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The Italian Armed Forces (Italian: Forze armate italiane, pronounced [ˈfɔrtse arˈmaːte itaˈljaːne]) encompass the Italian Army, the Italian Navy and the Italian Air Force. A fourth branch of the armed forces, known as the Carabinieri, take on the role as the nation’s military police and are also involved in missions and operations abroad as a combat force. Despite not being a branch of the armed forces, the Guardia di Finanza has military status and is organized along military lines. These five forces comprise a total of 340,885 men and women with the official status of active military personnel, of which 167,057 are in the Army, Navy and Air Force. The President of the Italian Republic heads the armed forces as the President of the High Council of Defence established by article 87 of the Constitution of Italy. According to article 78, the Parliament has the authority to declare a state of war and vest the powers to lead the war in the Government.
The ground force of Italy, the Regio Esercito dates back to the unification of Italy in the 1850s and 1860s. It fought in colonial engagements in China during the Boxer Rebellion, against the Ottoman Empire in Libya (1911-1912), on the Alps against the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War I, in Abyssinia during the Interwar period, and in World War II in Albania, Greece, North Africa and Russia, as well as in the Italian Civil War. During the Cold War the Army prepared itself to defend against a Warsaw Pact invasion from the east. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it has seen extensive peacekeeping service in Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq. On 29 July 2004 it became a professional all-volunteer force when conscription was finally ended.
The navy of Italy was created in 1861, following the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy, as the Regia Marina. The new navy’s baptism of fire came during the Third Italian War of Independence against the Austrian Empire. During the First World War, it spent its major efforts in the Adriatic Sea, fighting the Austro-Hungarian Navy. In the Second World War, it engaged the Royal Navy in a two-and-a-half-year struggle for the control of the Mediterranean Sea. After the war, the new Marina Militare, being a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), has taken part in many coalition peacekeeping operations. It is a blue-water navy. The Guardia Costiera (Coast Guard) is a component of the navy.
The air force of Italy was founded as an independent service arm on 28 March 1923, by King Vittorio Emanuele III as the Regia Aeronautica (which equates to “Royal Air Force”). During the 1930s, it was involved in its first military operations in Ethiopia in 1935, and later in the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939. Eventually, Italy entered World War II alongside Germany. After the armistice of 8 September 1943, Italy was divided into two sides, and the same fate befell the Regia Aeronautica. The Air Force was split into the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force in the south aligned with the Allies, and the pro-Axis Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana in the north until the end of the war. When Italy was made a republic by referendum, the air force was given its current name Aeronautica Militare.
The Arma dei Carabinieri is the gendarmerie and military police of Italy. The corps was instituted in 1814 by King Victor Emmanuel I of Savoy with the aim of providing the Kingdom of Sardinia with a police corps; it is therefore older than Italy itself. The new force was divided into divisions on the scale of one division for each province of Italy. The divisions were further divided into companies and subdivided into lieutenancies, which commanded and coordinated the local police stations and were distributed throughout the national territory in direct contact with the public. The Italian unification saw the number of divisions increased, and in 1861 the Carabinieri were appointed the “First Force” of the new national military organization. In recent years Carabinieri became the fourth branch of Italian Armed Forces. Primarily they carry out law enforcement, military policing duties and peacekeeping mission abroad, such as Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. At the Sea Islands Conference of the G8 in 2004, the Carabinieri were given the mandate to establish a Center of Excellence for Stability Police Units (CoESPU) to spearhead the development of training and doctrinal standards for civilian police units attached to international peacekeeping missions.