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Italy and the United States: a new Atlanticism

  • Roma
  • 23 February 2023

        A survey commissioned by Aspen Institute Italia shows that Italians are generally aware of the gravity of the various threats to international security. It describes a certain balance between the transatlantic bond and European partnerships, but also considerable prudence toward making onerous national commitments abroad. Some traditional differences in opinion and perception between Italy and the United States remain, especially with respect to the use of military force and future relations with Russia. In any case, it can be said that on the most urgent international themes and major issues of common interest the survey reveals a certain convergence despite the inevitable differences in perspective and sensibility. Thus, there is a sound basis for pragmatic agreements between governments and for Italy’s active role in European and transatlantic contexts.  As with any opinion poll, a certain amount of caution in interpreting the relationship between voters and governments is called for; that relationship is not always linear and executive bodies do retain some margin for autonomous action – i.e. decision-making responsibility – even when seeking popular consensus.

        Charles Kupchan, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Affairs

        Regardless of public opinion, there are some worrisome trends in transatlantic relations. In particular, the Biden administration is already placing considerable emphasis on domestic policy ahead of the 2024 presidential elections, as he made abundantly clear in his State of the Union speech in early February, which focused substantially on the Inflation Reduction ACT (IRA) and on a broad economic-social agenda. This very “US-centric” approach risks generating a misalignment between economic goals (with a protectionist thrust) and security objectives (on which the transatlantic dimension has at least been reinforced over recent months despite a series of unresolved problems). Yet, the IRA is far from a revolutionary intervention as compared with other forms of support for American businesses or for attracting international investments in the US; it should also be noted that the sum of Europe’s various post-pandemic interventions (Next Generation EU along with national subsidies) has been on a different scale as compared with the IRA.

        It is, in any case, essential to go back to seeing transatlantic economic-trade ties (both bilateral Italy/US and EU/US) as an irreplaceable pillar in the overall system of political and security relations. If that pillar were to erode or weaken, the security complex would not stand for long.

        Taking a short- to medium-term look at the Russia/Ukraine question it is hard to imagine an active and constructive Chinese role in the quest for a negotiated solution, even in light of the recent deterioration in what were already less than relaxed relations with Washington.

        Strong American leadership remains indispensable to maintaining the pro-Ukraine coalition; according to some participants, while military support is still quite solid, there are some doubts regarding financial support and the capacity to bear the widespread economic burden indirectly falling on Western voters. An especially difficult challenge will be that of the Ukraine reconstruction given the extent of material damage inflicted on that country, which combines with the prospect of gradual EU accession that has officially been offered to Kyiv.

        In this framework, the so-called Global South seems to be maintaining an ambiguous and opportunistic stance on both the military conflict in and of itself as well as on the evolution of international balances. The majority of abstaining EU nations tend to be neither pro-Russia nor anti-West; the growing concern is rather over what counts most for the poorest of those countries, in terms of development, international justice and climate change. In essence, a conflict that pits the West (enlarged at least to include the G7) against Russia (and China as Moscow’s str