Italy’s new Minister of Defense – Mrs. Roberta Pinotti – decided that announcing an imminent cut in military spending was somehow the right thing to do in the immediate aftermath of Putin’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and right after the explosion of the Ukrainian crisis. “It is permissible to conceive that we can review, reconsider, and cut”, said Mrs. Pinotti during an interview with SKYTg24 last Sunday, “we should ask ourselves: do we really want to have an Air Force department for our military? We must ask ourselves what kind of military defense we want, what sort of protection we need.”
Mrs. Pinotti, 53, a former high school teacher, holds a degree in Humanities. She began his political career during the early nineties by joining the “Partito Comunista Italiano” and later covered the position of shadow minister of Defense during Walter Veltroni’s cabinet, between 2008 and 2009. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi himself reiterated the same concept on Sunday during an interview with Canale 5: “We will carry on our international programs, we will have a strong air force but programs will be revised.”
Italy was previously supposed to buy 131 F-35 jets under the Joint Strike Fighter procurement program which was started by the USA and signed – among other countries – also by Great Britain, Holland, Israel, Canada and Australia. Later on, in 2012, the Italian government decided to step back from its original commitment and therefore to reduce the number of jets to just 90, but now it seems likely that Italy will buy only 45 F-35s.
Mrs. Pinotti also announced the intention of cutting at least 40.000 troops by 2024 (190.000 soldiers to 150.000). Moreover, the number of barracks will also be drastically reduced and the Garibaldi aircraft carrier could also ended up being sold. Pinotti’s announcement sparked several negative reactions coming from various sources.
Fabrizio Cicchitto – the Chamber of Deputies’ Foreign Affairs Commission President – said on Tuesday that Italians should take into consideration the actual military scenario before taking risky decisions. Italy is now in the midst of a “quite intricate [political] landscape characterized by several different brands of power politics approaches, among which the Russian one stands out due to its aggressiveness,” stated Cicchitto.
Also according to Major General Vincenzo Camporini, former Defense Chief of Staff, there are a number of very good reasons why cutting military spending wouldn’t be the smartest thing to do right now, not to mention reducing the amount of F-35s that Italy was supposed to acquire. As Camporini explained in an interview with “Formiche”, Italy’s Air Force can now count on three kinds of jet fighters: Tornados, Eurofighters and AMXs, but the Tornados and the AMXs aren’t up to date anymore. Their obsolescence forces Italians taxpayers to spend a good amount of money every year just for maintenance. Therefore the costs of keeping these jets in the air are considerably high.
However, by acquiring the right amount of F-35s, Italy could substitute two jet fighters with just one, given also the fact that the F-35 is available in different versions. In addition, also the Navy’s AV-8B Harrier could be substituted by the new F-35s. In Camporini’s view there is there is no need to announce cutting in military spending at this moment in time, as Italy could revise its program year-by-year. The General has in fact labeled Pinotti’s announcement as a demagogic attempt to win popular support on the part of the newly formed government which desperately needs some form of justification given its unpopularity among Italians.
“I understand that, at this moment and from a demagogical and populist point of view,” said Camporini, “the government might win consensus by announcing cuts, however, in doing so, one risks weakening not just Italy, but also its industry as well as its technological capabilities.” Italy is indeed actively participating in the development and the assembly of the F-35s in Cameri, Piedmont and the ISF agreement was ratified also in the light of potential employment benefits, as well as R&D benefits.
It looks like Renzi is going for the easy way out of the Italian economic crisis: he has resolved to cut military spending notwithstanding recent military developments on the Old Continent in order to save money and raise the government’s popularity among what he probably considers to be his traditional electorate.
But Renzi’s last decision seems to be at least in bad timing: he is selling away Italy’s security in exchange for personal popularity. The Prime Minister insisted that cuts in military spending might result in saving at least half a billion Euros every year for the next twelve years. The problem being: given the fact that the economy of a nation largely depends on the state of its finance and that the latter largely depends on the state of national security, one cannot easily quantify potential losses. Especially in the light of nowadays’ geo-political scenario.