NEWS

Fate of current command centers

Greece is confronting a real risk that it might not be granted a NATO headquarters on its territory, while at the same time it is also at risk of seeing Turkey assume responsibility for air operations in the alliance’s southern sector. Intensive negotiations over NATO’s new structure, which will replace that approved in Washington as recently as 1999, will of course result in the cancellation of some of the Joint Sub-Regional Commands (JSRCs) in various countries in the alliance, most probably that in Tyrnavos, northern Greece. Moreover, the continuing operation of the Combined Air Operation Center (CAOC) in Larissa is also in doubt. At the moment, under NATO’s European command (SACEUR) there are 11 regional command headquarters, five in northern Europe and six in the south, which are of direct interest to Greece. Two of these – air force and navy for the entire southeastern sector of the alliance – are in Naples, Italy. The others are in Verona, also in Italy; in Larissa; in Izmir, Turkey, and in Madrid, Spain. Risk of closure NATO’s leadership has made it clear that it has no objection in principle to keeping all these strategic commands going, on the condition that the cost of their operation will be met by the host countries themselves and not by NATO headquarters. However, the countries in question do not agree, and therefore many of these centers are at risk of closing down. Early last week, the entire «NATO group» at the Greek Defense Ministry, including the chiefs of staff, were in Brussels for the ongoing negotiations on the new structure of the alliance’s military administration. The Greek delegation is asking for a command center of a similar level to the ones in Tyrnavos and Larissa that NATO wants to close, as they no longer serve its purposes. A similar fate may be in store for the Izmir center. Greece is negotiating on the principle that what holds for Greece should also hold for Turkey, as disputes between the two countries have often paralyzed the alliance’s southeastern wing. Otherwise Greece is threatening to use its power of veto. Turkey wants an air command, for obvious reasons. Greece is talking about one of the air or naval commands in Naples. If this request is granted, it will solely be due to the Souda base on Crete. Role in war According to sources in the US mission at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Greece «has not realized» how much it helped in the Iraq war. They said they hoped the day would soon come when «Greece would be able to act without wanting to hide from public opinion.» The same sources claimed that Greece had played a much more central role (in the Iraq war) than it liked to admit, but precisely that fact, now when everything is changing, could cost it influence in the new structure. In an attempt to consolidate its position in NATO by keeping at least one strategic command, Athens is taking part in intensive negotiations over the alliance’s future. Foreign Minister George Papandreou and Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou are working harder to get NATO’s air command AIRSOUTH on Greek territory, or alternatively the naval command NAVSOUTH, now based in Italy, as well as keeping CAOC-7. It is considered certain that the Tyrnavos center will be closed, just two years after it opened. If Greece does not get AIRSOUTH, the government wants the center to remain in Naples, as Turkey is also laying claim to it, in view of the completed Allied Air Command and Control System (ACCS) scheduled to be implemented after 2005. In order to support its views, Athens is invoking six main arguments which it has set out in a non-paper to NATO dated May 2: The six arguments Greece is emphasizing six different points in pressing its case in the new security arrangement now emerging. These are as follows: (1) The country’s geostrategic position in the new security environment emerging in southeastern Europe, the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. (2) Its role in incorporating Bulgaria and Romania in NATO’s military structures. (3) Its central role in incorporating Albania, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Croatia and Serbia in Euro-Atlantic structures. (4) The added value of Greek proposals, particularly in light of the need to upgrade and modernize certain existing but outdated structures. (5) The added advantage of strengthening stability in the southern wing, by removing obstacles that have created friction. (6) Finally, and most important of all, Greece’s strong support for all operations undertaken after September 11 in the fight against international terrorism and in particular, in practical terms, its provision of the unrestricted use of the Souda base and other basic installations, along with the right of unrestricted overflights of Greek air space.