ISPI’s activities were officially launched on 27th March 1934 by a group of young scholars from the Universities of Milan and Pavia who decided to create a research center – in Fascist Italy – , inspired by the examples of London’s Royal Institute of Foreign Affairs and New York’s Foreign Policy Association.
The Institute’s editorial activities began immediately, with the journal “Relazioni Internazionali”, as well as several other publications intended to disseminate information on international affairs. ISPI also opened a specialized library, becoming an important reference point in Italy for all those interested in international relations.
To keep up with such a rapid development it was however necessary to look for new funding. An opportunity came along through the meeting in February 1935 with Alberto Pirelli, the second son of the founder of the Pirelli company. In fact, this encounter did not only guarantee the funding the Institute needed to finance its increasingly ambitious projects, but it also provided strong links with the business community, while ensuring some autonomy from the fascist regime. Although ISPI could not avoid following the rules imposed by regime propaganda, the Institute could nevertheless rely on the collaboration of prominent personalities from Italy’s cultural and political scene (including those hostile to fascism) as well as on a large amount of foreign documentation.
Thanks to Alberto Pirelli’s efforts, Mussolini allowed ISPI to move its headquarters to Palazzo Clerici, a more prestigious venue than the first one in Via Borghetto. On the 25th of July 1940, after three years of negotiations, the agreement was finally signed, granting ISPI the use of the Palazzo for 29 years on payment of a rent of ten lire, along with the obligation to deal with the restoration.
In December 1940 the renovation work was approved directly by Mussolini who wanted to speed things up and turn the operation into a political maneuver during the increasingly difficult wartime conditions. The covenant was extended to 50 years and 2,8 million lire were allocated for the renovations which were virtually completed by 1941 despite wartime restrictions. After an inevitable interruption due to the military occupation and uncertainties following the war, ISPI was able to resume its activities in 1949.
ISPI then became far more active than it had been in the past. Starting from the 1950s, each year it organized a postgraduate course for young people aiming to enter the diplomatic service or work in the field of international economics and politics. Among its teachers, the course could boast some of Italy’s main academic figures. Since1969 ISPI was also selected by the diplomatic institute of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as one of the centres authorized to hold preparation courses for the competitions to enter the diplomatic career.
After the war a strong impulse was also given to the organization of conferences and events. Alongside strictly scientific meetings, an increasing number of initiatives associated with politics was organized in collaboration with both the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and other international institutes in Italy and abroad.
A period of change in the Institute’s life started during the early 1970s, with growing financial and structural problems that reached their peak in the early 1980s. Several years were needed to get the Institute back on track and only in 1986 activities could be resumed under the guidance of the new president, Ambassador Egidio Ortona.
The relaunch of the Institute was completed by Amb. Boris Biancheri (President from 1997 to 2011), Amb. Giancarlo Aragona (from 2012 to June 2016), Prof. Carlo Secchi ( from June 2016 to December 2016). Since January 2017 Amb. Giampiero Massolo is president of ISPI.