NEWS

Opportunities within NATO for Greece, Turkey to work together

What do you expect from the Greek presidency as regards the EU military presence in the Balkans? I think the first thing to be said is that, of course, Greece has had the presidency of the ESDP (European Security and Defense Policy) for six months already. They’ve been hugely successful, with an agreement (between the EU and NATO), something that nobody thought would take place. And that was a combination of the Danish presidency and what the Greeks had been doing on the defense side. I pay great tribute to Yiannos Papantoniou for what he did and to George Papandreou for the leadership in Copenhagen and the prime minister as well, because that broke a four-year logjam. At St Malo four years ago, it just dragged on. Everyone knew how important it was and finally it was just bulldozed apart. Now we have this historic opportunity of getting together on Skopje and Sarajevo. These are now serious prospects for Europeans to look after the security interests on their own continent with the help of NATO and with this unique connection in place. So, I expect that we will discuss and maybe even implement some of these peacekeeping operations on the basis of the EU taking the lead rather than NATO. That is not a statement of official policy, as that has to be dealt with, but I think that it can now be done and I think the Greek presidency has an opportunity to make genuine history as far as the EU’s defense role is concerned. Are you familiar with the term «European army?» In Greece, no one is clear on it. There is no European army but there is going to be a European rapid reaction force and it will be made up of units coming from large numbers of EU countries as well as from non-EU NATO allies – Norway, Poland and Turkey, among others. That is not an army, no more than SFOR and KFOR are NATO armies. They are made up of different component parts. And that is now a possibility, because of the final linkage that has been put in place. Because the EU rapid reaction force can only operate with access to NATO planning, which is a huge, expensive structure that we have had in place for 50 years, and with the high-tech equipment NATO has. So it’s gone from being a simple plan on paper to a serious reality and we hope the EU rapid reaction force will be ready on June 1 of this year. We have military experts working round the clock to get these things completed. Will it have the right to act in the Aegean, for example? When you know what the reservations are in that connection – but, you know, that is not what I see as a security interest. This is not a dangerous unstable area. Greece and Turkey are both mature members of the NATO alliance. I don’t see any need for that to happen but I can see plenty of other trouble spots and I look to Greece and Turkey to act together in some of those areas to keep the peace or to be involved in humanitarian rescue or the peacekeeping operations that the European rapid reaction force was developed to do. You don’t believe conflict between Greece and Turkey is likely? I don’t believe it is possible for that to happen. These are two mature Western democracies, one in both NATO and the EU and one in NATO and on the brink of the EU. We live in a world where there are genuine threats to all our security, so the concept of territorial disputes between countries has diminished and disappeared, but now we are all united – East and West, North and South – against a common threat which is terrorism, economic instability, inter-ethnic conflicts. They are all out there and the modern sophisticated European countries have got to rise above the old rivalries. I am Scottish and we have a rivalry with the English that goes further back in in history, I think, than between Greece and Turkey, but we don’t fight each other nowadays.