Rising Dragon, Crawling Donkey: China’s and Italy’s Role in Contemporary Peacekeeping

Guest Post by Emanuele Sommario*


Warning: what follows is an exercise in shameless self promotion. Many thanks to the editors of this blog for having allowed me to indulge in it.

A few days back, another post on this blog reminded us of the swift rise of China as the world’s prime economy.  China’s astonishing economic growth and its diplomatic activism are already reshaping  the international system, and the coming decades will witness an even greater increase in its power and influence. Yet, as pointed out by G. John Ikenberry, China’s ascendance is taking place within an international order that is able to accommodate the rise of new powers, as it characterized by strong rules and institutions. Beijing appears to be working within, rather than outside of, the existing order and one of the most glaring manifestations of this trend is its increasing participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations (UN PKOs).

Chinese peacekeeping has undergone a significant evolution. From a firm opposition to join peace operations (in line with Maoist China’s philosophy of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other nations) since the end of the Cold War Beijing has become the major contributor of troops to UN PKOs among the permanent members of the Security Council.

Italy, on its part, has always been a strong advocate of the multilateral approach, in particular in the realm of conflict prevention and crisis resolution were it played a important role by joining and supporting stabilisation interventions and post-conflict rehabilitation efforts. Rome has offered its steady engagement from the very beginning of the history of UN PKOs. However, more recently, it has partially shifted its commitment towards operations organized by regional organizations or by ad hoc “coalitions of the willing”. Through the decades, Italy developed such a wealth of expertise and authority that, nowadays, an “Italian way of peacekeeping” is said to exist.

Together with Andrea de Guttry and Zhu Lijiang we thought it would be interesting to study and contrast the role and approach of these two countries to peacekeeping, and to asses the legitimacy of their aspirations to become (and remain) credible global security actors. To do so, we sought to bring together academics from different disciplines (international relations, history, sociology, gender studies, law) and other experts who could contribute in drawing an accurate picture of the drivers that underpin China’s and Italy’s engagement in UN PKOs and other international military endeavors.

The first outcome of the research was an international conference organized in Pisa in June 2012, featuring not only academics and practitioners but also high-ranking representatives from the political, diplomatic and military milieus of both countries. The speakers greatly benefited of the comments and feedback received, and went on to draft the chapters of what has become an edited collection of essays that was recently published with the title “China’s and Italy’s Participation in Peacekeeping Operations – Existing Models, Emerging Challenges” (Lexington Books, 2014).

The book is divided into three parts, which are preceded by a foreword by Romano Prodi, Chairman of the UN-AU Panel for Peacekeeping in Africa and former UN Special Envoy for the Sahel. Part I sets the scene for comparing Italy’s and China’s contributions to PKOs by providing a picture of the facts, figures, drivers and motivations behind their engagement. In the first two chapters, an account is offered of the trends, priorities and main features of Italian and Chinese participation in peace operations. The next chapter examines from an historical perspective the factors that might explain Italy’s wide involvement in PKOs, and the political consensus that has always surrounded these missions, tracing them back to some of the main features of Italian the culture and political tradition. A similar analysis is performed with respect to China in chapter 4, where the author maintains that the Confucian concept of He (harmony), the open social mentality and the sense of responsibility that inform Chinese culture are among the socio-cultural factors explaining the country’s participation in PKOs. The book then looks at the personal motivations underpinning the choice to serve in peace operations. The author shows that value-driven as well as materialistic and self-oriented motivations do all play a decisive role in prompting individual soldiers to deploy. The last two chapters of this part explain the procedures followed by Chinese and Italian authorities in deciding whether national contingents should be dispatched to a specific mission, highlighting the differences between the parliamentary dynamics prevailing in Italy and the central role played by the government and by the Communist Party in China’s decision-making processes.

Part II addresses recent developments in PKOs – with a special focus on the training of the military and civilian component – as well as certain specific challenges and changes in PKOs to which China and Italy are trying to react. Chapter 8 presents the different attitudes of Rome and Beijing towards regional PKOs. While divergent views exist on the expediency of such missions, the author concludes that disagreement is more apparent than real and that it might completely fade away in the near future.  The book then explores the extent of the two countries’ support to the African Union Peace and Security System, and attempts to highlight their respective strategies and objectives. Italy and China both have relevant interests in the African continent and are playing an important role in the reshaping of Africa’s security landscape. Chapter 10 discusses Italy’s and China’s efforts in mainstreaming gender and protection from sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in their operations. To do so, several indicators are taken into account, such as gender balance in staffing, the extent to which prevention of SEA is reflected in the two countries’ military codes of conduct. Their analysis reveals that both Italy and China are lagging behind in this area.

Turning to the issue of training, a chapter by Umberto Rocca – former Director of the Centre of Excellence for Stability Police Units – describes the origins and development of the training centre he was in charge of, which is tasked with instructing and preparing Italian and foreign police forces for deployment in international crisis management missions. In the same vein, a senior officer of the European Union’s Crisis Management and Planning Directorate then illustrates what strategies and programmes the EU has developed to train the civilian component of its crisis management operations. Chapter 14 focuses one specific type of military mission which has seen Italy and China join forces over recent years, namely the fight against piracy off the Horn of Africa. The author reminds us of the efforts the two countries have devoted to tackling this phenomenon, while also explaining the legal and political constraints they faced in carrying out counter-piracy operations.

Part III sheds light on certain legal and political aspects connected to the deployment of national contingents in PKOs. The first two chapters look at the Italian and Chinese domestic legal frameworks for the prosecution of crimes committed by peacekeepers while on mission, analyzing their development and shortcomings. Moving from a domestic to a comparative law perspective, the next chapter offers an assessment of the involvement of national parliaments in the decision-making on the deployment of military troops abroad, based on a comparison between five European States. Noting that there is a substantial variety of constitutional rules and practices, the author contends that the growing importance of international military cooperation will fundamentally change the balance between government and parliament to the detriment of the latter.

The last two chapters are devoted to the current international legal framework regulating individual and State responsibility for the unlawful conduct of peacekeepers. Chapter 18 discusses the scope and limits of the immunity that military or civilian members of a PKO may enjoy from the criminal jurisdiction of the host State and offers a review of alternative options that could be pursued in order to bring the perpetrators of serious crimes to justice. The final chapter deals with the allocation of international responsibility for the unlawful conduct of UN peacekeepers.  It contains a perusal of the recent jurisprudence of national and international tribunals to find that the decisive element to impute responsibility to the troop contributing State, the UN or to both is which entity exercised effective control over the unlawful conduct.

In sum, the volume looks at the specific experiences of Italy and China to compare them and to understand how and why foreign powers intervene in the name of peace. At the same time, it tries to provide the reader with an understanding of some of the foremost developments and challenges that international peace missions are currently facing. After all, the behavior of different actors can only be properly appreciated with full knowledge of the processes and dynamics that characterize contemporary peacekeeping scenarios.

*Emanuele Sommario is Assistant Professor of International Law, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (Pisa), and co-editor of the book: “China’s and Italy’s Participation in Peacekeeping Operations – Existing Models, Emerging Challenges” (Lexington Books, 2014).

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – Week 5

This week we would like to shed light on some controversial current debates in IR (and beyond).

The first debate is (inevitably) on China’s rise. Today the Financial Times reveals that China “poised to pass US as world’s leading economic power”.  According to the figures provided by the International Comparison Program (hosted by the World Bank): “The US is on the brink of losing its status as the world’s largest economy, and is likely to slip behind China this year, sooner than widely anticipated”. About ‘peaceful rise’, Jack Snyder illustrates five lessons for China from 1914 (here at The Monkey Cage), emphasizing the antidotes to possible dangers (first: avoid nationalism!).

The second debate is about civil-military relations. Steve Saideman provides an insightful contribution, focusing on the following key-aspects: perception, dissent, and institutions. I still believe that a growing attention on this issue is needed in the underrated case of Italy.

The National Interest refreshes the huge (and controversial) debate on counterinsurgency. The next Iraqi elections offer the best context to re-consider the COIN approach. The article (by Andrew Shaver) reports new data and findings.

The fourth debate is inequality. Oddly enough, an economics book (Thomas Piketty’s Capital), is currently Amazon’s #1 best selling book in the United States. Chris Blattman meditates on that in his amazing blog.

Last suggestion. If you are interested in current debates regarding development cooperation, look at this website: AidData. It collects a lot of relevant statistics on aid, development programmes, evaluation.



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