Italy–United States relations

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Italian–American relations
Map indicating locations of Italy and USA


United States
Diplomatic mission
Italian Embassy, Washington, D.C.United States Embassy, Rome
Ambassador Mariangela Zappia[1]Chargé d'affaires Shawn Crowley[2]
US President Biden and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in the oval office on July 27, 2023
Joe Biden and Mario Draghi at the 2021 G20 Rome Summit.

Italy and the United States enjoy warm and friendly relations. The United States has had diplomatic representation in the nation of Italy and its predecessor nation, the Kingdom of Italy, since 1840. However, in 1891 the Italian government severed diplomatic relations and briefly contemplated war against the US as a response to the unresolved case of the lynching of eleven Italians in New Orleans, Louisiana, and there was a break in relations from 1941 to 1943, while Italy and the United States were at war.

After World War II, Italy became a strong and active transatlantic partner which, along with the United States, has sought to foster democratic ideals and international cooperation in areas of strife and civil conflict. Toward this end, the Italian government has cooperated with the United States in the formulation of defense, security, and peacekeeping policies. Under longstanding bilateral agreements flowing from NATO membership, Italy hosts important U.S. military forces at Vicenza and Livorno (army); Aviano (air force); and Sigonella, Gaeta, and Naples—home port for the U.S. Navy Sixth Fleet. The United States has about 11,500 military personnel stationed in Italy. Italy hosts the NATO Defense College in Rome.

In addition to close governmental, economic and cultural ties, according to Pew Research global opinion polls, Italy is one of the most pro-American nations in the world, with 70% of Italians viewing the United States favorably in 2002, increasing to 78% in 2014.[3] According to the 2012 U.S. Global Leadership Report, 51% of Italians approved of U.S. leadership under the Obama Administration, with 16% disapproving and 33% uncertain.[4]


18th, 19th, and early 20th Century[edit]

Before 1861, no singular Italian nation state existed. The Italian Peninsula was instead divided among several smaller states, each of which the United States established diplomatic relations with. Many of these smaller Italian states were among the first countries in the world to recognize the independence of and maintain diplomatic relations with the United States. For example, the Republic of Genoa officially recognized U.S. independence in 1792[5] and consular relations were established with the Papal States in 1797.[6] During the Risorgimento, the smaller states inhabiting the Italian Peninsula unified to form the Kingdom of Italy. The United States officially recognized the Kingdom of Italy on April 11, 1861.[7]

During the First Barbary War (1801–1805), the United States was allied with the Kingdom of Sicily against the Barbary corsairs due to a shared interest by both countries in putting an end to the disruption of trade on the Mediterranean Sea caused by the corsairs.[8]

Both Italy and the United States were part of the Eight-Nation Alliance that intervened in the Boxer Rebellion in China from 1899 to 1901.

From the 1880s to 1920, more than 4 million Italians emigrated to the United States and accounted for more than 10 percent of the country's foreign-born population.[9] Italian Americans faced rampant hostility and discrimination. Italian immigration to the United States dramatically declined tapered off in the 1920s largely because of passage of the Immigration Act of 1924.

After the deaths of 11 Italians during a mass lynching in 1891, relations between the nations were strained. The Italian government demanded that the lynch mob be brought to justice and reparations be paid to the dead men's families. When the U.S. declined to prosecute the mob leaders, Italy recalled its ambassador from Washington in protest.[10]: 95  The U.S. followed suit, recalling its delegation from Rome. Diplomatic relations remained at an impasse for over a year. When President Benjamin Harrison agreed to pay a $25,000 indemnity to the victims' families, Congress tried unsuccessfully to intervene, accusing him of "unconstitutional executive usurpation of Congressional powers".[10]: 126–127 

The rise of fascism and World War II[edit]

The United States and Italy were both members of the Allied Powers during World War I, and President Woodrow Wilson visited Rome while traveling to the Paris Peace Conference. However, at the Conference President Woodrow Wilson opposed Italian irredentist war aims guaranteed in the secret Treaty of London, which ran counter to his 14 Points demanding "open diplomacy" and self-determination. In protest of Wilson and the other Allied leaders' refusal to recognize territorial demands in Yugoslavia and Albania, the Italian delegation under Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando and Foreign Minister Sidney Sonnino walked out of the conference. Wilson tried to mollify the situation by issuing a direct appeal to the Italian people in Le Temps, but it was widely derided by the Italian public.[11][12]

Since Mussolini's rise to power the United States applauded him on his early achievements, including helping with relations between the two countries. Relations deteriorated after Italy invaded Ethiopia. in 1935.[13][14]

On December 11, 1941, four days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States, and the U.S. reciprocated in kind.[15] The U.S. and Britain seized Sicily in 1943 with little combat needed as the Italians pulled out. The Allied invasion of Southern Italy in fall 1943 was a different matter, however, as casualties were high and progress was slow. The Allies captured Rome in June 1944 and very slowly pushed north. The Allies gave much higher priority to the invasion of Frannce in 1944; Italy was a "backwater.".[16]

From 1943 till the end of the war the only part of Italy at war with the United States was the German puppet state the Italian Social Republic. Italian Partisans and Victor Emmanuel III and his loyalists from 1943 overthrew Mussolini and declared war on Germany. Germany quickly overran the entire peninsula. Italy helped the United States and other Allies during the Italian Campaign of World War II.[17]


Clare Boothe Luce, U.S. Ambassador to Italy, with husband Henry Luce (1954)

When the war ended in May 1945, the United States occupied Italy until its plebiscite on the institutional form of the State. The United States helped with the transition from a monarchy to a republic in 1946. Italy had become a valued ally of the United States against the spread of communism in Europe during the Cold War .[18]

Italy signed a Peace Treaty with the U.S> and Britain in 1947 and joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. Te U.S. helped to revive the Italian economy through the Marshall Plan. In the same years, Italy also became a member of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which eventually transformed into the European Union (EU).

Christian Democrat Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi (1945–1953) enjoyed considerable support in the US, where he was seen as the man who could oppose the rising tide of Communism – in particular the Italian Communist Party, which was the biggest communist party in a Western European democracy. In January 1947 he visited the US. The chief goals of the trip were to soften the terms of the pending peace treaty with Italy, and to obtain immediate economic assistance. His ten-day tour, engineered by media mogul Henry Luce – the owner of Time Magazine – and his wife Clare Boothe Luce the future ambassador to Rome, was viewed as a media "triumph," prompting positive comments of a wide section of the American press.[19]

During his meetings in the U.S., he managed to secure a financially modest but politically significant US$100 million Eximbank loan to Italy. According to De Gasperi, public opinion would view the loan as a vote of confidence in the Italian Government and strengthen his position versus the Communist Party in the context of the emerging Cold War. The positive results strengthened De Gasperi's reputation in Italy. He also came back with useful information on the incipient change in American foreign policy that would lead to the Cold War and in Italy the break with the Communists and left-wing Socialists and their removal from the government in the May 1947 crisis.[20]

Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti with President Richard Nixon in 1973

Italy faced political instability in the 1970s, which ended in the 1980s. Known as the Years of Lead, this period was characterized by widespread social conflicts and terrorist acts carried out by extra-parliamentary movements. The assassination of the leader of the Christian Democracy (DC), Aldo Moro, led to the end of a "historic compromise" between the DC and the Communist Party (PCI). In the 1980s, for the first time, two governments were managed by a republican (Giovanni Spadolini) and a socialist (Bettino Craxi) rather than by a member of DC.

Many aspects of the Years of Lead are still shrouded in mystery and debate about them continues. There were many, especially on the left, who spoke of the existence in those years of a strategy of tension (strategia della tensione).[21] According to this theory, occult and foreign forces were involved in creating a "strategy of tension". Identified organizations included: Gladio, a NATO secret anti-communist structure; the P2 masonic lodge, discovered in 1981 following the arrest of its leader Licio Gelli; neo-fascist "black terrorism" organizations such as Ordine Nuovo or Avanguardia Nazionale; Italian secret service; and the United States. This theory re-emerged in the 1990s, following Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti's recognition of the existence of Gladio before the Parliamentary assembly on 24 October 1990.[22] Juridical investigations into the Piazza Fontana bombing and the Bologna massacre and several parliamentary reports pointed towards such a deliberate strategy of tension. Milan prosecutor Guido Salvini indicted a U.S. Navy officer, David Carrett, for his role in the Piazza Fontana bombing. He also surprised Carlo Rocchi, a CIA operative in Italy, in 1995 while searching for information concerning the case in the mid-1990s. In 2000, a Parliamentary Commission report from the then center-left government, concluded that the strategy of tension had been supported by the United States to "stop the PCI, and to a certain degree also the PSI, from reaching executive power in the country".[21][23][24]

In 1985, disagreement over the handling of the Achille Lauro hijacking resulted in a heated diplomatic clash between the Italian and United States governments, as well as between elements of their respective militaries. The diplomatic quarrel, known as the Sigonella crisis, escalated into a confrontation and arm standoff between United States special forces units and the Italian military, primarily the VAM (Vigilanza Aeronautica Militare) and Carabinieri.[25] The diplomatic crisis was soon resolved during a conference between Prime Minister Bettino Craxi and President Ronald Reagan.

With the end of the Years of lead (Italy) (1969–1989), the Italian Communist Party gradually increased its votes under the leadership of Enrico Berlinguer. The Socialist party (PSI), partner of Christian Democrats and led by Prime Minister Bettino Craxi, became more and more critical of the communists and of the Soviet Union; Craxi himself pushed in favour of US president Ronald Reagan's positioning of Pershing II missiles in Italy, a move the communists hotly contested. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Italy faced significant challenges, as voters, disenchanted with past political paralysis, massive government debt and an extensive corruption system (collectively called Tangentopoli after being uncovered by the 'Clean Hands' investigation ), demanded political, economic, and ethical reforms.[citation needed] The scandals involved all major parties, but especially those in the government coalition: between 1992 and 1994 the Christian Democrats underwent a severe crisis and was dissolved, splitting up into several pieces, while also the Socialists and the other governing minor parties also dissolved. The Communists reorganized as a social-democratic force.

Post 1989[edit]

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and President George W. Bush in 2002
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, February 2016

During the 1990s and 2000s, the United States and Italy have always cooperated as NATO partners on issues like the Gulf War, Lebanon, the Middle East peace process, multilateral talks, Somalia and Mozambique peacekeeping, drug trafficking, trafficking in women and children, and terrorism. Under longstanding bilateral agreements flowing from NATO membership, Italy hosts important U.S. military forces at Vicenza and Livorno (army); Aviano (air force); and Sigonella, Gaeta, and Naples–home port for the United States Sixth Fleet. The United States has about 13,000 military personnel stationed in Italy. Italy hosts the NATO Defence College in Rome. Italy remains a strong and active transatlantic partner which, along with the United States, has sought to foster democratic ideals and international cooperation in areas of strife and civil conflict.

Italy-United States relations were briefly but significantly strained in the wake of the 1998 Cavalese cable car crash. Near the Italian ski resort town of Cavalese in the Dolomites, a United States Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler aircraft, flying too low and against regulations, cut a cable supporting a cable car of an aerial lift, causing the car to plummet over 80 metres (260 ft) to the ground and killing 20 people. The pilot and navigator of the aircraft were put on trial in the United States and found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide, outraging the Italian public.

During the 2000s, Berlusconi and his cabinets have had a strong tendency to support American foreign policies,[26] despite the policy divide between the U.S. and many founding members of the European Union (Germany, France, and Belgium) during the Bush administration.[27] Under his lead the Italian Government also shifted its traditional position on foreign policy from being the most pro-Arab western government towards a greater friendship with Israel and Turkey. Italy, with Berlusconi in office, became a solid ally of the United States due to his support in the War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War following the 2003 invasion of Iraq in the War on Terror. Silvio Berlusconi, in his meetings with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and U.S. President George W. Bush, said that he pushed for "a clear turnaround in the Iraqi situation" and for a quick handover of sovereignty to the government chosen by the Iraqi people.[citation needed] The Italian Armed Forces had some 3,200 troops deployed in Southern Iraq, the third largest contingent there after the American and British forces.[28] Italian troops were gradually withdrawn from Iraq in the second half of 2006 with the last soldiers leaving the country in December of the same year.

During his second center-left government from 2006 to 2008, Prime Minister Romano Prodi laid out some sense of his new foreign policy when he pledged to withdraw Italian troops from Iraq and called the Iraq War a "grave mistake that has not solved but increased the problem of security".[29]

Resident diplomatic missions[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ambasciata d'Italia
  2. ^ Our ambassador
  3. ^ Opinion of the United States Pew Research Center
  4. ^ U.S. Global Leadership Project Report - 2012 Gallup
  5. ^ "A Guide to the United States' History of Recognition, Diplomatic, and Consular Relations, by Country, since 1776: The Republic of Genoa". Office of the Historian. Retrieved 17 June 2020.
  6. ^ "History of the U.S. and Holy See". U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. Archived from the original on 18 June 2020. Retrieved 17 June 2020.
  7. ^ "A Guide to the United States' History of Recognition, Diplomatic, and Consular Relations, by Country, since 1776: Italy". Office of the Historian. Retrieved 17 June 2020.
  8. ^ "The Barbary Wars 1801-1805 and 1815". Veterans Museum at Balboa Park. Retrieved 17 June 2020.
  9. ^ "Italian- The Great Arrival". Library of Congress. Retrieved 17 June 2020.
  10. ^ a b Gambino, Richard (2000). Vendetta: The True Story of the Largest Lynching in U.S. History. Guernica Editions.
  11. ^ Steiner, Zara (2005). The lights that failed : European international history, 1919-1933. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-151881-2. OCLC 86068902.
  12. ^ MacMillan, Margaret (2001). Peacemakers : the Paris Conference of 1919 and its attempt to end war. London: J. Murray. ISBN 0-7195-5939-1. OCLC 48871674.
  13. ^ Alexander DeConde, Half bitter, half sweet (1971) p. 222.
  14. ^ John P. Diggins, Mussolini and fascism : the view from America (1972) p. 288.
  15. ^ DeConde, Half bitter, half sweet (1971) p. 245.
  16. ^ Edwin P. Hoyt, Backwater war: the Allied campaign in Italy, 1943-1945 (Greenwood, 2002).
  17. ^ Edwin P. Hoyt, Backwater war: the Allied campaign in Italy, 1943-1945 (Greenwood, 2002).
  18. ^ Mario Del Pero, "The United States and" psychological warfare" in Italy, 1948-1955." Journal of American History 87.4 (2001): 1304-1334.
  19. ^ De Gasperi through American Eyes: Media and Public Opinion, 1945-53, by Steven F. White, in: Italian Politics and Society, No.61 Fall/Winter 2005
  20. ^ The Italian Stabilization of 1947: Domestic and International Factors, by Juan Carlos Martinez Oliva, Institute of European Studies, 2007
  21. ^ a b "Commissione parlamentare d'inchiesta sul terrorismo in Italia e sulle cause della mancata individuazione dei responsabili delle stragi (1995 Parliamentary Commission of Investigation on Terrorism in Italy and on the Causes of the Failing of the Arrests of the Responsibles of the Bombings)" (PDF) (in Italian). 1995. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 August 2006. Retrieved 2 May 2006.
  22. ^ Deaglio, Enrico (2010). Patria 1978-2008. Milan: Il Sagiatore. p. 885. ISBN 978-8865760680.
  23. ^ "Strage di Piazza Fontana - spunta un agente Usa" (in Italian). La Repubblica. 11 February 1998. Retrieved 2 May 2006. (With links to juridical sentences and Parliamentary Report by the Italian Commission on Terrorism)
  24. ^ (in English, Italian, French, and German) "Secret Warfare: Operation Gladio and NATO's Stay-Behind Armies". Swiss Federal Institute of Technology / International Relation and Security Network. Archived from the original on 25 April 2006. Retrieved 2 May 2006.
  25. ^ "Sigonella, 11 ottobre 1985, ultimo sussulto di sovranità nazionale..." [Sigonella, 11 October 1985, Last gasp of national sovereignty…]. (in Italian). 11 October 2012. Archived from the original on 8 November 2014. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  26. ^ "Istituzioni, Europa, Enti Locali: "Il G8 deve fermare gli speculatori"" (PDF) (in Italian). Corriere della Sera. 7 July 2008. p. 10. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 September 2011.
  27. ^ "Esportare la democrazia anche cambiando leggi internazionali" (in Italian). Corriere della Sera. 6 December 2003. p. 6. …Berlusconi, l' uomo che disse in passato di essere dalla parte degli Stati Uniti prima ancora di sapere da quale parte questi si schierano….
  28. ^ La creazione di una zona di pace e stabilità attorno all'Unione Europea. 2006. ISBN 9788872330364.
  29. ^ Sturcke, James (18 May 2006). "Prodi condemns Iraq war as 'grave mistake'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 25 February 2007.

Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from U.S. Bilateral Relations Fact Sheets. United States Department of State.

Further reading[edit]

  • Brogi, Alessandro. "Ike and Italy: The Eisenhower Administration and Italy's 'Neo-Atlanticist' Agenda." Journal of Cold War Studies 4.3 (2002): 5-35.
  • Brogi, Alessandro. "Ambassador Clare Boothe Luce and the evolution of psychological warfare in Italy." Cold War History 12.2 (2012): 269–294.
  • Brogi, Alessandro. A question of self-esteem: the United States and the Cold War choices in France and Italy, 1944-1958 (Greenwood, 2002)
  • Brogi, Alessandro. Confronting America: The Cold War between the United States and the Communists in France and Italy (2012)
  • Cosco, Joseph P. Imagining Italians: The Clash of Romance and Race in American Perceptions, 1880-1910 (SUNY Press, 2012)
  • De Conde, Alexander. Half bitter, half sweet (Scribner's 1971), a major scholarly history. online
  • Diggins, John P. Mussolini and fascism : the view from America (1972), a majot scholarly study online
  • Hughes, H. Stuart. The United States and Italy (Harvard University Press, 1965) online
  • Migone, Gian Giacomo. The United States and Fascist Italy: The Rise of American Finance in Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2015).
  • Miller, James Edward. The United States and Italy, 1940-1950: the politics and diplomacy of stabilization (University of North Carolina Press, 1986)
  • Mistry, Kaeten. "The case for political warfare: Strategy, organization and US involvement in the 1948 Italian election." Cold War History 6.3 (2006): 301–329.
  • Mistry, Kaeten. "Re-thinking American intervention in the 1948 Italian election: beyond a success–failure dichotomy." Modern Italy 16.2 (2011): 179–194.
  • Pells, Richard. Not like Us: How Europeans Have Loved, Hated and Transformed American Culture since World War II (1997) online
  • Rabel, Roberto Giorgio. Between East and West: Trieste, the United States, and the Cold War, 1941-1954 (Duke University Press, 1988)
  • Schmitz, David F. The United States and fascist Italy, 1922-1940 (1988) online
  • Wollemborg, Leo J. Stars, Stripes, and Italian Tricolor: The United States and Italy, 1946-1989 (1990)

External links[edit]