Friday December 19, 2014 Search
Weather | Athens
17o C
10o C
News
Business
Comment
Life
Sports
Community
Survival Guide
Greek Edition
The debate about Greek defense expenditures

By Thanos Dokos*

The high level of Greek defense expenditures, as well as the so-called hypocrisy of countries like Germany and France that have been selling expensive weapon systems to a country with Greece’s debt and financial problems have often been in the headlines over the past two years. Unfortunately, there are several misperceptions and rather limited understanding of the issues involved. A recent article published in the authoritative International Herald Tribune (“Greek forces spared from deep cuts,” 8/1/2013) is an example of this problem.

The article claims that Greece’s high expenditures “seem astonishing given that Greece is in a deep economic and financial crisis. Greece’s economy has shrunk by 25 percent over the past two years.” [The 25 percent figure actually covers the last four years.] Then the article goes on to say that since 2008, Greek defense expenditures have been reduced from 3.1 percent of GDP to the current figure of 2.1 percent of GDP. But this is actually a 29 percent reduction in relative terms and an additional reduction in absolute terms because it is connected to a smaller GDP. It is also argued that 73% of Greece’s defense budget is for personnel costs alone. That figure is pre-crisis. The current figure according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) is 57 percent.

It is then argued that “it is particularly hard to see how the armed forces can justify the current budget, as the money is not spent on supporting NATO or EU missions.” Indeed Greece has significantly reduced its contribution to multinational missions over the past few months due to financial constraints. It is a regrettable yet understandable decision under the circumstances. But then the article substantially underplays the deeply held Greek perceptions about a threat from Turkey. It even mentions that “over the past several months the Greek media have written that Turkey violated Greek air space at least once.” This is rather sloppy reporting as there are very frequent violations that on a yearly basis number in the hundreds. Although it could be argued that many of these incidents could have been avoided through a technical agreement between the two countries, facilitated by NATO, pending the legal resolution of the problem, it is difficult to understand what Turkish warplanes are trying to achieve with low-level overflights over inhabited Greek islands or why Turkish warships are violating the spirit if not the letter of the “innocent passage” right, often near Greece’s mainland coast. And the frequent references by Turkish politicians – fortunately not from the governing AKP party – to a number of inhabited Greek islands in the Aegean as belonging to Turkey do not exactly strengthen confidence and trust between the two countries. Also, top Turkish military officers have been brought to trial for plotting for the overthrow of the Turkish government through a staged military conflict with Greece. Furthermore, the Turkish casus belli in case Greece exercises what it considers its right under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to extend its territorial waters to 12 miles is still on the table. Not to mention the more recent Turkish position that Kastelorizo and other Greek islands have no right to maritime zones or that Cyprus has no right to an exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

In light of the above, it is hardly surprising that Greece has over the past 40 years been maintaining sizable armed forces and high defense expenditures in order to defend itself from what it perceives to be an external threat. I will not argue that Greece’s position is axiomatically the right one on every single issue (or that defense expenditures have been wisely spent). And one could debate whether this perception is accurate, exaggerated or outdated (although this should be done on the basis of factual evidence, not simple opinions). However, between countries that are members of NATO and, perhaps in the future fellow members of the EU, such matters should be resolved by diplomacy and international adjudication, not threatening the use of force.

The concluding remark in the IHT article touches upon a very topical issue: the need for transparency in defense procurement and for overall reform in the armed forces. But again the conclusion is partly misguided. Closing a substantial number of military bases and consolidating training centers would not “send tens of thousands of young soldiers into the ranks of the unemployed” but would rather reduce operational expenses allowing the Hellenic Armed Forces to “achieve more with less” (“more bang for the buck”). And instead of waiting “for any major restructuring until the country’s economy picks up,” such reforms should be implemented as soon as possible. But such changes should be the result of a defense review that would re-examine basic assumptions about the regional strategic environment, the nature of external threats, new technologies, doctrines and organizational models, as well as the social and economic conditions in Greece. Such a review – long overdue – would provide the necessary answers to Greece’s security dilemma.

I would argue that the key concept for Greek foreign policy in the next few years should be the smart use of its resources in foreign and defense policy. A number of important changes in the sphere of national security policy will be necessary to maintain Greek combat efficiency at lower levels of defense expenditures. Economies of scale, cooperative schemes, full exploitation of high-efficiency organizational and operational models and doctrines, as well as the use of new technologies, might be part of the answer in Greece’s problems in the defense sector. To this end, Greece should take maximum advantage of EU, NATO and bilateral opportunities for training, defense reform, security sector reform, crisis management and disaster management systems, and strategic planning mechanisms.

Managing the frequently difficult relationship with Turkey remains a top foreign policy priority for any Greek government. It is certainly encouraging that the AKP government has expressed its willingness to fully normalize relations with Greece and the two countries should work hard for a resolution of bilateral problems on the basis of international law. In the meantime, however, a balance of military forces in the Aegean, at the lowest possible level, would maintain stability and might even facilitate diplomatic efforts.

* Thanos Dokos is director-general of the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP)

ekathimerini.com , Wednesday Jan 16, 2013 (11:26)  
New weapons of diplomacy
Oblivious to change
Europe´s drama in Greece needs final act to avoid tragedy
A pointless battle
Tsipras admits there could be hard days ahead
SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras said on Friday that he is determined to implement his party’s economic program if it comes to power but admitted that it would experience a challenging period. “...
Public medical centers keeping up despite shortages
Despite having just 1,050 doctors, medical centers belonging to Greece’s public health system (PEDY) saw more than 200,000 regular and emergency patients, made over 3,500 house calls and iss...
Inside News
Workers rush to get early retirement
Nine out of 10 workers who retired in the last four months who had belonged to the former special funds of banks and state corporations that have now been incorporated in the Social Security...
Piraeus Containter Terminal goes from strength to strength
Piraeus Container Terminal, the local subsidiary of Chinese giant Cosco Pacific, is expected to handle a total of over 3 million containers in the January-December period of this year. The J...
Inside Business
SOCCER
Abidal cuts short playing career at Olympiakos
Former France and Barcelona defender Eric Abidal announced his retirement from football on Friday, a day before his last match. Abidal said he will finish after playing for Olympiakos agains...
SOCCER
PAOK loss at Giannina brings Olympiakos to within a point
The bad losses that PAOK and Panathinaikos suffered on the road on Thursday allowed Olympiakos to gain significant ground on the table and come to within one point from the top after the mid...
Inside Sports
SPONSORED LINK: FinanzNachrichten.de
SPONSORED LINK: BestPrice.gr
 RECENT NEWS
1. Tsipras admits there could be hard days ahead
2. Public medical centers keeping up despite shortages
3. Workers rush to get early retirement
4. Piraeus Containter Terminal goes from strength to strength
5. Moscovici: Creditor inspections to become less frequent and ‘lighter’
6. Property capital gains tax halt
more news
Today
This Week
1. Ship with 200 migrants off Pylos towed to Italy after passengers refuse to stop in Greece
2. Independent Greeks MP Haikalis claims attempted bribery for presidential vote
3. Greek PM Samaras confronts peril putting his Greek transformation to vote
4. Independent Greeks leader backs MP's bribery claims, threatens to release video [Update]
5. Former premier Mitsotakis to meet President Papoulias to discuss political upheaval
6. Gov't spokeswoman says bribery claims 'badly-played charade,' heralds legal action if evidence not produced
Today
This Week
1. Juncker warns Greeks against voting 'extreme forces' into power
2. Romanos and the dilemma
3. Samaras summons bond vigilantes with euro exit talk
4. A friendly yet firm message from Pierre Moscovici
5. Europe's drama in Greece needs final act to avoid tragedy
6. High stakes
   Find us ...
  ... on
Twitter
     ... on Facebook   
About us  |  Subscriptions  |  Advertising  |  Contact us  |  Athens Plus  |  RSS  |   
Copyright © 2014, H KAΘHMEPINH All Rights Reserved.