North Atlantic Treaty Organization

(NATO)
   Italy signed the North Atlantic Treaty on 4 April 1949. The decision to enter the Western alliance was a hugely controversial one in an ideologically divided nation. In a parliamentary debate shortly before the signature of the pact, Palmiro Togliatti had declared that Italian communists would be “traitors” if they did not do everything possible to protest against a treaty that he condemned as an “imperialist intrigue” against the Soviet Union. Socialist and communist deputies attempted to filibuster the acceptance of the treaty, and huge demonstrations were mounted across the country. Even some members of the Democrazia Cristiana/Christian Democracy (DC), notably Giuseppe Dossetti, were lukewarm about the treaty. Nevertheless, the Chamber of Deputies approved membership on 17 March 1949, by a vote of 342 to 170, with 19 abstentions. The Senate voted 183 to 112 (among the “no” votes were two relicts of prefascist Italy, Vittorio Emmanuele Orlando and Francesco Saverio Nitti). From March 1949 onward, adherence to NATO has been a key test for fitness to be a member of government. The opening to the Left could not have taken place in the mid-1960s had the Partito Socialista Italiano/Italian Socialist Party (PSI) not recognized, at its Party Congress in 1961, that equidistance between East and West was no longer a tenable position.
   Italy has always been a reliably subordinate NATO partner; indeed, during the Cold War, it was regarded as “NATO’s Bulgaria.” The Mediterranean Command of the organization is in Naples and large NATO bases were constructed in Sicily, Friuli, Apulia, Tuscany, and elsewhere. Italy was one of the first NATO members to accept cruise missiles on its soil in the early 1980s, although there were huge demonstrations in September 1983 when the missiles began to be deployed. The Olive Tree Coalition/Ulivo government headed by Massimo D’Alema backed NATO’s bombing of Serbia during the 1999 Kosovo crisis in the face of determined opposition from the pacifist movement within Italy. NATO membership compensates for Italy’s miserly spending on defense. Italy spends approximately 2 percent of GDP on its armed forces. This is significantly less than Great Britain and France, though slightly more than Germany.
   See also Gladio.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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