Giorgio Spagnol
Date de publication: 


On last October 26 a meeting was held at the Italian Mission to the United Nations (UN) with the Directors and Chiefs of Mission Support of UN peacekeeping operations  to thank them for their efforts to implement the environmental strategy of the Department of Field Support.

UN peace operations are deployed in some of the world's most insecure, remote and vulnerable post-conflict environments. Common challenges include the lack of adequate infrastructure, whether power grids, municipal landfills, or water and sanitation facilities. The implications of underperformance are serious, particularly in light of the vulnerability of the ecosystems and societies within which these operations are deployed and of our responsibility to do no harm and leave a positive legacy.

This is how Italy is emerging also as a centre of excellence and innovation in managing the environmental impact of UN operations.

Current situation

We know that the world of 2030 will be more populous and more urbanized, will face more climate-related disruption, and will undergo unprecedented technological advancement. There is the need to stimulate fresh perceptions and emphasize building resilience in a more volatile world where surprises are frequent and significant, involving economic, societal, geopolitical, and environmental forms of stress.

In this context, UN Secretary-General Guterres promised to prepare a “New Agenda for Peace” as part of preparations for a Summit for the Future, slated for 2024, at which leaders are meant to discuss a broad set of potential UN reforms.

Italy supports the plan to reform the Organization promoted by Secretary General Guterres envisaging the review of peacekeeping operations, reorganising the departments dedicated to peacebuilding, and reforming the United Nations’ management architecture and development system. All this is seen as a tribute to the philosophy that promotes the effectiveness of a multisectoral crisis prevention approach. The aim is to significantly reduce the need for the Organization to act through large-scale peacekeeping and humanitarian operations and instead favour prevention through high-profile political actions.

Peacekeeping is not an end in itself. This is why rather than attempting to do everything, UN should focus on its core objectives and move away from the so-called “Christmas-tree” type of mandate, which includes every wish and desire of what UN would like to achieve. Overly ambitious mandates, without the necessary diplomatic preparation and resources, are a sure recipe for failure which will undermine UN credibility. A healthy dose of pragmatism and humility is necessary to make a Peacekeeping mission successful.

Peace Operations

The end of the Cold War signaled notable changes in Peacekeeping, with the emergence of Peacebuilding and more recently Stabilization Operations. In accordance with Peacebuilding, democratic elections, liberal institutions and human rights are now at the forefront. Peace Operations can prevent the outburst of conflicts, facilitate the recovery from conflicts and stabilize destabilized realities. This is why it is essential to understand the importance of them through the sharing of knowledge in their domain and the development of higher awareness on the difficulties and potentialities of planning and carrying out a Peace Operation.

Italy is the first contributor of peacekeeping forces among Western countries and the seventh contributor to the peacekeeping budget, as well as hosting an important UN logistics centre in Brindisi.

44 Italian military missions and operations with more than 7,000 participants are currently inserted in the UN, NATO, EU, and National spheres.

So far, however, limited attention has been paid to assessing missions. The withdrawal from Afghanistan, as well as the debate about European Union defence and NATO have emphasised the need for a detailed analysis of Italian operations encompassing the effectiveness of international interventions and the features and the trajectory of Italian missions.

Italy and Peace Operations

Italy needs to create standard and systematic evaluations as events proceed; to establish transparent and inclusive assessments when interventions are completed; and to plan strategically for long-term proactivity rather than short-term reactivity.

The questions to be asked are. How effective have peace operations been ? What is Italy’s role in international military missions? What can we learn from the international experience and specifically from Italian involvement?

In the last three decades, Italy has participated in an extensive number of operations across the world, including those in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Sahel.

What is the role of Italian peace operations? At first glance, they are instrumental in pursuing the country’s national interests. Italy’s global operations bolster its regional security, support its large military-industrial complex, represent a source of international prestige, help to uphold the rules-based international order and the respect of human rights and allow the employment of the country’s soft and hard capabilities, if needed. In short, the potential that Italian Peace Operations have in advancing the country’s interests and promoting its foreign policy is extremely significant. Yet, despite all of this, a number of limitations concerning the country’s domestic and foreign policy still exist.

Italy's limitations

In essence, while Italian Peace Operations have frequently served the country’s national interests, as well as its internationalist, multilateral and humanitarian attitudes, at times they have failed to secure the objectives that Rome was pursuing through such missions. Why? The reasons are rooted in Italy’s domestic politics, which affect its foreign policy as a result. There some key weaknesses, which include political, economic and identitarian motivations which subsequently have a negative impact on Italian foreign policy.

As a matter of fact, recent developments have the potential of undermining Italian efforts in the field of Peace Operations.

1. Italian political instability has often been identified as a major constraint for a full implementation of the country’s foreign policy, although the Italian political system did at least provide bipartisan support for Peace Operations throughout the years.

2. Italian Peace Operations (and Italian foreign policy more in general) are facing new challenges, such as: the multiple impending risks of the Libyan crisis, increasing tensions in the Middle East, and contested regional power balances in Africa,

3. Further reason of concern are the increasing influence of China in the Mediterranean Sea, the diminishing European and Italian influence in the Balkans, and the progressive US shift from its traditional global role

If Italy is to maintain its remarkable role in global peacekeeping – and bridge the gap between its commitment and the actual outcomes of it in terms of international influence - the country should face these limitations, with its political, security, diplomatic, military and academic communities working in concert and without unnecessary delays. Such an engagement is currently not exploited in full as it does not always translate into tangible benefits for Italian foreign policy.

The Italian involvement in Peacekeeping

The Italian involvement in UN missions does not have just a military nature: it is widely appreciated and became a veritable model, because of the Italian contingents' capacity to deal with local populations in a civil and human way, without upsetting the local context, while providing to the complementarity between the civilian and military dimensions in peacekeeping, peacebuilding and stabilisation operations. It is a respectful behaviour that wins both “hearts and minds” of the local populations, a broader sense of legitimacy compared to countries that are more contested among the people living in war zones.

Italy's role in UN missions is a significant part of our country's foreign outreach and responds to the need to safeguard national security in the face of transnational threats. Our contribution to the UN peacekeeping missions is also in keeping with the traditional multilateralism of our foreign policy and with the conviction that, thanks to its universal vocation, the United Nations can play an unparalleled role in supporting the stabilisation of many crisis areas, particularly in the Middle East and Africa.

Italy is the top supplier among Western and EU nations, in terms of both military personnel and highly qualified police forces to UN peacekeeping operations.

Italy is active in the training of the police personnel destined for peacekeeping missions. Over 10 thousand Police Units from over 130 countries have been trained by the Carabinieri in Vicenza at the Centre of Excellence for the Stability Police Units   since 2006.

Meanwhile the Post Conflict Operations Study Centre located in Turin  is involved in two main areas of activity: research, study and development of Post-Conflict Operations issues; and education and training of national and international  military and civilian personnel.

The Italian Way to Peacekeeping

The so-called Italian Way to Peacekeeping started in Lebanon in 1982 with General Franco Angioni. It is based on principles of intercultural communication: listening, understanding and communicating by creating and maintaining contacts with locals. It is a kind of human inspiration between assistant and assisted by overcoming cultural, linguistic and behavioral barriers.

The aim is to empower local authorities to avoid a "culture of dependency" that creates apathy. The success of any intervention depends on gaining respect and trust of the locals and involving the entire "Country System" at a political, diplomatic, military, economic and cultural level.

Following General Angioni model, the instructions given by General David Petraeus to American troops in Afghanistan were:

“Your first thought must be to establish a presence…You need to live in your sector in close contact with the population and share the risk with them …Get to know the people, history, religion and culture…Walking, sleeping in villages, night patrols: these are all things that seem more dangerous than they are. But they establish contact with the locals, who in turn will begin to see you as real people they can trust and interact with, no longer aliens stepping out of an armored box…Don't get drawn into reaction operations: focus on the population, go ahead with your plan and fight the enemy only when he gets in the way. So you will earn and keep the initiative”.

The role of the Parliament

As a matter of fact, while a closer look at the modalities of Italian military interventions shows a substantial reluctance to use force, the role of monitoring by the Italian parliament should be enhanced. Parliamentary oversight, its implementation and impractical timings have been very problematic in the last few years. Too often, parliament quickly discusses and approves operations in the summer, after months of deployment have taken place.

Such discussions should be better informed, examining missions on the basis of proper details and analysis, avoiding a “muddling-through” process that simply gives continuity to previous efforts, without assessing results or the effect on national interests. This broader debate could also contribute towards the development of a national strategy, and a culture in which this is possible, something that has been sought for years. Enhanced analytical evaluations and decisions regarding missions should take place before deployment and also during missions.

After thirty years of military engagement, Italy needs to develop a structured, transparent, and inclusive process to assess lessons learnt and establish best practice guidelines. Political institutions should therefore begin to assess the results obtained and analyse the approaches of the last three decades. For instance, while many other countries have already developed such processes – especially concerning the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan – Italy has only slowly begun.


It is crucial to involve expert actors – armed forces, and also diplomats, academics, and non-governmental organisations – for the evaluation of lessons learnt, providing transparency to the public and also gaining crucial information to avoid future mistakes.  Assessments should be driven by questions about alternative paths and interventions, and how more effective assistance and higher integration between political and military instruments could be developed. Only rigorous assessments – based on hard evidence, systematic research design, and counterfactual analyses – can provide useful answers.

Bottom line is: it is necessary to guarantee a broader, more participatory and above all timely wide-ranging debate to guarantee our Armed Forces greater clarity regarding their international commitments and the financial resources available.