Certain European officials have been annoyed by Greece’s intention to spend a little more than a billion euros to upgrade its fleet of F-16 fighter jets. Part of their annoyance obviously arises from the fact that Greece will be paying the Americans carrying out the project with money borrowed from Europe. But some countries haven’t understood that Greece is not planning to buy new aircraft, just upgrade some of the old ones, obviously because it doesn’t have the funds to make a major purchase.
Nevertheless, the main reaction has been one of intense irritation. To begin with, though, even if a country is under supervision from creditors, it will still take certain decisions that are dictated by its national interest. Sure, there is fat that can be trimmed from the national defense system and the heads of the armed forces know exactly what needs to be done to rationalize spending and save precious resources for absolutely necessary expenses and missions. Fear of the political cost always intervenes however, scuppering efforts to make these ideas happen. Lurking behind the “nation’s interests” are unionists, failed politicians and sundry petty interests that leech a livelihood from the broader area of defense.
These distortions are one thing. Efforts to ensure that the country is in the state of readiness demanded by the challenges and uncertainties that surround it, is another. Like it or not, Greece is on the front line and for the rest of Europe too. When European Union leaders slam the door in Turkey’s face, it is Greece that feels the pressure of the backlash first, way before it is felt by Berlin or Paris.
The furor that the upgrade plans have raised may also be an opportunity, however. There’s an ongoing debate in Europe regarding the need for a joint armaments production scheme and more cooperation in defense and security. Greece has a lot to offer on this front, including in advanced weapons systems and experienced soldiers. The Greek political leadership should be trying to ensure that Greece plays a leading role in this emerging new landscape, while at the same time seeking protection under a European security umbrella. If this were to happen, Greece wouldn’t need to negotiate better terms with the US over the F-16 upgrade, nor spend so much money on military supplies.
Europe is in no place to make such decisions right now, though, nor is it prepared to guarantee Greece’s border as the EU’s external border or donate free military supplies. And until that happens, Greece’s only solution is to decide for itself where and how it will spend money to safeguard its vital interests. Forced borrowing obviously impinges on sovereignty, but there is a limit.