Skip to content

The Battle of Pavia and the future of European defense (1525-2025)

  • Pavia
  • 25 November 2022
  • 26 November 2022

        In cooperation with Intesa Sanpaolo, Università degli Studi di Pavia

        With a contribution by Fondazione Banca del Monte di Lombardia Leonardo

        The battle of Pavia on February 24, 1525 was a revolutionary event, and the first major European battle in terms of army composition and geopolitical scale of operations and objectives. Moreover, it was a battle in which a new technology – the firearm – was employed for the first time in campaign and in which the populace was pitted against the nobility. Today’s war in Ukraine, like the battle of Pavia at the time, has opened up some new perspectives: political ones, i.e., the debate it has triggered on European defense, as well as technological ones on the future of security.

        The conference’s purpose was to present the “The Battle of Pavia and the Future of European Defense (1525-2025)” project launched by Aspen Institute Italia with the contribution of the Fondazione Banca del Monte di Lombardia and Leonardo, and in collaboration with Intesa Sanpaolo and the University of Pavia. Its intention is to study the analogies between that 1525 battle and current geopolitical and European defense challenges. A series of conferences and workshops to be held between now and 2025 (the 500th anniversary of the battle) will seek to produce innovative proposals on the theme of common European defense. This from the perspective of maintaining the values of peace and security at a time when new world balances, technological acceleration and political – and consequently military – strategies constitute an urgent focus.

        Over the past decade, a series of important events have destabilized the international system that emerged after the Cold War; events, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, that have had disruptive effects. Today’s Europe has allowed the sources of its security to become misaligned with the sources of its prosperity, depending on the United States for its defense, on China for electronics and manufacturing and on Russia for energy. The pandemic called globalization into question and with it the reliability of supply chains, including those for electronic components, originating outside European borders. The Ukraine war has also jeopardized energy supplies and common defense capabilities in the case of a real threat at the borders of the European Union. The countries of the European Union are going to have to rethink some of the assumptions that have informed their actions over recent years. Indeed, defense has become a central theme as a result of the complex transformations underway, starting with the energy transition and technological accelerations.

        The European Union has displayed a remarkable degree of unity with regard to Ukraine but in reality the actual defense has been supplied by NATO. European countries have increased their military spending over recent decades, yet more cooperation and integration are still needed. Given the economic difficulties owed to the consequences of the pandemic and the war, common financing mechanisms could represent an important geopolitical and operational step, as they did in the case of the pandemic.

        In this regard, it is useful to recall some of Italy’s strong points, not least its well-trained armed forces, at-the-ready and excellently equipped and for the most part by national companies. Additionally, as a founding member of both NATO and the EU, Italy maintains excellent political relations, which is reflected in a high level of industrial cooperation that includes the field of defense.

        A change in mentality is needed to confront the challenges of the future. The political issue of sovereignty – a major constraint – is an aspect to which others must be added, especially when speaking of new technologies. What is being called an asymmetrical war is founded on countless innovations, from cyberspace to outer space, fake news to artificial intelligence and cloud computing. Encouraging technological innovation in these fields requires investments, but in some cases also different organizational models, new legislative frameworks and different investment approaches.

        Technological change opens up new horizons; once upon a time the new frontier was America, today it is cyberspace. New technologies can also foster the ascent of new political constellations – modern States yesterday, perhaps a more united Europe tomorrow. New technologies also trigger economic transformations that alter the internal social hierarchies of political communities, but also those between governments and nations. While the battle of Pavia saw the clash of populace and nobility, cyberspace combatants, in some cases, elude categorization by mere social class.

        Citizens and institutions are going to be forced to confront threats to their prosperity, security and international stability. Thus, the “battle” will be to interpret the changes underway and translate them into opportunity and actions, with the primary objective of building a safer and more peaceful world of shared prosperity and intergenerational solidarity around the common values of Italy and Europe.  

        Mariangela Zappia
        Mario Fabrizio Fracassi
        Marta Dassù