(Venice, 28 May 2007)
First of all, let me thank the organizers for inviting me today. And let me praise the Council for its efforts in promoting dialogue and exchanges between Italy and the US. This interaction between politicians, foreign policy experts and business is very important; it’s exactly what we need to consolidate our bilateral relationship.
My basic premise is that the relationship with the US is as crucial as ever both for Italy and for Europe. But just repeating that certainly isn't enough to develop a solid transatlantic relationship for the new century.
The solidity of the transatlantic relationship is going to depend on a very concrete issue: on the extent to which Europe and the United States manage to respond in a cohesive way to new key challenges I shall define later on.
We are in better situation than in 2003: hard lessons were learnt on both parts. We Europeans have realized that when we are split among ourselves and over our relations with the United States, we also lose the ability to exercise any influence. It’s now equally clear that Europe's identity cannot be built in opposition to the United States: the theory of Europe as a potential “counterweight“ belongs to the past. Indeed, the opposite is true: we need a stronger and more united EU if we wish to have a transatlantic relationship that works.
For Italy, this conclusion fits with the best tradition of our foreign policy: Italy's foreign policy successes have always been based, in the last half a century, on the attempt to combine a strong pro-European impetus with a strong pro-Atlantic thrust. We are in difficulty when we are forced to choose between Europe and the United States. And I think that one of the mistakes that the United States made in 2003 was precisely to force its leading allies to choose sides. In so doing, the United States actually lost international support: it is far better for America, too, to be able to rely not on a handful of Europeans but on the collective strength of Europe.
Let's look for a moment at most recent developments in Europe. A more balanced and shared view of the relationship with the United States is gradually taking shape in Continental Europe. Angela Merkel has always seen in a politically stronger Europe a better ally for the Us: there is a traditional affinity between Germany's and Italy's stances on this point. With Nicolas Sarkozy's election, France too is adopting a similar position, which could be labelled “euro-atlantic”. This does not mean a forced consensus on all fronts: just like the current Italian government, both Merkel and Sarkozy continue to believe that the intervention in Iraq was a mistake. Their view, and my view, is that a stronger Europe is more useful to the US even if it does sometimes disagree with US policies. Disagreements are normal, I would even say they are healthy, when the relationship as a whole is sound.
I hope that the UK, too, will gradually come to realize that a stronger European Union is useful to the transatlantic relationship. If Great Britain wants to maintain its influence, it must play a constructive game at both tables. With a convergence between the four leading European countries, the link to the Us will be somewhat streamlined, more effective, and therefore stronger.
However, Europe will not be able to play an active external role, including in Transatlantic relations, if it remains stuck with its own “domestic“ constitutional crisis. I am fairly confident that a compromise can be worked out at the European Council next June. We need an agreement aiming to preserve those institutional reforms – the Part 1 of the 2004 Treaty - that are essential for the EU at 27 to decide effectively and make actions. Those institutional reforms are badly needed – regardless of which Treaty form they will take.
Together with an updated “euro-atlantic” vision, we need another crucial ingredient: Europe and the United States must agree on a new common agenda, no longer built around the defence of Europe as in the past.
Politically, we are facing two main, urgent challenges: how to prevent the Middle East from sinking into three parallel civil wars (Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon); and how to prevent a new kind of Cold War with Russia from breaking out. From an economic point of view, we need a new convergence on climate change and energy security, plus deeper transatlantic integration capable of countering the risk of protectionism. Let me express a few ideas on these three points.
In the Middle East, the opposite of what we had hoped for is in fact happening. The war in Iraq has indeed triggered a knock-on domino effect, but in a negative rather than a positive sense. The mission in Lebanon, which Italy sponsored in a major way, succeeded in halting the clash between Israel and Hizbollah in 2006, but it has not managed to strengthen the Siniora government. And today, the outbreak of violent clashes in the Palestinian camps in Tripoli shows us how strong the terrorist threat is also in Lebanon. I believe that we have very little time left to reverse the trend. The risks are very serious and intertwined. We have a creeping radicalization of Arab societies, with the increasing fragility of those governments that are allied with the West; we have the violent breakdown of Palestinian society; we have the regional rise of Iran, which doesn't seem to be willing to give up its nuclear project; we see the flames of Shiite-Sunnite tension; and we have the growing vulnerability of Israel, a country whose leadership has made – in my view - some serious political mistakes but whose security Europe wants to safeguard just as much as the United States does.
We have been wasting time in a fairly sterile debate over the extent to which Iraq should be considered a greater priority than the Israeli-Palestinian question. In actual fact, it is quite clear that the various fronts are all important. In the long term, either we succeed on all of them, or we lose on all of them. My firm opinion is that a peace agreement on the Palestinian front remains decisive.
I think that we still have a window of opportunity to reverse the trend, as long as Europe and the United States prove capable of seizing it. First, the Arab countries, with Saudi Arabia leading the way, are adopting a more pro-active stance. I get the feeling that they have realized that the nightmare scenario of three parallel civil wars – in Iraq, in Palestine, and in Lebanon – is a major threat to their governments. The King of Jordan first started airing his views with me in that regard many months ago. So, for the first time in years, they are proposing a major regional bargain along the following lines: the Arab countries' support for the stabilization of Iraq and peace with Israel, in return for a solution to the Palestinian question that clearly includes a viable Palestinian state. All of this, in the rationale of a common front against Islamic radicalism and terrorism.
Second, supporting moderates in the Arab camp is also very much in the interest of Israel itself and of its security. Recent events in Gaza show that we absolutely need to break the vicious circle of violent actions and counter-reactions. I am not at all sure that a deadly confrontation between Hamas and Fatah is in Israel’s security interests. And this is why I have always thought that we should have supported more effectively a unity government – although there were obvious hurdles from the start.
I believe that our common role and responsibility is to make sure that a ‘new order‘ can indeed emerge in the region, but a new order based on the principles of security and of legitimacy. That means peace and justice in Palestine (with a Palestinian state), security for Israel, and legitimacy where Iran's role in the region is concerned: a role which, if it is to be recognized by the other regional players, needs to be based on full respect for the sovereignty of its neighbours (Iraq and Lebanon), and full compliance with international norms on the nuclear question. Moreover, a serious effort needs to be made to include Syria in a trade-off of this kind too, naturally only on condition that it recognizes Lebanon's sovereignty.
Summing up: we must devise and implement a common transatlantic strategy for the Broader Middle East. Condi Rice's renewed engagement on the Israeli-Palestinian front, the ‘Baghdad process’ in Iraq, together with the activism on the Arab states’ part, are all positive factors. Europe is doing a lot (Rafah, Lebanon) but it can and must do more: the old division of labour – the EU as payer and the US as player and security provider – has proved to be ineffective. The US, in turn, has to think of itself as part of a multilateral strategy for gradual change.
On the topic of Russia I’d like to make two points. First, nobody can afford to return to a situation of confrontation or a to a new Cold War: neither Europe nor the US. Russia is a crucial partner for Europe, particularly – but not only – in the area of energy security. Russia’s cooperation is essential in resolving the most crucial security issues, from Kosovo to Iran and, of course, instability and the “frozen conflicts” in the Caucasus. It is equally true that Russia needs Europe – mainly economically (the EU accounts for 50% of Russia’s foreign trade) . And it needs the US – mainly politically – both for security reasons and in order to maintain the international status that it has won back. Thus all sides have a common interest in exercising prudence and in fostering cooperation. That means, for instance, handling the missile defense issue with greater sensitivity. We obviously can't allow Russia to exercise some kind of veto right over our decisions on security in Europe. But we also need to understand Russia's sensibilities, using the forums for dialogue that we already have, such as the NATO-Russia Council. The precondition for a transatlantic strategy towards Russia, however, is that the EU itself have a common policy vis-à-vis Russia first. Unfortunately, that is not yet the case. It's high time we had one.
Secondly, a more positive relationship with Russia demands mutual trust. Unfortunately we are suffering from a deficit in trust right now. We – Europe – certainly need to do our utmost to reassure Russia against its feeling of exclusion. But Russia also needs to reassure us of its democratic credentials and its acceptance of the rules of the game in the international system. A more open and pluralistic Russia would be in Russians’ own interest first and foremost.
I shall turn very briefly to our economic agenda. It is crucial for the United States to adopt a more open stance on climate change: only a strong, shared commitment on the United States' and Europe's part can pressure also China and India into accepting a post-Kyoto agreement. We are still far from an agreement; but we need to reach it.
I am in favour of ever deeper economic transatlantic integration (on the basis of the Merkel initiative). In my opinion, an initiative of this kind is also a precautionary measure against resurgent protectionism. But our integration should not be conceived as exclusive: on the contrary, it should help to integrate the emerging powers into the world's economy, turning them – to quote Bob Zoellick – into responsible stakeholders in the global system. And this is also a precondition for any progress to be made in the Doha Round. Any other approach – along the lines of “the West against the rest“ – would simply lead to a new stalemate.
Italy's Euro-atlanticism is not a matter of principles alone: it is based on facts, on concrete action.
The practical foreign policy decisions made by the Prodi government prove my point. Italy is making a substantive and active contribution to resolving the major international crises in which the UN, NATO and the EU are involved.
Almost ten thousand Italian troops are currently deployed abroad in peacekeeping operations; we have matched our military engagement with important civilian assistance in different areas, ranging from institution-building to economic assistance: we are playing a central role in Kosovo, in Lebanon – where Italy has indeed been performing a leading role in the deployment of the enhanced UNIFIL mission – and in Afghanistan.
We are also playing an active role within the UN Security Council in trying to harmonize European positions so as to facilitate the adoption of key decisions on major issues, from Iran to Kosovo. On all these issues, Italy's position is that it is absolutely crucial for the international community to remain united. That is why our firmness in matters of principle must be matched by flexibility over the way those principles are then put into practice. Let us take the case of Kosovo. We are convinced that it will be that much more simple to implement the Ahtisaari plan on final status, which Italy supports, if we prove flexible over non-status issues capable of reassuring the Serbian minorities, and if we offer Serbia integration into the Euro-atlantic institutions. Or let us take the case of Iran: We have backed and will continue to back sanctions, but we also think that direct dialogue between the United States and Iran would serve to unfreeze what has all the makings of a lethal deadlock.
Let me conclude with the delicate issue of Afghanistan. I am not sure that it was particularly wise to pick Afghanistan as the litmus test of our alliance; history teaches that dealing with Afghanistan is by definition difficult, even with the best of intensions. Despite our complex domestic debate and the public's fatigue, the Prodi government decided to maintain in the country what is in effect one of the largest European contingents in ISAF, part of which is currently deployed in a province that is exposed to serious military risks and becoming more so. Also, we have recently decided to enhance the operational capability of our contingent. Italy is thus making a very earnest and determined effort; and our military commitment is a crucial part of a broader effort to stabilize the country.
Against this background, I think that it is unfair to point the finger at national caveats, among other reasons because all the NATO countries – without exception – have their own caveats. Nor should we forget that ISAF and Enduring Freedom were launched as separate missions, and remain distinct to this day.
There is a very good reason why allied consultations on what needs to be done in Afghanistan are difficult and protracted: It is because there is a wide gap between our goals and the results being achieved on the ground. In my view, this gap is not primarily due to strictly military shortcomings, but rather to the insufficient degree of support that we have garnered among the Afghan population. There will be no ultimate and self-sustaining “success” without popular support. The weak link, in my view, does not lie in our military commitment; it lies in our political strategy. The more the mission in Afghanistan is conceived essentially as a NATO-first mission, the more difficult will be to win the peace. Helping NATO on the ground means, ironically, doing a great deal more also on the non-military level.
I am thus fully convinced that a crucial contribution will come from political initiatives, including the attempt by the German Presidency of the G8 to further engage Pakistan in a constructive role. Italy has been proposing for some time now that this first initiative should be followed by a regional conference modelled after the Baghdad exercise. I don't know when this will be possible, nor do I know whether it will be sufficient. But what I do know is that Italy is doing its utmost to help foster stability in Afghanistan.