Strategy of tension

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The interior of the Banca Nazionale dell'Agricoltura in Piazza Fontana, Milan, after it was bombed in 1969

A strategy of tension (Italian: strategia della tensione) is a political policy wherein violent struggle is encouraged rather than suppressed. The purpose is to create a general feeling of insecurity in the population and make people seek security in a strong government.

The strategy of tension is most closely identified with the Years of Lead in Italy from 1968 to 1982, wherein far-left Marxist groups, far-right neo-fascist extra-parliamentary groups and state intelligence agencies performed bombings, kidnappings, arsons, and murders.[1][2] Some historians and activists have accused NATO of allowing and sanctioning such terrorism, through projects such as Operation Gladio,[3][4] although this is strongly disputed by the intelligence agencies involved and other historians.[5][6] Other cases where writers have alleged a strategy of tension include the deep state in Turkey from the 1970s–1990s ("Ergenekon"),[7] the war veterans and ZANU–PF in Zimbabwe which coordinated the farm invasions of 2000,[8] the DRS security agency in Algeria from 1991 to 1999,[9][10] and the Belgian State Security Service during the Belgian terrorist crisis of 1982–1986.[11]

According to the sociologist Franco Ferraresi, the term "strategy of tension" was first used in an article on the Piazza Fontana bombing in The Observer newspaper, published on 14 December 1969.[12][13] Neal Ascherson, one of those responsible for that article, later clarified that the expression had been suggested to him by the journalists Antonio Gambino and Claudio Risé, both of L'Espresso, who had been in conversation with him in the days immediately following the explosion of the Piazza Fontana bomb.[14]

Alleged examples[edit]


From 1968–1982, Italy suffered numerous terrorist attacks by both the left and the right, which were often followed by government round-ups and mass arrests.[2] Allegations, especially made by adherents of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), are that the government trumped up and intentionally allowed the attacks of communist radicals, or even carried out false flag operations in their name, as an excuse to arrest other communists, and allowed the attacks of far-right paramilitary organizations as an extrajudicial way to silence enemies.[15]

Various parliamentary committees were held to investigate these crimes as well as prosecute them in the 1990s. A 1995 report from the Left Democrats (a merger of former center-left parties and the PCI) to a subcommittee of the Italian Parliament stated that a "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". Aldo Giannuli [it], a historian who worked as a consultant to the parliamentary terrorism commission, wrote that he considered the Left Democrats' report as dictated primarily by domestic political considerations rather than historical ones: "Since they have been in power the Left Democrats have given us very little help in gaining access to security service archives," he said. "This is a falsely courageous report." Giannuli did decry the fact that many more leftist terrorists were prosecuted and convicted than rightist terrorists, though.[15]

Swiss academic Daniele Ganser wrote NATO's Secret Armies, a 2004 book that alleged direct NATO support for far-right terrorists in Italy as part of its "strategy of tension".[16] Ganser also alleges that Operation Gladio, an effort to organize stay-behind guerrillas and resistance in the event of a communist takeover of Italy by the Eastern Bloc, continued into the 1970s and supplied the far-right neo-fascist movements[example needed] with weapons. Ganser's conclusions have been disputed;[5][17] most notably, Ganser heavily cites the document US Army Field Manual 30-31B, which the US state department claims is a 1976 Soviet hoax meant to discredit the US whilst others such as Ray S. Cline have claimed it is likely authentic and Licio Gelli who claimed it was in fact given to him by the CIA.[18][19]

In a 1992 BBC documentary on Gladio titled 'Operation GLADIO', the neo-fascist terrorist Vincenzo Vinciguerra reported that the stay-behind armies really did possess this strategy, stating that the state needed those terrorist attacks for the population to willingly turn to the state and ask for security.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Campani, Giovanna (4 July 2016). "Neo-fascism from the Twentieth Century to the Third Millennium: The Case of Italy". In Lazaridis, Gabriella; Campani, Giovanna; Benveniste, Annie (eds.). The Rise of the Far Right in Europe: Populist Shifts and 'Othering'. Springer. ISBN 978-1-137-55679-0.
  2. ^ a b Drake, Richard (1999). "Italy in the 1960s: A Legacy of Terrorism and Liberation". South Central Review. 16: 62–76. doi:10.2307/3190077. JSTOR 3190077. More than twelve hundred people died or suffered grievous injury from this violence, which from 1969 to 1984 included thousands of terrorist attacks. Dozens of groups on the left and the right were involved.
  3. ^ Ness, Immanuel (ed.). The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, Chapter: Italy, Gladio 1970s-1980s (1 ed.). Wiley. doi:10.1002/9781405198073.wbierp1700. ISBN 978-1-4051-8464-9.
  4. ^ Ganser, Daniele (2005-06-21). NATO's Secret Armies. Routledge. doi:10.4324/9780203017777. ISBN 978-1-135-76785-3.
  5. ^ a b Hansen, Peer Henrik (Summer 2005). "Review of NATO's Secret Armies". Journal of Intelligence History. Archived from the original on 2007-08-26.
  6. ^ Davies, Philip H.J. (December 2005). "Review of NATO's Secret Armies". The Journal of Strategic Studies: 1064–1068.
  7. ^ Elik, Suleyman (7 October 2013). Iran-Turkey Relations, 1979-2011: Conceptualising the Dynamics of Politics, Religion and Security in Middle-Power States. Routledge. ISBN 9780415726238.
  8. ^ Carver, R. (2000). "Zimbabwe, a Strategy of Tension" (PDF). UNHCR.
  9. ^ Imposimato, Ferdinando (13 December 2009). "Preface to 'The Dirty War' by Habib Souaidïa". Algeria-Watch – Informations sur la situation des droits humains en Algérie.
  10. ^ Schindler, John R. (22 September 2017). "Two Decades Later, Algeria Protects Mystery of Bentalha Massacre". Observer.
  11. ^ Jenkins, Philip (1990). "Strategy of tension: The Belgian terrorist crisis 1982–1986". Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. 13 (4–5): 299–309. doi:10.1080/10576109008435838.
  12. ^ Ferraresi, Franco (1997). Threats to Democracy: the Radical Right in Italy after the War. Princeton, N. J., Princeton University Press, p. 87. ISBN 9780691044996
  13. ^ The Observer article deployed the term while describing the alleged efforts of Giuseppe Saragat, then leader of the Italian Democratic Socialist Party (PSDI), to undermine the sitting centre-right Christian Democratic government, which had prompted accusations from others that he had "indirectly encouraged the far Right to go over to terrorism." See Neal Ascherson, Michael Davie and Frances Cairncross, 'Italy: Fear of revolt returns,' The Observer, 14 December 1969, p. 2.
  14. ^ (in Italian) Biscione, Francesco M. (2020), "Strategia della tensione. Genesi e destino di un’espressione". Bibliomanie. Letterature, storiografie, semiotiche. 50 (12): 2. doi:10.48276/issn.2280-8833.5267.
  15. ^ a b Bull, Anna Cento (2012). Italian Neofascism: The Strategy of Tension and the Politics of Nonreconciliation. Berghahn Books. ISBN 978-0857454508.
  16. ^ "Interview with Daniele Ganser" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-12-12. Retrieved 2010-01-07. (154 KB), December 29, 2006, on Voltaire network's website (in French): "It is a tactic which consists in committing bombings and attributing them to others. By the term 'tension' one refers to emotional tension, to what creates a sentiment of fear. By the term 'strategy' one refers to what feeds the fear of the people towards one particular group".
  17. ^ Olav Riste and Leopoldo Nuti, "Introduction: Strategy of 'Stay-Behind'," The Journal of Strategic Studies, December 2007, 930.
  18. ^ "Misinformation about "Gladio/Stay Behind" Networks Resurfaces - US Department of State". Archived from the original on 10 July 2008. Retrieved 18 July 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  19. ^ Ganser, Daniele (October 2006). "The CIA in Western Europe and the abuse of human rights". Intelligence and National Security. 21 (5): 760–781. doi:10.1080/02684520600957712. ISSN 0268-4527. S2CID 154898281.
  20. ^ "Operation Gladio - Full 1992 documentary BBC - YouTube". Archived from the original on 21 December 2021. Retrieved 26 October 2020.

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