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5 giugno 2002

Jane's Defence weekly

Intervista

Paolo VALPOLINI
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 forces.
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 similar solutions."
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 ambiguous term." 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 participation".
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."
Pagina pubblicata il 05-03-2011