The Economic Cold War: Italy and the United States, 1947-1989: Evidence from the Market in a Global Winners-Losers’ Game

Adriana Castagnoli

This paper focuses on the long run economic effects of inequalities in economic power and development between Italy and the United States from the late forties through to the eighties. During the Cold War Washington imposed trade restrictions on its allies in East-West business operations and with communist countries. Historians of the Cold War have usually neglected economic aspects, yet the economic and technological instruments were undoubtedly important in the East-West confrontation and for preventing the spread of communism.

In the context of NATO and EEC, the relationship between Washington and Rome was a dominant-subordinate model, as well as one displaying leader-laggard advantages and disadvantages. My thesis is that Italy’s dependence on and exposure to the soft power of the U.S., working together with its own structural deficiencies, influenced its process of development and and limited its modernization in advanced technology sectors. Yet some companies decided on a strategy of competition with the great American multinationals. This was the case of ENI which exploited Italy’s long-standing economic ties with the East and with China, on the one hand, and the political and commercial opportunities created by decolonization and the rise of Arab nationalism, on the other, and in so doing succeeded in asserting itself and influencing the policies of the American multinationals. ENI was able to do so thanks to the founder Enrico Mattei’s “nationalistic” system of values and its business culture that was centered on particular technological innovations (such as some equipment, special pipes, and the gas liquefaction process).