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The invasion of Russia in Ukraine brought the presence and role of NATO bases and structures, the military alliance of part of the European countries and those of North America, and of the US ones on Italian territory back to the discussion topic. The two types, however, often coincide. Not all bases have the same importance, and indeed in some cases they are more than simple telecommunication stations, radar antennas, training ranges, research centers, depots. There are 120 structures in all, in addition to about twenty secret American bases, not officially recognized for security reasons. Apart from Valle d’Aosta, Molise and Umbria, NATO is present in all regions.
In Italy there are a few dozen nuclear warheads, located between Aviano, in Friuli Venezia Giulia, and Ghedi, in Lombardy: yes esteem there are about a hundred across Europe.
Italy was one of the founders of NATO and signed the Atlantic Pact in 1949 together with eleven other countries, which later became in the 1930s: the treaty was used to create a security organization based on the principle of mutual defense in case of external attack by part of the Soviet bloc. Due to its geographical position, Italy was considered strategic within the Western alliance. In 2005, old military plans of the Warsaw Pact were made known which had hypothesized a hypothetical scenario of the Third World War, foreseeing in the event of an attack by NATO a series of bombings on the strategic areas of Veneto and Lombardy, and an invasion plan who hypothesized to arrive in Bologna in 13 days. Also in 2005, in a television program conducted by Carlo Lucarelli, the former President of the Republic Francesco Cossiga said that instead the NATO plan in case of war provided that Italy would have the task of bombing Prague and Budapest.
For decades, NATO played a strategic deterrent role. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 it seemed that the bases in Italy had lost their fundamental function, but the organization was kept alive by strengthening the collaborative relations with the UN, which attributed NATO functions of peacekeeping in areas considered unstable. The first real military operations were organized in the 1990s, first in Kuwait during the Iraqi invasion and then above all in the wars in the former Yugoslavia, first in Bosnia and then in Kosovo.
Between 1998 and 1999, according to the official dossiers published at the end of the war, Italy contributed 10% to the military actions decided by NATO to stop the aggression of Serbia by President Slobodan Milošević. It was the time when Italy’s role in NATO suffered the greatest criticism and hostility, especially from the pacifist movements. The Italian army contributed by using 54 aircraft in 1,300 operational missions, and many of the flights that bombed targets in Serbia, even killing hundreds of civilians, departed from the Italian air bases, especially that of Aviano.
Today, again, in all NATO bases in Europe, and therefore also in Italy, the procedures for a possible state of operational pre-alert have been activated. The president of the Sicily region, Nello Musumeci, speaking of the bases on the island, said: «The defense system in Sicily assumes a strategic role precisely because of its geographical position, as an outlet to the Mediterranean. We have the NATO base in Sigonella and that of Trapani Birgi, it is normal that this defense system has already been on alert for several days ».
A part of the NATO and American bases in Italy, the best known and most important, are explained in more detail in the next paragraphs.
A NATO base enjoys extraterritoriality: it is not subject to the legal powers of the nation in which it is located and what happens inside is covered by secrecy. In general, the training of men and the exercises with the means are carried out, the activities of espionage, counter-espionage and sabotage are planned and the experimentation of new war systems. Which is the numerical consistency of the forces inside the bases on the Italian territory is a secret: NATO has very few permanent armed forces anyway, relying on the armies of the 30 countries adhering to the pact.
The bases in Italy of NATO and the United States are of four types: one part was granted to the United States under two agreements signed in the 1950s, and remain under Italian command while the United States has military control over equipment and operations; then there are the actual NATO bases; then the Italian bases made available to NATO under the agreements of the Atlantic alliance; and finally there are the mixed bases, shared by Italy, the United States and NATO.
Perhaps the most important base for NATO in Italy is in Sigonella, Sicily, also famous for the 1985 crisis, when it hosted a tense stalemate between Italian law enforcement and American military, developed around the management of the Palestinian militiamen landed. there after the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro. Sigonella is an Italian air base which also hosts the Naval air station of the US Navy and is also used, in fact, for NATO operations.
In Sigonella there is, since 2017, theAlliance ground surveillance, the program that since 2017 has been providing real-time data to member countries of the Atlantic alliance, thanks to a system of radar and the use of drones. The system is used to provide troop protection and maintain air border control and security at sea. It is from Sigonella that the Global Hawk drones depart, flying over the borders of Ukraine and controlling the movement of Russian troops. Reaper attack drones can also depart from Sigonella (it was with a Reaper that the Iranian general Qasem Soleimani was killed on 30 January 2020 in Iraq).
One of NATO’s two operational commands, theAllied joint force command (the other is in Brunssum, the Netherlands), which is directly dependent on the organization’s headquarters in Europe. The command of the Security force of the US Marines, the US submarine base and US Air Force Command for the Mediterranean. In Mondragone, in the province of Caserta, there is instead an anti-atomic underground for the American and NATO command to be used in case of war.
NATO’s Italian Rapid Reaction Corps, which can be sent quickly anywhere in crisis scenarios, is in the Ugo Mara barracks in Solbiate Olona, in the province of Varese. Italy supplies 70% of the military while the remaining 30% is made up of soldiers from other allied countries. The command is entrusted to an Italian. For two periods the Italian Rapid Reaction Corps led the ISAF missions (International security assistance force) in Afghanistan.
Another key location for the Atlantic alliance in Europe is in Aviano where the airport, an Italian military facility, is used by the USAF, the US Air Force. Since 1955 an agreement has been in force between the United States and Italy for the joint use of the base, which is also of NATO. Some B61-4 atomic bombs are housed in Aviano. Precise numbers are not provided, but unofficial sources speak of about 40 newspapers. In January, the United States announced the start of construction of B61-12 bombs, which are not dropped vertically like the previous B-61s but at a distance from the target, on which they are directed guided by a satellite system. The B61-12 can go underground and destroy bunkers: the nuclear warhead has four power options, selectable according to the objective.
Other nuclear bombs (the number should be between 20 and 40) of type B61-3, B61-4 and B61-7 are at the military airport of Ghedi, in the province of Brescia. The structure is entirely Italian-managed but the bombs are American: in the event of war, according to NATO agreements, they could be launched by Italian aircraft.
The permanent base of the US Sixth Fleet is located in the port of Gaeta (Latina). It is also a NATO base.
The Deployable air command and control center of NATO is located in the air base of the Italian Air Force of Poggio Renatico, in the province of Ferrara: it controls the airspace of the Atlantic alliance and is able to deploy anywhere for military operations and peacekeeping missions. In the command staff there are soldiers from 16 countries. In Taranto, on the other hand, there is the command of the naval and amphibious forces offered by Italy to NATO.
In Motta di Livenza, in the province of Treviso, in the Mario Fiore barracks, the Multinational Cimic group, an Italian-led joint multinational department that has the function of coordinating and facilitating cooperation between the military component and the civil organizations where the operations take place. These forces too can be quickly moved to any part of the world. In Liguria, in La Spezia, there is the Center for maritime research and experimentationa NATO science and technology research center.
On the other hand, Camp Darby, on the Tombolo estate, in the province of Pisa, is not a NATO base, contrary to what is often reported. It is an Italian base under the responsibility of the Italian army, where, however, US military units operate. It was created in 1951 with an agreement between Italy and the United States.
Camp Ederle, in Vicenza, is actually a US military base where thousands of American soldiers are stationed. In 2013 another camp was inaugurated alongside the Ederle, Camp Del Din. Finally, among the NATO structures in Italy there is the NATO Defense College in Rome. It is located in the military city of Cecchignola and is an international military school. It was commissioned by the then general Dwight Eisenhower in 1951 and was in Paris until 1966, before being transferred to Rome. The staff is made up of 130 military and civilians from 21 countries and the courses serve to train both the highest positions in both NATO and the armies of alliance member countries.