In its current state, the region spanning from the Eastern coasts of Africa to the Western coasts of North America acts as an important focal point in the geopolitical theatre for the US-China great power competition. And Rome is aware of it!
Reports of an Italian naval deployment to the Indo-Pacific began circulating just days before Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni’s visit to Delhi. This reflects the region’s growing strategic significance in Italy’s domestic assessment.
In recent times, there has been an impressive rapprochement of the European Union (EU) with the Indo-Pacific. In this broader framework, Rome is stepping up its strategic engagement with the Indo-Pacific region beyond the traditional economic space. Italy has paved its way into the network of “like-minded” countries that strive for a free, open, inclusive, and peaceful Indo-Pacific region that is anchored on a rules-based order.
Meloni’s Visit to New Delhi
Rome made its first high-level bilateral visit in five years. Giorgia Meloni, Europe’s first woman Prime Minister was the chief guest at the 2023 Raisina Dialogue, which was also addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
After nearly a decade of tensions emanating from the arrest of Italian marines and other contentious issues, India and Italy appear to be moving towards mending bilateral relations.
The Indo-Pacific region has recently grown in significance to Italy, both strategically and economically. This is evident from the lower house of Italy’s parliament approving a motion last year calling for the government to pay attention to the region, including developments across the Taiwan Strait. And in pursuit of playing a crucial role in the geopolitics of the region, Rome has identified New Delhi as a significant partner.
Greater cooperation between India and Italy, according to the Italian Ambassador, can contribute to the “safety of sea routes and the stability of an area with several fault lines.”
To this end, the India-Italy-Japan trilateral mooted in 2021 would provide a natural meeting point between New Delhi’s vision of the Indo-Pacific and that of Rome. This trilateral partnership creates a permanent channel between Europe and Asia through a maritime connection with the Indo-Pacific, thereby allowing Italy to play a greater role in the region and further strengthening the India-Italy ties.
Navigating the India-Italy Relations
For the past 75 years, the bilateral relations between the two nations have been anchored on economic interdependence. However, under PM Meloni’s administration, Italy has acknowledged the growing Chinese assertiveness and strongly condemned Chinese threats to Taiwan. The country has also recognised the significance of the Indo-Pacific region and is working on forging closer ties with like-minded countries such as Japan and India. In early January, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and her Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida upgraded their countries’ bilateral relations to that of a “strategic partnership.”
Even for India, Italy plays an important role in its ambition of becoming the ‘Net Security Provider’ in the Indian Ocean region. Given Italy’s military base in Djibouti and its uninterrupted presence in the Western Indian Ocean, the Italian Navy is a well-suited partner for the Indian Navy.
Further, considering the centrality of the maritime component in the Indo-Pacific notion, Rome’s upcoming naval mission in the Indo-Pacific, with the aim of engaging in exercises with “friendly navies” highlights Italy’s resolve of becoming a key player in the Indo-Pacific region.
The two countries are celebrating 75 years of diplomatic relations. With this new-found shared interest in the Indo-Pacific, the relations between the two nations can steer into a peaceful and accommodating direction, putting to rest the ghosts of impediments like Augusta Westland.
In order to further strengthen their relationship, India and Italy must look into new areas for cooperation on projects that will benefit both parties, especially in the Indo-Pacific. India, through its SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) doctrine, is a strong advocate of alliances and initiatives such as the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI) and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). In the near future, India must work towards embracing Italy in these initiatives.
Esha Banerji is presently associated with a premier think-tank in India, specialising in defence, security, and strategic studies. Her research interest and focuses of analysis are defence strategy, geo-economics, foreign affairs, and the implications of Chinese security developments on the region, especially India. Views expressed are personal.
Read all the Latest Opinions here