Book Review: The Transformation of Italian Armed Forces

Fabrizio Coticchia and Francesco N. Moro, The Transformation of Italian Armed Forces in Comparative Perspective. Adapt, Improvise, Overcome? (London, New York: Routledge, 2015). 162 pp., £95,00 (hardback), ISBN: 9781472427519.

After the end of the Cold War, Western armed forces changed dramatically. The international context as well as the threats those armies were designed to face became increasingly nuanced and unpredictable. In particular, because the mutable nature of war is well-known among decision makers and military élites, adaptation became a sort of mantra in the process of reframing the most important Western defense bodies. After more than forty years of stability—or at least a clear and relatively static scenario—after September 11, Western armed forces entered into an era of relentless deployment vis-à-vis insurgencies, regional rivalries, and humanitarian emergencies. This transformation, however, did not follow a linear path.

Based on some of the authors’ prior studies on the Italian army and, implicitly, on the strategic narrative of the Italian decision makers, The Transformation of the Italian Armed Forces investigates how that process concerned the Italian armed forces. A similar framework of analysis was also applied in part to the French and British cases. The main scientific outcome of the manuscript is thus a clear and almost comprehensive overview of the ongoing evolution of the so called European way of war.

The preliminary assumption of Fabrizio Coticchia and Francesco N. Moro’s study is that the evolution of Western armed forces requires interaction between macro and meso levels of analysis. These means of investigation are complemented with interviews and primary sources. The first part of the book (chapters 1 and 2) highlights the dimensions of the transformation of the armed forces, and the following sections (chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6) are focused on the process itself and its dynamics.

The third chapter is an exhaustive assessment of the defense transformation and its peculiarities in Italy, France, and the UK. Key official documents illustrate the main doctrinal changes that occurred in these countries both in the Nineties and after 9/11. One merit of the Coticchia-Moro study is that its analysis also involves budget transformations and the role played by NATO and the EU defense policy in the process of adaptation and, excluding Libya, operational convergence.

The empirical part of the work illustrates the Italian military operations undertaken since 2001. With the valuable aim of filling a gap in the security studies literature through an innovative approach, in chapter 4 the authors observe the degree of coherence along three different dimensions: a) the force deployment with the type of mission; b) the adaptation to the environment through the existing doctrines as well as the learning on the field; and c) the channels of communication among strategic levels. In the following sections, Coticchia and Moro summarize and discuss the contents of chapters 3 and 4 in order to subsequently illustrate the defense model that emerged in the last decades and some of the risks related to the ongoing international scenario and that way of war. Through this study, Coticchia and Moro have pursued—successfully indeed—the valuable aim of filling the gap between the operational reality of the Italian armed forces (involved in a range of military operations abroad such as ISAF, Antica Babilonia, Operation Leonte, and Unified Protector) and domestic indifference or misperception about their international stance.

A mixed explanatory and analytical intent shapes the entire book. Fresh empirical sources and a unique access to military and official documents, complemented by selective interviews with the key personalities involved in transforming the Italian army, enhance Western war-making literature with a nuanced picture of twenty years of activity among the three most important European defense forces in their relations with both the United States and the non-state actors of the 21st century international system.

Although The Transformation of the Italian Armed Forces in Comparative Perspective does not entirely fill the existing gap in this field of analysis, it of course serves as useful reading for those scholars and practitioners who aim at developing a critical view of the role of coercion in Italian foreign and military policy.

Marco Valigi, University of Bologna

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