Learning in Crisis: The Sources of NATO’s Institutional Memory

Venus in Arms promotes the first post-ISA2015 event that deserves attention for those of you interested in military transformation.

We suggest the following seminar: “Learning in Crisis: The Sources of NATO’s Institutional Memory” by Heidi Hardt (University of California Irvine), at the European University Institute (EUI), Florence, February 25.

This is a Joint Seminar: Europe in the World Research Seminar Series & RSCAS Seminar Series, European University Institute – EUI. 

The event will take place at Seminar Room, Villa Malafrasca (4.30pm), via Boccaccio 151, Florence. Here the map

Here below the abstract of the presentation:

With the conflict continuing in neighbouring Ukraine, NATO faces a security environment characterised by declining defence budgets but increasing demands. This talk will discuss preliminary findings from an ongoing study of how NATO – the world’s most active military organisation – retains institutional memory in crisis management. The study builds on recent elite interviews with more than 57 interviews with NATO permanent representatives, international staff and other officials.

See you there.


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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 42 (ISA version)

This week we present a different version of the “Top 5”. Indeed, here below you’ll find our Top 5 of the most interesting and promising panels  at the next ISA’s 56th Annual Convention. As we’ve already illustrated in a previous post, Venus in Arms will be the 2015 Annual Convention in New Orleans (February 18-21), presenting papers on public opinion and (counter)narratives, Italian operations in Libya, Haiti and Somalia.

We will provide a detailed account of the Conference (“Global IR and Regional Worlds. A New Agenda for International Studies”) at the end of the next week. So far, here the list of “our favorite panels” (in chronological order):

1) “Parties, Coalitions, And Foreign Policy“.Wednesday, February 18, 10:30 AM – 12:15 PM. This panel addresses the influence and impact of indivdiual political parties as well as coalition government on foreign policy. The Discussant of the panel will be Juliet Kaarbo.

2) “Economic Austerity And Military Power“. Wednesday, February 18, 1:45 PM – 3:30 PM (yes, as it always happens, two interesting panels at the same hour).  How do states implement military spending cuts? When do states demilitarize and when do states engage in strategic reform in response to cuts? What are the effects of these mandated cuts on military effectiveness, strategy, and power? The panel on military spending cuts takes both contemporary and historical approaches to shed light on these questions.

3)”Foreign Fighters: A Decade Of Scholarship“. Wednesday, February 18, 1:45 PM – 3:30 PM. This roundtable will host several scholars who have written extensively on the topic. The Chair of the panel will be David Malet

4) “Game Of Thrones And World Politics: Empirical Investigations“.Wednesday, February 18, 4:00 PM – 5:45 PM. The panel examines the relationship between the Game of Thrones books and/or HBO hit series and “first-order” global political phenomena. The aim is to focus specifically on empirical investigations of the circulation of pop culture ideas in actual foreign policy / global processes. the Chairs are Dan Drezner and Charlie Carpenter. Here a fantastic presentation of the panel.

5) “The Un-Informed Public? Foreign Policy And Public Opinion“. Friday, February 20, 4:00 PM – 5:45 PM. This panel brings together papers that explore the influence and impact of public opinion on the formulation and conduct of foreign policy. ViA will be at the panel as a Discussant.

We will be also at the “IR Blogging Awards and Reception, Sponsored by Sage and Duck of Minerva

You’ll find additional details on the whole program me here


See you in New Orleans

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Paris attacks and foreign fighters. A research agenda

The dramatic Paris attacks has raised attention (and concern) over the phenomenon of the so-called “foreign fighters“. Several scholars have already focused on the role played by foreign insurgents fighting on behalf of local rebel groups. (See for instance the detailed historical analysis, from the Texas revolution to Afghanistan, by David Malet). Since the end of the Cold War sub-national and transnational actors have played a growing role in global politics. The foreign fighters are the most recent and controversial example of the increasing relevance of transnational actors, especially in contemporary warfare.

Recent research has tried to track “Western” foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq. For instance, the ICSR team has created a unique database with the social media profiles of nearly 200 British, European and Western fighters in Syria. Others consider the current conflict against the ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) as a “game changer” for the extremist threat to Western countries. The border between domestic and international security appears as blurring due to the possible menaces posed by those fighters, mainly in terms of consequences related to their experience on the ground (blowback effects, terrorist attacks, radical propaganda, etc.).

In next weeks/months also Venus in Arms will focus on the issue of foreign fighters. Through the case of the ISIL  we are interested in analyze the process of learning and adaptation of foreign insurgents in contemporary conflicts. In a forthcoming book chapter we investigate the effective extent of the role played by the foreign fighters in the process of elaboration and diffusion of approaches, tactics and lessons learnt in a cross-time analysis (2011-2014).

Despite a mounting interest over such issue, a scarce attention has been devoted to the mechanisms through which the foreign fighters are trained and, above all, the ways adopted for spreading military innovation and adaptation across conflicts and crises. From a bottom-up approach focused on foreign fighters, the book chapter (more details on the book  in next weeks..) examines how the lessons learnt derived from other conflicts have affected the ways through which insurgent organizations in Syria and Iraq changed to face new challenges on the ground. Thanks to primary and secondary sources, the study sheds light on the mechanisms of inter-organizational learning and the adoption of practices that come from the experience of foreign fighters.

Findings will allow to better assessing the role played by those fighters in contemporary warfare, illustrating the “institutionalization” of lessons learned in insurgent organizations.

Stay tuned…

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NATO, regional dynamics and cooperative security

NATO’s missions have deeply affected the transformation of Italian forces. New tasks, new combat scenarios, different requirements in terms of equipment, interoperability and attitudes, are some of the foremost novelties that each NATO member has had deal with in recent years.

As illustrated by our latest book, multilateralism should be interpreted not only as the main guideline of Italian foreign policy but also as the principal tactical and strategic framework within which Italian forces have been developed and transformed in the past two decades.

Venus in Arms is deeply interested in examining the impact of NATO on defence transformation. For this reason, we are pleased to sugest you a new monoraph: “Flexible Frameworks, Beyond Borders. Understanding Regional Dynamics to Enhance Cooperative Security”, edited by Federico Casprini, Sonia Lucarelli, Alessandro Marrone (NATO, November 2014).

The book is the result of the third academic conference organized by NATO Allied Command Transformation (ACT), University of Bologna and Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), Bertinoro, 15-17 May 2014.

Here you’ll find the link to the monograph.

Here additional details on authors and contents.

Here below the outline of the book:

As of 2014, the post-Cold War illusion of a more secure world has long given way to a gloomy perception of both the present and the future. It has never been so clear as in the past few years that challenges to international security emerge from several different fields (environmental, political, social, economic, etc), touch simultaneously on a wide range of geographic areas and involve different types of actors – from states to transnational and national terrorism, from organized crime to other non-state actors). In this transformed scenario, the regional dimension of security continues to be of utmost importance, even if regional and interregional dynamics have changed with respect to the past. Regions are the context in which cooperative communities can be created and stabilized over time (in the form of “Security Communities” for instance), the areas in which there is a higher interdependence in terms of security concerns (“Security Complexes”), or the areas in which local conflicts are more likely to spread. Regions are also historically-defined entities, whose borders are shaped and reshaped over time by security dynamics. Therefore, it is of paramount importance for an organization like NATO – which has security and cooperation at the core of its mandate – to understand the new and old security challenges by looking at their regional dimension, and to evaluate their interregional and global implications. This volume aims to contribute to this effort by analyzing regional dynamics, the eventual role of NATO in their regards, and possible ways to enhance cooperative security.

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“Our” book: The Transformation of Italian Armed Forces in Comparative Perspective

The editors of Venus in Arms are pleased to present their most recent book: “The Transformation of Italian Armed Forces in Comparative Perspective. Adapt, Improvise, Overcome“. Ashgate (Series: Military Strategy and Operational Art) has  just released online the detailed description of the book, which will be published in July 2015.

The book is about the change in Italian Armed Forces since 2001. The manuscript focuses on new empirical evidence on how the Italian forces, compared and contrasted with the French and the British ones, have devised their doctrines, their force structures and their budgets.

Here below an overall introduction to the research:

European armed forces have undergone deep changes in the past two decades. Given the breadth of the debate and the size of transformations that took place, it is somewhat surprising that relatively few academic studies have directly dealt with changes in force structure of European militaries, and the Italian armed forces in particular. The focus of this book is the organizational dimension of the restructuring of armed forces through 3 different lenses: doctrine and strategic framework, budget and resource allocation, and force structure and deployment. The key issues addressed relate to how these factors interact in shaping transformation. Of particular interest is the theme of learning, which is how armed forces endogenize change in the short and long run. This study provides valuable insights into the extent to which armed forces manage to adapt to the emerging strategic and operational challenges they have to face and to illustrate the weight of institutional legacies, resources constraints, and inter-organizational learning in shaping transformation. Focusing on the Italian case in comparative perspective and based on a large variety of military operations from airstrikes to peacekeeping and counterinsurgency, the book provides an innovative viewpoint on military transformation and significantly contributes to our understanding of contemporary security that is deeply shaped by the lessons learnt in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq and Libya.

We will provide additional details and previews of main findings in next weeks.

P.S. Yes, “Adapt, Improvise, Overcome” refers to the Marine Corps’ mantra popularized by Sergeant Gunny (Clint Eastwood)

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Learning from others? Emulation and adjustment in Italian military transformation

Venus in Arms will be at the 73rd annual MPSA (Midwest Political Science Association) conference.

The event will be held April 16-19, 2015 at the Palmer House Hilton, Chicago.

As stated by the website: “Conference presentations are organized by topic in more than 80 sections based on different subfields or areas of study. Many of these are interdisciplinary and draw scholars from different fields, providing a variety of perspectives“.

Here you’ll find the link to the sections.

ViA will present the paper “Learning from others? Emulation and adjustment in Italian military transformation” at the panel 17-8: Role of Military Learning and Technology in International Security

The paper focuses on recent transformations in Italian armed forces to discuss mechanisms of learning and adaptation of NATO countries experiencing intense deployment in the last decades.


See you in Chicago

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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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Conference: “The Crisis in EU and US”, Pisa 12-14 June 2014

Venus in Arms will participate at the conference: “The Crisis in EU and US” (Pisa, 12-14 June 2014). The conference aims to establish a space for international and interdisciplinary dialogue on how the crisis effected – and changed – the European and the American society

Here the link to the Conference

The Conference investigates the impact of the crisis on the different political, economical and social systems, but also how it changed people’s everyday life in EU and US, and how it was represented by the media and the cultural industry (movies, literature, art).

The analysis will be from the broad interdisciplinary perspective of social and political sciences, focusing on topics like:

  • the impact of crisis on individual psychology
  • the impact of crisis on different welfare systems and the different measures to fight poverty
  • how the crisis impact the different political systems
  • how the crisis shaped individual and collective identities
  • how social and political theories interpret the crisis
  • how the crisis was represented by the media and the cultural industry (movies, literature, art)

Confirmed keynote speakers include Luciano Gallino (University of Torino) and Nadia Urbinati (Columbia University). The Conference has the endorsement of: University of Pisa, Regione Toscana, Comune di Pisa, and AIS (Associazione Italiana di Sociologia)


Venus in Arms will present its ongoing research on Italian and European military transformation.

We will illustrate our preliminary outputs in the following session: Session 8. Political or Economic Crisis: Quid Prius? Coordinator and discussant: Eugenio Pizzimenti (University of Pisa)

  • Crisis of The Representative Democracy and Its Alternatives. A Policy-Oriented Inquiry -Stefania Profeti (Università di Bologna)
  • Before and After…Mass Parties. Meaning of Party Membership in Italy Between The Golden Age And The Contemporary Politics – Gianluca Passarelli (Università di Roma “La Sapienza”)
  • Crisis and Political Cultures – Mattia Diletti (Università di Roma “La Sapienza”)
  • The Redesigning of Italian Armed Forces in a Time of Crisis – Fabrizio Coticchia (SSSUP) e Francesco Niccolò Moro (Università di Milano Bicocca)

Here the whole Preliminary Programme

See you there…


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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – Week 4

Quite difficult not to start with Ukraine, with the crisis apparently escalating (again). In the midst of several commentaries, data can be useful. Fivethirtyeight provides the usual insightful analysis on which regions might be the next Crimea, according to electoral, polling and demographic data.

A movie by David Cronenberg, a few years ago, beautifully reconstructed Russian mafia penetration in London. But Russian money as well might play a role in influencing UK stance on the Ukraine crisis. On Foreignaffairs.com Jonathan Hopkin and Mark Blyth offer a bleak but interesting picture of the links between London as a financial center and Russian money.  A catch-phrase: “(…) the Ukraine crisis has crystallized a broader trend in British politics: the increasingly subordinate attitude of the government toward the capital’s super-rich, many of whom are not even British citizens”.

Military transformation is taking place pretty much everywhere these days, in least in rhetoric. Israel has a long reputation of translating words into practice in the field, and here you can find more info on where that transformation is going: in a few words, more cyber and less tanks.

The US Army is also thinking about how to prepare for future challenges. A post appeared on Rand Corporation’s website pushes for the Army to remain “ready for battle” and avoid transforming itself in an organization devoted to nation-building or peace-support operations.

Finally, legendary reporter Seymour M. Hersh explores the international dimension of the Syrian civil conflict, providing a detailed account on intelligence that led to the escalation of the crisis, and Obama’s threat to intervene because of the alleged regime’s use of chemical weapons in August 2013. Hersh lucidly argues that intelligence on Syrian rebels developing their own gas was available, and that Erdogan’s government in Turkey was much more involved in helping rebels than generally recognized.





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