whether this was a good thing or not.
What emerges clearly from the book is the importance of leaders understanding the dynamics of the EU, and the problems of their fellow members and their readiness to compromise. Peer group pressure remains hugely important. As von Rompuy observes, for members of this most exclusive of clubs it is “impossible to fail”. Another noticeable trend is the increasing frequency of summits as European and domestic politics are inextricably intertwined. Where there used to be four a year there were eight in 2015 and three in the first quarter of 2016.
Although it is the leaders who ultimately decide policy, the preparatory papers and conclusions have to be drafted by a coterie of bureaucrats in the Council. This backroom staff, many of whom are authors of chapters in the book, provide the essential oil for the machinery to work. Apart from providing ideas and soothing egos, they are the ones who actually ensure that Council conclusions are understandable after the heads of state and government have rushed for their planes home. Their role should not be forgotten or underestimated. (Fraser Cameron)
The trajectory of Iran’s nuclear program / Michele Gaietta. - New York : Palgrave MacMillan, 2015. - xii, 282 p. : ill. - (New security challenges). - ISBN 978-1-137-54168-0
Published in September 2015, this book develops Iran’s path in the nuclear energy field from the first steps under Shah Reza Pahlavi in the 70s to the definition of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) in April 2015 aimed at lifting some of the sanctions imposed by the US, the EU and the UN in response to the unlawful and suspicious course of the nuclear program in the country.
The author, Michele Gaietta, research consultant at the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), works mainly on the topic of nuclear proliferation and disarmament, with a special focus on the development of Iran’s nuclear program. The book shows how this has been characterised by continuous frictions between the actors involved, especially the changing relationship between Iran and the US, with the latter turning from being a supporter to the strongest opponent of the nuclear program, and the balance of domestic forces at play.
The title gives the the reader a good idea of what to expect from the book. The term “trajectory” is appropriate since the analysis follows events in chronological order and is divided into chapters corresponding to the external events which, on different levels, affected the path of Iran’s nuclear program. First among them, the 1979 revolution that drastically reduced Iran’s ability to count on technical cooperation with Western countries and led, directly and indirectly, to the secret dimension of the program’s development. The calculus around the nuclear program of Iran’s new leadership is analysed against the backdrop of the main regional and international developments affecting Iran in the timeframe considered, ranging from Iraqi military superiority in the 1980-88 war to the Pakistani and Indian nuclear tests in the late 1990s.
The right importance is given to domestic clashes and in particular to the authority of the Supreme Leader on the nuclear issue, who in several cases held different views from those of the successive presidents. The focus is mainly on Mohammed Khatami, the reformist president willing to open a dialogue with European countries, who is said to have been compelled by the conservative wing to continue the country’s nuclear activities out of the limelight.
Almost half of the book is dedicated to the history of the sanctions, described in detail. The book considers the ambiguities in the strategic thinking of all parties involved, in particular Russia, which continued to cooperate with Iran on the construction of a nuclear power plant while agreeing to impose sanctions due to Iran’s alleged violation of its international obligations. This is a red line running through the book: how Western countries changed “the rules of the game” according to their interests of the moment – collaboration in the 1950s-60s, caution afterwards, and eventually opposition.
The trajectory of Iran’s nuclear program is the result of a number of components. Gaietta reconstructs it by considering not only history, domestic and foreign policies, but also economic, commercial and purely technical aspects. This last point is both a strength and a weakness: it contributes to making the book authoritative, since it is based on actual figures that illustrate the real dimensions of the phenomenon, but can at the same time be an obstacle to those readers who are not comfortable with reactors design and units of measure; in this regard, a small introductory chapter on nuclear energy 1.0 would have been a valuable plus.
It is clear that the book is the result of an accurate and pains-taking research path, undoubtedly making it a great tool for those who want to go into the deepest details of the story. However, so many details, names and acronyms risk making the reader miss the point and arrive at the end of the chapter with no clear idea of what took place: a couple of summary paragraphs at the end of each chapter would have been useful in this regard, as well as a schematic timeline encompassing the most relevant events.
The work is thus more an ‘encyclopaedia’ of Iran’s nuclear program than a book capable of producing a well argued interpretation of the empirical facts analysed. This is not a critique, but simply a remark to future readers: consider picking it up if you want to know every single organisation that popped up during Iran’s nuclear path, look for something else if you want a more general and less technical understanding of the topic. (Greta Zunino)
Security and defensive democracy in Israel : a critical approach to political discourse / Sharon Weinblum. - London and New York : Routledge, 2015. - x, 156 p. - (Routledge studies in liberty and security). - ISBN 978-1-138-82380-8 ; 978-1-315-74188-8 (ebk)
As a political and linguistic analyst investigating the complex events that shape the contemporary Middle Eastern scenario, Sharon Weinblum, a young postdoctoral researcher from Belgium, has often focused the attention of her studies on the somewhat platitudinous dichotomy between security and democracy, which has played a crucial role in Israel’s political discourse since the very foundation of the Jewish state.
Basing her analysis on the debates and resolutions that took place in the Knesset, Israel’s unicameral parliament, during and after the second intifada (2000-05), the author takes the reader on a stimulating critical exploration of the two main conflicting narratives that still characterise Israel’s political landscape. On the one hand, the dominant interpretation of Israel’s peculiar geopolitical situation, i.e. a non-Muslim and non-Arab democratic state encircled by more or less hostile autocratic Muslim nations, implies that the survival of the Jewish democracy depends entirely on the preservation of its internal and external security. According to this prevailing political mindset, known as the “defensive narrative”, it is inevitably justifiable to reduce democratic rights and restrict basic freedoms if the state of affairs puts the existence of Israel and its values at risk, including the democratic essence of the country, as the latter is inextricable from and even subordinate to the overarching need to guarantee the safety of Israeli citizens. On the other, there is a minority narrative that sees no stark dichotomy between democracy and security and offers an almost specular understanding of the problem. This counter-interpretation suggests that the main threat to Israel as a democratic state is, in fact, represented by those limitations of rights and freedoms imposed in the name of security threats that are exploited ad hoc, mainly as a consequence of antidemocratic policies towards a very specific sector of the population, namely the Palestinians.
Weinblum argues that the obvious fact that Israel has been living in a permanent state of alert, if not of emergency, has allowed the defensive narrative, whether used as a pretext or not, to influence the country’s legislation and policymaking strongly, shaping both internal policies and diplomatic ties with surrounding regional actors.Furthermore, the author claims that the dogmatic paradigm counterpoising rights and threats should be reconsidered in both the political and academic debate, as the notions of “threat” and “security” do not make sense per se since their meaning depends on very specific contingent factors.
After outlining the abovementioned dichotomy and its intrinsic relativeness in the first two chapters, Weinblum devotes the following three to an in-depth examination of some major conceptual and semantic constructs defining the political debate in Israel, namely: the complex freedom-versus-security paradigm; the notorious characterisation of the “enemy” consequently demarking the borders of loyalty of the “ally”; and the controversial discourse around the demographic menace faced by the Jewish State. In the sixth and conclusive chapter, the author reflects on the implications related to the historical dominance of the defensive narrative in the country’s political discourse. Reminding us that discursive categories are never anodyne when applied to politics, Weinblum demonstrates that the seemingly ascertained paradigms can actually be disentangled and transformed. She emphasizes that beyond the current debates, the elaboration of security policies needs to consider first and foremost what kind of regime we are striving to construct.
Weinblum’s exhaustive and well-formulated research indisputably represents an authoritative academic glance at the ideological and linguistic dynamics behind Israel’s policymaking. The original strength of her work is, indeed, epitomized by the choice of analysing the concepts behind Israel’s political moves rather than discussing their consequences. The main flaw, one could argue, with Weinblum’s research, which is the limited international value given the very exclusive nature of the State of Israel, is addressed by the author herself in the introductory part of the book. She argues, and one can’t help but agree with her, that after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the consequent “war on terror”, the political discourse of the Western world is increasingly becoming similar to that of Israel with a worrying increase in the defensive narrative already affecting political decisions and, possibly more significantly, the general public’s reactions to them. (Valeria Capranelli)
The Syrian jihad : Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the evolution of an insurgency / Charles L. Lister. - London : Hurst & Co., 2015. - xiv, 500 p. - ISBN 978-1-84904-590-2
The ongoing Syrian civil war has become one of the most tragic events since World War II, resulting in significant human costs, an unprecedented refugee crisis and widespread political instability in the broader Middle East. In The Syrian Jihad, Charles Lister, senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and senior consultant of the Syria Track II Dialogue Initiative, covers the birth and evolution of the Syrian insurgency and, in particular, the role played by armed actors on the ground. Covering the anti-regime revolution from its birth with the first protest held in al-Hasakah in February 2011 up to September 2015, the book represents a comprehensive and detailed analysis of jihadist militancy in Syria, its roots and its evolution. The comprehensive and first-hand information provided by on-the-ground fighters and leaders of the Syrian insurgency provides researchers on terrorism with valuable insight into the several groups that have succeeded in becoming the main actors shaping the dynamics of the revolution, with a particular focus on the Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra.
The root causes of the rise of jihadist militancy in Syria date back to prior to the revolution and include several factors such as the economic liberalisation under Bashar al-Assad, whose benefits were enjoyed mostly by the élites connected to the regime; the series of droughts between 2006 and 2010 and the urbanisation process which ultimately deepened the class divide. When the protests broke out, the regime adopted a strategy that Lister calls “flirtation” with jihadism, in order to fulfill its prophecy of a revolution led by terrorists.
The book follows not only the developments on the ground and how the regime’s strategy backfired, but also the debates in the jihadist community. This approach is relevant because it underlines why groups like IS work, and sketches out the long-term trajectories of such a large-scale presence of jihadist movements in Syria. While IS has conquered the scene, feeding off social and political chaos and filling the vacuum it helped to create, other groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra have adopted more moderate and sustainable approaches in order to secure a longer-term presence in Syria. Presenting themselves as inherently local (and thus more legitimate) actors, these approaches include a somewhat flexible application of Islamic principles.
The four-year span covered by the book has been characterised, however, not only by the insurgency against the Syrian regime, but also by infighting among opposition groups, fueled by the increasing internationalisation of the conflict. Despite the involvement of several global and regional actors such as the US, Russia, Turkey and Iran, the international community has been unable to find a credible and sustainable solution to the conflict, let alone successfully facilitate the convergence of the opposition towards a shared political future for Syria.
The Syrian Jihad is thus a necessary contribution to the study of the Syrian civil war and jihadist militancy, its organisational structures and the reasons for its resilience. (Matteo Garnero)
Mercenaries, hybrid armies and national security : private soldiers and the state in the 21st century / Caroline Varin. - London ; New York : Routledge, 2015. - xii, 176 p. - (LSE international studies). - ISBN 978-1-138-77948-8 ; 978-1-315-77123-6 (ebk)
The hybridisation of the armed forces due to the presence of private actors and mercenaries poses a serious challenge for the security of the state. This book presents an exhaustive and detailed study of all aspects concerning the growing integration of such figures into national armies. The author starts out by focusing on the fact that, during the last two decades, governments, especially Western ones, have faced an unprecedented wave of demilitarisation as well as cuts in their defence budgets. These changes have been increasingly coupled with the opening of national armed forces to foreign nationals and with private companies operating in crisis-management operations.
At the beginning of the book, the author poses three questions, which she exhaustively answers in the course of eight chapters, providing much food for thought. The first question concerns the differences between the ability of citizen soldiers and foreigners in ensuring both the internal security of the state and the fulfillment of its foreign policy. The second is about the relationship between citizen soldiers and foreigners when forced to work together. Finally, the third asks whether the trend toward the hybridisation of armed forces is likely to increase or not.
Since there have been plenty of examples of failing states that have outsourced their security to foreign and private actors in the last twenty years, there is a lesson to be learned from each one of them. Countries like Angola, Guinea and Sierra Leone have relied on private military companies to train their armies and support their fight against rebels. Western states have resorted to foreign contractors in areas crucial for their investments, such as the Middle East and Africa, pursuing an outsourcing policy as aggressive as that of the United States, especially during the Iraq war. In order to understand the phenomenon better, the author provides a clear definition of the different types of combatants by taking into account and comparing the historical role of citizen soldiers and foreign actors and their respective abilities. She explains that the 1789 French Revolution constituted a challenge with respect to the use of mercenaries, because the rise of nationalism brought back a trend in favour of citizen soldiers, who were considered to be more controllable. Relying on philosophical arguments and battle assessments, Caroline Varin reveals the motivations and virtues of mercenaries –not limited to earnings – that have always created tensions and resentment within military divisions.
Since the hybridisation of the armed forces is a relatively contemporary phenomenon, the French Foreign Legion, considered the archetype of fusion between military values and mercenaries attributes, is taken as a case study to assess its impact on civil-military relations. Although there were some obstacles due to national resentment at the beginning, the French Foreign Legion became an important piece of the French colonial project and the pride of the French Army. Thus, it is a useful model that shows how mercenaries can be controlled when integrated into the national army. Further examples of cooperation are found in Angola. The case study of Iraq provides evidence of both the advantages and the difficulties of such hybridisation. Despite the successful cooperation between citizen soldiers and private companies/foreigners, the lack of accountability remains an obstacle and the contractors remain beyond the control of the state. Mercenaries are an intriguing political tool, constituting an uncomfortable symbol of violence that cannot be fully integrated into the national armed forces. In addition, they have eroded the norms that limit the application of violence in warfare, encouraged by the absence of punitive measures for the crimes they commit.
This book is addressed both to students of International Relations in general, and to those who have a strong interest in the study of private military companies, security and strategic issues, providing a detailed and attractive overview of the phenomenon. (Sofia Cecinini)