Category Archives: International Security

Italy’s Reaction to the Use of Chemical Weapons at Khan Shaykhun and to the US Attack on a Syrian Airfield

On 4 April 2017, it was reported that the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun – controlled at the time by the Tahrir Al-Sham Alliance – had been the object of an airstrike by the air force of the Government of President Bashar Al Assad.[1] As a result of the airstrike, chemical agents poisoned large numbers of civilians. 

In a report released on 30 June 2017, the Fact-Finding Mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) estimated the number of deaths “as approximately 100 people” and determined that “Sarin or a Sarin-like substance” had been used as a weapon in Khan Shaykhun.[2] It took until 27 October 2017 for the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism to take position on the responsibility for the attack and affirm that the Leading Panel of the mechanism itself was “confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of Sarin at Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017”.[3]

In the aftermath of the attack, however, several countries condemned the action and the United States (US), the United Kingdom and France openly called into question the responsibility of the Syrian Government.[4] The US President, Mr. Donald Trump, condemned the attack as “intolerable” and openly blamed the inaction of his predecessor Barack Obama, who, after establishing “a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons did nothing”.[5] On its part, the Syrian government denied any involvement in the use of chemical weapons.[6] The Government of the Russian Federation offered alternative explanations of the events, mentioning the fact that the Syrian Air Force could have “bombed an underground factory producing chemical warfare agents” or alluding to a possible “provocation by the terrorists”.[7] Within the United Nations (UN) Security Council, a draft resolution condemning the attack – tabled by France, the United Kingdom and the US – was vetoed by the Russian Federation, with the abstention of China, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan.[8] 

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Italy’s Involvement in Post-Conflict Lybia through the Lybian Coast Guard Training Mission

Post-conflict Libya has been riven by internal conflict, institutional, political and social instability as well as a grave humanitarian crisis. The achievement of stability in Libya has been of concern to the international community, in particular in light of the serious consequences of internal conflict and fragmentation on, inter alia, the fight against terrorism and the Islamic State, as well as against human trafficking and migrant smuggling across the Mediterranean Sea[1].

Historically a prominent international actor in the country, Italy has strongly supported the Government of National Accord, formed under the terms of the Libyan Political Agreement signed in Skhirat, Morocco, on 17 December 2015[2], and endorsed by the United Nations (UN) Security Council as the sole legitimate executive authority in Libya[3]. On 8 May 2017, during a briefing at the UN Security Council on the situation in Libya (7934th Meeting)[4], the Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations, Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi, declared:

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The 2016 Practice of Italy on Arms Exports

During 2016, the Italian Government was often questioned before the Parliament about arms exports from Italy to countries where either a conflict was occurring or international norms were being violated. The statements by the different members of the Government highlighted a heterogeneous practice, contingent upon different variables, some of which related to the presence of international measures and others to political considerations of the Government itself.

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The Legal Requirements for Military Intervention and for Humanitarian Assistance in Libya

The situation in Libya was of great concern for the Italian Government during 2016. The instability of the African country and the risk of increased terrorist activities on Libyan soil carried a significant weight in the reports of the Italian executive in front of the Parliament. Within these issues, the parliamentary practice of Italy highlighted three strictly intertwined legal questions, namely the requirements for military intervention and for humanitarian assistance in Libya, as well as the boundaries of the concept of self-defence. It should not come as a surprise that in this case, during 2016, migration issues played a relatively minor role with respect to security concerns. One might take the view that the stability of the State and the need of having an effective government can be seen as preconditions for tackling the root causes of migration. Speaking about the requirements for intervening militarily in Libya the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mr Paolo Gentiloni Silveri, affirmed the need of obtaining a formal request from the legitimate government. On 9 March 2016, in front of the Chamber of Deputies (586th Meeting, XVII Legislature) he stated the following:

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The Minister of Defence, Ms. Roberta Pinotti, on the involvement of Italy in the US operations against ISIS in Libya

CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES, XVII LEGISLATURE, 667th MEETING, 3 AUGUST 2016.

On 3 August 2016, the Minister of Defence, Ms. Roberta Pinotti, answering a parliamentary question on the alleged involvement of Italy in the US air operations against ISIS in Libya, stated:

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The Government’s views on the imposition of an embargo on countries allegedly involved in arms trafficking with ISIL/Daesh and on common actions to counter terrorism

In the last quarter of 2015 the Government reported twice before the Chamber of Deputies on its arms sales policy to certain Middle East countries allegedly involved in illicit arms trafficking with ISIL/Daesh. The Government also explained which measures and actions Italy has undertaken in the fight against ISIL and foreign terrorist fighters. The most salient points from the two speeches follow:

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The Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Defence on the Italian contribution to the fight against ISIL/Daesh

JOINT COMMISSIONS III AND IV OF THE CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES AND 3rd AND 4th OF THE SENATE (FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND DEFENCE), XVII LEGISLATURE, 21st MEETING, 6 OCTOBER 2015.

On 6 October 2015, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mr Paolo Gentiloni Silveri, and the Minister of Defence, Ms Roberta Pinotti, delivered two statements before the Joint Commissions of Foreign Affairs and Defence of the Parliament. Mr Gentiloni started by illustrating the foreign policy of Italy with particular regard to the Mediterranean and Middle East areas. In this context, he recalled the role played by Italy in the fight against ISIL/Daesh. He stated:

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