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The speech is mainly based on the results of a volume which I just completed and is due to be published shortly by the Italian publishing house “il Mulino”. The book deals with Italy’s international role from the immediate post-war period till today; it is the outcome of several years’ work and is based on both secondary sources and a wide range of foreign and Italian public and private archives.

Since the Unification the main foreign policy goal of the Italian ruling elite, both Liberal Italy and the fascist regime, had been the achievement of the rank of great power. Such a goal appeared to be achieved, at least from a formal viewpoint, in the aftermath of the First World War and it seemed to be strengthened by Mussolini’s regime. Actually the Second World War and the military defeat revealed that Italy’s great power role was an illusion and between 1945 and 1947 Italy was compelled to accept a “punitive” and humiliating peace treaty. In spite of that both the new anti-fascist ruling class and the Italian diplomacy had as their main foreign policy objective the recognition of Italy as a middle-rank power, which could exert some influence in both Europe and an “enlarged Mediterranean”, a role which could be similar to the one enjoyed by the major European nations (Britain, France and after the 1950s West Germany).
Such a goal was constantly pursued by all the Italian leading politicians and diplomats, in spite of objective obstacles, the negative heritage of the past, domestic constraints and the often critical and reductive perceptions by Italy’s western European partners. Such a process was characterised by ups and downs and was influenced by both internal and external factors, such as the economic and social transformations, the presence of the strongest Communist Party in Western Europe, the traditional images and stereotypes nurtured by Italy’s foreign partners, the attempts at creating a special relationship with the hegemonic power of the western system, the United States.

It is impossible to examine in detail every aspect of such a process, but it would be possible to point out some relevant turning points: a) Italy’s involvement in the Atlantic system and in the western European sub-system, b) Italy’s transformation from a backward nation into a modern industrial country with emerging ambitions in various international contexts, c) the long crisis of the 1970s during which Italy appeared to become an object rather than a subject of the international system, d) the apparent achievements of the 1980s, e) the domestic and international crisis of the end of the Cold War years.

The intervention would argue that Italy’s middle-rank international role was largely shaped by the Cold War, which had a strong influence also on the internal political balance. The changing international balance, the collapse of the traditional party system, the lack of a real and radical political, economic and institutional renewal were at the origin of the decline of Italy’s international position and influence in the post-Cold War years. Such crises led to a phenomenon which is unique in the Western world, that is the political role played by Europeanist technocrats (from Ciampi to Monti, to Draghi) as they appeared the last chance for the survival of a weak political system and the guarantors of Italy’s international loyalties in both the European context and the western system.

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