Italy cuts the size of its army -
Italy cuts the size of its army
Long considered a hallowed institution that was immune from reform, the top-heavy army, navy and air force now face swingeing cuts in budgets and manpower. The number of generals and admirals will be cut by a third, one in five colonels will be axed and the armed forces overall will be reduced from 183,000 to 150,000. Civilian staff will be reduced from 30,000 to 20,000. Italy is one of the largest European contributors to the Nato-led force in Afghanistan and also has peacekeepers deployed in Kosovo and Lebanon. The cuts were announced to parliament by the defence minister, Giampaolo Di Paola, who is an admiral in the navy and a former military chief of staff. It is highly unusual for Italian defence ministers to be serving officers, but Di Paola was appointed as part of an unelected technocrat government which replaced the conservative coalition of Silvio Berlusconi in November, amid market jitters over Italy's massive debt. The cuts were of "fundamental importance" and needed the widest political support, the minister told parliament in Rome. They are part of a far-reaching defence spending review, with the military budget for this year slashed by nearly a third. In addition to the personnel cuts, Italy has also cut back on its purchases of military hardware. The defence minister announced in February that the country will reduce its acquisition of Joint Strike Fighters from 131 to 90. The number of tanks, artillery, navy ships and helicopters is also being trimmed. The defence cuts are part of a broad plan by the government of Mario Monti, the prime minister, to reduce Italy's 1.9 trillion euro national debt through reductions in spending, pension and employment reform and efforts to stimulate the country's sluggish economic growth. There are renewed fears that Italy, the euro zone's third-largest economy, could be sucked deeper into the financial crisis along with Spain and Portugal. - Winckel from Bookmarklet