Italy is not among the first countries that pop to mind at the mention of nuclear weapons. In fact, Italy remains the only G8 country not to have her own nuclear power plants after Italians voted overwhelmingly in a referendum in 1987 and another one in 2011 to not pursue nuclear power (ill-timed, some would say, as they were in the immediate aftermath of Chernobyl and Fukushima). However, during the 1950s and 1960s, Italy remained a vocal force in NATO nuclear strategy and was considered as one of the countries on the threshold of making a nuclear device during discussions over the framing of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The nuclear issue was important for Italian politicians as a benchmark of power and prestige among the world’s nations. In the immediate aftermath of World War II and in the shadow of Hiroshima, it was evident that nuclear powers would have greater influence in international affairs. Italy’s nuclear policy was thus geared towards attaining parity with her European neighbors more than providing a viable nuclear deterrent for the Italian people.
The Italian story is an interesting one and an important one, for it bears uncanny resemblances to the tale of other threshold nuclear weapons states and nuclear weapons states. The arguments the Italian (and West German) delegation raised echo Indian ones later, and Iranian ones today. The fundamental difference, however, is that unlike India and Iran, Italy enjoyed the protection of a US nuclear umbrella…for whatever extended deterrence was worth. This is a critical feature of the Italian saga, and it must also be conceded that Rome’s threat matrix was different from the one Tel Aviv, New Delhi, Islamabad, Pyongyang, and Tehran perceive. Nonetheless, these similarities and differences can inform our understanding of the Iranian situation today, and is therefore an important chapter in the history of nuclear proliferation.
The end of World War II saw Europe divided again into the capitalist West led by the United States and the communist East controlled by the Soviet Union. By 1949, Europe was divided between two blocs, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Warsaw Pact. The rapid sequence of events since the Nazi surrender in 1945 put the former axis powers, West Germany and Italy, on the side of their former conquerors against the Soviet Union. This inversion caused some problems in the postwar settlement. Italy, despite two years of co-belligerency with the Allies in 1943, was still seen as a symbol of the disastrous adventure of fascism. The peace treaty at the end of the war subjected the Italian state to severe limitations in its postwar military capabilities. As part of NATO, however, such restrictions hindered Italy’s defense planning and curbed her role within the transatlantic organization Furthermore, World War II had shown the Italian military their country was simply incapable materially to engage in a prolonged conflict and they would, consequently, never be on an equal footing with other Great Powers or pursue a fully autonomous foreign policy. These were the parameters within which Italian nuclear policy would be constrained.
Italian leaders quickly understood that the only way for Italy to regain a respectable place in the international arena unless they partnered with a powerful ally. Alongside this, the De Gasperi government also set about trying to remove or modify the terms imposed upon them at the end of World War II which they saw as confining Italy to a status of permanent inferiority. The purpose of the desired changes was not merely to facilitate Italian rearmament but to also permit Italy political maneuverability and return Italy formally to a position of equality with other European powers. The first opportunity for this arose in 1947. With increasing tension between the victorious Allies and with trouble fomenting on Italy’s eastern border, De Gasperi sought membership to the Atlantic alliance. The US military had been providing the Italians with the most basic military supplies since 1947, and through repeated contacts with the British military as well, Italy was able to sustain an embryo of a military establishment. There was, however, no illusion that Italy could maintain her security alone. The decision to join NATO was difficult and the Italian wording implied neutrality but, nonetheless, the proposal depended upon US military aid and guarantee of Italian borders. Furthermore, De Gasperi understood that exclusion from the Atlantic alliance would have relegated Italy to a marginal position internationally. Inclusion in the Atlantic pact could only partially solve Italy’s security and defense problems. It is true that to be counted among the signatories of the covenant on April 4, 1949, allowed Italy to regain much of her lost status. However, Italy’s weight in the alliance would only be commensurate with her military commitments which remained a secondary concern due to economic necessities. Instead, the De Gasperi government joined the various planning committees within NATO without clearly stating the military role Italy would play within the group, hoping to achieve through diplomacy what could not be attained through a show of military might.
De Gasperi’s first obstacle was the peace treaty – Article 44 severely limited the Italian military’s conventional capabilities while Article 51 forbade Italy the development of nuclear weapons. The treaty had originally been intended by the British and the Americans to eradicate any ambitions of engaging in power politics the Italian ruling class may have held. Indeed, the elimination of Italian colonies, the fleet, the limitations on territorial sovereignty implicit in the demilitarization of Italy’s borders and arms limitations had forced the political actors to severely downsize Italian foreign policy in the new international context. On the other hand, since the end of hostilities, the British had taken over the Military Mission to the Italian Army (MMIA) and become their primary supplier of equipment. The establishment of refueling stations in 1946 in Italy for the Royal Navy in whose sphere of influence the Mediterranean fell, allowed Italy to partner with a potential ally while allowing the former Allied power ample access to the Italian military. Thus, Italian planners hoped, would they be able to escape the objectionable clauses in the peace treaty.
At this early date, any consideration by the Italian military to introduce nuclear weapons into the Italian arsenal would have been purely theoretical. Although there were no official inquiries from the military in this regard, the military magazines, Rivista Aeronautica, Rivista Militare, and the Rivista Maritima certainly noted the new international hierarchy in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The journals carried articles on the physics of the new weapons and, at times naïve, articles on the impact of these wonder weapons on the future of warfare. The journals stopped just short of suggesting an Italian nuclear program – as a 1946 article in the Rivista Militare argued, just as it made no sense for a boy from a poor background to refuse to study combustion engines because he did not own a car, Italy should not desist from nuclear research. Another article in the Rivista Maritima stated that the advent of an entirely new class of weapons underscored how far Italy lagged behind the major powers and urged the government to catch up in the scientific-technical field. The point was also made that since only the richest of countries could afford nuclear weapons, smaller countries such as Italy needed to constantly update defensive methodologies and maintain a modern military. However, some contributors such as General Amedeo Mecozzi were not convinced: conceding that atomic bombardment would cause unfathomable damage to the enemy, especially on the Eurasian plains, it would not result in a quick and decisive victory or cause a complete collapse of the enemy. States would do well to maintain advanced conventional militaries for their defense Thus, there was a realistic assessment of Italian military and economic-industrial capabilities in the late 1940s. There was also a willingness to overcome these difficulties and reduce the conspicuous gap in science and technology between Italy and the Great Powers.
Before the war, Italians had been at the forefront of the new science of nuclear physics. Besides the Nobel laureate Enrico Fermi, brilliant minds such as Bruno Rossi, Bruno Pontecorvo, Franco Rasetti, and Edoardo Amaldi probed the atom for its secrets. Barring Amaldi, who could not secure US emigration papers for his family, the others escaped the fascist regime to the New World. After the liberation of Rome, the scientists who had left emigrated re-established contacts with those who remained in Italy but were careful not to reveal information about the Manhattan Project. It was only after the atomic bombing of Japan that Fermi could lift the veil, without revealing too many details, on what he had been doing during the war. The devastation of the two Japanese cities divided Italian scientists as it did scientists worldwide. While Rasetti and Rossi expressed their revulsion towards the bomb, Fermi was convinced that the Manhattan Project spurred Allied victory. Amaldi, who had stayed in Italy, candidly admitted that although he was dismayed by the destructive purposes science was being put to, he did not know what he would have done had he been in the US and invited to participate in the project. In general, scientists who had remained in Italy held progressive views adverse to using nuclear physics for military purposes. This group, over time, came to be the dominant group in the Italian debates over nuclear weapons and were willing to work with the military on only defensive nuclear issues such as how to limit damage in case of nuclear attack.
In October 1945, a center for the study of nuclear physics and fundamental particles was established under the stewardship of Amaldi. Financial constrains prevented the Center from acquiring an isotope separation plant or a 20 MeV betatron, and focus was initially limited to the study of cosmic rays and microwaves. However, in 1946, three scientists in Milan, Giorgio Salvini, Carlo Salvetti, and Joseph Bull, and an engineer from Edison, Mario Silvestri became the core group of the newly-established Centro Informazioni, Studi ed Esperienze (CISE). Together with Amaldi, the group began exploring the idea of constructing an Italian nuclear reactor. With some financial support from the private sector, CISE was able to report some achievements despite great difficulty in acquiring uranium for research. The group set up a pilot heavy water facility, conducted some important experiments, created a few state-of-the-art laboratories, and published its own scientific journal, the Italia Nucleare. It was clear, however, that most of the Italian government took no interest in the project at the time. Part of the problem was that most politicians were ignorant of the new field and more concerned with the quotidian struggles of domestic politics. The few who did follow nuclear research, such as Gustavo Colonetti, president of the Consiglio nazionale delle ricerche (CNR), wrote to the Italian Prime Minister about the developments in the field in the military as well as civilian ambit. In December 1949, the Ministry of Defence expressed interest in the CISE and concluded an agreement in October 1950 to send three officers to work at the Center and contribute $1 million annually. Nonetheless, until the early 1950s, the Italian government did not pay much attention to nuclear research. In the same period, the UKAEA in Britain, the CEA in France, and the FOA and the AB Atomenergi in Sweden made great strides in the field. However, due to restrictions placed on Italy by the peace treaty, Italian disinterestedness in nuclear matters, and financial constraints brought on by reconstruction needs and indemnities from the war, nuclear research received little funding in Italy.
The Korean War galvanized NATO into taking rearmament seriously. Even in Italy, though there was no immediate danger to the country, some ministers began to push for substantial increases in the military budget. It was in this context that the Italian Foreign Minister Carlo Sforza attempted to renegotiate the peace treaty and do away with armament ratios between the former Allies and Italy, arguing that world events had bypassed the spirit which animated the treaty. In January 1951, The US National security Council passed a resolution by which the Truman administration could take the necessary steps to ensure that the military clauses of the peace treaty did not impede Italian rearmament. By March that year, Italian minister Piero Malvestiti had reached an initial agreement with the United States according to which Italy would spend L20 billion per month on defense until June 1952. In return, the United States would increase aid to Italy and permanently review the peace treaty. With this, ended any hope of Italy passively solving her defense needs through an alliance focusing on her economic and social recovery. The government had been driven by the evolution of the international situation to engage directly in setting up the own defenses despite violent opposition from the Left. Thus was born the rearmament program in the midst of many difficulties and uncertainties that would characterize the entire path, and would prove a dilemma not just to the De Gasperi government but to successive ones as well.
Parallel to debates on conventional rearmament ran attempts to organise and streamline Italian nuclear research, for both civil and military purposes. The scientific community began to press the government for increased funding towards this goal and found support in the Ministry of Defence. The result was the establishment of two bodies, the Istituto nazionale di fisica nucleare (INFN) in August 1951 and the Consiglio nazionale delle ricerche nucleare (CNRN) in June 1952. Funding was difficult to come by for these institutes just as for the CISE, and the idea was put to the government to partner with private industry on nuclear research. Deputies and senators met such as Casati, Damiani, and Tibaldi Chiesa met with leading figures from the nuclear estate such as Bolla, Amaldi, Medi, and Salvetti to discuss how to promote the field and protect the national scientific heritage. Above all, it was urgent that the Italian government awaken to the issues concerning international control of nuclear developments. This group of scientists and politicians, organized as the Centro di studi nucleare, strongly supported international nuclear disarmament, partly as a strong skepticism prevailed that only the United States and the Soviet Union could pursue ambitious nuclear programs while the war-ravaged states of Europe would need to cooperate with each other to attain similar results. As Amaldi stressed, nuclear developments in Italy had to remain peaceful in scope as anything else was beyond Italian economic and industrial capabilities.
Due to the initiative taken by Vittorio del Biasi and Parliament, the Ministry of Defence began to explore its options by inviting the Ministries of Education, Industry and Commerce, and Trade to set up a joint commission on atomic energy. The efforts of Amaldi ensured that the project did not remain primarily military initiative. Progress was stunted by bureaucratic turf wars, and it was only with the worsening of the Korean War that more resources allocated to defense were directed towards nuclear research. The CNRN reflected the political, scientific, military and industrial interests in nuclear energy and charged with 1. civil applications of nuclear energy, 2. fundamental experiments, 3. international relations, and 4. preparing for defense against a nuclear attack. A fifth goal, atomic weapons, was not articulated as it was considered significantly beyond the means of a country like Italy (despite interest in military applications of the atom by the Ministry of Defence). Nonetheless, because of each group’s distrust of others’ motives, progress was delayed as debates on scope and authority dragged on for months. The Italian government also considered reaching out to the United States for cooperation on nuclear research, but due to the McMahon Act, decided not to do so. In the final analysis, it is inconclusive whether separation between military and civil applications of nuclear research were by choice or due to mutual misunderstandings. Within the Defence establishment, individual branches conducted nuclear research on their own outside the purview of the CNR. The Naval Academy at Livorno, for example, had the famous Tito Franzini head their program and under his guidance, would develop applications for the Centro per le applicazioni miitari dell’energia nucleare (CAMEN). This parallel track of nuclear research demonstrates that despite repeated contacts between the scientific community, the military, and other sectors of society, the relationship between nuclear and civilian research could not be harmonised and the differences between the two would only increase in the coming years.
Between February 1952 and December 1954, the entire security policy of the Western bloc underwent a series of important structural and doctrinal changes, which determined NATO’s strategic approach for years to come. The changes gave NATO a character that would remain virtually unchanged until the end of the Cold War. It was in this period that the Atlantic alliance’s operational planning began to include nuclear weapons, and this became a sensitive issue in relations between the blocs as well as between the main Western powers. The massive conventional rearmament mandated by NSC 68 had met with initial success both within the United States and with the creation of the European Defence Community, but the failure to ratify the EDC showed deep differences between the two sides of the Atlantic, mainly on how to bear the financial burden of the costly strategy. Assuming office in January 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower believed that a long term strategy to fight the Cold War was dependent upon lowering escalating military costs because those costs would have blunted the real secret weapon the United States possessed in the bipolar confrontation, namely, its economy. Overturning NSC 68, the new administration decided that the most effective method of containing the USSR was not through the conventional arms as had been advocated in Lisbon in February 1952, but through a greater emphasis on nuclear retaliation. Thus, the National Security Council passed resolution 162/2, which relied on massive retaliation. In essence, the Eisenhower administration tried to reconcile a conservative fiscal policy with an international foreign policy: technology provided the solution and allowed hegemony to be maintained at low cost.
This emphasis on nuclear weapons was by no means novel – a British paper had argued along similar lines in 1952. However, one of the consequences of the new strategy was the altering of the military’s role from defense to deterrence. Therefore, if the British were somewhat predisposed to support this new American initiative, the rest of Europe was not, for it was feared that what lay behind the Eisenhower administration’s insistence of the advantages of NSC 162/2 was a gradual withdrawal of US troops from Europe and consequently a smaller US role in its defense. Despite European fears of US neo-isolationism, Eisenhower was not keen on his European allies adopting the nuclear strategy immediately. Marshall Montgomery, Deputy Supreme Commander Allied Powers Europe, also pointed out that NATO strategy cannot rely exclusively on nuclear weapons.
The balance between the two NSC resolutions was achieved when in April 1954, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles suggested the introduction of tactical nuclear warheads in Europe. The extensive use of tactical nuclear weapons in NATO forces would augment the conventional forces that would be smaller than envisaged by NSC 68. The concept of nuclear deterrence was thus transferred from the strategic level to a tactical one. As US military technology improved, the number of tactical weapons deployed such as the Honest John, Corporal II, and Mk-7 along the border with Warsaw Pact countries increased dramatically. The failure to ratify the EDC meant that there could be no reliance on a strong conventional European force and role of nuclear weapons became even more prominent.
The new force structure increased tensions among the Western powers because of the obvious disparity between European powers and the United States. This was furthered by US laws that forbade the transfer of nuclear know-how, civilian or military, from the US to even its allies. Aware of the problems that would be caused by massive retaliation not just in relations with allies but NATO planning, Eisenhower declared an Atoms for Peace program by which the United States would assist any country in the development of civilian nuclear technology. A 1954 amendment to the McMahon Act also allowed the US to transfer to allies information on the size, shape, scope, weight, and effects of American warheads, as well as nuclear fuel and material for the construction of nuclear reactors. Although the Eisenhower administration saw this as a first step in nuclear cooperation with other NATO countries, it unexpectedly opened a Pandora’s box on the management of the nuclear arsenal.
Eisenhower’s decisions had a profound impact on Italian nuclear policy. No longer were nuclear weapons abstract, but the deployment of tactical warheads throughout Europe made the issue a very real one on which politicians had to make actual choices affecting national life. As Massimo Magistrati, Director General for international cooperation of the Ministry of External Affairs, wrote to the Italian ambassador to the United States, these weapons would cause a revolution in the Atlantic alliance were they to remain the purview of only a few nations. Underscoring the Italian dilemma for the next couple of decades, he asked how Italy would be able to participate in the formulation of strategy of the alliance if she could not contribute her own weapons to it.
The Italian military also had similar views. After the withdrawal of British and French troops from Austria, the Italians were left with the prospect of defending their northeastern border themselves. Even though Yugoslavia had declared its neutrality, Italy felt that she could not rely on a joint Italo-Yugoslavian defense in the case of a Soviet attack. Defence of Italian territorial integrity was a necessity dictated by domestic political considerations, and since neither a small contingent of US troops nor the questionable support of Yugoslavia would augment Italian forces sufficiently, tactical weapons seemed the solution, particularly given the hilly terrain in the region. Thus, when NATO strategy shifted to reliance on nuclear weapons, the Italian military was already prepared for the new plans. Admittedly, the air force and navy remained less enthused about nuclear defense, but that was probably because the use of the weapons was still largely within the operational ambit of the army.
Italy’s civilian nuclear industry remained in disarray. Since the 1954 amendment to the McMahon Act, cooperation with the United States was easier, but it was impossible to create a unified and coherent structure for nuclear research and civil applications of nuclear energy. The private sector opposed any centralized control of nuclear power as they feared it would be a first step towards the nationalization of all energy sources, and the scientific community did not trust the Ministry of Defence. A significant episode in this regard occurred in March 1954 when the Minister of Defence formally asked Parliament that he be granted the authority to authorize all nuclear research, including the granting of funds for the research. The situation was somewhat resolved when the CNRN finally agreed to allow a representative from the Ministry of Defence to participate as an observer in their research activities. Feeling isolated from the nuclear realm, the Defence community urged that all Italian nuclear research facilities be strengthened so that Italy may have something to contribute to the European community and the Atlantic alliance, without which Italy would never be seen as at par with other powers. The struggle for resources as well as primacy in the Italian nuclear sphere locked the CNRN and CAMEN in conflict with each other and left nuclear Italy without any coherent direction or policy.
The arrival of the Southern European Task Force (SETAF) in Italy at the end of 1955 was a welcome relief for Italian planners. Although the force was little more than a regiment of US troops which would be ineffectual in combat, it signified a political guarantee that the Italian military would not be left solely responsible for the security of the eastern border. The Italian Minister of Defence, Paolo Taviani, even suggested to Dulles that a new command be created, CINCSOUTH, to defend NATO’s southern flank. Based near Venice, the command would have at least three Allied divisions and a naval base in Ancona connected to the Sixth Fleet. As Taviani would later admit, the Italian request was based on military and political needs and psychological impact the presence of American forces in the north-east would have. The Italian request coincided with a report from the Joint Chief of Staff to the Secretary of Defence that US troops in Austria be redeployed in Italy with support from a nuclear regiment. Wanting to avoid a lengthy debate in the Italian parliament, the report was approved and the redeployment was rapid. No mention was made of SETAF’s nuclear potential, for the US McMahon Act prohibited such discussion and the Italians were not keen to announce that a framework allowing foreign nuclear assets to be stationed in the country had been quietly formulated and approved. The Italians feared that a lengthy debate would push the US towards deploying their troops in West Germany and weaken Italy’s eastern frontier. The matter of the deployment of nuclear weapons was also something that needed to handled delicately – although Italy was not home to a powerful anti-nuclear sentiment as some other European nations were, the Italian public nonetheless shared a dislike of the weapons with their European cousins. Furthermore, if either the Partito Socialista Italiano (PSI) or the Partito Communista d’Italia (PCI) capitalised on the widespread hostility towards nuclear weapons, it would put pressure on the Italian government and NATO to remove SETAF from Italy.
SETAF proved a huge political success. As Assistant Secretary of Defence, Frank Nash, astutely observed after a tour of US bases in Europe in 1957, Italy was among the most enthusiastic supporters of NATO. The rare desire for cooperation with the United States was based on a long tradition of friendship between the two countries and the ability of the United States to assist in Italian defence. US economic and military aid allowed Italy to play a greater role in Europe, and despite political instability, the Italian government generally wanted more, not less, US deployment in their country.
From the perspective of soldiers and diplomats, SETAF confirmed the centrality of the relationship with the United States for Italian foreign policy, especially as regards the whole question of the defense and security. The deployment of nuclear weapons also allowed the Italian military a role in the nuclear planning of the Western alliance and gave them privileged position. In fact, when the US suggested to the Italians that SETAF be slowly indigenized, the General Secretary of the MEA, Adolfo Alessandrini, was alarmed and informed the US that any reduction of US troops in Italy would be greatly regretted. The NATO force was also seen as a bulwark against the temptation of the Democrazia Cristiana (DC) to appease more Leftist elements in Italian politics as it would anchor Italy firmly in the Western camp. SETAF also resulted in a jump in quality in the Italian armed forces and gave Italy greater confidence among its NATO partners.
The increased importance of nuclear weapons in NATO strategy led to a division of labour between nuclear powers and the non-nuclear powers. The privileged position the US and the UK held as the sole possessors of nuclear weapons in NATO was resented by the Europeans, and this resentment was brought to the fore by the Suez crisis in 1956 and the shock of Sputnik in 1957. Eisenhower and Dulles were fully aware of the discontentment among their allies and were inclined to share more with them had it not been for the insurmountable obstacles posed by Congress. Over his presidency, Eisenhower became more willing to circumvent US law and fully share nuclear technology with European allies as he saw the McMahon Act’s prohibitions on the sharing of nuclear technology as counterproductive, denying allies that which the Soviet Union already possessed. The problem, however, was the German question: if the US were to share its technology with European nations, it could not refuse to do so with the Germans unless it wished to maintain an attitude of open discrimination. Consenting to German nuclear weapons would entail a very serious crisis with the USSR.
For their part, Europeans had begun negotiations on setting up Euratom, but the talks were not producing results as Britain wished to maintain its special relationship with the US even at the cost of abandoning Europe. The shock of Sputnik and the subsequent testing of an intercontinental ballistic missile by the Soviets shook the alliance to the core because, for the first time, the US mainland was under direct threat and European leaders began to question the credibility of the US deterrent in the face of these developments. Euratom thus became a more prominent issue for Europe, and though its charter expressed civilian applications of nuclear energy, economic growth, and development of science and technology, there remained a latent military dimension. Due to the dual use nature of the technology, choices made in a purely civilian program had profound implications for military uses. For example, the decision to set up a uranium enrichment plant rather than buy it at a lower cost from the US was difficult to justify along purely economic lines.
The French were most committed to the idea of a European atomic agency – indeed, they had already set up their own institutes for military and civil applications of nuclear energy. French interlocutors pushed hard for a common isotope separation plant but were beaten by the West German insistence that there be no reference to common production of enriched uranium in the Euratom treaty. In the following months, the French declared that they were willing to invest in a common European isotope separation plant or a purely national one, and that the treaty should not prohibit any member from pursuing military applications of the atom. After the failure of the EDC, the Eisenhower administration saw this as renewed hope for a European Union, and informed European governments that they would not complete any pending negotiations with them on bilateral nuclear cooperation lest it hinder the European project.
The administration quickly went back on this, however, and decided to remain a source of enriched uranium to Europe. This was largely due to pressure from the Atomic Energy Commission that highlighted the danger and instability of a nuclear Europe completely independent of the US. The Suez crisis spurred the creation of Euratom and allowed latent anti-Americanism to be disguised as a project in European integration. For her part, despite a high level of cooperation with the United States, Italy was also unhappy with the Anglo-American monopoly on nuclear weapons. Italian diplomats wished the Americans would share their nuclear technology more freely and not emphasize the difference in status between the nuclear haves and the nuclear have-nots. Taviani, who had played a pivotal role in creating SETAF, was nonetheless critical of the US stance not to share the new weapons with Italy, who had already deployed them on her soil. The two-tiered class system that had developed within NATO was thus resented in Italy as much as it was in France and Italy had become more conducive to the idea of Euratom. Interestingly, during the negotiations, Italian delegates found themselves in agreement with the French quite often.
In the debate that was developing within the Atlantic Alliance on the control of nuclear weapons, the Italian government expressed itself so negatively against the atomic monopoly held by the United States and Britain, and promoted, albeit with extreme caution, greater European cooperation in this field, even if only to exert pressure on the US to encourage them to share their technology with European allies. By the end of 1957, the Italians were working closely with the Federal Republic of Germany and France and discussed the manufacture of modern weapons including nuclear weapons. Although the negotiations were officially denied, individual ministers would refer to the tripartite agreement occasionally as none of the countries wished to harm their relationship with their biggest benefactor, the United States. No party ever spoke clearly on the details and if they did, with often contradictory details, keeping the agreement in relative secrecy.
The US proposal to station intermediate ranged ballistic missiles in Europe dampened the enthusiasm of the three European states, for while they resented an Anglo-American superiority over them, the promise of IRBMs and sharing of the related technology was too tempting to ignore. The Italians also welcomed the opportunity to station more American hardware on Italian soil. Taviani reasoned that the purpose of an Italian nuclear deterrent was to convince the USSR of immediate reprisal in case of an attack. If Italy were left to defend her borders on her own, there was no guarantee that the United States would respond to a Soviet attack on Italy. A large NATO contingent in Italy would, however, force the United States into action as any attack then would result in the loss of American lives. A purely European deterrent would be much smaller than the American nuclear arsenal and even though Italy would field and control her own nuclear weapons, they would be less of a guarantee than a strong US presence in the country.
Given the state of development in Italy, these arguments, though sound, seem post hoc. Italy’s primary preoccupation with NATO deployment and nuclear weapons was not to be relegated to a position of permanent inferiority and to press upon the United States the difficulties the McMahon Act raised for America’s European allies. A key problem in the tripartite agreement between France, Italy, and the FRG was that the French were unwilling to share any nuclear assets with the Germans – the question of German conventional rearmament had already antagonized the French a few years ago. Furthermore, as the Italian ambassador to London, Count Zoppi, articulated, French motivations for a European nuclear research group were grounded in nationalism, anti-Americanism, and anti-British sentiment, none of which interested the Italians. Therefore, the Italians were not convinced that their triumvirate was worth a serious commitment. Yet they understood the importance of French political machinations for European unity – under the Anglo-American world order, Europe would be reduced to satellite states, not allies. Hence, Rome maintained close relations with the French, so as not to isolate them within NATO. Ultimately, the return of Charles de Gaulle as the president of France scuttled the trilateral cooperation as he indicated no interest in nuclear cooperation and the FRG and Italy were not about to finance French nationalism. As Pietro Quaroni, Italy’s ambassador to Bonn wrote to Rome, Italy would be best served by giving priority to her relations with the United States, hope that nothing serious happens to the Atlantic community, and take all necessary steps to put, as much as possible, her relationship with America above any possible NATO crisis.
The stationing of Thor and Jupiter missiles in Europe again raised hope that the US would share nuclear technology with NATO. This was quickly dashed, as American strategists now also worried about nuclear proliferation on top of Soviet reaction to any suggestion of West Germany having a finger on the nuclear button. The US would not be able to square this circle until the signing of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968.
Italy was the first country in Europe to host the new American weapon systems. The Italians were concerned, however, that countries that hosted US IRBMs in future would receive more favorable consideration than them, particularly France, which was on the verge of testing her own nuclear weapons. Alessandrini proposed, therefore, a clause in the final treaty that would declare Italy as a “most favoured nation,” allowing Italy to partake in any terms given to other states more favorable than those she had agreed to. The Foreign Ministry put forward other proposals: 1. Italy would not contribute financially to the deployment, 2. Italy would receive additional support from the Major Defense Acquisition Program (MDAP) as the nuclear-capable IRBMs made Italy a primary target of Soviet strikes, 3. the program would be placed under Italian command, and 4. the missiles would be under joint use. General Lauris Norstad, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, replied that the decision to launch shall remain with SACEUR in consultation with the United States and Italy, under Article 5 of NATO’s charter. It was also eventually agreed that the United States shall bear approximately 80% of the cost, and though Italy did not receive MFN status, were assured of priority consideration.
The Italian decision to accept deployment of the missiles on their territory, after the failure of the tripartite negotiations and discussions in NATO, was motivated by the view among Italy’s leaders that the IRBMs would move Italy into some form of common nuclear status within the Atlantic Alliance by strengthening and enhancing the position already achieved with the deployment of SETAF a few years earlier. The Jupiters were thus destined to become the lever that raised Italy to parity with the other great powers on either side of the Atlantic. As the Italian ambassador to Moscow, Luca Pietromarchi explained Italy’s new status, Italy was the only country in Europe from which missiles can hit deep into the Soviet rear. Outside of England, Italy was the only European country that could respond to the Soviet nuclear threat returning blow for blow. Paradoxically, even the Italian military was kept in the dark regarding the presence of nuclear warheads on the Jupiter missiles as the McMahon Act prohibited US officials from either confirming of denying the presence of nuclear weapons at any of their bases.
The Gaullist maneuver to create an informal club consisting of the United States, Britain, and France who would be the de facto heads of NATO alarmed Rome, afraid that it would undo all their efforts to place Italy among the foremost powers. Although Eisenhower rejected de Gaulle’s proposal, any discussion of the German question excluded Italy as a former Axis power. The Jupiters and SETAF were, therefore critical to Italy’s status in relations with the United States and the other powers. By January 1962, Italy’s Fanfani government had come to an agreement with the United States on nuclear issues. The agreement covered issues of storage, costs, control, and launch authorisation, but closed the door on any Italian ambition of a national nuclear programme. This action by the Fanfani administration reiterates our understanding of Italian nuclear policy, that Italy was not interested in nuclear weapons of her own except as a means to avoid a permanent state of inferiority compared to the nuclear powers.
Other than the Jupiter missiles, Italy also hosted two battalions each of Honest John and Corporal II rockets attached to SETAF. The Nike-Ajax anti-aircraft missiles were also based in Paua and were soon upgraded to the Nike-Hercules. These new missiles were equipped with W-3I warheads that had a yield of 3, 20, or 30 kilotons, and could be used as anti-aircraft missiles, surface-to-surface missiles, or anti-ballistic missiles. Italy also hosted nuclear-capable bombers, nuclear mines, howitzers capable of firing nuclear warheads, and a variety of NATO nuclear hardware. The lack of mobility of some of these systems, particularly the Jupiters, was severely criticized. The increasing availability of more modern systems made the Italian military acutely aware of their inability to afford the more modern systems without a resultant significant financial burden. For example, the Italian navy had expressed interest in the Polaris missiles due to the fact that they could even be launched from the sea. Deploying missiles that could be launched from submarines would reduce the chance of a punishing first strike against counterforce targets and increase the chance of a second strike. However, the Italian Defence General Staff approved the induction of the more mobile Polaris missile to replace the Jupiters deployed in Italy but expressed strong doubts that Italy could take part in a European consortium that would manufacture the missiles due to high costs. Yet interest remained among Italian politicians, for if the Polaris were adopted into the Italian navy aboard a ship such as the Garibaldi, a single nationality crew would give Italy tremendous influence in NATO. Even if the crew were drawn from a multilateral NATO pool, Italy would still be at the forefront of the latest weapons systems and strategy.
The new president of the United States, John Kennedy, balked at the idea of distributing US nuclear forces. Unlike his predecessor, Kennedy believed that the doctrine of massive retaliation had failed in the face of Soviet ICBMs, and the United States’ Cold War strategy should be to control a nuclear escalation than threaten annihilation. The new Secretary of Defence, Robert McNamara, therefore strove to centralize all use of nuclear weapons in the hands of the US president, limiting dispersal of nuclear weapons to US allies in Europe. The goal was to make a US deterrent more credible to the Europeans and the Soviets while making it less dangerous for Americans. Arguing that nuclear proliferation was a threat to both superpowers, Kennedy wished to work with the USSR to limit the spread of nuclear weapons, even at the cost of denying allies. The new administration was, however, divided on the nuclear issue. Many, like Undersecretary of State George Ball, believed that it was inevitable to grant some form of European control over NATO’s nuclear arsenal and urged the creation of a multilateral force as the only alternative to a handful of European national arsenals.
The Italian response to the Kennedy administration’s abandonment of massive retaliation in favor of large scale European conventional rearmament was complex. On the one hand, Rome also realized that post Sputnik, massive retaliation had lost credibility. On the other, they were averse to return to the old debate regarding European conventional rearmament and US nuclear primacy. The Kennedy government assured them, however, that they had no intention of halting the deployment of Polaris missiles in Europe. Conventional forces would raise the nuclear threshold and a centralized nuclear command would be more efficient in case of war. The Italians agreed that seeking the approval of every NATO member in the event of war with the USSR would be absurd, but they were not satisfied to leave all nuclear decisions in the hands of the US. Instead, they suggested, a committee of states producing and hosting nuclear weapons should be created, and the decision to launch nuclear missiles should be in their hands. The missiles stationed in the countries that vote against launching would not be used. In their first meeting with the new US president, Prime Minister Fanfani and Foreign Minister Segni reminded the President that Italy had taken the greatest risk in stationing nuclear missiles on its soil and should therefore be consulted in any decision regarding their use. It was also felt that such measures would be the best way to solve the German question.
The Cuban missile crisis had a profound impact on nuclear sharing. It strengthened Kennedy’s conviction that the spread of nuclear weapons was serious threat that needed to be addressed. The solution to the crisis came in the form of reducing proliferation – removing Soviet missiles from Cuba and US missiles from Turkey. It is not clear if in the discussions between Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet Foreign Minister, and Robert Kennedy, the US Secretary of Justice, the Italian missiles had also been promised away. There is no doubt that Kennedy was willing to sacrifice those missiles too if the situation arose. The Italian missiles were nevertheless scheduled to be removed to persuade Turkey to let go of her missiles, and this decision was made without informing the Italian government or even most members of the Kennedy government. The Italians, not failing to draw parallels between the Soviets in Cuba and the Americans in Italy, felt that their Jupiters were now merely a pawn in a game of nuclear chess between the two superpowers.
One approach to removing the Jupiter missiles from Italy would have been to do so while offering to deploy Polaris in return. However, the US government decided to inform the Italian Minister of Defence, Giulio Andreotti, of the removal of the US missiles and the deployment of Polaris aboard US submarines in the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, the conference between Kennedy and Macmillan at Nassau resulted in an ambiguous outcome that created further doubts among European states regarding Kennedy’s nuclear policy. From the Italian perspective, one of the questionable elements in Anglo-American cartel was that while on the one hand Washington gave nuclear assistance to Britain in the hope of tying her atomic arsenal to the American one, on the other, it was an implicit statement that the US would extend cooperation to other members of the Atlantic alliance only in the framework of a multilateral force. This contradicted any Italian hope that she would continue to develop a bilateral strategic nuclear relationship with the United States by virtue of Jupiters in the peninsula. Also specious was the possibility that the US would replace the old missile systems with modern ones to be conjointly managed by the US and Italy. In its place the United States offered to Italy and other European powers the possibility of joining a future multilateral force that was subject to some form of US control if the Europeans decided to proceed with its construction.
McNamara decided to package the removal of the Jupiters from Italy as a NATO force modernisation. Andreotti and Fanfani did not object to the principle of modernization but remained unconvinced regarding the MLF. To convince the Italians, Kennedy suggested the replacement of the Corporal II with Sergeant and embedding the Italian aircraft carrier Garibaldi in a key role in the MLF. After further meetings with Rusk and McNamara, it was agreed that US submarines would make use of Italian bases and that Italy would be part of the NATO subcommittee that would investigate, control, and direct the MLF. Shortly thereafter, Fanfani and Kennedy issued a joint press statement that declared Italy’s support for the MLF. After a visit to Italy, Henry Kissinger, who occasionally served as an informal advisor to the Kennedy government, observed that the Italians were only moderately interested in the MLF itself – they were more interested in installing the Polaris on the Garibaldi despite the technical impossibility of doing so. As for the Garibaldi itself, the Italians were willing to accept a minimum of US personnel on board to guard nuclear weapons, but not mixed crews of other nationalities. In short, they were prepared to commit the Garibaldi to a multinational but not a multilateral force.
Although much attention was given to the dismantling of the Jupiter missiles, few were aware of the consequences. This was in part due to the way in which the Kennedy administration presented it as a simple case of modernization of NATO’s nuclear arsenal, and in part because the barrage of propaganda in favor of the creation of multilateral nuclear force. The removal of Jupiter from Italy was in fact a symbolic divide in the Cold War between its most acute phase and a period of relaxation. Few realized that the dismantling of the bases was part of the slow and gradual journey towards arms control and that there would be no room henceforth for a nuclear deterrent that was not controlled by either of the two superpowers. The formula for the bilateral management of the Jupiter missiles also disappeared because its ambiguity no longer reflected the progressive rationalization centralisation of nuclear authority in the hands of the President of the United States which was the ultimate goal of the Kennedy administration’s nuclear policy.
Not surprisingly, the MLF was not received favorably in Europe. NATO members harbored deep doubts about the alliance’s new nuclear strategy. A crisis resulted from the clash of very different political and military conceptions, and was aggravated by the growing gap between the domestic policies of member states. Most were reluctant to develop independent nuclear forces, and even fewer were ready to tolerate a German nuclear program. The US-sponsored MLF, seemed the best alternative to the Italian Foreign Ministry as it was the only one which could restore confidence in NATO. De Gaulle’s policies had caused a severe crisis within NATO, and supporting him would have damaged the alliance even more. More importantly, it would have probably left Italy without its only existing security, the American nuclear umbrella. The two pillars of Italian foreign policy were to therefore remain a) loyalty to the Atlantic alliance, the cornerstone of Italian military security and therefore something which should not be jeopardized by anti-Americanism, and b) loyalty to European integration, understood as the creation of a federation of democratic states and cooperate with the United States within its ambit.
The signing of the Limited Test Ban Treaty in July 1963, which banned atmospheric testing and testing in space or under water was a major achievement and proved that cooperation between the blocs was possible. This reduced pressure for an MLF from the US as they realised that fewer nuclear powers would make future arms control agreements easier. Publicly however, they continued to support the MLF.
Negotiations on the European force were not proceeding smoothly. In Italy, Director General of Political Affairs Roberto Gaja, writing under the pseudonym of Roberto Guidi, argued that the proliferation of nuclear centers would upset the strategic parity between superpowers and force them to act more cautiously. Stopping short of calling for an Italian national nuclear program, he urged the creation of a collective European deterrent which could then be used without the consent of each individual state. The US right to veto the use of the MLF also caused friction – the Italian MEA suggested that a European clause be added, which would transition from an MLF with a US veto to one in which European partners would organize themselves under a common defense policy. Furthermore, Italian politicians remained undecided on the MLF for fear of domestic repercussions. The new Labour government in Britain led by Harold Wilson, suspicious of the MLF, came up with their own proposal, the Atlantic Nuclear Force that was unanimously rejected. Upon the suggestion that not only the US but the British could also veto the use of nuclear force, Alessandrini wrote to US ambassador Finletter that such a solution could lead not only to Italy’s withdrawal of support to the MLF but even Italian neutrality. At the same time, Alessandrini explained that Italy was ready to take on 15% of the total cost of the MLF. She would, of course, be part of the internal committee in charge of planning. Ultimately, unable to reach an agreement, the MLF faded away.
NcNamara’s announcement of the creation of a Nuclear Planning Group in 1965 took everyone by surprise, but Italy expressed an immediate interest once it was clear that it would also be part of the NPG. The French withdrawal from NATO’s military structure had worried the Aldo Moro government that it would be isolated, and the NPG provided an opportune venue to display Italy’s equality with Britain, France, and West Germany. Participation in the early stages of the NPG together with the appointment of Italian air force general Nino Pasti as Deputy SACEUR for Nuclear Affairs constituted the highlight for Italian diplomacy within NATO. The beginning of negotiations on the NPT caused Italy much disappointment and her participation within NATO’s nuclear planning lost its intensity.
The renewed impetus to concluding a treaty of non-proliferation evoked grave doubts from Italy and the FRG and became the subject of acrimonious debates between Rome and Washington. The stimulus for this was the Chinese nuclear test in October 1964. In the immediate aftermath, Secretary of Defence Roswell Gilpatric concluded in a study that urged the Johnson administration to consider non-proliferation as the surest means of reducing threats to US security. Italy participated in the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee which was tasked with formulating a treaty. The first hurdle in the talks was the desire to keep open the option of an MLF for Europe which the USSR rejected. Until the end of 1966, the ENDC meetings merely became a venue from which to hurl diatribes and invectives at the other bloc. The Italian position was formulated in this era, and Italian opinion would change quite dramatically once serious negotiations began.
Throughout the negotiations, Italy supported the US goal of non-proliferation with a special dispensation allowed to Europe. However, Italian negotiators were adept at defending their country’s national interests and rejected of all forms of discrimination between nuclear and non-nuclear powers. In July 1965, Fanfani greeted the opening of ENDC meeting. In his speech, Fanfani said that the non-nuclear states were becoming increasingly concerned for their safety, and if the nuclear powers were not able to reach rapid agreement on a draft, he proposed a new initiative. The Italian initiative suggested the adoption of a unilateral voluntary and temporary moratorium from the non-nuclear states, which for a number of years would commit to renounce the nuclear option and to accept, on a voluntary basis, the controls of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the fissile material in their possession. The confirmation of the surrender of fissile material by the non-nuclear states would be conditioned upon the nuclear states reaching some sort of agreement on disarmament. After a period of time, if no agreement had been reached, the non-nuclear states would recover their freedom of action.
The Italian proposal was received quite positively, for it did not discriminate between nuclear states and non-nuclear states. Unlike the US proposal which insisted on mandatory controls, the Italian proposal stated that any declaration of renunciation by a non-nuclear state would be valid only if accompanied by statements of powers that were in similar conditions, and also that any country could easily end their commitment if other states changed their mind and obtained nuclear weapons. Both conditions could be conceived not only as measures to protect national security and to foreshadow a possible reason for treatment withdrawal from the Treaty, but also as a maneuver to prevent the introduction of stricter measures. The Italian delegation insisted that any treaty on non-proliferation should not affect existing alliances, at least until a general treaty on disarmament had rendered the alliances useless. They also stressed that an NPT should not prevent in any way the rise of a European federation composed of nuclear and non-nuclear states – as other proposals stood, all other members of a European union would be guilty of violating the treaty on non-proliferation unless and until Britain and France renounced nuclear weapons, thus hindering European integration. The Italian position reiterated again in March 1966 by Prime Minister Moro, was that Italy favored arms control and the arrest of the further spread of nuclear weapons. Italy was, however, also committed to the principle of non-discrimination and did not wish to see its hard-earned status of equality among European powers vanish with the MLF.
By early 1967, the US and the USSR had come to an agreement about the treaty and presented it to the rest of the group. The new draft, which resembles the final draft closely, was immediately attacked from all sides, and the Italians strove to make the US accept three principles, namely, 1. the treaty did not prevent European integration, 2. the treaty should be signed by all states close to developing nuclear weapons, all states around the Mediterranean, and all states on Italy’s border, and 3. the treaty should not interfere in the peaceful applications of nuclear energy. The Italian delegation also strongly objected to the unlimited duration of the treaty, arguing for a set period after which it could be renewed if the nuclear states had made progress towards disarmament. The joint US-Soviet proposal would in effect crystallize permanently a position of military and hence political inequality between nuclear and non-nuclear states. Within Europe, this would mean a clear dominance of the French military. Lastly, there was no commitment on the part of the nuclear powers to move towards disarmament. Behind the criticism, there was much bitterness and disappointment in the Italian camp to see the end of a foreign policy they had pursued diligently and patiently over two decades. To sign the treaty as proposed was to accept that Italy occupied a lower rank, not so much vis-a-vis the superpowers, which might have been more acceptable, but also against European neighbors such as Britain and especially France, with whom equality was considered essential. Worse, the treaty seemed to reward France for de Gaulle’s fractious policies while punishing Italy, who had remained loyal to the US and to Europe.
The prevailing view in Italy was that the US had betrayed Europe to reach an agreement with the USSR on nuclear proliferation and on Vietnam. As Roberto Ducci observed a few years later, the United States sold out the European Union to the Soviets for peace in Vietnam and that that is the main reason for pressure on the FRG and Italy – it is difficult to maintain good grace while being castrated of your options for a nuclear defence. The result of Johnson’s policy was that Gerald Ford had to lower the stars and stripes in Saigon shamefacedly while a mortal blow was struck to the political unity of Europe. Opposition to the new proposal came from all sections of society. Newspapers questioned the treaty proposals and carried articles by and interviews of retired diplomats that mockingly compared the treaty to the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Italy also engaged in private discussions with the FRG, India, and Japan who shared Italy’s strong reservations of the latest proposal. Unfortunately for Italy, the latter two were not interested in the European case and it was politically difficult for Italy to align with West Germany publicly.
In July 1968, the debates finally ended, and President Johnson submitted the treaty to the US Congress for ratification. In Italy, due to a strange convergence of the Centrists with the Communists, the approval of the treaty neared 90% in Parliament. Just when it seemed that nothing could stop the ratification of the treaty, the Prague Spring erupted. Arguing that the invasion of Czechoslovakia had altered the ratio of forces in Europe by introducing a significant number of Warsaw Pact divisions into the heart of Europe, the Italian Government decided that it was not appropriate to immediately sign the NPT in an uncertain international environment although Parliament had already processed the necessary authorization. Finally, with the Rumor government in power, Foreign Minister Pietro Nenni signed the NPT, hoping it would ease the tensions in Europe. The Italian parliament did not ratify the treaty until May 1975, after the IAEA and Euratom reached an agreement on the inspection of nuclear facilities of member states.
The Indian nuclear test of May 1974 underscored for opponents of the new nuclear regime the failure of the NPT in preventing proliferation and giving adequate assurances to non-nuclear states. Gaja raised the issue of an amendment to the NPT, allowing for a third class of states classified as “militarily non-nuclear.” This class would include threshold states that had held back from testing nuclear weapons but had the capacity to do so at a moment’s notice, and the European community and Italy certainly fit in this category. Gaja also argued that this would also present an opportunity for discussion of a seat on the UN Security Council as a permanent member. Many diplomats agreed with this view, particularly given that many states around the Mediterranean had not acceded to the NPT (Albania, Algeria, France, Egypt, Israel, Libya, Spain, Portugal and Turkey), discrimination between nuclear and non-nuclear states had not been resolved, and no signatory of the NPT had recognised the exception in the case of European integration.
The decision to ratify the treaty was to allow Italy to participate in the first review conference in May 1975, and perhaps exert some pressure behind the scenes. It was a ratification without illusion; for once in Italian history, had a nuclear decision been taken without any hope of extracting concessions from either superpower.