[REPORT] The Italian Participation in Peacekeeping Operations

[REPORT] The Italian Participation in Peacekeeping Operations

Maicol Cocco
Source: Quartz

On May 29, the world celebrates the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. According to the Department of Peace Operations (DPKO) and the Department of Field Support (DFS):

Peacekeeping is a technique designed to preserve the peace, however fragile, where fighting has been halted, and to assist in implementing agreements achieved by the peacemakers. [1]

Italy is one of the most committed nations in this field, starting from the 1990s, when its engagement in peacekeeping operations sharply increased.
The budget for UN peacekeeping operations established for the fiscal year 1 July 2019 – 30 June 2020 is $6.5 billion.[2] Italy is the seventh-ranked contributor to this budget, representing 3.30% of the whole budget. (see fig.1)

Fig. 1: top 10 providers of assessed contributions to United Nations Peacekeeping operations for 2019 [3]

Furthermore, among Western and EU Nations, Italy is today the top supplier of military personnel and highly qualified police forces to UN peacekeeping operations. (see fig.2)

Fig. 2: Contributions to UN peacekeeping operations by country. (As of April 2020) [4]

The Italian involvement in UN missions does not have just a military nature: it is widely appreciated and became a veritable model, because of the Italian contingents’ capacity to deal with local populations in a civil and human way, without upsetting the local contest. [5]

Italy participates in peacekeeping operations all over the world, but it is especially committed in the UNIFIL Mission in Southern Lebanon, with over 931 (out of 942) troops there in April 2020. [6]

Since the end of the First Republic, Italy was seen as an international peacekeeper, thanks to the Governments’ use of its military to demonstrate an international trustworthiness. [7]
It is possible to understand the massive Italian participation to peacekeeping operations only when looking at the whole metamorphosis of the Italian defense and foreign policy. Indeed, we can notice a complete change of pace in the post-bipolar defense policy respect to the « First Republic » one.

The literature is still not completely sure about the forces that drive Italy to be so committed in this kind of operations. According to Polsi, this strong involvement is due to:

« the Catholic morality, the radical political tradition of the Risorgimento, and the myth of the Italian self-perception as a people of good character ». [8]

Multilateralism plays a key role in the Italian foreign and defense policy. Bonvicini, for instance, underlined the « multilateral patrimony on the basis of which [Italy] built, after the end of the World War II, its status as a middle power, ceding some sovereignty in order to guarantee its participation to the management of the international relations ». [9]
As a result, its participation to peacekeeping operations can be considered a kind of soft power, used by the Italian Government to gain a prominent position in the international arena.

What is certain is that the Italian constant participation to peace-support missions is formally due to a legal framework imposed by the Italian Constitution written in 1947, when Italy was not a member of the United Nations, but it was strongly willing to be part of it.

According to art. 11 of the Italian Constitution:

« Italy rejects war as an instrument of aggression against the freedom of other peoples and as a means for the settlement of international disputes. Italy agrees, on conditions of equality with other States, to the limitations of sovereignty that may be necessary to a world order ensuring peace and justice among the Nations. Italy promotes and encourages international organizations furthering such ends. »

Art. 11 has probably been written in view of a future admission to the UN. Therefore, this constitutional provision in part explains the Italian commitment towards peace-support missions.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte visits UNIFIL and Italian peacekeepers. Source: UNIFIL

Concerning the modalities of the Italian military interventions, there is a substantial reluctance to the use of force. [10] For instance, in the Afghanistan Resolute Support (NATO-led mission), Italian Air Force fighters are not allowed to use weapons. This attitude is probably due to the Cold War culture, when Italian politics was governed by the so-called Catho-communists: the two main parties of the First Republic were the Italian Communist Party (the biggest one in Europe) and the Christian Democracy, in which there was an influential left wing. The convergence of these two parties created a strong ultra-pacifist political current, influencing the public opinion as well.
Nowadays, despite the few resources dedicated to the military sector (1.15% of the GDP, in the face of 2% ratio requested by NATO11), training has been very efficient for the Italian Armed Forces: indeed, what determines the military operational capability is not the number of their components, but what they produce in practice.12


Among the Italian military missions abroad, those performed within the UN multilateral framework play a prominent role. [13] In the literature, there is a widespread consensus that the Italian decision-makers and public opinion consider nowadays the UN as the preferred multilateral arena.

Since the 1960s, Italy has participated in thirty-three UN peacekeeping operations. During these years, several governments took the power, changing the Italian foreign policy priorities. For this reason, the Italian engagement in peacekeeping operations has not always been the same. We can count four main turning points: [14]

  1. UNOSOM: the operation in Somalia, in 1993. The Minister of Defense, Salvatore Andò, asked the Parliament to advocate the UN Mission in Somalia so that Italy could shift from being a « security consumer » to be a « security provider ». For this mission, the number of Italian troops employed in peacekeeping operations raised precipitously (see fig. 3).
Fig. 3: Italian contributions to peacekeeping operations from 1990 to 2000.
  1. Starting from 1999, the Italian Government increased the number of troops employed in peacekeeping operations from less than 100 to 156 troops in 1999. This happened because of the Italian contribution to the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) in 1999 (see fig. 3).
  1. From 2001 to 2005, the Italian commitment in UN peacekeeping operations progressively declined, due to the Italian active involvement in the Second Gulf War, which started after the 9/11 terroristic attack to the New York Trade Center. Since the Italian troops were engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq to sustain the US military campaign, the government decided to reduce the Italian commitment to UN peacekeeping operations (see fig. 4).
Fig. 4: Italian contributions to peacekeeping operations from 2001 to 2011.
  1. In 2006, Italy started its participation in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), with the Leonte Operation. During this period, we can notice a huge increase in the number of Italian troops employed in UN peacekeeping operations. This mission is still today the largest Italian contribution to UN peacekeeping operations, with 931 people employed there (as of April 2020) [15] (see fig. 4).

Current Missions

Today, the UN is engaged in thirteen peacekeeping operations around the world. Every Member State sends its personnel, which includes Staff Officers, Experts on Missions, Contingent troops and Police. Concerning the gender of this personnel, the UN is doing a terrific job to let women access this carrier. If we take a look on the graphs in the official website concerning this topic, we can see that there are more and more women in peacekeeping operations, especially in the police.

Fig. 5: UN Peacekeeping operations around the world.16

The total number of personnel serving in thirteen peacekeeping operations is 82.445 (as of April 2020) and it is provided by 120 Member States. Italy, as it is illustrated in figure 2, provides a number of personnel in the amount of 942 peacekeepers. More specifically, it contributes with 6 Policepersons, 909 Soldiers, 3 Military Experts and 24 Staff Officers.

Concerning the single missions, as of April 2020 Italy is engaged in five missions out of thirteen: [17]

  • MINURSO: it is the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara. This mission has been settled to encourage a referendum that would allow the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara to choose between independence and being part of Morocco. Italy provides 2 Experts on Missions.
  • MINUSMA: it is the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali. This mission supports political process and helps the stabilization of Mali. Italy provides 2 Staff Officers and 2 Policepersons.
  • UNFICYP: it is the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, which contributes to a political stabilization of the country. Italy provides 4 Policepersons, of which 3 women.
  • UNIFIL: it is the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. This mission monitors cessation of hostilities and helps ensuring humanitarian access to civilian population. Italy provides a huge amount of personnel, with 909 Contingent Troops and 22 Staff Officers, resulting the second UN Member State for number of personnel employed, after Indonesia.
  • UNMOGIP: it is the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan. This mission observes the ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir. Italy provides just 1 Expert on Missions.

The number of missions in which Italy is engaged is relatively small, if we consider that Germany is engaged in 8 missions (510 people) and Sweden in 10 missions (146 people).

Nevertheless, we have to remember that, among Western States, Italy is the top supplier of personnel. Therefore, it is possible that the strategy of the Italian diplomacy is to be engaged in few missions, but with an important number of troops and other personnel, rather than being present in several missions with a scarce amount of personnel.


[1] “United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, principles and guidelines”, Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Department of Field Support, 2008. (page 18)
[2] A/C.5/73/21.
[3] United Nations, Peacekeeping website
[4] United Nations, Peacekeeping website.
[5] “UN: Italy’s role in peacekeeping”, Ministero degli Affari Esteri e della Cooperazione Internazionale website..
[6] “UNIFIL fact sheet”, United Nations peacekeeping official website.
[7] De Guttry, A., et al. “China’s and Italy’s participation in peacekeeping operations: Existing models, emerging challenges”, Lexington Books, 2014. (page 21)
[8] Alessandro Polsi, “Reasons for Italy’s active engagement in PKOs: political and moral implications”, Chapter 3, De Guttry, A., et al. “China’s and Italy’s participation in peacekeeping operations : Existing models, emerging challenges”, Lexington Books, 2014
[9] Bonvicini, G., et al. “La politica Estera dell’Italia a 150 Anni dall’Unità: Continuità, Riforme e Nuove Sfide”, IAI-ISPI, Rapporto Introduttivo all’Edizione 2011 dell’Annuario “La Politica Estera dell’Italia” (2011). (page 7)
[10] Camporini, V., “Goals and shortcomings of Italy’s peace operations”, paper Istituto Affari Internazionali, 2019. (Page 3)
[11] “L’Italia spende l’1,15% del Pil per la Difesa: sotto la soglia del 2% fissata dalla Nato”, Il Sole 24Ore.
[12] Ungaro, A., Marrone, A., Nones, M., “Technological Innovation and Italian Armed Forces Training: Challenges and Opportunities”, Istituto Affari Internazionali. (Page 2)
[13] De Guttry, A., et al. “China’s and Italy’s participation in peacekeeping operations: Existing models, emerging challenges”, Lexington Books, 2014. (page 26)
[14] Tercovich, G., “Peacekeeping contributor profile: Italy”, University of Warwick, Providing for Peacekeeping.
[15] United Nations, Peacekeeping website.
[16] United Nations, Peacekeeping website.
[17] “Troop and police contributions”, United Nations Peacekeeping.

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[REPORT] The Italian Part…

by Maicol Cocco time to read: 7 min