14 January 2008

NATO considered Italian coup

Britain and its Nato allies considered organising a coup in Italy in 1976 to prevent the Communist Party from coming to power. The documents, made public after 30 years, were found by an Italian researcher in the government archives at Kew, Surrey.

After 30 years of rule by the Christian Democrat party (DC), the country seemed ready for change. However the only party strong enough to beat them was the Partito Comunista Italiana (PCI), led by the moderate Enrico Berlinguer. In 1976, there was a strong chance the PCI would beat the Christian Democrats into second place.

A secret Foreign Office memo dated 6 May 1976, entitled Italy And The Communists: Options For The West, floated one possible course of action as "action in support of a coup d'etat or other subversive action". The authors admitted: "By its nature, a coup d'etat could lead to unpredictable developments." But they added that, in theory at least, "it could be promoted. In one way or another, the force of the right could be counted on, with the support of the police and the army". The idea of a coup to remove the PCI or stop it coming to power "could be considered attractive" – but the idea was rejected as "unrealistic".

The growth of Italian communism had worried politicians in the West. In January 1976, Kissinger told Willy Brandt, the former West German Chancellor, of his "strong anxiety" for the developing situation. The "political nature" of Nato, Kissinger said, would change if communists seized power of a Nato country. The rest of the alliance shared his worries. For all its reformism, Berlinguer's PCI was still close to Moscow. The biggest fear was about what would happen to Nato's nuclear security if the PCI came to power. "To put it crudely," as the Ministry of Defence put it, "sensitive documents could end up in Moscow."

n the event it was academic: the PCI finished second in the election, with 34.3 per cent of the vote to the DC's 38.7 per cent


Richard Havers said...

Thanks for this story Jams, great stuff. I've missed itin the real world media.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Very interesting indeed. I remember Berlinguer and the "compromesso storico" and I was hopeful that something would come of it at the time. But NATO will back anybody rather than communists, won't they? Look how the western allies backed de Gaulle after WW2 to stop a communist government in france.

Sean Jeating said...

Stories like this are enough to letting me wish I may celebrate at least my 113th birthday. :)
Ah, I'd like to know what people - well, those (few) interested - would come to learn once all poison cabinets fell open.

Roland Dodds said...

Italian communism sounds fine to me: lots of cheap property and inexpensive vacation outings for me! I kid of course, but it would have been interesting (in a theoretical sense) to see Italy join the Soviet sphere.

jams o donnell said...

THanls everyone for your comments. It's an interesting scenario, What would ahve Nato done if the communists had won. For Italy, the sky would not have fallen in. They were not unreconstructed Stalinists and they would have had to form a multi party coalition.

Security may have been a problem - would they undermine Nato? Perhaps but the soviets already had at least one very well placed spy in Nato - Rainer Rupp (aka Topaz) already

James Higham said...

The most interesting aspect of ths is that the EU is socialist anyway in structure so such a move is just within the visible stratum. Nothing would alter below the surface though.

jams o donnell said...

I agree. Politially a communist victory would have changed little in the EU