The African Migrant Crisis has triggered an Italian military response in Libya and Niger, the two main transit states en route to the jackboot-shaped European country, and risks embroiling Rome even deeper in the continent’s affairs as it resorts to military means to proactively stem the tidal wave of “Weapons of Mass Migration” crashing onto its shores.
Libya used to be regarded as Italy’s “Fourth Shore”, but nowadays the African Migrant Crisis has more or less turned Italy into Libya’s “Second Shore” judging by the vast amount of individuals that have undertaken the dangerous voyage from North Africa across the Mediterranean to Southern Europe. The resultant socio-economic costs have been immense, especially for a country that has already been financially struggling within the EU even before the 2015 onset of this humanitarian disaster. As a political consequence, right-wing and populist forces have seen their star rise in recent years, threatening to open up a “Southern” EuroRealist front alongside the “Eastern” one in challenging Germany’s EuroLiberal hegemony in the continent, which is why the Roman elite decided that they had to do something sooner than later in order to stop this trend.
After carrying out a careful cost-benefit analysis, Italian decision makers reasoned that it would be altogether less expensive in the long run to reverse this dynamic through military means and return Libya back to being their country’s “Fourth Shore” by having Rome take charge of the cross-Mediterranean migrant crisis. As such, Italy not only began a naval mission over the summer near its “Fourth Shore” to ward off and intercept potential migrant boats destined for its coast, but is also now contemplating the deployment of at least 470 Iraqi-based troops to the landlocked transit state of Niger that’s served as West Africa’s gateway to Libya. The geostrategic symbolism of its Libyan and Nigerien moves is all too clear, and it’s that the Italian jackboot is kicking Africa in the face in order to reactively suppress the never-ending African Migrant Crisis that’s spilling over into Europe, though Rome risks getting sucked even deeper into the continent’s affairs through its newly proactive policy.
Although once a mighty military power, contemporary Italy pales in comparison to its historical predecessors, with its only relevant significance nowadays being its location closely offshore North Africa and the massive naval airbase that the US operates in Sigonella, Sicily. Nevertheless, the rising full-spectrum costs of hundreds of thousands of “Weapons of Mass Migration” washing up on its shores over the past two years have compelled it to take the lead in unprecedentedly deploying a forward military force in Africa. While Italy played a frontline role in the 2011 War on Libya, it did so together with its NATO allies as part of a formal coalition, though this time it’s behaving more unilaterally but no doubt doing so after consultations with its partners. After all, Rome won’t be the only foreign actor with a military facility in Niger, since French and American forces are already based there and German ones will soon be too.
The existing (and in the case of Germany, planned) presence of Italy’s top three much more militarily capable allies in Niger raises the obvious question of what Rome is expected to contribute there that’s supposed to make any kind of value-added difference. Officially, Italy says that it will fight terrorism and bust smuggling rings, which is important because these two non-state threats transit through Niger en route to Libya and ultimately Italy’s own shores, but it’s impossible to gauge at this point whether Rome’s forces will have any tangible effect in aiding its allies who are engaged in the exact same mission there. It could be that neither Washington, Paris, nor Berlin want to entirely shoulder the financial and personnel burden of this task and would instead like to offload some of its costs onto Rome, which is more directly affected by these threats and thus has a self-interest in partaking in this mission as is evidently seen.
A curious “division of labor” is developing in the region whereby the US appears to be exercising two degrees of “Lead From Behind” separation in controlling the area by proxy. Firstly, the direct US deployment shows that leadership can also happen from the front, but alongside that is France’s secondary role in assembling the “G5 Sahel” coalition of regional states stretching from Mauritania on Africa’s Atlantic coast to Chad in its central interior. Paris, whether it knowingly does so or not, is playing the role of Washington’s strategic subordinate in West-Central Africa despite whatever France may say about “competing” with it or being an “equal ally”. On the second level of the pecking order are Germany and Italy, with Berlin basically observing everything that’s happening there being that it’s the EU leader while its underlings in Rome will expectedly be tasked with “getting their hands dirty” in order to pay back their debts to Germany.
No matter whether this “division of labor” remains the same or changes, one of its enduring traits will be that Italy is likely to remain involved in African affairs from here on out after having been sucked back into them following its recent Libyan naval deployment and the upcoming Nigerien land-based one. Geostrategically speaking, Libya is just as much Italy’s “Fourth Shore” as the jackboot-shaped country is the former Jamahiriya’s “Second Shore”, so the fate of the two are inextricably bound together and this is certain to be taken advantage of by the US. The same emigration pressures in West Africa of overpopulation, impoverishment, and violence are only going to be aggravated in the coming future, so it’s unforeseeable that Rome will retreat from this asymmetrical battlefront anytime soon so long as it still stands to be threatened by this “Weapons of Mass Migration” onslaught.
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