Air Force Team General Roberto Nordio, former Deputy Chief of Defense Staff, has been the Italian military representative at NATO Military and European Union Committees in Brussels since November 2018. In a period in which the Alliance is subjected to budgets, revaluations or criticisms, we interviewed it to have an authoritative point of view, and all in all it was unusual: from the inside.
General, NATO has turned 70 years. Is it still useful?
Certainly. And not so much because it has demonstrated the ability to guarantee decades of peace in Europe, always adapting to new needs and new security challenges, helping to stabilize critical areas within and outside the Euro-Atlantic region. Above all, because it remains - especially for European countries - the only bulwark of security. In short, NATO is still a fundamental political-military alliance and a forum for discussion and privileged and unique confrontation. In the hall of the NATO Council there is the Latin inscription "Animus in consulendo liber", that is "we consult with a free spirit". In those words there really is the essence of the Alliance, which goes beyond the political weight and interests of the Member States.
At the dawn of the 2020, NATO is the single link that ensures the transatlantic link and a unitary security space between the United States and Europe. Despite the divergences and contrasts that sometimes emerge between the Allies, as seen in the history of this organization, this link or "strategic coupling" is a value to be preserved, still shared on both sides of the Atlantic. These concepts have also recently been reaffirmed by our Institutional Summits.
At the recent London NATO Summit, what are the new security challenges discussed and the difficulties encountered?
The Heads of State and Government of the Alliance have sanctioned the need to deal in a new and decisive way with international security threats that are different, complex, difficult to face, in continuous (and rapid) evolution and, above all, escape the schematic of the past, requiring an "360 degree" approach. Sensitive issues have been addressed such as cyber attacks, infrastructure and telecommunications security (including the famous "5 G"), energy challenges and so-called "disruptive technologies", or disruptive technologies. The recognition of "Space" as the fifth operational domain was important. But there was also talk of international terrorism, conventional, nuclear and "hybrid" threats and economic expansionism in countries such as China. Aspect, the latter, which constitutes a challenge, but also an opportunity.
The London Summit then offered the opportunity to reaffirm some fundamental principles: NATO is a defensive Alliance, which poses no threat to any State; furthermore, the commitment in all ongoing missions and operations was confirmed, as well as the “open door” policy and the ongoing search for dialogue with various partner and non-partner countries.
Difficulty? Well, you will understand that, on such momentous issues, it is not always easy to reach an agreement, especially in an 29 States Alliance. But it is equally true that it is unthinkable for any country to try to face them alone. This Summit, like others in the past, has confirmed that only united - even in the presence of cultures, political situations and diversified interests - challenges of this magnitude can be sustained, which have no precedent in the history of humanity.
How is NATO adapting to meet new needs?
He used a fundamental word: "adaptation", to which I would add "continuous transformation". In the sign of the "three Rs" (Responsiveness, Readiness and Reinforcement, ie Reactivity, Promptness of Employment and Reinforcement), NATO has taken decisions to increase the "culture of readiness".
There is a fairer sharing of burdens between Member States, according to the well-known triad "Cash, Capabilities and Contributions" (funds, capacities and contributions in operations), which proceeds in parallel with the deep modernization of the military command structure, which includes the speeding up of the political-military decision-making process, an aspect that will be increasingly decisive in the future. The strengthening of deterrence and the defense of the Alliance play a primary role, in addition to planning for regional stability beyond its borders.
The cyber defense (with the establishment of a center for cyber operations) and the presence in the east, where some multinational battalions are already present, was reinforced.
The NATO Leaders, in particular, have confirmed the approach to Russia on two tracks: defense and dialogue.
The intensification of the fight against terrorism was important and is. Finally - as recalled by our Minister of Defense at the Berlin Meeting on Security - the need for closer cooperation between NATO and the European Union was recognized.
How is Italy placed in this evolving geopolitical framework?
Italy is the second largest contributor - after the United States - in terms of forces employed in NATO operations and missions. We are present - with Army, Navy, Aeronautics and Carabinieri - in the main operations (Resolute Support in Afghanistan, KFOR in Kosovo, Sea Guardian in the Mediterranean, NATO Training Mission in Iraq). Without forgetting the deterrent activity we do in Latvia, as part of the multinational battlegroup led by Canada, on the Alliance's eastern border. We are working hard for the South, where the Atlantic Alliance has increased its attention, due to the new risks coming from that side: regional conflicts and instability in the Middle East and North Africa.
An important fact from a political point of view is the decision, taken in March of the 2017, to establish a center (called "Hub") for the strategic direction to the South, now operating at the Nato base in Naples. It addresses the problems of the southern shore of the Mediterranean trying to understand its causes and dynamics, so as to be able to direct the Alliance's choices based on certain information.
Italy continues to be a key player in the NATO context. It is no coincidence that in the 2020 it will host some important events, which will be an important occasion also for the image of our country.
We come to his current role at NATO. What was the most exciting moment?
I confess that I find it exciting, in the Military Committee (composed of 29 generals and admirals who each represent their country), when consensus is reached on important issues that affect the safety of millions of people. Being able to actively contribute to achieving objectives of common interest is always gratifying, both from a professional and a human point of view. I remember heated debates and complex negotiations on the development of planning and operations that led - after long negotiations - to winning solutions. On those occasions it is observed that the comparison of ideas, of different points of view, in mutual respect, is always a source of enrichment. Here, when we say that NATO defends democratic values, we mean precisely this: the culture of dialogue and confrontation that has the upper hand over the logic of opposition. Bringing these values to life in daily exchanges can be exciting.
Then, if you allow me, I felt great satisfaction (and emotion) when in Iceland, last October, I attended the first operational mission of our F-35 of Amendola's 32 ° Stormo, as part of Air's activities NATO policing to ensure the defense of Icelandic airspace. An opportunity in which the operational capabilities of the aircraft, projection logistics and use in an unusual operational, climatic and environmental context were tested.
I like to emphasize that Italy was the first Alliance country to employ a F-35 asset in a NATO operation. It was really a great moment.
How do you see the commitment of Italian personnel at NATO Headquarters in relation to other nations and what are the teachings for the new generation of officers?
Working in an international environment is always highly stimulating. To NATO in particular. It is also an ongoing challenge.
Representing our country in the highest world military assembly is a great responsibility, at any level. We have officers who actively participate in the study and elaboration of complex plans in the International Military Staff of the Headquarters. Others, who take part in group work in which they directly represent the country and carry out projects and national instances. There, very high negotiation skills are required, in addition to specific professional preparation and an excellent knowledge of English. Moreover, I would like to emphasize this, they deal with increasingly complex and delicate matters that have to do with the answers to the security threats I mentioned earlier. I constantly follow their work, I watch them interface with the homologous staff of other nations and I see them improve as professionals. To earn respect in this area one must be prepared and work hard.
In the future we will need even more trained and specialized officers. For this reason, with the Defense Staff, we have embarked on a training course thanks to which groups of officers from the various Armed Forces periodically join the Italian personnel at NATO to understand the dynamics and difficulties of operating at these levels.
How much the absence affects young people - in Italy (beyond the customary proclamations) - of a Culture (correct, perhaps raw, but faithful) of Defense?
Look, I wouldn't say that in Italy there is a total absence of a defense culture. But when dealing with delicate issues such as "defense and security" crucial issues are raised, which touch the heart of national sovereignty and interest.
Comparing myself with colleagues from different countries - European and non-European - I know that the lack of training on these issues is widespread.
What I feel compelled to say is that security cannot be considered as marginal to other areas of the state. Peace is built every day, it is not a matter of course.
From the observatory in which I find myself, the evidence of the risks humanity faces is such as to make us reflect on the urgency - I underline the term "urgency" - to inform young people about the great challenges of modernity and globalization. In this sense, NATO is carrying out projects aimed at making young people aware of the threats to their future.
Communication, information and training on energy security issues, climate challenges and their consequences, on the advent of destructive technologies and cyber defense - to give just a few examples - are essential to prepare young people and opinion public. The "resilience" that is so much talked about today is a skill that must be learned and exercised through knowledge.
Today there are such and many means of learning and training in a culture of security that no longer justifies ignorance. The challenges that await us are unpredictable and epochal. Everyone, not just the military, must prepare.
Photo: Air Force / NATO