Italy Country Profile

By Mr. Michele Cavadini, Analyst at IB Consultancy

In Europe, Italy is still one of the worst hit countries by the ongoing pandemic, as recently proven by the re-implementation of a strict lockdown in most regions of the country on March 15, 2021. During the first wave, c.a., 200.000 cases were diagnosed and nearly 30.000 deaths were recorded. The pandemic also had a negative economic impact; Italy’s GPD fell by 5.3 percent in the first quarter and 12.4 percent in the second quarter of 2020.

Despite the poor economic performance, Italian authorities recently announced a significant raise, 9 percent, in its defence spending, bringing the total budget from 14 to 15,3 billion euro. This unexpected increase could be explained by the substantial amount of money the country will receive from the European Union’s Recovery Plan. Italy is one of the main beneficiaries of this plan and will receive 209 billion euros which nearly represent 30 percent of the total amount allocated by the Union to European countries as part of the plan.

Italy’s Nuclear Capabilities

Italy is one of the five NATO states hosting US nuclear weapons on their territory as part of NATO's nuclear sharing agreement. The Italian Air Force is assigned 40 gravity bombs B-61, deployed at Aviano Air Base (20) and at Ghedi Air Base (20) in the North of the country. Italian PA-200 Tornados and U.S. F-16C/D are stationed at the same military bases to serve as delivery aircrafts. Plans are in place to replace the Italian PA-200 with the new nuclear-capable F35-A Joint Strike Fighters. Furthermore, the American National Security Administration (NNSA) is refurbishing and replacing components of the aging B-61 warheads with their updated version B-61-12 model. The deployment of the new warheads and the new aircrafts is programmed for 2024. Despite the presence of nuclear weapons on its soil, Italy is a state party to the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT) and to the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT). However, the country did not sign the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), entered into force in January 2021. Until 1987 Italy had four functioning nuclear reactors and a fifth one under construction. The construction of the first and oldest nuclear plant started in 1958 nearby the city of Latina. Following the nuclear disaster of 1987 in Chernobyl, two referendums on the future of nuclear energy were held and the results led to a permanent halt of all nuclear energy activities in the country. In 2011, a large majority of Italians, influenced by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, cast their votes in favour of the ban of nuclear energy.

Today, Italy’s main nuclear activities are waste management and decommissioning of existing installations, coupled with the operation of a few research reactors and the use of radiation sources in medical, industrial and research fields. The four nuclear power plants are still undergoing a decommissioning phase, meaning that radiological decontamination is in place and upon completion the structures will be demolished. The end of the decommissioning phase for the oldest nuclear plant in the country is set for 2027, for a total cost of 270 million euro. The components of the nuclear reactor are safely stored at the National Deposit for radioactive materials, an organization in charge of the safe disposal of all radiological materials present in the country.

The National Inspectorate for Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection (ISIN) also plays a crucial role as the independent regulatory authority responsible for nuclear safety and radiation protection in Italy. The Inspectorate is responsible, among other things, of carrying out authorization processes, technical assessments and control and supervision of nuclear installations no longer in use and in decommissioning. The ISIN is also the National Warning Point on prompt notification in case of nuclear accident and on assistance in the event of a radiological emergency.

Italy’s CBRNe emergency response organization

Italy is renowned for having one of Europe’s best CBRNe training center, the Joint NBC Defense School for Biological and Chemical Nuclear Defense. The School constitutes one of the top structures of the National Military Network for Observation and Reporting of Biological Radiological and Nuclear Chemical (CBRN) events. Furthermore, the CBRN Area Control Centre (ACC), that reports directly to the Joint NBC Defense School, performs simulated training and various functions for all responders of the National Military Network. They carry out observation and reporting of CBRNe events, experimental study functions related to possible risk scenarios from toxic or contaminating substances, and liaison with the Ministry of the Interior in the field of the CBRNe threats.

In case of a CBRNe incident, the Fire Fighters are responsible for the first technical and urgent interventions while law enforcement authorities (Police, Carabinieri and Coast Guard) are responsible for rescue missions, evacuations and investigation of eventual crimes. In case of larger accidents in CBRNe matters, the Armed Forces join in and are responsible for logistics, operational support and provision of skilled personnel and equipment. Within the Army, the 7th CBRN Defence Regiment “Cremona” is in charge. They are assigned to the Artillery Command and specialised in CBRNe incident and emergency’s response.

The Chemical Pharmaceutical Institute is responsible for stocking vaccines and medicines against contagious diseases. The Institute, based in Florence, is also responsible for the supply of pharmaceutical services to the Armed Forces. Medical rescue and aid are delegated to the National Health Service, able to provide structures, specialised personnel and equipment for high standard medical treatments. Furthermore, the Italian Red Cross provides aid as well as CBRN units specialized in decontamination.

C-IED and EOD capabilities

The Italian Armed forces and the National Police are the two main organisations dealing with C-IED and EOD. Within the Armed forces, the “Genio militare”, military engineers receive specific EOD trainings. During military operations abroad C-IED and EOD services rely on engineer units, while domestically, Army units are combined with police units. Furthermore, the Italian Navy has its own specialised EOD divers. To complete their trainings, divers have to attend an eight-months course in the United States organised by the U.S. Armed Forces to obtain full qualification of Navy EOD divers.

The Italian Engineer Command, established in September 2010 through the merger of the former Engineers School and the Engineer Brigade, manages the Training Institute, responsible for the organization of training courses on EOD, IEDD, C-IED, and infrastructure related matters. Notably, trainings, doctrinal and technical advice is provided by the Italian Joint C-IED Centre of Excellence.

Domestically, Italian EOD teams are mostly engaged in the safe removal of various unexploded devices left-over from World War I and II. While their international missions mostly revolve around supporting NATO and UN Missions. They also engage in trainings of foreign EOD teams, such as the course that took place in 2017 in Afghanistan, where the Italian Army certified six Afghan policewomen for C-IED activities.

Italy’s COVID response

On January 31st, 2020 Italy identified and diagnosed the first COVID-19 infection on its territory. The Government, led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, promptly responded with a series of decree-laws. The decree-law “Cura Italia” added 1410 million euro to the public health system budget for 2020, asking Regions and Autonomous Provinces to elaborate operational programs for the allocation of these new resources under the monitoring of the Health Ministry and Finance Ministry.

Thanks to the already existing “Fondo per le emergenze nazionali” (Fund for National Emergencies), ventilation systems, medical machineries and PPEs were purchased. Another decree-law “Liquidità” has provided simplified procedures for the purchase of medical-radiological equipment, reducing bureaucracy and time. Regional Operations Centers have been set up and equipped with specific personnel and equipment for telemonitoring and telemedicine. Key element of the national strategy against COVID-19 is the strengthening of integrated care and territorial assistance network. Objective of the strategy is that of maintaining hospitals as empty as possible while taking care of sick people directly at their homes.

To keep track of the infection, the app “Immuni” was develop and a sensibilization campaign for its download and use put in place. Furthermore, to better manage the emergency, national operational committees have been set up together with a Special Commissioner for the Emergency.

After the European Medicines Agency approved the first COVID-19 vaccine in December 2020, Italy started its vaccination campaign. In March 2021 the newly appointed Special Commissioner for the Emergency General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo announced significant changes in the Vaccination Plan set up by his predecessor Dr. Domenico Arcuri.

Vaccines are distributed for free to the population prioritizing medical professionals, nursing homes and elderly people. On 15 March 2021 6,8 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been administered to the population (11,33 doses/100 inhabitants) and 2 million people vaccinated. In the case of an outburst of infections in a specific area, vaccines stocks will be delivered to the local health authorities to stop the spreading of the virus. The new Vaccination Plan sets up the objective of reaching 500.000 vaccinations per day and to cover 80 percent of the population by the end of September 2021.

International cooperation has been crucial to mitigate the damages caused by the virus, especially during the first wave of the pandemic.

Although Italy seems to be equipped to face CBRNe incidents and emergencies, the pandemic has shown that the country, as well as many other Western nations, still has some flaws in the response and preparedness for large-scale crisis such as COVID-19. International cooperation has been crucial to mitigate the damages caused by the virus, especially during the first wave of the pandemic. Italy received help from all over Europe and beyond, from medical personnel to specialised equipment. The help received from Cuba and the Russian Federation was crucial, but it also drew criticism and concerns about national security. Preparedness to any type of CBRNe scenarios, from a pandemic to a nuclear incident is crucial. One way to achieve a good level of readiness is through the exchange of information and know-how among countries, and the development of new technologies to be always ready to face CBRNe threats and accidents with the best equipment available.

Michele Cavadini is a master’s degree student from Trento University, Italy, majoring in International Relations. After a period spent at the Higher School of Economics in Saint Petersburg, Russia, he specialized in European-Russian relations. He joined the IBC team in November 2020.