COMMENT

Playing games with the armed forces

ALEXIS PAPACHELAS

TAGS: Defense, Politics

Greece should not return to the past when, for many years, cronyism dominated the promotion policy in the armed and security forces, causing great damage. Back then, it was much more important whose “team” an officer was in and which politician he had a close relationship with, rather than how capable he really was. People who did not deserve important promotions found themselves in key positions.

The worst part is that the country entered a vicious cycle: One political party removed capable officers for purely political reasons. Then the next party came to power and recalled them, sending its opponents into retirement. This resulted in a climate of vengefulness and low morale in the armed forces. Younger officers who saw what was happening were disappointed when they realized that the only way to rise through the military ranks was through the help of a politician or some other “patron.”

We paid for this sick situation with the Imia incident in 1996, when Greece and Turkey came to the brink of war. The country’s political party leaders understood then that you can play games with state-run entities and ministries. It is an expensive game that may even lead to bankruptcy. Cronyism and playing games with the armed forces could easily lead to a loss of territorial sovereignty. The truth is that, after Imia, there have not been any egregious examples of inadequate officers placed in key posts, including in the period since the current government took power in 2015.

Today, however, there are numerous reasons to be concerned. Apart from the objections raised by the opposition, there is also what we call “the popular sentiment” expressed by people who have an objective view of the army, and who are concerned about some top selections and demotions that have taken place.

In their opinion, this is the first time in many years that they have seen a revival of the decisive role played by the political offices of government officials in determining military promotions. New factions have also been created and there have been unacceptable disputes between top officers, both retired and active. These disputes often resemble catfights.

The danger of retreating into the bad habits of the past is clearly apparent. We cannot afford to do this.

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