NEWS

NATO’s Greek future

The government is lobbying hard to prevent NATO’s reorganization leading to Greece not having any regional command center. Among its arguments, Athens says that it has provided strong support in all anti-terrorism operations since September 11 and has allowed free overflights and unlimited use of the US naval support base at Souda Bay, Crete. A fundamental restructuring of NATO’s command structure in 1999 resulted in the establishment of four Joint Sub-Regional Commands (JSRCs) with headquarters in Greece, Turkey, Spain and Italy. Larissa in Greece and Izmir in Turkey have Combined Air Operations Centers (CAOC 7 and CAOC 6, respectively). But last summer, following the September 11 attacks, NATO began a re-evaluation of its needs and its command structure and the alliance last November accepted a proposal that all but one of the four JSRCs should close. Athens is trying to ensure that if the Larissa command center is closed down it should get the air command center for NATO’s southern center (AIRSOUTH) or the naval command center (NAVSOUTH), both of which are today based in Italy. Greece is also trying to prevent AIRSOUTH going to Turkey if it is moved from Naples, because that would give Ankara control over Aegean air space. Kathimerini reported yesterday that Foreign Minister George Papandreou and Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou have sent a «non paper» to Brussels, dated May 2, setting out arguments that Greece has played down in public. In six points, the «non paper» stresses the country’s geostrategic position; the leading role it has played in helping bring Bulgaria and Romania into NATO; the central role Greece has played «in the absorption of Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Croatia and Serbia in Euro-Atlantic structures;» Greece’s ability to help modernize outdated structures in the above-mentioned countries; the increased stability in NATO’s southern flank «through the eradication of well-known issues that caused tension.» The final point notes «the most important factor is the strong support that Greece has given all operations against international terrorism since September 11, especially, in practical terms, the unlimited use of the (US) naval base at Souda Bay, as well as other facilities, in conjunction with the right to free overflights in Greek air space.»