Under the Gun

Italy is among the NATO members that are not paying their fair share, according to the Trump Administration. Here are some of the facts I’ve gathered to elucidate the subject.

Italy, like many Western European nations, has essentially demilitarized since the 20th Century conflagrations.  As in the USA, there is no longer a military draft in Italy, which may partly account for the high unemployment rate among its youth.  It still has an army, navy, and air force but it depends heavily on the American umbrella.  Unlike Britain and France, it has no nuclear weapons.

There is a large U.S. air base at Sigonella (Sicily) which, if some may recall, made the news back in 1985 when Italian and American troops had a tense stand-off during the Achille Lauro crisis – an Arab terrorist leader had been flown to Sigonella by U.S. commandos but the Italian government demanded custody, and prevailed.  The base was also the point of departure for U.S. bombing missions to Libya in 2011 that toppled the Gaddafi regime.

The U.S. Sixth Fleet calls Naples its home port with 10,000 servicemen. Both our navy and army have a base in Gaeta, my father’s hometown, just up the coast from Naples.

There is a U.S. Army post named Camp Darby near Pisa which has a military hospital and serves as a recreation area for our troops in Europe.

There’s an Army post at Caserma Ederle, twenty-five miles west of Venice, which contains a health complex and shopping mall for U.S. troops.

Our Air Force base at Aviano is fifty miles north of Venice and figured large in Operation Desert Storm during the Gulf War. It also is infamous for some hotshot Marine pilots who recklessly cut ski lift cables in 1998 killing twenty tourists.

These American bases not only enhance Italian military preparedness but bring dollars to local economies. Moreover, they have helped Italian civilians during natural disasters. What Italy loses in national pride and increased crime it more than makes up for in fringe benefits.

On the financial side of NATO, Italy pays $192 million for NATO overhead annually and is asked to allocate 2% of its Gross Domestic Product to its own military expenditures. This is what Trump claims is not happening. In fact, Italy allocates only 1.1%, half of the amount. This 2% can cover Italian troops assigned to NATO and the United Nations as well as Italy’s domestic military establishment.

Italy currently has 895 troops serving in Afghanistan, including General Francesco Bruno who commands the NATO training mission in western Afghanistan. Some 53 Italians have been killed since the start of that war.  Serving the UN, Italy still has one thousand peacekeepers in Lebanon, an assignment that dates back to 1983, after an Israeli invasion set that country afire.  Even with these contributions, Italy falls short on its 2% financial obligation.

With a active duty army of 325,000 with 590 tanks, a navy of 145 ships including only six submarines and two small aircraft carriers, and an air force with 113 fighter jets, Italy has more military assets than Germany – a remarkable first!

Germany uses only 1.2% of its GPD for defense.  It has only 81 ships, including 6 U-boats.  Its air force has only 94 fighter jets.  If any country is under-armed looking down the barrel of a Russia gun, it is Deutschland.  Some might say that the world is better off with an anemic Germany.

The Italian attitude toward pumping up military spending is not surprising – they’d rather not.  National debt and a stagnant economy do not augur well for a more robust defense budget.  Besides, most Italians don’t consider Russia a threat, it’s rather an eastern European concern.  These days, Brussels seems more of a threat to Italians than Moscow.

Trump has a good point in calling out our slacker/allies but from any military point of view, without a nuclear defense Russia can easily overrun its neighbors 2% or no. -JLM



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