Learning From Others? Emulation and Change in the Italian Armed Forces Since 2001

As illustrated in previous posts, military transformation represents our main current research issue. We’ve just published a book on this topic and we are still working on Italian (and European) military transformation.

Here you’ll find our latest paper, which has been published (in early view ) on “Armed Forces&Society“. The title is: “Learning From Others? Emulation and Change in the Italian Armed Forces Since 2001” (F. Coticchia and F.N. Moro, 2016).

Here below the abstract:

How does military change take place in states that are not able to develop autonomous solutions? How does transformation occur when limited resources are available? What are the “sources of military change” for armed forces that do not possess the (cognitive and material) resources that are essential for autonomous development? In articulating an answer to these questions, this article draws from the theoretical debate on interorganizational learning and looks at the mechanisms that drive “learning from others.” We argue that adaptation and organizational learning often had to look for, and then try and adapt, off-the-shelf solutions that required relatively more limited resources. Empirically, the article focuses on the Italian Armed Forces, which have rarely attracted scholarly attention, although it emerged from almost total lack of activity in the Cold War to extended deployments in the 2000s.

Stay tuned for additional results of our analysis (we are now working also with surveys..)

 

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ViA 2015: La trasformazione militare italiana (e molto altro)

Terminata la pausa estiva, Venus in Arms è di nuovo pronto a rituffarsi sui temi della difesa e della sicurezza (e molto altro). In questo breve post di inizio Settembre illustreremo brevemente gli argomenti che saranno al centro della nostra attenzione nei prossimi mesi, nei quali cercheremo sempre di collegare analisi e studi “accademici” a riflessioni legate al dibattito corrente.

Primo aspetto al centro del nostro lavoro sarà la trasformazione militare italiana, ovvero l’argomento del nostro ultimo libro. Il volume analizza il processo di cambiamento delle forze armate italiane nel nuovo secolo, attraverso una prospettiva comparata (Francia e Gran Bretagna). L’analisi illustra l’interazione tra alcune dimensioni della trasformazione (budget, impiego sul campo, dottrina) e la loro influenza sul percorso di cambiamento e adattamento avvenuto negli ultimi anni nella Difesa italiana. Attraverso interviste, documenti ufficiali e fonti secondarie sono state esaminate in dettaglio le operazioni in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libano e Libia.

Una particolare attenzione è stata dedicata alla dimensione istituzionale del cambiamento. In linea con quest’ultimo aspetto, in futuro ci focalizzeremo sulla dimensione dell’apprendimento, attraverso survey e questionari.

Nelle prossime settimane organizzeremo alcuni seminari di presentazione del libro, che riporteremo per tempo sul blog. Un po’ di pubblicità non fa mai male, naturalmente.

Un altro aspetto che continuerà ad occupare costantemente le pagine di Venus sarà la Difesa italiana, soprattutto alla luce della pubblicazione dell’ultimo Libro Bianco e della riforme ad esso collegate. Stiamo lavorando proprio sull’ultimo documento strategico e a breve saranno qui riportati i risultati delle nostre analisi.

In chiave comparata ci dedicheremo poi al rapporto tra l’evoluzione della Difesa italiana e quella tedesca avvenuta nell’era post-bipolare. Abbiamo già passato un po’ di tempo di Germania per interviste e analisi. Quindi aspettatevi un bel po’ di materiale da leggere e discutere (non in tedesco, tranquilli).

Una parte consistente del nostro lavoro sarà poi dedicata ai temi della political violence, del ruolo della criminalità organizzata (nazionale e transnazionale), dei conflitti contemporanei.

Al tema dei foreign fighters saranno dedicati alcuni post, i quali riporteranno i risultati di alcuni analisi che abbiamo condotto di recente in merito al caso dell’ISIL.

Non ci dimenticheremo del controverso tema degli F-35, cercando però di spostare la discussione da una prospettiva budget-driven a qualcosa di più articolato, come fatto in passato.

La sicurezza europea, scossa dalle crisi interne e regionali e dal dramma immane dei profughi, non potrà che essere esaminata in dettaglio, così come la trasformazione della NATO.

Infine, i guest-post cercheranno di ampliare l’orizzonte interdisciplinare di ViA, da analisi tradizionali di Relazioni Internazionali agli studi di intelligence fino ai “nuovi” metodi di insegnamento in materia di IR, sicurezza e scienza politica. Ogni contributo alla discussione è ben accetto ovviamente.

Sarete sempre tenuti al corrente dei principali appuntamenti con conferenze e seminari (in più qualche dettaglio sulle trasferte che faremo in Europa League).

Insomma, molta carne al fuoco. Senza dimenticarci l’appuntamento settimanale con la nostra Top-5, che raccoglie i migliori “5 pezzi facili” che provengono da blog, riviste, giornali di tutto il mondo. La dimensione “pop” del sito non verrà trascurata, soprattutto nella spasmodica attesa del nuovo capitolo di Star Wars.

Stay tuned

 

 

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It is not all about the money. Strategic Adjustment and the End of Conscription in Italy

Guest Post by Andrea Locatelli*

Defence planning is no easy stuff. The goal is to define short- and long-term needs, match them with available resources (read: budget) and craft force, procurement, manpower and readiness plans consequently. Things were just a little easier if you worked at the Pentagon, where budget constraints were less severe and military superiority could compensate for blunders (but the good old times are gone even in Washington). If you move from the US to Italy, the challenge can be paramount. Broadly speaking, the Italian defence policy since the end of the Cold War was marked by three main features: first, the lack of a clear political guidance over the years. Partially for the high volatility of governments and coalitions, partially for the lack of a strategic culture, defence circles enjoyed a considerable degree of autonomy with respect to the executive and legislative bodies. Second, even before the ongoing economic crisis, defence policies have been hindered by severe constraints in the defence budget. Third, like its partners in Europe and overseas, Italy needed to adjust to (and indeed understand) the new security context originating from the demise of the Soviet Union.

Following these considerations, one may be tempted to paint a gloomy picture of the Italian defence policy in the past 25 years. Being planning so difficult, we would expect either an erratic or an overly conservative course. However, just a cursory look at the main features of manpower planning would show that Italy’s action in this issue area, while not entirely successful, was driven by strategic calculations. This is not to say that it is always sunny in Rome. As we will see, a number of problems remains as a legacy of the past, and it is likely to remain unsolved for the foreseeable future. However, contrary to common wisdom, we can argue that the Italian Armed forces embarked on a painstaking reform process aimed at adjusting the country’s military posture to the contemporary security scenario.

The departing point is the 1991 Gulf War. During Desert Storm Italy found itself unprepared and in many respects with an obsolete army. In fact, being based on low-skilled, poorly equipped mass conscripts, the Italian army could serve a purpose in defending national borders from an eventual Soviet invasion, but not in the emerging new scenario. To meet this challenge, the Armed Forces needed to adjust either its missions, military posture and structure.

In terms of manpower, the main initiative was the so called “New Defence Model”. Initially conceived in 1995, it was aimed at replacing the existing system with one based on a mix of conscripts and volunteers. After a series of Legislative Decrees, the implementation phase started on 20 January 1998: at that stage the goal was fixed in a 230.000 strong force, made by 64.000 volunteers and 72.000 conscripts. Two years later, a second phase was implemented aimed at transforming the Armed Forces into an all-professional force. Even if the time horizon for the completion of the reform was planned to 2020, the early 2000s already witnessed unexpected problems in terms of recruiting and force structure. All this led to a new Law (No. 226, 23 August 2004) that provided better career opportunities for volunteers and accelerated the end of conscription to 2005 instead of 2007.

Even before the switch to a professional army was implemented, Italy experienced a significant reduction in the number of personnel. From 1998 to 2004, for instance, the total figure dropped from 384.600 to 207.200, equal to a 53.8% decrease. This was partially due to domestic reasons (shrinking youth population, conscientious objection to military service and other exemption provisions), but strategic considerations also played an important role: since conscripts cannot be deployed on the battlefield, they grew increasingly unnecessary and burdensome. Italian policymakers acknowledged that the cold-war mass army based on conscripts had suddenly become obsolete and useless in the altered strategic context. Apart from strategic adjustment, such reform was also made with an eye on tight defence budgets.

It is in this second respect that the effort proved far from successful: despite cuts in personnel, resource allocation remain inefficient. According to EDA, 71% of the 2008 budget was devoted to personnel spending, while Operation and Maintenance and Investment equalled just 9% and 15% respectively (in 2013 things were just slightly better, as personnel costs weighted for 66%, Maintenance for 9% and Investment for 25%). This made of Italy one of the least efficient European states in military spending. In order to address the issue, in 2012 then Ministry of Defence Giampaolo di Paola launched a reform aimed at slashing in the next ten years the number of civilian and military personnel from 183 to 150 thousands. Most importantly, the whole structure of the Armed forces was remodelled, with a significant reduction of the highest echelons (-25% generals and admirals).

It is too early to say whether this move is in the right direction or not. The point worth stressing however is that, regardless of the many hurdles and constraints that come from the political and economic environment, the Italian Armed Forces steadily embarked in this reform process. They faced the challenge and quickly shunned the temptation to follow a conservative course of action. It may seem a little accomplishment, but for defence planners this is the first step for a successful strategy.

 

*Andrea Locatelli is Assisant Professor at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (Milan), where he teaches Strategic Studies and Introduction to Political Science.

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Internalizing out-of-the-box thinking. What the Italian military should learn from Google (X).

Recently, a journalist has been allowed to enter Google semi-secret labs, known as Google X. Differently from Google Research division, Google X does not focus on projects that have a direct impact on Google business, but on those that might bring about revolutionary changes. As such, they often fail, requiring a great deal of patience by the company managers who try to maximize share value and worrying about the products that could create epochal change but have no short term marketability.  

As other organizations, Google struggles with finding a balance between “exploitation” and “exploration”, that is between the need to achieve advancements in the short term while not missing the possibility to grasp, direct, and fully exploit potentially radical transformations in a more distant future. Organizational theory has shown in fact how trade-offs between the short and long run exist, and how incremental changes, though “tactically” useful, can sometimes inhibit larger “strategic” transformation. Equilibrium is hard to find, also because often scarce resources compel to look at advancing interests in the short run. Indeed, it is difficult to convince someone to pay now for something that might not even happen many years from now.

And still, thinking seriously about possible futures, “exploring” unlikely but still possible, contributes both to create the foundations for long term success and to strengthen resilience in case standard assumptions fail. This is particularly true for organizations such as armed forces, whose procurement cycles are very long and as such entail decisions that bring with themselves quite rigid legacies. The question, in other words is a quite familiar one: how many programs that are being paid now have been devised when the world was a different one, and might then not respond perfectly to current requirements? To an extent, this is inevitable, but it does not mean that complex organizations can’t do better if they internalize the analysis of “multiple futures” and their impact on planning and procurement.

How does that connect with transformation of Italian armed forces, and with the White Book that should do about it?  Rivista Italiana di Difesa recently published an op-ed on the requirements for the new Libro Bianco listing a convincing set of legal/constitutional and operational issues that should be addressed. We might want to add another one, based on the idea that we have to take long term planning and force transformation into more consideration. In particular, “force transformation” has been taken seriously by Italian armed forces, but it was generally referred as related to the impact of information technology on Command, Control, Computer and Communication (C4) and ISTAR. A similar approach has been adopted by the Army, which instituted a force transformation in 2006 to coordinate activities related to Net-Centric Warfare.

What would be needed is an entity that devises future scenarios and makes proposals accordingly. The relatively limited doctrinal production of Italy, compared to other European countries, shows the lack of an institutionalized habit to link future planning to an open debate on what future requirements might be. The Italian armed forces can do better, as they have already started to do in related fields such as “lessons learned”.  There is no compelling reason to prefer a specific setup over others, and this entity might be either brand new, the result of restructuring of ones that currently exist, or even a “relay” among them (for instance, linking more closely research and education centers with doctrine and force transformation offices). Similar experiences already exist, and they are various in nature. It is not just the famous DoD’ Office of Net Assessment, that exists since 1973 and currently under fire, but also NATO’s Allied Command Transformation, or the French Délégation aux Affaires Stratégiques within the MoD, that promote several initiatives according to this line of reasoning. The whole process of writing a White Book in other countries is sensitive to suggestions that come from out-of-the-box thinking, be this coming from internalized or external structures.

Let’s think about creating such an internal structure that deals with net assessment in the medium and long run and comes up with innovative and sometimes provocative solutions. Most of them might not have immediate impact on very important issues such as saving money or deciding the timing and modes of withdrawal from Afghanistan. But they should spark internal debate by creating ideas and coalitions that suggest thinking about transformations that might be emerge in the longer run. Important decisions made now must be based on a clear view of what will be needed in the future (also because they decisively contribute to shape it). This includes preparing for “black swans” as well as basing key investments decisions on a clearer (and more transparent) assessment of what requirements they should serve in the future. When the environment is very uncertain – as it is the case for the global and regional security environments – the benefits of such a choice would be high. And the good thing is that its financial burden (contrarily to those needed to operate Google X) would be instead almost inexistent.

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Venus in Arms at ISA (I)

 Redesigning of European Armed Forces (2001-2012)

Venus in Arms is in Toronto this week at the ISA Annual Conference. Besides watching basketball games and chatting with old friends and colleagues, there will be a couple of paper presentation.

One is “The Redesigning of European Armed Forces (2001-2012)” (LINK al PAPER), which will be discussed here:

A Changing Armed Forces?

WC55: Wednesday 1:45 PM – 3

The paper deals with transformations occurred (and still occurring) in Force structure of major European countries, namely Italy, France and the UK. As the debate on defense expenditures flares up in Italy, the paper provides information and first-cut interpretations of change in doctrine and budget in these 3 countries.

Specifically, we wonder how doctrine has changed and if budget coherently followed the new directions in terms of aims and objectives in military action. Findings are preliminary, but they point at the difficulties in sustaining current levels of deployment and deployability and problems in consistency between choices/investments made in the past decades and realities of the strategic environment and operations of recent years. There are differences too: Italy is still lagging behind not just in budget expenditures, but also in devising a coherent national policy, with a no new national document (such as White Paper or National Security Strategy) produced in more than 10 years.

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