Meloni’s official visit to Washington, where she met President Biden and a bipartisan delegation of Congressional leaders marks a major success from both political and personal standpoints.  

Political, because it further caps visits to the US by no fewer than six Italian ministers in the past few months. Personal, because it boosts Meloni’s Atlanticist leadership and credentials.  

The visit came just 10 months after her electoral victory at the helm of the right-wing, nationalist party Brothers of Italy had spurred a wave of anxiety across the West of a potential u-turn in Rome’s commitment to Ukraine and its role in the transatlantic alliance and the European Union (EU.)  

After all, Meloni is no ideological soulmate to Biden and had opposed the sanctions against Russia after its illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 in order to safeguard Italian economic interests (and accommodate her voters.) However, since the all-out invasion began, she has unambiguously condemned Putin and his brutal, unprovoked aggression, supporting the West’s rush to arm Ukraine.   

In fact, one could argue that Meloni’s positive international impact is largely the result of her staunch support for Ukraine. Since she took office in October, Meloni has followed in the footsteps of her predecessor Mario Draghi, isolating skeptical voices within her own coalition, visiting Kyiv last February, and authorizing the provision of additional military equipment to Ukraine. Italian weapons, including a SAMP-T air defense battery and scores of howitzers, self-propelled artillery, and armored vehicles worth around $750m, have quietly but steadily reached Ukrainian forces. Italy has also provided critical financial and humanitarian assistance, welcoming around 170,000 Ukrainian refugees. Just a few weeks ago, the government organized a Ukraine reconstruction conference and plans another in 2025. 

In private discussions, a senior Italian diplomat told this author that, “Italy is completely aligned” with its allies and “will never accept any outcome prompted by armed and unjustified aggression.” Meloni and her government are also pushing for Ukraine’s EU integration and to decouple from Russia (before the invasion Italy imported 40% of its gas from Russia.)  

But the premier’s growing international credibility also stems from an energetic foreign policy that combines elements of tradition and innovation. Neither the government’s reaffirmed focus on the “broader Mediterranean” region nor the emphasis on multilateralism is novel. Still, it is both expanding the geographic horizons of Italian foreign policy and upgrading its toolbox, deepening involvement in previously peripheral theatres such as Asia and the Indo-Pacific. 

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For example, for the first time an Italian naval task group led by the country’s flagship, the aircraft carrier Cavour, will conduct joint exercises with the navies of Australia, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States in the Far East. This represents both an opportunity for Italian defense diplomacy and a useful test for the country’s naval and air capabilities over long distances. At the same time, Italy is cultivating stronger strategic relations with key partners in the Indo-Pacific such as India, Japan, and the Philippines, with defense as the common denominator. Amongst the key initiatives, the global combat air program (GCAP), a trilateral agreement involving the UK, Italy, and Japan, will not only usher in a sixth-generation combat aircraft but also provide preferential access to advanced technologies. 

These developments demonstrate the close interconnectedness between the Euro-Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific theaters. Viewed like this, the broader Mediterranean is not only the fulcrum of East-West interconnections, but also an arena of growing strategic competition, where the challenges posed by Russia and China intertwine with regional rivalries and threats such as terrorism, climate change, and other pressing issues.  

This is why the broader Mediterranean, Africa, and China were top on the agenda of the meeting between Biden and Meloni (after Ukraine.) Italy is increasingly concerned about the challenges mounting in its neighborhood, from the tensions between Serbia and Kosovo to the socio-economic collapse in Tunisia, to the exponential rise of jihadism across the Sahel, and the recent military coup in Niger. These fuel instability and mass migration to Europe. With European countries abandoning Russian gas in favor of other suppliers in Africa and the Middle East, the stability and prosperity of these regions must be a priority. Italy’s Mattei Plan — named after the former chief of Italian energy company ENI, Enrico Mattei — is the government’s (challenging) strategy to rewrite the cooperation with African countries through closer cooperation.  

As for China, Italy shares the same US concerns about the challenges posed by Beijing. The current government finds itself in an uncomfortable position due to a looming choice regarding the renewal or cessation of the infamous Memorandum of Understanding for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) signed with China in 2019 by the then-anti-establishment government of Giuseppe Conte. While Italy is the only G7 country to have adhered to the BRI, in practice the agreement has borne little fruit compared to expectations and the government is leaning toward pulling out. Like the Draghi government, the current administration is more vigilant, seeking to safeguard strategic technologies and critical infrastructure, without damaging trade relations. Hence the buzzword now is “de-risking” rather than decoupling. 

China relations, along with issues like the dysfunctionalities of the globalized economic model will be key topics of discussion in the G7, which Italy will chair in 2024. However, according to Meloni, “any debate regarding these issues should also include China, rather than being against it.”  

Against this backdrop, the coordination and cooperation between Italy and the US becomes more important than ever. 

Federico Borsari is a Leonardo Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), NATO 2030 Global Fellow, and a Visiting Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). His main research interests include security and defense dynamics, transatlantic security relations, and the impact of new technologies on warfare.  

Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Europe's Edge
CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America.
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