A first sketch of Italian peacebuilding

Since the end of the Cold War, peacebuilding has emerged as a widespread practice within the international community. Adopted by the UN since the early 1990s, the concept of peacebuilding has found an increasingly broad application, and in 2016 the UN General Assembly and Security Council adopted two substantially identical resolutions that introduced the concept of ‘sustaining peace’. Rather than redefining peacebuilding, the twin resolutions broadened its scope, putting in words what was – at least to some extent – already happening in practice: peacebuilding is a priority across all phases of conflict (and not only ‘after the guns fall silent’) and as such must take place along with humanitarian assistance and development cooperation activities: ‘sustaining peace is a shared task and responsibility’ of the entire UN system, the international community at large and all societies.

As highlighted by the ECDPM’s study Supporting peacebuilding in times of change (2018), ‘responding to violent conflict or the threat of violent conflict, either through support to peacebuilding or by other means, is both a political and a bureaucratic choice by government’. As such, it is influenced by several different factors that go beyond political will or the availability of resources. The impact that these factors have on the behaviour of governments, however, is seldom the object of thorough analysis. This is particularly true in Italy, where the information most readily available to the general public about peace, security and conflict is limited to sporadic geopolitical news or – worse – reduced to barren propaganda, with little or no reference to peacebuilding. In Italy, the latter seems indeed to find its place solely in insular talks among academics and experts, at the margins of public discourse and political debate.

Yet both the Italian Constitution and the current regulatory framework on development cooperation list peace promotion and conflict prevention as fundamental and defining components of Italian foreign policy. Italy actively contributes to relevant agenda-setting and policy-making processes at the international level and is one of the main donors to the UN Peacebuilding Fund. Adding to its long-standing commitment to multilateralism, Italy also maintains a well-established presence in contexts affected by or prone to violent conflict, thanks to the work of an assorted group of actors, governmental and otherwise. In practice, therefore, an ‘Italian peacebuilding’ seems to exist, despite being little understood and even less valued.

Against this backdrop, this special issue of Human Security looks at Italian peacebuilding efforts from the perspective of different stakeholders, moving from the point of view of think tanks to that of institutional and diplomatic actors, civil society and non-governmental organizations.

Pauline Veron and Andrew Sherriff, respectively Junior Policy Officer and Head of Programme at ECDPM, open this issue of Human Security by outlining the findings of the 2018 ECDPM study mentioned above. Based on their analysis, the authors of the following six contributions were asked to reflect on the Italian case and consider four guiding questions: 1) What are the strengths and limitations of Italian peacebuilding? 2) Why is the impact of Italian peacebuilding relatively small, or perceived as limited at best? In the absence of greater availability of resources, how can its (real or perceived) impact be enhanced? 3) Which factors, among those identified by Veron and Sherriff, contribute to Italy’s efforts to sustain peace and which do not? 4) Who are the peacebuilding actors in the Italian context, and what limits the synergies between them?

Luisa Del Turco, Director of the Italian study centre Centro Studi Difesa Civile (CSDC), is the first author to address these questions. From her vantage point, she offers an overview of the normative, political and institutional context surrounding peacebuilding in Italy, focusing on the value added by a plural and active civil society like that of Italy – one that is able not only to commit itself to peace work but also to organize and give life to new initiatives and innovative experiments, such as the Civil Peace Corps. Among the 500 young people serving the Civil Peace Corps is Riccardo Toso, who in this issue of Human Security draws on his own volunteering experience to reflect on the distinctiveness of the Italian approach to sustaining peace in Colombia. The last voice from civil society is that of Emanuele Russo, President of Amnesty International Italy. In highlighting a ‘progressive disengagement of the country from what is happening around it’ and a relentless split between politics and economic interests, Russo warns us of the risks arising from the weakening of Italy as a key player in international peacebuilding.

Against mounting sovereignism and tense geopolitical dynamics, Italy has so far maintained its traditional propensity towards multilateralism. Back in the 1990s, the term ‘peacebuilding’ found its institutional home within the UN. In order to engage in a well-rounded discussion on the Italian approach to peacebuilding, it is therefore necessary to look at Italy’s role at the UN. Ambassador Mariangela Zappia, Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations, gives us an insight into the different ways in which Italy seeks to contribute in the UN context. Italian leadership in preventing conflict, building and sustaining peace also unfolds at the regional level, as pointed out by Mario Alberto Bartoli, Head of the VI Office (OSCE) at the Directorate General for Political Affairs and Security at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MFAIC). Interviewed by Stefano Ruzza, Embassy Counsellor Bartoli recounts how during its chairing role in 2018 Italy succeeded in carving out enough political space to strengthen OSCE’s commitment to preventing and managing threats to peace and security, as well as to promoting stability in Eastern Europe. Nonetheless, Bartoli highlights how it remains a difficult task to acknowledge and promote the peacebuilding efforts of institutions focused more on security, such as the OSCE. The same challenge applies to the work of armed forces, which are seldom perceived as peacebuilding actors even though they can in fact contribute to the human security of individuals and societies. In the Italian case, this preconception can indeed be detrimental given the positive role the Italian Armed Forces play in conflict-affected settings – a role that should be further enhanced and better valued, according to he Permanent Representative of Italy to NATO, Ambassador Francesco Talò in conversation with Lorraine Charbonnier.

What is clear from the words of the contributing practitioners and stakeholders is that peacebuilding is not an easy field. Yet, despite all the political, economic and cultural challenges, Italy has nevertheless managed to distinguish itself on the international scene through its approach to peacebuilding and sustaining peace, as is also stressed by the commentary of Valentina Bartolucci and Bernardo Venturi, respectively Board Member and Director of the Agency for Peacebuilding (AP).

A recent peer review of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) pointed out that Italy has maintained its commitment to development cooperation despite its recent economic hardship and the challenges that result from increasing migration flows. The COVID-19 pandemic will necessarily compel Italy to reassess its priorities and come up with a post-pandemic world vision. While much may change in the near future, it is sadly clear that conflicts and insecurity will not disappear. Our hope is that the reflections contained in this issue of Human Security, and the synthesis offered by Stefano Ruzza and Lorraine Charbonnier, provide a useful cue to apply wider, more inclusive and more structured reasoning to the Italian path to peacebuilding.

The complete issue of Human Security n. 12 is available at this link (in Italian).

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