The need for a smart national maritime strategy

(To Renato Scarfi)

Covering 72% of the planet's surface, the seas and oceans have always played and will continue to play a decisive strategic role. Not only for food or for the commercial maritime routes, on which our well-being depends, but also for the enormous energy resources still hidden in the depths of the sea, to be exploited without breaking the fragile ecological balances that characterize this particular environment.

For maritime states, the oceans have long been a space to be conquered in order to ensure control of communication routes of commercial or military interest, or to explore and take possession of distant and unknown lands, in order to ensure the availability of raw materials to meet the needs of the population. Even if the time of exploration and conquest is now over, maritime spaces remain at the center of any strategic analysis, due to their economic, military and scientific importance.

For our country the sea has a considerable strategic and economic importance, with its over 7.000 km of coastline, the presence of important strategically well-positioned islands, a population density that for geographical, historical and economic reasons sees the majority of the population reside less than 50 km from the sea, an economic reserve represented by fishing, natural resources, tourism linked to the sea (eg cruises) and military, commercial and tourist shipbuilding, a sector in which Italy is at the forefront in the world. An economic importance of the sea that will be even more evident with the (finally) establishment of the National Exclusive Economic Zone which, according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, will be able to extend up to 200 nautical miles from the coast lines, significantly increasing the area of economic, scientific, political and military interest of our country. To this are added the intense commercial exchanges with foreign countries, which take place mainly along the commercial sea routes, the only ones still able to guarantee the import at relatively low costs of goods and raw materials from foreign countries and the export of our goods processed to other countries.

A sea that, however, is also becoming an increasingly contested geopolitical and geostrategic space. However, among the many coastal countries of the world, only a few have the means to conduct a credible maritime policy at the regional or global level.1.

In this context, a medium-sized regional power with global interests such as Italy, deeply immersed in the waters of the enlarged Mediterranean and with a modern and well-prepared Navy, whose industrial system is heavily dependent on the import of raw materials transported by sea , it cannot allow others to threaten or harm legitimate national interests with aggressive behavior and contempt for international law. This is why a more ambitious maritime strategy is becoming increasingly necessary, with which to ensure a strong commitment to the protection of national interests and prestige on this vast portion of the world represented by the seas and oceans.

Two factors now strongly push towards such an approach. The first is represented by "symmetrical" tensions, which see an increasingly marked resourcefulness of some countries in occupying all the spaces left free by a now more than ten-year sleepy national policy that does not seem to want to commit too much in the protection of national interests on the sea , be they economic or political. Just think of the arrogant Turkish approach which prevented the regular operations of SAIPEM 12000, causing us significant economic damage., to the continuous provocations against Greece (and not only), which cause destabilization throughout the eastern Mediterranean, to the continuous lack of interest in the UN embargo against Libya. To this is added Algeria which, for economic reasons, wants to stretch out on the Mediterranean up to the gates of Sardinia and the Balearic Islands, and which is equipping itself with modern Russian-made naval vessels. These elements are accompanied by a renewed Russian Navy which, even if it does not represent a direct threat at the moment, is regaining vigor and quality and is slowly expanding its influence, including economic (eg: the armaments sector), in areas where it traditionally was absent even during the Cold War (see the sale of armament material to Turkey). A growing presence that has the potential to influence the delicate balance of the area.

The second factor is the ever-present "asymmetrical" threat of classic international terrorism and piracy, often an "economic" emanation of terrorism (even those fanatics need money for their bloody activities), which loom over international trade by sea. and which commit the main fleets to manning the sea routes most subject to attacks of this type. Added to this is a significant clandestine migratory flow caused both by the violence generated by the groups Jihadists in some areas of the African continent but also by the tribal and ethnic wars unfortunately always present on that tormented continent.

There is also another threat to our economic and political interests, less visible but no less looming. I am referring to the possibility that, without our timely and decisive commitment, some coastal countries more active than us can agree on maritime borders excluding (and, therefore, damaging) Italy, perhaps with the blessing of other countries that have an interest in expand economically and militarily in the central Mediterranean.

In Italy, unfortunately, there is not enough talk of security and defense and many politicians, more for ideological reasons than for true institutional culture, believe that the debate on these issues is limited to generals and admirals. Such an approach is the most wrong thing that can be because the security and defense strategy, including its bilateral and multilateral maritime implications, is an integral part of foreign policy and it is good to remember that a wise foreign policy is the first guarantee of security and well-being. for a country. The military tool is the last resort when all diplomatic attempts to settle the crisis have failed. However, an adequate modern and fully operational naval military instrument effectively contributes to diplomatic action, often also avoiding having to intervene with force. It is not a recent discovery: it is called deterrence.

In order to be heard at the international level, therefore, Italy must first of all define at the political level a global maritime strategy that takes into account the current geopolitical evolution and which, with the support of diplomacy and an adequate naval military instrument, allow to increase the well-being and prestige of the Bel Paese. Of course, in order to outline a maritime strategy that is adequate for the protection of our economic and political interests, it is essential to clarify what our strategic objectives are.

The first priority is certainly the protection of ourselves and our most immediate, close and visible interests. There is no doubt about this. However, there is a national strategic interest that goes beyond the concerns strictly linked to the protection of the territory and its inhabitants. It is made up of all our political, economic, cultural and military interests. A heritage that must be adequately defended even outside the borders in order to protect the image and prestige of the state.

Politics must finally understand that, for example, any attempt to restrict the ability to move by sea of ​​Italian economic carriers, or in any case directed to Italy from anywhere in the world, actually constitutes a vulnerability to our economic security and therefore to national security. Consequently, if the security of the national territory and its residents and that of the Mediterranean concern us more closely, it is true that the nature of our economic system pushes us to consider even the most distant places as important, where it is possible to acquire resources we badly need.

In an era of extremely flexible threats and contemporary important budgetary constraints, strategic objectives can also be pursued in synergy with partners and allies, in order to enhance the capabilities of each, to the advantage of all. For example, in a context of partial reduction of the American commitment from the waters immediately adjacent to our coasts in favor of greater attention to the Indo-Pacific chessboard, where Washington is trying to contain the maritime expansion of Beijing (as part of the New Silk Road or One Belt One Road Initiative), a national political orientation that is not very attentive to maritime problems is allowing the most enterprising coastal countries to implement an aggressive and destabilizing maritime policy, with the aim of filling the spaces left empty by Washington and grabbing the rights for the exploitation of fish resources and energy still kept in some areas. A superficiality that has done nothing but increase the problems.

In this context, sharing with the main allies a more assertive national maritime posture and determined to protect national (and European) interests, would allow us to effectively stem the current destabilizing forces, while increasing our international prestige. But this presupposes resoluteness and clarity of intent that lead politics, in fact, to determine precise strategic objectives. How to ensure the achievement of these objectives will obviously be the task of the diplomatic corps and of the maritime military instrument, which has always been at the forefront in support of national foreign policy.

It seems incredible that Italy, a peninsula extending into the center of the Mediterranean and with global economic interests, does not have a more assertive maritime posture, taking into account that our economic system is based on free movement, especially maritime. Not only that, but the silence of politics on important issues such as, for example, short-sighted visions that cause unnecessary and harmful delays in reaching the full operational capacity of some important is even more incomprehensible assets national naval.

For all these reasons, politics must understand that the formulation of an intelligent national maritime strategy has now become indispensable, which is not limited to the important role of presence within multinational naval devices, but which represents a solid basis on which to build a system of guarantee of national, economic and political strategic interests, which also increase the prestige of Italy on the international level. In this context, the efforts of diplomacy alone cannot be sufficient and must be accompanied by an adequate commitment by the Navy, both by ensuring continued participation in multinational arrangements operating under the aegis of the UN or ad-hoc coalitions (arms embargo , anti-piracy, etc ...) and with the decisive contrast of any threats to our economic and social system (international terrorism, impediment of free navigation or marine production / mining activities, etc ...), wherever these occur.

All this implies the need to guarantee an enhancement of the operational, strategic projection and deterrence capabilities of our fleet even away from home, throughout the enlarged Mediterranean. In particular, it seems essential to facilitate the achievement of the full operation of the instrument with which the Navy made the most important quality leap in the post-war period: the aeronaval instrument.

Among the countless systems available to politics to deal with the current crises and those that (unfortunately) will present themselves to threaten our economy or our prestige, diplomacy and the naval military instrument are expected to play the main role. But to do this with the right effectiveness, an intelligent maritime strategy must be identified and the necessary expenses addressed, which must be considered an investment and not a cost. The crises that are developing on the seas and oceans of the world require an in-depth reflection on our naval response capabilities and above all a conceptual qualitative leap, without which our prestige, our well-being and our security needs will not be able to be guaranteed. Will we be up to it?

1 In alphabetical order: Australia, China, France, Japan, Great Britain, India, Italy, United States, Russia, Canada, Spain.

Photo: Armée française / Twitter / ABC / LNA / Navy / US Navy