Rome '08 Workshop

Sharing Responsibility in Afghanistan and Globally 

His Excellency Ignazio La Russa

Italian Defense Minister 

His Excellency Ignazio La Russa

I very much appreciate your invitation to this workshop, where very important and topical issues are being addressed down to the quantum level. This workshop is a valuable opportunity for those, like us, who are responsible for governing our countries, managing current crises, and preventing future ones. 


Let me start by noting the limited effectiveness of the available instruments and strategies to manage and solve the crises that threaten the security of our countries and of the international community as a whole. This sense of powerlessness is often the result of a wrong and exaggerated interpretation of reality. What we should actually say is that our degree of security has been growing over the last 20 years. In the 1980s, the world was depicted as a place on the verge of catastrophic conflict, envisioning the use of weapons of mass destruction. The movie industry seized on this picture and portrayed the world in the aftermath of nuclear holocaust, as well as the remnants of human civilization, in quite a convincing and dreadful manner. 

We all know that that idea of the world was based on a then-specific and uncertain strategic balance—the so-called balance of terror—that stemmed from two hostile and heavily armed political entities. But the huge arsenals ready to be used were not the only frightening factor; perhaps even more frightening was the fear that war could be triggered by accidental causes and develop in the blink of an eye. 

We have witnessed many changes since that time. Yesterday’s strong and deep-rooted reasons for confrontation between the two worlds have faded. Communism has faded as well, together with its aberrant vision and practices that subdued a large part of the world population for more than 70 years. With the end of the communist era, so came the end of the need to keep at a high level of alertness all deterrent means that the West had resorted to since the end of the Second World War. We gained an opportunity to increasingly reduce the size and promptness of our defense establishments, and for several years collected what people called—with creativity and hope—the “dividends of peace.” 

The diminishment of international friction had a very strong impact on both the effective organization of the system of international relations and on the way we perceived it. It marked the beginning of a period of collaboration among nations; the improvement of a country’s security situation went hand in hand with the enhanced security of the entire international community. 

Later, we recognized that this phase was too short. From the early 1990s on, we realized that the national structure of nations far away from us was close to collapsing. During the tragic experience in Somalia, all major Western countries and the United Nations learned how difficult it was to manage a humanitarian crisis started by internal factions fighting each other and which remained hostile to peacekeepers who sought to bring relief to the suffering population. The Balkan conflict has also shown how strong the effects of war can be, even in a region so close to our world and that shares our history and our culture. We have become aware that violent, destructive conflicts can originate outside of typical 20thth-century conflict patterns. They can erupt from political confrontation and from ideological opposition. 

When September 11 came it changed the world. On that date, we had to add a new dimension to the concept of “traditional war.” The destructive potential of catastrophic terrorism and macroterrorism can strike great numbers of victims and cause enormous material damage, and greatly affect the system of international relations as well. That was a rude and painful awakening. September 11’s threat to security took a shape we were not expecting, a shape whose intimate details we had no time to study. 

Recent events—those that have an impact on us and on our political and decision-making responsibilities—have been the ultimate consequence of September 11 and of the transformation of the global security scenario. The terrorist attacks that struck the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Indonesia, and other countries have had a profound impact on the perception of security and forced us to adjust our way of thinking and acting. 


The many changes we have seen have not occurred in the same way in every country. Some nations—those more violently hit by terrorist attacks—have vigorously supported the adoption of particularly strong security measures while others have been less timely in doing so. Within the West, we have witnessed friction between those, like the U.S., who feel themselves “at war” and those who interpret the new reality as a phantom menace to be contained at the lowest levels. 

NATO has shown it can react quickly and properly to a terrorist emergency. Collective defense provisions, as envisioned by Article 5 of the Treaty, have been adopted quickly and proven their effectiveness. We cannot hide the fact, however, that the strongest reaction—the beginning of a true “global war on terror”—was triggered by the country most directly affected by the September 11 attacks, a country that gathered a huge number of allies around itself. Indeed, the solution adopted relied on a so-called coalition of the willing instead of on NATO, even though all the countries deployed were members of the Atlantic Alliance. But NATO has quickly regained its position as a protagonist of Atlantic security. The increasing responsibilities it has taken on in Afghanistan are the plainest evidence of its capacity to quickly adapt to new environments. 

The European Union—despite its ups and downs—is also taking steps to become a more powerful and effective actor on the international stage. The first ESDP missions have been a success. However, further enlargement of the security and defense dimension of the European Union is being slowed down by the general scarcity of resources and in particular by the complex political evolution of the union and its institutions. The EU club has grown considerably over the last two years but it is still lacking better and more effective decision-making processes. 

The fact that the European Union will have to embrace newer and larger responsibilities in the field of security is unavoidable. In particular, it will have to play a better role in the potential crisis areas around its borders. The neighborhood policy is an important step forward, especially in preventive diplomacy and the prevention of crises, but the union needs to field effective management instruments to address current crises, which implies enhancing its political and military capabilities. 

Special attention should be devoted to relationships with Russia. For geographic, historical, economic, and political reasons, Russia and the European Union must share the burden of responsibility for security on the old continent. Russia must also work with the EU and NATO to maintain peace and security in Europe and in other areas of strategic importance. 


Terrorism, organized crime, and destabilization caused by failing states or by the irrational behavior of those that acquire military technologies and weapons capable of causing immense damage, even at long distances, represent global threats. Conscientious countries on the other side must share the concerns and responsibilities of security and are therefore morally and politically obliged to make the mechanisms of multilateral cooperation work. Since the end of the Cold War also marked the end of the political and ideological confrontation that split the world in two, the instrumental use of the mechanisms of multilateral crisis management must also cease as well. 

Many serious and unresolved issues have come to the forefront again, with the scarcity of energy resources at the top of the list. For some years, the cost of energy has been relatively low and perhaps we tried to forget about that issue. But today’s energy prices are not only a danger, but a true and direct threat to the orderly functioning of our communities. 

The rise in costs has occurred for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it is due to the quick growth of two Asian giants, namely, India and China, which caused an obvious, exponential increase in energy consumption. The supply of energy, however, has not changed very much, both for technical reasons and because of political motivations, including the will to maintain national control over national resources. This has resulted in the reverse of the liberalization trend. 

Now energy depletion is overlapping with food shortages, which affect some populations while casting their shadows on everyone. This is reflected in the increase in the price of agricultural products. The causes of food shortages are substantially the same as those causing the energy crisis. 

The combined effect of these two critical situations is potentially dangerous. On one hand, we have the strategic priorities of those who see their energy security threatened. On the other, we have those who feel the pressure of the threats to food security. I think it would be fair to say that the only way to address these issues properly is to have all major stakeholders in the international political landscape work together. 


Let me recall an actual example of crisis management that entails all the points I have just described—it shows how very interconnected they are. In Afghanistan, the international community is deployed in a region where a transnational terrorist structure thrived and in part still survives. National institutions failed there tragically and paved the way for the advent of warlords, who are devoted to smuggling and to controlling the territory with their weapons. 

In Afghanistan there is a tremendous scarcity of natural resources and infrastructures. Endemic problems affect the health care sector and all of society. There are also profound difficulties within the newly born democracy and with law and order. In short, the international community in Afghanistan is facing the majority of today’s crisis-generating factors in the same place and at the same time. International military intervention has been and still is indispensable for restoring an acceptable security situation, and will be for some years. But if we adopt a long-term vision—if we consider a point in time after the redeployment of our forces—we can easily understand that the more able Afghanistan is to stand on its feet, the more likely our intervention will be remembered as a success. 

To provide one example, let’s consider the huge program of reconstruction of the Afghan school system, to which Italy is generously contributing. Little sons and daughters now going back to school are clear evidence of what we have achieved. But it will take some years before today’s children can play their role in Afghan society. It will require several generations before the “new Afghans,” that is, those who lived not only in wartime but had an opportunity to study and to receive proper health care, may prevail on the country. 


All that I have discussed is indeed food for thought. We need time! The time we have for crisis management and resolution no longer matches the time required to actually solve such crises. The time we are given by politicians, the media, and Western society is incompatible with the time a crisis takes to spread out, be tackled, and solved. 

This is why I have said that we must be aware of how limited our capability may be to influence these phenomena, unless we build a wide and sound consensus for truly long-term political projects. And this should be independent of any change in political establishments, which is a common trait of our advanced democracies. I hope that we can achieve such a wide and sound consensus at the national level and within the international organizations we are part of. 

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