Here’s what you need to know ahead of nationwide elections on March 4

Italians will go to the polls on March 4 in one of the most significant elections in Europe this year. Reflecting the tense political climate across the continent, hot-button issues such as immigration and border security have dominated the debate in one of the most divisive general election campaigns Italy has seen in recent years.

Italy’s notoriously complicated electoral system has long made the country’s elections interesting to watch, but several factors add chaos to intrigue this year. The 2018 elections have given rise to both new and old Italian political personalities—from the emergence of the insurgent, anti-establishment Five Star Movement or the comeback of four-time prime minister and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi. Regardless of who emerges from the political fray in control of the country, any outcome will have wide-ranging consequences for Italy’s future.
The annual Munich Security Conference (MSC) which kicks off today may be a veritable who’s who in global security, but the conference is far more than just hobnobbing among the nearly five hundred senior security and defense officials in attendance. Frequently the MSC has been a bellwether for things to come in the global security landscape. Speakers have also used the forum to make headlines that have echoed far beyond Munich. It was here in 2007 that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin publicly rejected the western-led international order and pushed back, hard, on NATO’s continued enlargement and US-led interventions in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The 2018 Munich Security Conference opened on February 16 against a backdrop of a global order under increasing stress, both Russia and China challenging the international rules of the road, the possibility of another Korean War, continued turbulence in the Middle East, and uncertainty about the future of the US global role. There are also whispers about the return of great power war, something unthinkable just a few years ago. The title of this year’s Munich Security Conference report, released ahead of the event, perhaps put it best: To the Brink – and Back?

This article is part of a series reflecting on the first year of the Trump administration. 

US President Donald J. Trump’s public skepticism toward multilateral organizations has created uncertainty among traditional US allies. Washington’s commitment to NATO, in particular, has been called into question in the first year of the administration. Despite critical rhetoric and ongoing concerns over allied burden-sharing, the Trump administration, alongside European allies, continues to take concrete steps to bolster transatlantic security.
Lingering uncertainty regarding US support for NATO and burden-sharing among allies has raised questions as to the future of the NATO nuclear-sharing arrangement. While US President Donald J. Trump’s reaffirmation of the US commitment to Article 5, NATO’s mutual defense clause, may have temporarily placated allies, intense feelings of insecurity among the European allies remain. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, taking an unusually strong stance, gave voice to these sentiments: “The time in which [Europe] can rely fully on others—they are somewhat over.” With these remarks, Merkel offered her answer to a question that has been asked repeatedly since Trump was elected president of the United States: Can Europe count on its ally across the Atlantic to come to its defense when needed?
Russia’s large-scale military exercise to be conducted in September can provide critical insight for NATO allies seeking to improve their readiness posture against an increasingly revanchist Russia, according to an Estonian defense official.

“Russians train exactly as they intend to fight, thus Zapad will give up ample information on their military and political thinking as it is right now,” Kristjan Prikk, undersecretary for defense policy at Estonia’s Ministry of Defense, said at the Atlantic Council on July 11. According to Prikk, “we don’t consider this year’s Zapad exercise in itself to be a direct threat to us [NATO] or a cover for an attack, but we have to keep in mind that the Russians have the nasty habit of hiding their actual military endeavors behind exercises.”

“We have to be calm, vigilant, flexible,” in the months leading up to and following Zapad 2017, said Prikk.

In September, Russia will conduct a joint military exercise with Belarus—Zapad. Based on initial indications and past Zapads, the exercise, which will take place in Belarus, will assess the readiness of Russia’s military across many forces—land, sea, and air—and test a range of capabilities—not only conventional, but also cyber and nuclear, within a particular set of scenarios. This will be the first Zapad exercise since 2013. Zapad, which is also the Russian word for “west,” will take place against the backdrop of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, ongoing war in Ukraine, military intervention in Syria, and meddling in the US and French presidential elections.
At first glance, Russian actions since the 2014 annexation of Crimea appear to signal a resurgence of power in the international system. Increases in military spending, forays into the Middle East, and a foreign policy punching above its weight have all served to remind the world that Russia maintains influence on the global stage.

However, behind the Cold War-levels of military activity and violations of international laws are fundamental issues which will plague Russia going forward. Demographic struggles have stricken the state since World War II, commodity price fluctuations and sanctions have crippled economic output, and the current defense spending trends are unsustainable. Against the backdrop of harsh economic reality, the illusion of Russian resurgence can only be maintained for so long, and NATO policymakers should take note.
Challenges emanating from the Mediterranean region, including those posed by failed states, terrorism, and a historic flow of migrants, have contributed to a surge in populism on both sides of the Atlantic that could imperil transatlantic unity and the European project itself, Alexander Vershbow, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council, said on February 1.  

Vershbow, who previously served as deputy secretary general of NATO from February 2012 to October 2016, said that these challenges “threaten to undermine the traditional values of openness and tolerance on both sides of the Atlantic.” Consequently, these conditions necessitate a fresh look at the security situation in the Mediterranean, focusing in particular on drivers of instability.

“The security interests of the transatlantic community and the Mediterranean have been closely intertwined for centuries… but never more intertwined than today,” he said.  
In facing the challenges of the world today, leaders and policymakers can draw on examples from the past in order to create hope for the future.  As described by Fred Kempe, president and chief executive officer of the Atlantic Council, one such example can be found in the late Gen. Andrew J. Goodpaster, a military leader and statesman who worked through the twentieth century to help establish the current rules-based global order.

The Life and Work of General Andrew J. Goodpaster: Best Practices in National Security Affairs by C. Richard Nelson is a biography detailing the renowned general’s life and the ways in which he embodied “the defense of values, the defense of constructive leadership in the world alongside friends and allies to create a more secure future,” said Kempe.

Deborah Lee James, secretary of the US Air Force, said the transatlantic community is facing significant challenges

In light of numerous instances of Russian aggression around the world, the transatlantic security community must stand together in a coordinated show of force so as to deter Russian revanchism, Deborah Lee James, secretary of the US Air Force, said at the Atlantic Council on December 19.

“The transatlantic security community… is facing greater challenges today than at any time since the end of the Cold War,” said James. She said that Russia’s infringements upon the security of other nations are “poking and testing and pushing and seeing what the response will be.”

“We have to have resolve and we have to have an active response,” she said.
Donald J. Trump was elected the forty-fifth president of the United States on November 8. Atlantic Council analysts and board members describe the challenges and opportunities the new president will face as he takes office in January of 2017, and provide policy recommendations.