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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L’Italia alla guerra dei droni: una guida in 3 domande

Droni sì, droni no? Un intervento dell’ex Capo di Stato Maggiore dell’Aeronautica, Generale Tricarico, ha innescato un (limitato) dibattito sulla politica di difesa e gli interventi militari che rischia di polarizzarsi su una dicotomia secca, come spesso avviene su tali temi in Italia, in merito all’opportunità di dotarsi al più presto di uno strumento militare – i droni armati – da  utilizzare poi nel Mediterraneo. In una fase in cui le rivelazioni in merito all’uccisione di Giovanni Lo Porto, un cooperante italiano in Pakistan, durante un attacco condotto con un drone si accavalla con la necessità di dare una risposta alle tragedie del mare a poche miglia dalle coste italiane (europee), non c’è forse da stupirsi dell’emergere di sentimenti – prima ancora che di idee – contrastanti. Proprio per questo, e per tentare di alimentare un dibattito ci pare utile proporre una breve “guida per domande” alla questione.

  1. Di che tipo di strumento si tratta? L’Italia possiede i cosiddetti Predator A (RQ-1A), A+ (MQ-1B, un avanzamento del modello A), Predator B (MQ-9 Reaper). È molto recente, peraltro, la notizia di un accordo fra Aeronautica Militare e Piaggio Aerospace per la produzione (e l’acquisto da parte di AM) del velivolo P.1HH, con funzioni principalmente ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance e Reconnaissance). Ad oggi, l’Italia non possiede droni armati, sebbene tale “avanzamento” sia in programma almeno dal 2012. Questi ritardi riportano alla ribalta uno dei più classici dilemmi della politica di armamenti italiana: comprare dagli USA o sviluppare “in-house” in collaborazione con altri paesi europei?
  2. Quali strutture operano i droni in Italia? Un interessante servizio di Repubblica ricostruisce le strutture e i mezzi italiani presso la base di Amendola dell’Aeronautica Militare (32° Stormo). Le funzioni svolte dal 28° Gruppo (“Le Streghe”) sono ad oggi molteplici, dall’ISR alla protezione delle forze al FAC (Forward Air Control), ma non includono quelle “combat”.
  3. A che servono i droni, nell’attuale contesto?






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Conferences, Seminars, Workshops: Venus in Arms on Tour (June 2014)

June has been a very busy month for Venus in Arms. In fact, we have presented our research at several academic conferences/public workshops around Italy and Europe (while watching almost all the matches of the 2014 World Cup)

Here below you’ll find a very brief list of the main issues we faced in our papers.

1) White Paper 2014

Venus has provided its contribution to the current preliminary debate regarding the forthcoming White Paper 2014. After a two-days meeting with practitioners, “experts” and academics, the Ministry of Defense has collected several policy papers full of (general) suggestions and recommendations on the White Paper. Here the link to the document.

2) The Italian Left and Foreign Policy

ViA has presented the paper “The Irrelevance of Radical Parties in Coalition Foreign Policy: Italy and the Extremity Hypothesis”, (with Jason Davidson), at the conference “The Italian Left and Foreign Policy” (Cambridge, 9th June 2014). The next Italian presidency of the EU and the recent political success of Renzi have been the issues at the stake.

In our paper we’vefocused on Italy’s post-Cold War center-left governments and decisions on military operations. Scholarly consensus suggests that coalition governments produce more polarized foreign policies than single party governments. This, the literature argues, is especially likely when coalition governments include radical parties that take extreme positions on foreign policy issues and are “critical” to the government’s survival as the radical parties push the centrist ones toward the extremes. The case of Italy provides an important counterpoint to the polarization hypothesis. In all cases we’ve analysed (Albania 1997, Kosovo 1999, and Afghanistan 2007), the parties took a position against military operations but did not prevent the government from engaging in/extending operations by threatening survival or forcing the government’s fall. What are the possible explanations of the irrelevance of leftist radical parties in Italy?

A) Radical parties are reluctant to threaten/force government collapse as this can lead to a center right coalition coming to office and voters’ blame for the outcome;

B) Relative salience has been critical: foreign policy has been less important to radical parties than domestic issues and it has been more important to center-left parties than radical ones;

C) Radical parties have appealed to their voters through theatrical politics (e.g., attending protests) and have affected the implementation of military operations.

Here you’ll find a link to the presentation.

3) The transformation of Italian Armed Forces

We have been at the conference: “The Crisis in EU and US” (Pisa, 12-14 June 2014). Venus in Arms has presented its ongoing research on Italian and European military transformation.

We have discussed the paper: “The Redesigning of Italian Armed Forces in a Time of Crisis”, focusing on the co-evolution of budget and doctrine in the post-2001 Italian defense policy. We have illustrated the preliminary findings of our research. All the results will be collected in the forthcoming: “Adapt, Improvise, Overcome? The Transformation of Italian Armed Forces in Comparative Perspective”, Ashgate.

4) Technological innovation and demographic trends

ViA participated at the SGRI VII Annual Conference in Trento (26-28 June 2014). We’ve presented a paper on the growing importance of technology in international politics, focusing on innovation, relevant actors in R&D process, military equipments.

The paper (“Diffusion or concentration? The geography of technological innovation”) was part of a broader research agenda on demography and security. A very interesting panel has hosted several contributions on such topic.

What will be the world’s demographic outlook in 2035? What factors will shape it and with what consequences? The world’s population is expected to reach more than 8.7 billion by 2035, but this growth will be unbalanced with diverse regional trends and impacts. Demographic factors – fertility rates, life expectations, migration, population age and composition – do not develop in isolation, but interact with other trends in the economic, technological, environmental, health, energy and political domains to shape complex evolutionary scenarios. The panel has hosted papers looking at the demographic trends and their relationship with trends in the aforementioned areas, to provide a forecast of how they will interact by 2035.

5) The determinants of the Italian military intervention in Libya

Venus discussed another paper at the SGRI Conference: “A two-level game? The determinants of the Italian military intervention in Libya: strategic culture, international norms and domestic dynamics” (with Michela Ceccorulli). We’ve illustrated the preliminary research on the ways through which Italy adopts military tools in order to face non-military threats (PRIN project: The Italian Foreign Policy in front of the new challenges of the international system: actors, institutions and policies”).

The paper focuses on the 2011 naval operation in Libya, which is a paradigmatic case regarding the growing interaction of new security challenges: region instability, transnational organized crime, and illegal immigration. Why has Italy employed the military instrument to face transnational and non-military threats? The paper looks at the political debate over the decision-making process, assessing three possible determinants for decisions: strategic culture, international norms and domestic dynamics.

So, a very busy month.  After the (deserved) summer break we will be also at the SISP Annual Conference (Perugia 11-13 September). See you there.



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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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