Why did a country so far away from the Atlantic Ocean become a member of the North Atlantic Alliance? What role did Italy have in securing NATO's Southern Flank during the Cold War? See how NATO photographers depicted daily life in Italy during the 1950s and find out how the city of La Spezia got involved in anti-submarine warfare.
"THE ITALIAN NATION, AFTER TWO WORLD WARS, IN THE SPACE OF ONE GENERATION, LOOKS WITH CONFIDENCE AND HOPE TO THIS TREATY; IT SEES IN IT A DECISIVE STEP TOWARDS THE ADVENT OF PEACE IN A FREE AND UNITED WORLD."
Count Carlo Sforza, speaking at the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty, Washington, D.C., 4 April 1949.
In Italy, NATO membership was the result of lengthy domestic debates and longstanding dissensions engrained within the population and different political factions. However, the desire for peace and security was palpable and the path toward NATO membership was considered to be the most viable option for the country. For the drafters of the North Atlantic Treaty, Italy's privileged position in the Mediterranean region made it a valuable strategic partner that could help secure the defence of NATO's Southern Flank.
Furthermore, concerns over its highly popular Communist Party made it an absolute priority to integrate into a family of like-minded countries determined to protect democratic values, individual rights and freedom. During the Cold War, Italy had a steady influence on NATO and contributed in many different ways, including through the hosting of commands and research hubs and, perhaps more importantly, through its people.
Italian political parties sent mixed signals on NATO membership, changing opinion over short periods of time, with the exception of the Communist Party that consistently campaigned against the future Alliance. The Italian Communist Party had played a pivotal role in the Resistance during the Second World War and was the second largest political party in the post-war period. For a while, it was the biggest Communist Party in Western Europe. Aside Italy's strategic position in the Mediterranean, the power of the Communist Party was the main reason for American involvement in Italy. The United States did not want to lose a strategically placed European country to the Soviet Union. War-torn Italy became a recipient of American aid in the form of the European Recovery Program, better known as the Marshall Plan, to build up the economy. France also had an interest in seeing Italy become a member of the Alliance since it would help secure North Africa and protect the Po Valley. Italy would be stabilised within a stable NATO…
Count Carlo Sforza
The April 1948 elections secured a victory for the Christian Democrats, led by Alcide De Gasperi, who eventually agreed to lead his country towards NATO membership. This decision was reinforced by the country's fear of insecurity and instability and its desire to play a role on the world scene. Moreover, the staunch anti-fascist Count Carlo Sforza, Italian Foreign Minister from February 1947 to July 1951, had economic cooperation as one of his major goals. NATO was a first step towards the integration of Italy into the Western European community. Count Sforza signed the North Atlantic Treaty on 4 April 1949 in Washington D.C., and also led his country into the Council of Europe (May 1949) and then the European Coal and Steel Community in April 1951. Meet the other signatories of the North Atlantic Treaty
Getting to know you...
While 12 founding member countries had come together at the Departmental Auditorium in Washington D.C. to sign the North Atlantic Treaty, their citizens did not know each other, nor did they know what this new Alliance was or how it functioned.
To get acquainted with each other, NATO's Office of Information and Press created a series of films on each of the members in the 1950s that were shown in cinemas.
Photographers were sent to each of the member countries to draw up a portrait through scenes of daily life, be it in factories, on the streets, in shops or elsewhere.
While members got to know each other, NATO tried to explain itself –role, objectives and activities- to people in the street. It created the "Caravan of Peace", a bus whose first destination was Italy. It was an immediate success. From February to August 1952, over 1.5 million visitors flocked to the exhibition in Naples, Rome, Bologna, Milan, Bari, Genoa, Turin, Florence and Venice. The NATO bus undertook other tours of Italy. In 1955, the "Mostra della Comunità Atlantica" opened in Frascati in July and toured 26 other towns by early October; in 1957, the mobile exhibition started in Sicily and finished in Empoli, Tuscany. Between February and December, it was shown for 187 days in 88 towns to approximately 800,000 people.
More on NATO's travelling exhibitions
NATO's 10th anniversary was also an opportunity to communicate with the public. In Naples, a big exhibit was set up in one of the main squares to reach out to people of all ages and backgrounds.