- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2008

ROME

Dozens of recently appointed top Italian three-star generals and admirals demanded a pay raise last week even though the number of soldiers, sailors and airmen under their command has fallen by as much as half since Italy abolished compulsory military service five years ago.

Roberto Speciale, who is a former general commanding the paramilitary Finance Guard and is now a leading lobbyist for the military top brass, says it is unfair that three-star officers commanding an army corps or its navy or air force receive about $7,135 a month after tax compared with about $6,260 a month for two-star officers, a difference of $875.

Gen. Speciale has urged Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right government to pass a special law to increase the top generals’ pay, La Stampa of Turin newspaper reported.

The request was sure to be controversial among lower ranks. The appointment of dozens of new generals has been widely seen as a ploy to increase salaries for superiors, who often sit behind desks while the government increasingly is deploying combat units to carry out police work, such as spearheading a crackdown against the Camorra, the vicious Naples version of the Mafia.

Italy’s parliament voted in 2000 to end conscription in 2003 and introduce purely professional armed forces. The decision was seen as the end of an era for a young, fractious country that was born only in 1861 and relied on obligatory military service to forge a sense of nationhood by jumbling together southerners and northerners.

The number of service men and women in Italy has tumbled as a result, from 400,000 to some 190,000 today, La Stampa said, but nevertheless, dozens of new generals have been appointed. As many as 70 officers now occupy the rank of lieutenant general, one grade below the four-star, full general.

“The troops are halved, but the generals are multiplying,” the Turin daily said in headlining its report.

Evidently in order to satisfy the ambitious, Italy’s defense ministry has effectively duplicated numerous commands by imposing new structures on the smaller armed forces, according to Francesco Grignotti, a reporter who writes about defense policy for La Stampa.

“The magnificent 70 who boast three stars have all passed out brilliantly from the School of War,” Mr. Grignotti wrote. “And it shows. They have won all the real battles - those most insidious ones that rage in the corridors of power in Rome.”

Noncommissioned officers in the Finance Guard’s labor union, the Cocer, protested the rash of promotions, saying they were ordered just to give access to higher salaries.

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