The Defense Ministry is one of the most important government departments in any country and especially in one like Greece, which is located in a particularly prickly neighborhood. That is, after all, why such a large chunk of the budget goes toward defense spending, taking up funds that normal states would put into boosting growth and social programs. With Greece currently facing open threats from neighboring Turkey, meanwhile, one would expect the position of defense minister to be held by someone who would command trust, a sense of security and respect, not just from the people but from the military officials beneath him. We would expect it to be held by someone who was cautious about his public comments, who had some knowledge of the issues at hand and who would not expose himself too much to political rivalries. We would expect it to be held by someone who enjoys some form of political protection from his rivals because of the ministry he leads, but mainly someone who has some sense of authority when it is his duty to protect the nation’s interests, much less defend its sovereign rights.
From day one of being appointed, Panos Kammenos has done everything in his power as defense minister and coalition partner in the SYRIZA and Independent Greeks government to undermine his ministry’s stature. To put it bluntly, he does everything he can with his comments and actions to justify those who question his qualifications for this post. That he is not openly doubted or criticized a whole lot more is due to the fact that the government depends on his Independent Greeks party, on the protection that the media automatically afford the Defense Ministry and on the fear he has spread among the media and journalists of judicial retribution.
The most recent example of his unconscionable behavior was during comments he made on the island of Psara in the eastern Aegean: “With the recognition of its exclusive economic zone, Greece will soon start to develop its undersea wealth to produce natural gas and, later perhaps, oil. We are at a point in the history of our nation that our country is growing. Our territorial waters will expand very soon with the recognition of our EEZ and by tapping our undersea wealth, so that our country can enter a new era.”
Someone needs to explain to the defense minister that territorial waters and the exclusive economic zone are two completely unrelated things and that anything concerning territorial waters could constitute a casus belli for the other side, which is already in a mistrustful mood.
The main issue, however, is how the Defense Ministry’s military leadership can maintain the required respect for the political leadership amid such nonsense.