Portugal’s Armed Forces are in crisis. Both the army and the navy are critically low on personnel, and constantly at risk of losing the soldiers they have to higher paid jobs on ‘civvy street’.
Just in the past year, 800 ‘praças’ (low ranking military) have left the army due to “reduced levels of attraction” that might have kept them in the forces to pursue a career.
Admiral Silva Ribeiro – whose full title is Chief of State, Major General of the Armed Forces – believes the “serious shortage of personnel compromises the high levels of operationality demanded of the armed forces in NATO countries”.
Speaking to journalists from Rádio Renascença and Público, Admiral Ribeiro outlined the dismal picture: between them, the army and navy lack almost 6000 men.
In numbers, personnel today total 26,000, when the ‘authorised’ ideal is 32,000.
Elite forces are apparently operating at such skeleton levels that they cannot sustain the demands of international missions.
In a nutshell, all the woes could be turned around with the help of money.
Salaries, explained the admiral, need to fall in line with levels found in the GNR or PSP, accommodation has to improve, as well as the ‘perks’ of the job, like healthcare etc.
His discourse, covered by international sources including the Washington Post, explained that the situation is so bad that a recent request from Civil Protection for soldiers to help with forestry vigilance had to be denied “due to lack of available operatives”.
Official response? It began on Friday, with an image in some newspapers of defence minister João Gomes Cravinho looking fairly stony-faced.
“Unfortunate language” was the headline, though Gomes Cravinho admits Portugal’s armed forces do indeed have their problems.
Measures however are in place, said the minister, and it would be wrong to give the impression that nothing is being done.
Nonetheless, the situation swiftly moved on. By Saturday there were reports that Gomes Cravinho has challenged Admiral Ribeiro to resign if he feels that he could not comply with measures set out by the government.
This has enraged the rank-and-file, along with “many superior officers” of the army, navy and airforce, who have retorted that if Admiral Ribeiro is somehow forced to resign, no one will agree to step into his shoes.
In other words, there is yet another situation of hiatus as the Socialist government embarks on its national election campaign.
Meantime the Washington Post, looking at Admiral Ribeiro’s remarks from afar, says that according to NATO, “Portugal spent an estimated 1.35% of its GDP on defense last year. That is shy of the target of 2% by 2024, but more than Germany, Italy or Spain”.