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I would like to thank the International Institute for Strategic Studies for giving me the opportunity to address this distinguished audience and to speak about the security issues arising from the crisis in Libya and the unrest in North Africa and the Middle East. The popular movements sweeping the region have proved that ordinary Arab citizens, especially young people, are asking for more civil and political rights. But in Libya the regime brutally dismissed this cry for change. I will talk to you about these new challenges to international security and about our immediate responses. And I will stress the need for a new long-term approach based on dialogue, freedom and economic integration.
Security: From freedom from care…
Etymologically, the word security comes from the Latin securitas, which means “freedom from care”. For centuries, this interpretation has influenced strategy. Kings and princes were satisfied as long as the enemy was kept at bay. Security was ensured by fortresses and walls. Peoples ignored each other’s needs. Compassion and mutual understanding were no more than psychological concepts, with no political effects. We were often uncaring about crises hitting other continents. Some of us had more compassionate feelings. Others felt less involved. Some of us felt indifferent since it is much easier to look away from other people’s despair when you yourself are safe.
In recent times, our views of security have started to change. Since 9/11, old certainties no longer hold. We have come to understand that security can no longer be sheltered away in one corner of the world. Barriers are no longer able to protect us in a time when new threats -such as terrorism, illegal trafficking, or organised crime- come from inside our society.
…To care for freedom
The need to change our security approach has become more evident after the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. For too long, Europe and the rest of the Western world have de facto outsourced a major role in guaranteeing their security to North African and Middle East governments. We asked those governments to help us fight terrorists and contain extremists. And we also asked them to prevent illegal immigration, provide us with stable energy supplies, and contribute to a negotiated solution to the peace process in the Middle East.
However, our security predicament led us to overlook the aspirations of the citizens of North Africa and the Middle East. Indeed, we asked the region’s leaders to help us defend our open societies, but we closed our hearts before the suffering of their own peoples. Peoples so close to us geographically, but so far from the standards of rights enjoyed by our own citizens. The revolts have been the inevitable outcome of this huge gap between aspirations and reality.
Since the start of the uprisings, we have come to understand that an uncaring attitude to our neighbors’ aspirations is dangerous for us as well. We should not be more worried about our own security than about freedom and prosperity in North Africa and the Middle East. Our security is closely linked with their freedoms and development.
So, today, we need to find the right balance. We need to take a more broadly encompassing approach that is mindful of our neighbours’ aspirations. We want free and prosperous friends, not unstable tyrannies, at our borders. We are therefore ready to answer our neighbors’ call for change, by helping them define and implement their own agendas for reform and development.
There are limits nobody can trespass
We meet at very turbulent times. When times become particularly uncertain, it is better to lean on those pillars that have always remained strong and sound. Our values stem from our humanistic heritage: a heritage that affirms the human being as the measure of all things. Accordingly, regimes which disregard the right to life can never be acceptable to us. No political leader in the region can build and maintain his power at the expense of the lives of his own people. There are limits nobody can trespass without falling into the abyss of disaster and international rejection. So, when people took to the streets in North Africa and the Middle East, Italy’s message to all of its southern neighbours was clear. We called for dialogue and deplored the use of force against civilians.
In Libya, it’s imperative to avoid a carnage
Our subsequent reactions were in line with our values. We were supportive of the democratic outcomes in Tunisia and Egypt. And when we were called to play a part in stopping the shocking violence inflicted by the Libyan regime upon its own people, our decision to stand with the international community was again consistent with our values. We agreed on the need to resort to robust sanctions and the responsibility to protect civilians because there was a serious risk of a massacre. Whatever the result of our actions, we shall never forget that Gaddafi and his sons had vowed to slaughter the people of Benghazi, “house by house”. It was morally imperative to avoid this carnage.
We asked, however, for an international legal framework. Resolution 1973 provided it. So, together with Arab, African and NATO countries, we decided to take all feasible measures to protect civilians. We put pressure on the Libyan leadership to call an immediate cease-fire in order to negotiate a peaceful solution. This was and remains our goal. We are not bringing war to Libya. We are saving lives and bringing relief to people who are paying a terrible price for their cry for change.
Italy is the closest European neighbour to Libya. We cannot afford a failure beyond our frontiers that could lead to chaos, extremism, massive and illegal migration. This is why Italy’s contribution to the NATO-led operations is considerable: six Italian airbases are hosting 200 aircrafts, and 12 of them are ours. We are also supporting humanitarian relief through an EU military mission. We are hosting the mission headquarters in Rome. We are also ready to evacuate the wounded civilians and to set up a hospital ship off the Libyan coast.
Principles and steps to reach a lasting peace in Libya
Promoting a lasting peace remains our ultimate goal. To achieve this, we have laid down four practical steps: 1) the ceasefire should be linked to the end of Gaddafi’s rule and to the opening of a national dialogue reaching out to all the major components of the Libyan society; 2) the UN should verify the cease-fire implementation; 3) free access for humanitarian aid should be granted; 4) an inclusive pan-Libyan Council should be constituted within a transitional process leading to a Constitution and free elections. All these steps must be taken in the respect of three basic principles: 1) the country’s integrity and continuity must be preserved; 2) the political process must be elaborated and shaped by Libyans for Libyans; 3) Gaddafi is no longer an interlocutor.
There is no room for Gaddafi and his sons to aspire to rule the new Libya. That’s why Italy -the first country to establish an office in Benghazi- has recognized the Transitional National Council as the only legitimate interlocutor to represent the country. The talks and meetings that I have had over the last few weeks with the TNC’s representatives have confirmed that the insurgency is genuinely pursuing the goal of democracy and freedom.
A broader and ambitious vision is needed
Attaining peace in Libya is the most urgent goal. However, the uprisings in the region tell us that a broader and more ambitious vision is needed to promote regional stability. More investments and more economic integration are required to save the southern Mediterranean from the trap of disorder and resentment. We should then play a stabilizing role in the region, by offering new opportunities and by helping our partners develop their economies –without imposing any pre-packaged models. The outcome will mostly depend on the choices the Arab peoples themselves make. But we are ready to listen to them, and to support them in their efforts.
Euro-Med: a fresh start
We need a fresh start, a comprehensive review of our relationship with our southern partners. Aid is very important but can only play a short-term role. Italy has provided significant humanitarian aid to both Egypt and Tunisia. And we have sent shipments to Benghazi and Derna to match the most urgent needs. Acting in close cooperation with the WHO, we have also sent medical kits to provide help for civilians. And we have defined a one-billion-euro aid package for the whole region. But this is not enough. For this reason, I proposed to my European colleagues a new Mediterranean plan. We want to contribute to the development of our southern partners through initiatives of institution building, good governance, economic integration and support to small and medium-sized enterprises.
I also reiterated the proposal put forward in the ’90s by a former Italian Foreign Minister: a Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, as a means to tackle the issues of security and development through a comprehensive approach. I have called for a new Marshall Plan because these huge challenges require global responses, as in the shattered Europe after World War II. The goal is not only to save a region from despair and poverty. But also to boost security, by promoting growth, trade and economic interdependence.
Security and education
We should also make better use of our smart power. For example, we could direct our efforts towards ‘human security’, focusing on education and offering new, positive prospects to young North Africans. We should not waste the positive energies that these young people have sparked by leading the revolts. High youth unemployment in the region should not hamper their vitality. But freedom alone cannot bring employment. It needs to be sustained by market and social opportunities.
Therefore, we need to provide the region’s people with our positive experience, our best practises. For example, a Euro-Mediterranean Erasmus Program could help spread hope and optimism among the younger generations. Let’s give young people a chance to find good jobs and fulfilment. I am sure that, in so doing, we will minimise the risk of future disorder.
Security and economic integration
In our vision, economic integration is the best road to modernisation and away from radicalism and regional instability. In an age of austerity, if we open our markets, we help build greater security with fewer resources. If we support the recovery of the economic and social fabric, we reinforce stability. If we help improve the investment climate, promote access to credit and foster local entrepreneurship, we protect our citizens.
We are exploring new ideas. For example, we have proposed the setting up of a Mediterranean Partnership Fund designed to support the development of the private sector and, specifically, small and medium-sized enterprises.
Of course, there must be conditions. Our development pact would include a commitment from each partner country to meet international obligations and respect individual rights, including for religious minorities. We also attach great importance to the protection of foreign investments, because political freedoms are fragile without economic liberty. Democracy itself becomes precarious when the principles of the rule of law and the sanctity of contracts are not respected.
At the same time, we must trace, freeze and return to the new governments the illicit gains that the former leaders have placed in foreign accounts. The sums amount to billions of euros. If these assets were returned to the countries they were stolen from, they could help revive their economies too. Another return, the return of our nationals to the marvellous touristic sites of these countries, would boost their growth too.
Security and the Peace Process in the Middle East
The success of these ambitious plans based on economic integration and education could be decisive in bringing an end to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The uprisings in the region were led by the Arabs with the aim of improving their political and social conditions. No Israeli flag was ever burned in Tahrir Square or in Benghazi. The revolts were not linked with the problematic relations between Israelis and Palestinians. But we cannot overlook the impact of the new scenarios on the Peace Process. The wake up call could be brutal, asthe less stable the development and democratization process, then the more likely a rise of rhetoric and anti-Israeli sentiment.
We have to prevent the risk that a situation of prolonged unrest and social disruption in the Middle East could spread radicalism, leading to the return of violence in the occupied territories. We continue to strongly support the American efforts and we look forward to the next meeting of the Quartet. But we have come to understand that the EU too needs to inject more leadership and political vision in re-launching the Peace Process. Change in the Mediterranean is a test for Europe. But it is also an opportunity to take the lead in issues that are vital for our own security.
Let me make one additional point. Italy is dealing with the escalating costs of floods of illegal migrants arriving on its shores. Italy is assuming its responsibility. However, why should our country have to bear this huge pressure alone?
More than twenty thousands of illegal migrants have recently landed on Italy’s shores from North Africa. They are victims of poverty but also of criminal recruiters, the slave-traders of the 21st century. Most of these illegal migrants want to move on to other countries of Europe. So, illegal migration is and must be a common issue. Of course, this does not mean that we want to unload our problems onto Brussels or onto our partners. It simply means that any one state, left on its own, could be submerged by such problems. This is particularly true for Italy, given its geographical position.
In conclusion, our strategy in North Africa and the Middle East requires a new approach. For years, we have pursued stability at the expense of economic integration and modernisation. And we have achieved neither.
We should the move from an approach based on “freedom from care” to a new one based on “care for freedoms and development”. We must oppose those forces willing to fill the vacuum left by the revolts with violence and fear. And we have to build a regional system where economic integration and investments benefit the peoples of the Mediterranean. That is why we need a long-term plan and global responses to be defined on an equal-footing with our Arab partners.
This is not just a moral obligation. Meeting Arab peoples’ aspirations for development and human dignity is the most effective way to ensure stability in one of the most critical regions of the world. And the best way to deliver security and prosperity for our citizens.