Why one of the biggest fights for Italy’s defence minister is her own standing – and some naval natter.
Italy is a nation that knows the importance of the sea – particularly when it comes to security. “The heart of all Italian worries about safety and security lie in the Mediterranean,” says the country’s defence minister Roberta Pinotti.
The 54-year-old was picked by prime minister Matteo Renzi in 2014 to lead the defence ministry. At the time Italy was at the frontline of the European refugee crisis; migrants arriving from overseas would land on the country’s shores or, tragically, drown just off its coast as overloaded boats capsized.
When Pinotti stepped in, Italy was in the midst of a naval search-and-rescue mission called Mare Nostrum that helped to save more than 150,000 refugees, costing the country €9m a month. Pinotti oversaw the mission’s end later that year but Italy then took the lead on a new mission, Operation Triton, conducted by Frontex, the EU’s border-security agency. She also approved the launch of an ongoing mission called Mare Sicuro in 2015, which has seen Italian air and naval forces monitoring the Libyan coast. “We’re focusing on stopping the smugglers bringing refugees in by boat and securing the sea,” says Pinotti.
It hasn’t been the only challenge Pinotti has faced as a politician; Italy is notoriously hard on its female leaders. When she first stood as a candidate for Italy’s parliament in 2001 she was pregnant with her second daughter; detractors launched a campaign saying that as a pregnant woman, she wouldn’t be able to handle being a candidate for parliament. “They said that women must realise that they have limits,” she says, shaking her head. “I said that if men can be candidates when expecting a child then women can do the same.”
She went on to win the election and has been rising through the political ranks ever since, serving as the shadow minister of defence and the undersecretary of state for the defence ministry before stepping into her current role. For all the criticism she received at the start of her parliamentary career she’s now widely appreciated.
Pinotti is committed to improving the country’s forces, including kickstarting a naval renewal and shipbuilding programme to the tune of €5.4bn. All the better to protect the Italian heart with.
Among the frustrations of disputing Chinese claims upon the South China Sea is that any attempt to reinforce your position must seem an exercise in futility considering the resources of the People’s Republic. Nevertheless, the Philippines intends to try, suggesting that as part of a recent increase in defence spending the country may deploy its first submarine fleet.
“It’s not only about China but also Filipino national pride,” says Raffaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute. Yet the new hardware isn’t likely to make waves. “China is going to frown on this and undoubtedly make some diplomatic statements about people raising the temperature in the region but I doubt they’ll be immediately concerned.” More likely to cause upset are the Philippines joint patrols of the South China Sea with the US.
The Royal Canadian Navy is swapping manpower for machinery in a trial introduced to combat a shortage of sailors within its armed forces. The X-Ship programme has been launched to prepare the navy for a reduced number of crew members on hi-tech frigates. As automated systems replace manual tasks on board the new ships, the navy will use advanced computing software to determine optimum crew sizes for the X-Ship. “Defence researchers will be looking at ways to conduct at-sea operations and incorporate emerging technologies,” says commander Mathias Plaschka, the officer overseeing the project. The five-year trial will begin with the Halifax-class HMCS Montréal.