Maritime Power, a lesson for Italian governments

(To Tiziano Ciocchetti)

The officer of the United States Navy, Alfred Thayer Mahan, in the late nineteenth century, with his book The Influence of Sea Power Upon History 1660-1783, postulates the fundamental elements for the establishment and application of Maritime Power and therefore for the Maritime formulation and strategy.

Mahan asserts in his work - in which he engages in a critical analysis of the politics and naval history of the analyzed period - that, for a nation that wants to exercise a Maritime Power, it is not enough to possess a large fleet (the "Power" is often confused Maritime "with the" Naval Power "and vice versa) but it is essential to have a favorable geographical position, a physical conformation comprising the natural and productive resources, having territorial extension, demographic development and stable institutions.

According to Domenico Bonamico, one of the first theorists of Italian naval doctrine (which should be rediscovered, not only in military circles), the Maritime Power represents the complex of maritime energies of a country: military, mercantile, port, industrial. While the Naval Power is constituted only by the Navy and its capacities in peace and in war.

Italy, due to its peninsular conformation at the center of the Mediterranean basin, absolutely cannot renounce having a Maritime Policy.

Italian foreign policy and the Navy should be inextricably linked, but this link should be fed through constant and continuous work.

The traditional role of the Navy is to to show flag, a role that the US Navy has taken on more incisively - compared to the past - since the end of the Second World War.

In March of the 1946 the first crisis occurs between the United States and the USSR due to the latter's refusal to withdraw troops from northern Iran, occupied during the conflict with Germany. In addition, Moscow begins to send reinforcements with the dual purpose of arriving in Tehran and threatening Turkish territory.

At stake are the huge Iranian oil fields, as well as the outlet to the Persian Gulf and consequently to the Indian Ocean.

While the UN Security Council is meeting to condemn the Soviet initiative, Moscow makes new requests for outlets on the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, and territorial claims regarding the coastal areas of Libya, a former Italian colony. The strategic purpose is very clear: to extend control over the whole of the Near East, rich in oil, to south-eastern Europe with the possibility of having a wide outlet on the eastern Mediterranean up to the Adriatic and on the coasts of North Africa which would allow Moscow to control the central Mediterranean and the Suez Canal.

To hinder Soviet strategy, Washington, in the March of the 1946, sends the battleship to the eastern Mediterranean Missouri (photo) which is added to the cruiser Providence and the destroyer Power, already present. The purpose of the presence of the American fleet in that area appears evident in its meaning of guarantee and protection, vis-à-vis all the countries that, at that moment, suffer an aggression from the USSR.

Given the American determination, the Soviets agree with the Iranians and begin to withdraw their troops within six weeks.

However, the referendum in Greece on the return from exile of King George II feeds new tensions in the region. There is a fear of a coup by the communist guerrilla (supported by Moscow) to overthrow the newly elected Western pro-government.

The 1 September 1946 the Greeks vote in favor of the return of the King, the 5 September the aircraft carrier Roosevelt, along with other escort naval units, drop anchor off the Greek coast with about 120 aircraft loaded. From that first group of ships the VI Navy Fleet will be born, which for the whole period of the Cold War (and beyond) will be the interpreter of the American strategy in the Mediterranean.

Also the Italian elections of the 1948 see the presence of the American VI Fleet in the Mediterranean, ready to intervene if the Popular Democratic Front (Communist and Socialist Party) had come out of the polls.

Moving into the Levant, Lebanon in the 1950 is shaken by riots caused by extreme left-wing political forces, with Moscow's support. Beirut calls for American intervention, with great speed the VI Fleet moves to the eastern Mediterranean. Aircraft aircraft carriers Midway (photo) en masse over the Lebanese capital, after this show of force the disorders cease. In the 1958 new disorders occur, this time the VI Fleet intervenes massively, in 48 three hours aircraft carriers, with related escort units, enter the Lebanese territorial waters and land the Marines on land.

The two Lebanese crises have tested Washington's decision-making as well as its ability to deploy over long distances.

Italy should, as a geographical reality that juts out into the sea, exercise a Maritime Power, within the limits of its resources.

The Libyan crisis under way could be blocked in the bud if the Italian government (which had all the information necessary to foresee the initiative of General Haftar) had sent a naval group (at the request of al-Sarraj) in front of Tripoli.

Even now, a diplomatic action by Italy to make the strong man from Cyrenaica desist from his offensive should be accompanied by an equally incisive demonstration of Maritime Power.

Photo: US Navy