Italy, Relations with

views updated Jun 27 2018


From the time of Italy's unification in the mid-nineteenth century through the post-Soviet era, schizophrenic collaboration and competition in the Balkans and Danubian Europe has marked Italo-Russian relations, with national interests consistently trumping shifting ideologies in both countries.

The schizophrenia was there from the beginning. Although Tsar Alexander II, for example, objected to Italy's unification, the wars fought to that end could not have been arranged and contained without the Tsar's complicity. By the late 1870s liberal Italy was becoming enmeshed in the Triple Alliance with Austria and Germany. Although it was primarily directed against France, the Italians hoped the alliance would also blunt autocratic Russia's penetration of the Balkans. Later, Russia's defeat at Japanese hands in 1905 removed the counterbalance to Austria's influence in the Balkans, and Italy became every bit as aggrieved as Russia by Austria's conduct during the First Bosnian Crisis (19081909). The result was the Italo-Russian Racconigi Agreement (1909). Of the European powers, only Italy supported Russia on the Straits Question. Although Rome promised several times to stand by its obligations taken at Racconigi, Russia proved unable to use the Italo-Turkish War (19111912) as an excuse to reexamine the Straits Question.

During World War I, both Rome and Petrograd feared Austro-German advances into the Balkans. Rome, however, was no more eager to see Germanic dominance replaced by Russian-led Panslavism than Russia was to see it replaced by Italian influence. The complex, multilateral negotiations that brought Italy into the war (1915) required the uneasy compromise of Russian and Italian ambitions in the Balkans. These compromises seriously eroded Russia's political situation and betrayed Serbia, Russia's ally and caucasus belli. After the war, Italy generally refrained from supporting the anti-Bolshevik White armies during Russia's civil war, although Rome did provide small contingents to the Allied intervention in Vladivostok and briefly planned to intervene in Georgia.

Thereafter, Italo-Soviet relations fell into the old grooves of Realpolitik. Even Benito Mussolini's rise to power (1922) had little effect on diplomatic directions. Despite the presumed ideological antipathies dividing communist Russia and fascist Italy, the Duce exploited Italy's position between the Allies and the Soviets to reintroduce Russia into Europe and to arbitrate among the great powers. Although commercial aspirations motivated Italy's recognition of the Soviets (1924), the fascists and soviets also drew together in common hostility to responsible parliamentary systems of government. By 1930, the Soviet Union, Italy, and Germany were tending to ally against France and its allies.

With Hitler's rise to power (1933), Moscow and Rome sought ways to contain the threat of a resurgent Germany. Through extensive cooperation, both began to support the status quo to block German expansion, especially in the Balkans. Russia's nonaggression pact with Italy (1933) marked a significant step in its Collective Security policy directed against Germany. Italy's successful defense of Austria (1934)the one successful example of Collective Security before World War IIseemed to vindicate Soviet policy.

Good relations, despite Moscow's extraordinary efforts at appeasement, collapsed during the Italo-Ethiopian War (19351936) and the Spanish Civil War (19361939). Afterward the Italo-Soviet economic agreements (February 1939) began a rapprochement and presaged the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August. Even after World War II began, Moscow continued to hope to split the Italo-German alliance and to use Italy to block German penetration into the Balkans: for example, by encouraging Italy's plan for a bloc of Balkan neutrals in the Fall and Winter of 1939. These plans came to naught when Germany and then Italy attacked Russia in June 1941. The Italian expeditionary army on the Eastern Front met horrific disaster in 1943.

The Allies signed an armistice with Italy in 1943, and the following year the USSR recognized the new Italy. In 1947, the two signed a peace treaty. Italo-Russian relations were again subsumed in the struggles between larger alliance systems, this time with Italy playing a crucial role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which stood against the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact. Particularly interesting was the rise of the Italian Communist Party (PCI). After the brutal crushing of the Hungarian Revolt (1956), however, the PCI began to distance itself from the USSR and to promote an "Italian Road to Socialism." In March 1978, the PCI entered a governmental majority for the first time. Stung by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the PCI increasingly promoted Eurocommunism, which ultimately played a large role in delegitimizing Soviet Russia's imperial satellite system in Eastern Europe. After the collapse of Communism in Russia in the early 1990s, the main point of cooperation and conflict between Russia and Italy remained focused in the Balkans and Danubian regions.

See also: balkan wars; world war i; world war ii


Clarke, J. Calvitt. (1991). Russia and Italy against Hitler: The Bolshevik-Fascist Rapprochement of the 1930s. New York: Greenwood Press.

Corti, Eugenio. (1997). Few Returned: Twenty-Eight Days on the Russian Front, Winter 19421943, tr. Peter Edward Levy. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.

Nobile, Umberto. (1987). My Five Years with Soviet Airships, tr. Frances Fleetwood. Akron, OH: Lighter-Than-Air Society.

Toscano, Mario. (1970). Designs in Diplomacy: Pages from European Diplomatic History in the Twentieth Century. Translated and edited by George A. Carbone. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press.

Urban, Joan Barth. (1986). Moscow and the Italian Communist Party: From Togliatti to Berlinguer. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

J. Calvitt Clarke III

Italy, Relations with

views updated May 17 2018


ITALY, RELATIONS WITH. United States relations with Italy began when Italy became a nation-state in 1861.

Soon after independence Italian immigrants, especially from the poor southern region of the country, began coming to the United States, Canada, Australia, South America, and other countries. These immigrants, in addition to seeking relief from poverty, sought freedom from political oppression. From 1876 to 1976, the United States received more Italian nationals than any other country; Census figures show 484,027 Italians in residence in 1900. That number continued to increase until Congress passed laws restricting immigration from Italy.

U.S. relations with Italy's parliamentary monarchy were cordial; problems arose in 1922, however, when Benito Mussolini came to power and ended parliamentary government. Mussolini, a fascist, found the poor economic conditions that followed World War I (Italy was

allied with the United States) fertile soil for establishing a dictatorship. He opposed the communists who had become influential in the unions and claimed to favor a type of National Socialism that would benefit all Italians.

Mussolini had many defenders in the United States, including a number of Italian Americans. Praised for getting the railroads to run to schedule and for his early opposition to Adolf Hitler, Mussolini began to lose favor in the United States when he attacked Ethiopia in 1935 and began to draw closer to Hitler. In 1936, Italy and Germany formed the Rome-Berlin Axis to oppose France. In 1939, Italy invaded Albania and solidified its links with Germany, links that had first been forged with their cooperation during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939).

Remaining neutral until it seemed German victory was inevitable, Italy declared war on France in 1940. As World War II raged on, many Italians became American sympathizers and fought for the Allies as guerillas. In 1943, Italy declared war on Germany and armed conflict broke out within Italy between Italians loyal to the Allies and those loyal to the German Nazis.

After World War II, the United States helped establish a republic in Italy. When Italy seemed likely to elect a communist government, the United States increased Marshall Plan aid and encouraged Italian Americans to engage in a letter writing campaign urging their friends and relatives in Italy to vote for a non-Communist government.

Italy joined a number of U.S.-sponsored initiatives and was a charter member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), founded in 1949; it was also a charter member of the European Economic Community (EEC), formed in 1957. Italy has strongly supported other European initiatives for cooperation and unification, including the European Monetary Union in 1999. The United States was the only country to promise military support of Italy immediately after World War II. Ties between Italy and the United States have remained close and political cooperation has been a constant.


Albrecht-Carrié, René. Italy from Napoleon to Mussolini. New York: Columbia University Press, 1950.

Barzini, Luigi. The Italians. New York: Athenaeum, 1964.

Berner, Wolfgang. "The Italian Left, 1944–1978: Patterns of Cooperation, Conflict, and Compromise." In The European Left: Italy, France, and Spain, edited by William E. Griffith. Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1979.

Keefe, Eugene K., et al. Area Handbook for Italy. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1977.

Kogan, Norma. A Political History of Italy: The Postwar Years. New York: Praeger, 1983.

Frank A.Salamone

Italy, relations with

views updated May 29 2018

Italy, relations with. Medieval English kings were several times involved in fierce disputes with the papacy concerning church–state relations. The papal refusal to grant a divorce to Henry VIII precipitated the English Reformation. Rome supported the Jacobite cause from 1688, and continued to excite the hostility of British liberals as well as protestants far into the 19th cent. The Italian Renaissance, in contrast, attracted growing admiration, and until the mid-19th cent. the Italian language was second only to French in popularity in Britain. Italy became one of the highlights of the grand tour for the sons of wealthy families. Trade was also important, with Italian merchants proving influential in London in the Middle Ages.

In the 18th cent. Savoy-Piedmont attracted interest politically and strategically, as a possible barrier against France and a restraint on Austrian influence. By 1814–15 Castlereagh, however, was so impressed by the success of French arms since the 1790s in the politically divided and relatively backward peninsula that he looked primarily to the Habsburgs to police and protect Italy. Palmerston, in contrast, as early as 1848–9, was considering alternatives to Austrian rule. Only ten years later, he led a government which gained significant credit during the unification of much of Italy (1859–60)—although British policy had been by no means consistent. Approval of unification was assured only once it became evident that the new Italy would not become a dependency of France. Anglo-Italian relations continued to be much influenced by relations with that power. For ten years from 1887 the two states subscribed to the Mediterranean agreements in order to maintain the status quo in that region.

In 1915 Italy finally opted to fight beside Britain and her allies in the First World War, but Italian patriots were disappointed when their country's services were not more amply rewarded in 1919. In the 1930s the fascist regime of Mussolini was tempted to manœuvre between Nazi Germany on the one side and Britain and France on the other in search of territorial gains. The British responded ambivalently to Mussolini's war against Abyssinia in 1935–6, and only succeeded in driving Il Duce closer to Hitler. Italian involvement on the side of Franco in the Spanish Civil War led to further difficulties. Mussolini, however, did not enter the Second World War until France was on the verge of defeat. The Mediterranean became a major war theatre to which Churchill enthusiastically assigned forces in the belief that southern Europe was the ‘soft underbelly of the axis’. But Italy's surrender in 1943 left the allies confronted by strong German opposition, and they became increasingly conscious of the difficulties of the terrain rather than of an easy route into the heart of Europe. Italy's volte-face in 1943 did not prevent losses at the peace treaty of 1947. It was deprived of all its colonies except Somalia, kept as a trusteeship, made small territorial concessions in the Alps to France, and surrendered Istria and Dalmatia to Yugo-Slavia. But Trieste was returned to it in 1954.

C. J. Bartlett

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