Why a US-Italy Global Affairs Forum?


Monday, November 05, 2012

Current talk of a US “pivot” toward Asia and away from Europe is nothing new, and is best taken with a grain of salt. The United States and Europe, despite some differences over specific policy issues, are basically joined at the hip, economically and politically. Just look at how the US stock markets fluctuate in response to economic news from Europe. And when it comes to international political and security challenges, whether it’s peacekeeping in Afghanistan or trying to prevent Iran from going nuclear, the US and its European allies are always together.  No surprise that the governments and the private sectors on the two sides of the Atlantic have plenty of busy channels of communication.

On the other hand, channels for dialogue between the US and European publics on the main challenges of the day seem to be in short supply. The US-Italy Global Affairs Forum aims to provide a setting in which Italians and Americans, and anyone else with an interest in the US-European relationship, can meet to learn more and exchange ideas about the international scene. Our events are pitched for people who follow the international news, who read the commentary and analysis, but are not necessarily experts or professionals in foreign affairs. The diverse members of transatlantic civil society need places to reflect together on the way ahead in an increasingly complex and challenging world, and then go back to their workplaces and social circles to keep the conversation going.

The US-Italy Global Affairs Forum draws its inspiration in part from the discussion groups created in Italy around the Italian foreign affairs journal Limes (LEE-mes, Latin for “border”) founded in the early post-Cold War period.  Creating venues for genuine give-and-take on difficult international issues, divorced from the official pronouncements of political parties, was a pretty radical initiative in Italy, but the success of this effort reflected a hunger in civil society for in-depth, non-ideological discussion. Another crucial source of inspiration and support is Italians in DC, an organization devoted to connecting Italians and italophiles in the Washington area on the basis of shared interests.  The presence here of so many enterprising and forward-looking Italians, many of them completing their studies or beginning their professional lives, makes DC the perfect place for the US-Italy dialogue we are seeking to promote.

The Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Johns Hopkins University was kind enough to host and sponsor our inaugural event on July 18, entitled “Nuclear Proliferation – A Transatlantic Perspective,” which looked at the major proliferation challenges of today, the role of transatlantic cooperation in facing those challenges, Italy’s specific contributions to reducing weapons of mass destruction threats, and the collaboration between US and Italian scholars in the Nonproliferation International History Project, who are bringing to light key aspects of nuclear history that have policy relevance today. A large and well-informed public came to hear our speakers, from the Department of State, the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, and the Wilson Center, and then engaged in a lively debate.  (Details are available athttp://transatlantic.sais-jhu.edu/events/2012/Nuclear%20Proliferation/Nuclear%20Proliferation ) It was a good start, and we look forward to more events on the challenges that Europeans and Americans will need to face in the coming years.