Economy / Security and defence

How to fire a general, the Italian dilemma

Mario Monti’s technocratic Government chose a Navy admiral, Mr Giampaolo Di Paola, as Minister of Defense. Many feared that Mr De Paola would have protected the Armed Forces from any cut, an indeed in the first days after his appointment the Minister tried to do just that. But very soon he had to resign himself to the necessity of cuts.

The Italian Armed Forces, which currently have 177,300 members, will contract to 150,000. Less people will be recruited. Soldiers in temporary service will find more difficult to get a permanent position.

But what about members of the Armed Forces who are already permanently recruited ? Can you simply kick out people that are, at least on paper, protecting the State and the national sovereignty ?

Another problem is the Italian tradition to promote the members of the Civil Service, including the members of the Armed Forces, just on grounds of length of service. This is a problem especially for the Officer Corps: there too many generals, and too many admirals.

How do you sack a general or an admiral ? If you had done that during the Cold War, you would have probably been at risk of a military coup. Today this risk probably doesn’t exist anymore, but generals and admirals are still part of the country’s elite, and in Italy no Government exists which is strong enough to seriously affect the interests of the elite.

Therefore, the Government is planning to dismiss (honorably, of course) officers when they reach 50 years of age, giving them 85 percent of their salary until they are entitled to full retirement. But will the public be able to stomach that in the middle of the crisis ?

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