Call for Papers: The VII SGRI Conference

The Annual Conference of the Italian Standing Group on International Relations (SGRI) will be held for the third time in Trento from June 27th to June 28th and will be organized by the Bruno Kessler Foundation‘s Research Center on International Politics and Conflict Resolution (FBK-CERPIC).

This years topic will be: “Security and Cooperation in a Changing International System”.The conference is a two-day session that brings together scholars, researchers and PhD students from Italian academia to discuss issues related to global politics, international security, foreign policy, international political economy and international theory.

The keynote speakers will be Louise Fawcett, Stefano Recchia and Pascal Vennesson 

Here you’ll find the panels

Venus in Arms designed within the Stratgroup the panel: “The winter of our consent? Italian foreign and defense policy and the contemporary security challenges

Here below the abstract:

In the post-Cold War era Italy has been one of the most active contributors to international security, constantly providing troops for military operations around the world.Italywas the only major European country to send forces to all major operations that have been undertaken by Western countries in the post-9/11 era (Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Libya). Italian public opinion has regularly supported the “peace operations” undertaken by the Italian armed forces, which have been “used” also to face non-military threats, such as migration, piracy or transnational organized crime.

Despite such relevant contribution, Italy has been constantly overlooked by literature. The panel aims to fill this gap, examining how the Italian foreign and defense policy has faced the new challenges posed by the current financial crisis. The severe defense spending review, the huge cuts in diplomacy and development aid, the reduction of troops deployed abroad and the drop of public opinion support towards military operations abroad could represent the first effects of the crisis.

The panel, through different perspectives, provides empirical material to understand how these dynamics are transforming traditional national security practices


People interested in presenting a paper at the 2014 SGRI Conference should select a panel and send a short abstract to by May 13, 2014.

The deadline for paper submission is June 13, 2014. By that date, paper presenters should email their manuscript to The papers will then be forwarded to Chairs and Discussants before the Conference

Here the Call for Papers

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“The Italian Left and Foreign Policy” (Cambridge, 9th June 2014)

A conference on “The Italian Left and Foreign Policy” will be held in Cambridge (UK) on 9th June 2014. The interdisciplinary approach will be the main feature of the event that aims at bringing together established academics and young scholars from different fields (History, IR, Cultural Studies, Sociology, Political Science, Economics, etc.) in order to discuss the relationship between Italian left and foreign policy. The upcoming Italy’s European Semester Presidency Italian is a scenario that requires a detailed analysis of the transformations occurred to Italian parties and policies.

Among the topics on the agenda:

  • The Italian Left between Americanism and Anti-americanism: historical and contemporary perspectives
  • Internationalism and a national way: the Italian Left faces the world
  • European priorities of the Italian Left: change or continuity?
  • The Italian Left, foreign policy and the use of force
  • Exit geopolitics? Strategic priorities in and beyond the three circles
  • The Italian Left, civil society and foreign policy
  •  Proposals for a ‘progressive’ reform of the foreign policy machinery
  • Foreign policy and the politics of the Italian Left: bridge over troubled waters
  • The Italian Left and Foreign Policy in a Comparative perspective: insights from European cases.

Venus in Arms aims at attending the conference with a paper on Italian radical parties and defense policy in the post-Cold War era. An attempt to test (or better, to confute) the “polarization hypothesis” in the Italian case. For a look at previous ViA works on similar issues check out here (gated)

Unfortunately the deadline of the call for papers is already expired. But the event is extremely interesting, thus we suggest a brief tour to Cambridge.

The conference is organised by Elisabetta Brighi, Lilia Giugni, and Marta Musso, in cooperation with the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS), University of Cambridge, the Association for the Study of Modern Italy (ASMI) and the Cambridge Italian Research Network (CIRN).

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Venus in Arms at ISA (II)




Some military interventions are more popular than others

By Fabrizio Coticchia

I have been part of a panel called “Military Intervention and Public Opinion: Does the Public Matter?” at the ISA Annual Convention (Toronto, 26-29 March). The (lively) discussion aimed at answering such intricate question from different perspectives. Dissimilar views remained at the end of the day. However, also looking at the literature no consensus emerges on this issue.

According to some scholars, public opinion is almost irrelevant. For instance, Sarah Kreps illustrates how Western public opinion did not influence the government decisions and alliance cohesion in the case of the military operation in Afghanistan. As stated by Kreps: “Despite the unpopularity of the war, leaders have largely bucked public opinion and neither reduced nor withdrawn troops from NATO-led operations in Afghanistan”. Elite consensus seems to be “the reason why leaders are not running for the exits in Afghanistan when their publics would prefer that they do”. The article shows that operating through a formal institution (such as NATO) creates systemic incentives for sustained international cooperation.

Other scholars, while confirming the crucial role played by elite consensus, point out the impact of public opinion. Looking at the Italian mission in Iraq, Jason Davidson highlights the “importance of the electoral motive to explain the timing and nature of the government’s decisions” (indeed, the Italian public was very critical towards “Ancient Babylon”). After the war in Vietnam, several empirical studies have portrayed the public as rational, better informed, not so easy to manipulate and more influential than expected. Even according to the Weinberger doctrine (1984) the support of public is an indispensable condition for undertaking a military operation abroad. In a sense, the massive communication efforts by the governments in the case of war (remember G.W. Bush?) would be totally useless in the case of irrelevance of the mass public.

Thus, probably the most fascinating question is another: What are the explaining variables that guarantee a solid support for military interventions? Also in this case, the answers are more than the conspiracy theories surrounding the JFK assassination. Vital national interests at the stake, multilateral framework of the operation, aims of the mission (e.g., foreign policy restraints instead of regime changes) are the first possible explaining factors.

A significant number of scholars focus on the “perceived relative value” of the intervention, emphasizing how public opinion compares benefits (success) and costs (casualties) related to the engagement in a conflict. Others examine the role played by elites in shaping this “perceived relative value”.

Existing analyses have mainly illustrated government’s communications in case of war, but the features of the public discourse still deserve further consideration. Thus, a growing attention has been devoted to the concept of “strategic narratives”, defined by Freedman as:  “compelling storylines which can explain events convincingly and from which inferences can be drawn“. Ringsmose and Børgesen adopted “strategic narratives” to better understand the ways through which governments build a convincing rationale for a military operation abroad.

The paper  I’ve presented at the ISA (as my most recent book) assumes the same perspective. I believe that the role played by political leaders in shaping Italian public attitudes towards Italian missions abroad has been essential.

Paraphrasing The Smiths, why are some narratives more effective than others? The paper answers the question providing an original framework of “successful strategic narratives” for the case of Italian missions in Iraq, Lebanon and Libya (don’t’ worry, I have analyzed Afghanistan in other work…). Preliminary (very preliminary…) results show that strategic narrative proved to be “successful” in the Italian case when the following elements are present: bipartisan consensus over the central values of the narrative (peace, multilateralism and humanitarianism), limited degree of violence on the ground and absence of effective counter-narratives. A strategic narrative that binds all these aspects, through a prudent and low profile communication strategy, will have significant chances to provide support towards Italian military interventions abroad. The coming Italian operations (hopefully very far away) will verify my assumptions on “successful strategic narratives”.

(No more space in this post for the – useful – critiques provided by the discussant!)

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Please meet Venus in Arms

I perfectly arrange my players on the pitch. The biggest problem is that then they move

(Sabastiao Lazaroni – Brazilian football manager)

“…on major strategic and international questions today, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus: They agree on little and understand one another less and less

(Robert Kagan)

And still, no matter how reluctantly, European countries often recur to the use of (military) force. Be it for peace-keeping, peace-making, stabilization, humanitarian reasons, major European countries have been very active in terms of military action in the past decades. The debate on Europe (intended as the EU) looking for a common defense policy is endless. National debates often focus on, and are more or less inflamed by, procurement issues. Europe might be Venus, but it is “in arms” (perhaps that rings a bell).  Venus in Arms is about describing, possibly explain, and most generally contributing to understand, the complex relation between Europe and defense (war, one might say, but that concept is at the heart of the matter here).

 Venus in Arms is also about talking defense and security policies in a country, Italy, where military force is often seen as a mysterious object. As such, it is sometimes treated as an absolute evil, sometimes ignored, and sometimes simply misrepresented.

 The national consensus over military operations abroad has largely been based on the shared framework of “peace missions”, through which decision-makers have justified the deployment of citizens in uniform abroad since the end of the Col War. “Peace missions” are still conceived as the most valuable among the various activities carried out by the military. Despite the Italian military dynamism in the post-bipolar era, the prevalent “peace rhetoric” (which we shouldn’t confuse with “pacifism”) produces a marginalization of the “culture of defense” and “security culture”. This produced a limited, and biased, public debate, even at the highest level, on issues related to security, warfare and defense.

 The aim of Venus in Arms is to constitute a place where academic research and policy problems can meet, providing intelligible research outcomes and reference to what’s hot in defense and security issues.

Venus in arms aims to build a bridge between theory and practice in Italian, European and international security policy by focusing on the following themes:  

  • Contemporary warfare
  •  Defense in Europe
  • Italian military operations abroad
  •  Italian Strategy and Doctrine
  • Pop-defense
  •  War by other names

Venus in Arms is not affiliated to politics, but it is deeply political as it aims to encourage sound debate on security issues in Italy.

Venus in Arms is in English because we hope that our audience will benefit from constant to reference to the lively international (and, let’s be honest, American) debate, but some of the posts will be in Italian too.

External contributions on these topics are welcome, just write an email to

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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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