A few weeks ago, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s decision to publicly characterize Turkish President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan as a dictator received a lot of publicity.
As expected, Erdogan reacted angrily. He accused Draghi of lacking manners and decent behavior, while his associates rushed to note that no appointed official has the right to speak in such a way about Erdogan, who was elected, and went so far as to point out that Italy had Benito Mussolini as its leader.
Some have speculated that Draghi’s use of the word “dictator” may have been a “slip” of the tongue by the Italian prime minister. The former president of the European Central Bank is after all a technocrat, not a politician.
For better or worse, international relations are significantly influenced by geopolitical realism and commercial interests. Obviously, they are not affected only by them. Human rights, the rule of law, civil liberties, the values we hold dear, are an important dimension of the behavior of democratic states.
In this context, we have much in common with some of the most powerful countries or groups of countries such as the United States and the members of the European Union, or, at the regional level, Israel.
However, geopolitical influence and economic benefits are a driving force behind international behavior. Relations between states are characterized primarily by realism. We are working more and more closely with Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, because this serves our needs and interests.
Draghi’s reference to Erdogan as a dictator cost Rome the proceeds from the sale of Italian helicopters which had been ordered by Ankara but the angry Turkish leader was quick to cancel.
However, on the scale of geopolitical influence and a set of economic interests, the threat of Turkish infiltration into Libya is of greater importance for Italy, and that was the reason for the Italian prime minister’s verbal outburst. Rome does not want to lose the traditionally leading political and trading role it played in the neighboring North African country, especially in this initial phase of institutional and economic reconstruction in Libya.
Turkey has intervened violently and in a way that cannot be easily accepted by Italy, or France for that matter. For its part, neighboring Greece has its own legitimate objections.
From the reconstruction of infrastructure to the exploitation of natural gas, there are many commercial interests at stake.
It is in this light that one must read Rome’s stance, but also analyze the wider geostrategic puzzle of the region in which Joe Biden’s America is expected to play its own active role, in contrast to his predecessor’s more passive approach.