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Governo Italiano

Dettaglio intervento

Data:

07/06/2008


Dettaglio intervento

The future of the transatlantic relations. An Italian (and European) perspective


• First of all, allow me to say how delighted I am to have the opportunity to address such a distinguished audience. I would like to congratulate the organizers for convening this workshop, which every year lends an invaluable contribution to strengthening the bonds of mutual knowledge and friendship between the two sides of the Atlantic.

• I would like to thank Jim Hoagland: for the nice words of introduction but also for something which dates back to some years ago, to almost four years ago. I am referring to his article “To hold and fold” published by the “Washington Post” in June 2004. Jim Hoagland paid an eloquent tribute to the results and the sacrifices of the Italian contingent participating to the international coalition in Iraq. Above all, he highlighted the high-level quality of Italy’s commitment to the international peace-keeping operations, also in very dramatic circumstances. This is something that I am proud of, but I am very grateful to those who publicly acknowledge this Italian valuable contribution. 

• For Italy, Atlanticism is a founding element, a cornerstone of our foreign policy. And I would also like to stress that Italy’s role in making the transatlantic relationship even stronger is far from irrelevant; it is in fact more important than many, including many Italians themselves, tend to think. And the government to which I belong is fully aware of the role Italy can have and is strongly determined to play it.

• But I think it is also appropriate to examine the future of our relationship from a broader perspective, I mean from a European perspective. Because a strong and determined pro-European commitment is the other fundamental pillar of the Italian foreign policy, whatever the political orientation of the government; because the European dimension more and more transcends the national ones; and because the quality of the transatlantic ties must be a priority for the European Union as a whole as much as it is a priority for the individual member States.

• It has been often repeated that a common vision, a single purpose and joint actions to tackle the common threats and challenges that both Europe and the US face are indispensable. Yes, our alliance is indispensable. However, at the same time, somebody can mention considerable factors which may actually pull in the opposite direction. From the demographic factor (the increasingly ageing population in Europe, the growing weight of the Latin and Asian component in the US) to the geopolitical factor (the increasing westwards attention paid by the US as a consequence of the Pacific basin emerging as a new centre of global power).

• But there is a deeper truth. As allies and partners, US and Europe are irreplaceable to each other. They are irreplaceable not only because they share the legacy of their common past. Not only because Europe owes a debt of eternal gratitude to the US for saving us from the Nazi aggression, for helping rebuild a war-devastated continent, for contributing in a decisive manner to pave the way for the united and peaceful Europe of today. That gratitude is and must be eternal; but gratitude alone is not enough, though it is a solid foundation of our alliance.

• What makes the transatlantic bond really unique, oriented to the future as much as anchored to the past, is the magnitude of the ideals – and of the interests – that we share.

• We share the belief in liberty and the dignity of the individual as universal values, on which no compromise is admissible. We share the belief in democracy as the best possible model to provide the ideals of freedom and justice with their accomplished political expression. And we are both aware that the practical implementation of this ideal has to adjust in its form and timing, in order to take account of different situations, traditions and cultures.

• The interests we share are a direct consequence of the principles we believe in. As liberal democracies, we have a clear stake in consolidating the institutions of a multilateral system which promotes and practises an effective and credible management of global issues of ever-changing nature and increasing complexity. As free-market economies, it is in our common interest to develop an open and fair global trading system, a system capable of promoting economic growth and social progress world-wide, of rewarding the most skillful without leaving behind the most disadvantaged: a system which manages to be protective of legitimate interests without becoming protectionist.

• I am not saying anything either new or particularly original here. Still, I believe it is important to remind that what unites us is, by far, more and stronger than what may divide us. Above all, I think we have to bear in mind that what unites the EU and the US is also by far more than what unites each one of us to other partners.
• This is a lesson that we have learnt in the past few years, although we learnt it rather the hard way. The year 2003 was the year of the agonising divisions between America and Europe, and within Europe itself, over the course of action to take in Iraq. It was a dramatic chapter in our recent history which I witnessed personally since I was Foreign Minister at the time, and I hope we are not going to experience it again in the future. However, it has been an instructive one. We Europeans have learnt that a strong relationship with the US is vitally instrumental to strengthen the unity of Europe; and, conversely, that tensions in our relationship with the US are a source of divisions and a factor of weakness for Europe. And it goes without saying that a weak and divided Europe will not be in a position to cope with the global threats and challenges as effectively as it should.

• But the US learnt lessons too. It learnt that to be successful in tackling those threats and challenges – threats and challenges nobody can face alone - America needs to rely on all the help it can gather from its friends and allies. And the US knows that a united Europe, which is willing and able to be actively involved as a global player, is the most trusted and credible ally and partner on which it can rely, as President Bush himself has ften acknowledged.

• Our interests do not, and cannot, fully converge all the time. 

• Disagreement and disunity on issues of vital interest is a luxury that neither of us cannot afford in the ever more interdependent global environment we live in. To describe this new reality, some have chosen to call it “multipolar”. Some others have tried to be more innovative and original, like Richard Haas, for example, who speaks of the “age of nonpolarity”. Whatever the definition, it is a fact that we are dealing with a system characterised by numerous centres of power, where the nation-states have lost their monopoly on power, being challenged by regional and global organisations, by nongovernmental organisations, sovereign wealth funds and transnational corporations, or even threatened by militias and terrorist groups.

• We live in a world, as Senator Biden put it most eloquently in his speech at Georgetown University last April, which has “changed utterly, a terrible beauty has born”. A world characterised by the ascendance of new regional powers like China, India, Brazil; by the return of an assertive Russia; by the emergence of global challenges and threats intimately interconnected. Challenges and threats which, as I was saying, nobody can tackle alone; and which cannot be tackled in isolation from each other. Think for example of the mutual repercussions of issues like food security, energy security, the environment and the changing climate of the planet, as those who attended the Food Summit in Rome were reminded at the beginning of this week.

• In this reality the US remains an essential player. Not everyone agrees. Some analysts have pointed out a trend of a progressive erosion in the global standing of the US. For some others it has become fashionable to warn even of an impending decline: they prophesise the world of tomorrow as “post-American”. I have a different view. In my view, Madeleine Albright’s “Indispensable Nation” tag still applies. And recurring prophecies of a declining power of the US, based on the theory of “imperial overstretch”, appear to me to be, well, overstretched.

• True, the emergence of new/old global players is an inescapable reality. Sure, these new global powers have to be more and more involved and integrated in the management of global affairs. They have to be turned into responsible stakeholders of a global governance whose institutions need to be adjusted and upgraded accordingly. Reform of the multilateral institutions is an indispensable prerequisite to achieve the effective multilateralism we aim for. Such a reform cannot be delayed: I am thinking first and foremost of the United Nations, where the reform ambitions have for too long been focusing only on the Security Council, neglecting areas and instruments (like the General Assembly, for example) where the need for a decisive change is even more urgent.

• This new reality does not imply, however, that the US is going to lose its world-wide pre-eminence anytime soon. The influence America is able to exert world-wide  is also immaterial, something which is more difficult to measure objectively but is nonetheless extremely powerful, at least for my generation and my parents generation, and I hope also for my daughter’s one. As President Berlusconi said some years ago in Washington in his speech before the Congress: when I see the US flag I see a universal symbol of freedom and democracy.

• Without a strong and determined global leadership from the US, there is little hope of success for the international community in tackling the complex challenges we face. And I believe that Europe, which rightly aims at being recognized the role, the status and the responsibilities of a global player, has a clear mission to pursue in this respect. The mission to help the US exercise its leadership as effectively and successfully as possible. More Europe, not less America: this should be our motto when we talk about transatlantic ties. How to reconcile leadership with multilateralism? How to put them not in contradiction?: that is a political challenge we face.

• This implies that we have to be able, in the first place, to develop a fundamental agreement between us on all issues of common interest; and subsequently we have to work together to obtain the consent of the other partners.

• In the global agenda there is no shortage of issues where such a joint leadership could and should be exercised. From climate change to energy security; from the food crisis to the trade negotiations of the “Doha Round”; from the fight against terrorism to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, not to forget the most sensitive issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. If there is a chance of managing any of these issues successfully, it will have to be through a concerted action of the international community as a whole. And a prior understanding between Europe and the US is per see no guarantee to achieve an agreement at a global level; but it would be extremely helpful to this end. It would be a precondition that should not be dispensed.

• There is also an abundant supply of instruments and fora where a common transatlantic approach to global issues can be forged. Most of these issues actually fall under the jurisdiction of the G8, of which Italy will happen to have the Presidency next year.

• But I would like to emphasise in this respect, above anything else, the central importance of NATO.

• NATO is much more than a military organisation. It is the living and working evidence that the strategic alliance between the two sides of the Atlantic has outlived its original raison d’etre, swiftly adapting its structure, strategic requirements and ways and means of meeting them to a world where other, more elusive threats have replaced the traditional ones.

• The restoration of a perspective of peace and stability in the Balkans after the agonising conflicts of last decade is an illuminating example. A scenario of lasting reconciliation in the region may look like a foregone conclusion now, but one can just remember the endemic precariousness of a region historically fractured along ethnic and religious lines, as it is still possible to see in Kossovo, to understand how important an achievement it was. And without the intervention of NATO such an achievement would have been unthinkable.

• But if it is to assert its role as the institutional and operational expression of the transatlantic partnership for the twenty-first century, as I think it should, NATO can and must do more. In my vision, NATO should not only enhance the operational effectiveness of interventions which will have to rely on a closer integration of their military and civilian component; it also has the potential to strengthen its political dimension in order to provide a permanent forum for political consultation between the democracies of Europe and North America. Moreover, as the Alliance expands the core of its business into new areas and missions from the Mediterranean to Caucasus, it will have to be more and more open to cooperation with other organisations, with the United Nations and the European Union in the first place. But also NATO should restore “the spirit of Pratica di Mare” by bringing back Russia to closely cooperating on issues of common interest.

• This is a path that NATO is already following: the comprehensive approach adopted by the Alliance in order to boost that cooperation, the attendance of the United Nations Secretary General at the latest Bucarest summit, the renewed resolve the allies have displayed in Bucarest in their commitment to the success of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan are clear steps in that direction.

• The Italian government, for its part, is doing its best to strengthen that resolve. Our recent decision to review the employment of our ISAF contingent in order to make it more flexible and effective aims at restoring a spirit of solidarity and trust amongst allies which is essential for the Alliance to work effectively. Its symbolic and political implications should not be underestimated: and we are confident that other nations can take inspiration from our example.

• It is also time for NATO and the European Union to develop a real strategic cooperation. To be fair, the onus of such a step, which would be of fundamental importance, falls mainly on European shoulders. The perspective of such a partnership, based on a rational division of labour in order to avoid duplications and to emphasise complementarities, calls in fact for a clear strengthening of the European defence identity and strategy, and of its capabilities. They have to include a credible deterrence capability as well as a smart combination of the wide range of available instruments – “smart power”, in other words to use a very good definition of yesterday Senator Biden’s speech. Here, the European governments have to recognize that there is a clear need to match their rhetoric with some consistent action. If we really want the EU to become a major defence and security player, we have to act – and spend – accordingly. It is high time for Europe to become a producer of security instead of the net consumer Europe has been so far, riding at the expenses of its American ally.

• The prospect of France’s return in the integrated military structure of the Alliance, coupled with Paris’ ambitious plans to strengthen the ESDP in close connection and cooperation with NATO provide the Alliance with an ideal opportunity for a full-scale revamp. Moreover, the current political climate – the strong Atlanticist inclinations shared by many, if not all, the current leaders in Europe; the growing awareness of the European phenomenon which is settling in Washington – could hardly be more favourable to building stronger ties of cooperation across the Atlantic.

• Some of the crises and issues the international community is currently facing already provide a meaningful test for the effectiveness of our renewed cooperation. I think of Afghanistan, just to mention the next item on the international schedule – the international Conference on Afghanistan is taking place in Paris next week – where it is important to put more and more the concept of “Afghan ownership” at the centre of our endeavours, because the future of that Country can only be in the hands of its institutions and people. I think of the Middle East Peace Process, where despite the lack of significant progress and the deterioration of the situation on the ground we must still hope that the new dynamics catalysed by the Annapolis conference can bring about positive developments in the months to come. I think of our relationship with Russia, which has indeed been fraught with problematic aspects in recent times, but which remains a vital partner for cooperation on many fronts, both global and regional. And Russia needs a framework of constructive cooperation with the West at least as much as we need a fruitful cooperation with Russia.

• It is clear, however, that the year 2009 will be an year of particular importance. It will be marked by the advent of a new Administration in Washington; and by the entry into force of the institutional innovations provided for the European Union by the Treaty of Lisbon, envisaging a clearer and more coherent role for Europe also in the crucial field of its external action. Allow me also to mention, in this respect, that in the same year Italy will have the Presidency of the G8. The opportunity is there to be taken, and we have a political and moral duty not to miss it.

• A Euroatlantic summit would be, in my opinion, the best way to relaunch and strengthen our irreplaceable alliance. It does not matter whether it would take place in Washington or Brussels or somewhere else: it matters that such a meeting would take place, and that it would take place at the very beginning of the new year. This would send a powerful, and much needed, message of transatlantic unity. The Italian government, for its part, would like to see it happening; and we shall work to make it happen.


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