5 giugno 2002
Jane's Defence weekly
Antonio Martino, who assumed the Italian defence portfolio in June 2001, has not only had to ensure the transformation of the Italian armed forces initiated by previous governments, but he has also had to adapt these transformations further in the wake of the events of 11 September 2001.
Manpower is still certainly the most important issue following the Italian parliament's decision to suspend conscription from 2007. However, Martino says he intends to complete the transition to all-professional forces by 2004.
"There are various reasons for doing so. The first is that our armed forces currently enjoy the attention, admiration and gratitude of the Italian public because of what they are doing around the world, and also that defence is now
perceived to be more important than before in our country." This favourable
climate, he believes, should allow a smoother transition to all-volunteer armed
The second reason Martino cites is demography - the stagnation in the Italian
birth rate over the past 15 years has made it difficult to meet conscript
levels. "My decision is based not only on ideology - I don't believe in
conscription - but also on pragmatism, and this makes me believe we must shift
to the new model as soon as possible." To attract more young people into the
armed forces, the government will soon submit a number of solutions to
parliament, with a focus on career-development programmes in the armed forces
that are marketable in the civilian sector after service.
Martino explains his recent remarks on proposals for a possible Italian Army
brigade comprising foreign citizens: "My real purpose was to draw attention to
the problem of society getting older and to future problems in recruiting young
people. I don't think I said anything scandalous, and the Albanian brigade I
mentioned was mostly a provocation, but I think we have to think about possible
Martino is concerned not only about what he sees as the slow development in the
build-up of the planned EU rapid reaction force but also about the nature of
the missions it will be asked to perform when deployed. "When we talk about
Europe, I am worried because rapid reaction force's missions are identified
with the Petersberg Tasks, the last of which is peace enforcement - a very
Martino asks if troops will be sent to divide two combatants unwilling to
accept foreign intervention and whether this is peace enforcement or war. "I
have repeatedly asked at European level to debate these issues in an informal
session, to set which missions the rapid reaction force should be able to do,
as this will influence its structure. Each type of mission should have, in my
view, a specific geographic horizon," Martino says. The minister believes that
worst-case-scenario missions should be carried out only when they are really
vital for European security interests. "Once we have specified the nature of
the rapid reaction force's mission, only then can we proceed rapidly - our
government is committed to meeting the 2003 [capability] deadline."
In light of 11 September, Martino thinks Europe should take a more active role
combating global terrorism. He says, however, "Europe will have to respond to
this threat together with the United States, the Russian Federation, and the
greatest possible number of allies".
While Italy did not deploy any ground troops during the US-led Operation
'Enduring Freedom' in Afghanistan, Martino points out that Rome "offered a
large and composite force package, [a decision] supported by 95% of our Senate
and 90% at the [lower] chamber; but the decisions on what to employ were made
in [US Central Command in] Tampa. We were not asked to send elements of our
special forces, which are certainly outstanding although limited in numbers,
but if we had been asked to send them, there would have been no political
problem, because of the large majority [in both chambers] which favoured our
Martino has put forward a series of proposals to his counterparts in the EU for
increased defence spending, without infringing the terms of the Maastricht
Treaty. "To be able to do more in the defence field, Europe should aim to a
convergence in the percentage of gross domestic product [GDP] devoted to
defence by each country. We need to invest in two areas: physical capital,
which is long-term equipment investment; and human capital, under the form of
training and organisation. To solve the first problem, Europe should allow,
say, 0.2-0.4% of the GDP to be devoted to long-term investment without being
included in the total public spending, while in the formation field why not
devote part of the available funds to the formation of military units?" While
these views initially provoked a nervous reaction among his European
colleagues, Martino believes there is a move now toward increasing consensus.
In terms of the role of industry, Martino stresses that "the defence industry
should serve the armed forces and not the other way round. Too often in the
past we purchased things we did not need just because it was beneficial to the
defence industry". He stresses the importance of economies of scale in defence
procurement, which, in comparison to the USA, places Europe at a disadvantage
in the short term.
Yet Martino remains optimistic about reorganising the defence industry in
Europe: "I see an increasing competitiveness of the European defence industry."
On Italy's participation in the US Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme,
Martino comments: "Being superstitious I don't want to give you a final answer,
but let me be optimistic about the fact that we will join. We need it, the JSF
technology is that of the future and, moreover, for us it will be a joint
programme, as both the navy and the air force need it."
However, this does not mean Italy will abandon the Eurofighter, he says. Italy
has ordered 121 EF2000 Eurofighter multirole aircraft, including 15
two-seaters. "They [the Eurofighter and the JSF] are complementary, because
they perform different functions."