Giampaolo Di Paola has gone from a key international military role to a central national political role in the last few months. Now the Defence Minister of Italy, he was until November 2011 NATO’s Chairman of the Military Committee. NATO Review asked him how he perceived the differences between looking at defence from inside NATO to the national perspective.
You have been involved in defence and security both inside – and now outside – of NATO. How has this changed your perceptions?
My perception of the defence challenges has not changed. We are and we will be facing a serious financial crisis during the next few years which can have a major impact on the defence budgets. Therefore, I believe that we need to change our approach to the way we do business, both in NATO and in each of our member countries.
How do you believe that should be done?
The best solution is to adequately manage resources. In other words, spend intelligently to get better value for money. This means we must prioritise, specialise, and seek multinational solutions. This is the underlying rationale behind what we call NATO’s new Smart Defence Initiative. This new approach to defence spending will help the Alliance to have the right capabilities. Nations will be able to provide unilateral capabilities by combining resources, which they might not otherwise be able to finance. They will benefit from greater efficiency by working together with economies of scale, and by establishing combined capabilities. Working together effectively does not require procurement of identical equipment, but it does require that NATO member countries are equally knowledgeable and effective at utilising their shared equipment and resources.
How do you feel NATO is perceived in Italy?
NATO plays a fundamental role for Italy. It contributes to our security, promotes industrial cooperation in the defence field, and acts as an advisor to our political authorities for all issues concerning our shared security. Italian people are traditionally NATO “supporters”. They mainly associate NATO with the idea of an organisation that maintains international peace and security. This is also linked to the NATO operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo, where the Italian contingents have always been numerous. The recent operation in Libya also contributed to a better image of NATO among Italian people. However, there is room for improvement.
What kind of improvement? And how would you tackle it?
More effort in the way we communicate NATO is needed
There are citizens that are less knowledgeable of NATO’s roles and mission, especially among the youngsters, who represent the future of our country. They sometimes have no idea of what NATO stands for. Or they perceive the Alliance as an organisation that deals mainly with combat operations. I know that this is true not only for Italy but also for many other NATO countries. So more effort in the way we communicate NATO is needed. We should encourage all initiatives meant to better explain, to our publics, current and future security challenges and the values and principles that NATO stands for. The Chicago Summit is also an extraordinary opportunity to make NATO better known and to convince the Euro-Atlantic public that our Alliance is relevant to their security concerns.
Finally, you were NATO’s Chairman of the Military Committee during NATO’s Libya operation. What do you feel were the main lessons learned?
The operation in Libya was undoubtedly very successful. We conducted nearly 10,000 strike sorties against a regime that was deliberately and systematically attacking its own people. The campaign prevented the massacre of many civilians and provided a victory on the ground that was left in the hands of the Libyans. Arab partners joined us in this endeavour. It was also an unprecedented political success story. Remember that the Alliance took several years before deciding to become involved in Bosnia, several months to go into action in Kosovo, but only a few days to transfer responsibility for air and maritime operations to NATO.
Another important lesson learned is that for any kind of operation, regional support is fundamental. The international community would never have been able to tackle the situation in such a firm way without the support of the Arab League and some countries in the region.