A reliable friend for the Greeks

All the military leaders of the Balkans were there. This is not something that should be taken for granted in these troubled times for the region. Almost half of the chiefs of staff have in one way or another participated in clashes (often brutal ones) with the other half. Serbia, which as part of former Yugoslavia experienced a horrific civil war and bombardment by NATO, is already a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace. Last week in Thessaloniki, the Serb chief of staff sat next to the American admiral who directs the southern wing of the alliance and the head of the European Union’s military commission. There the military leaders reached decisions in a number of important areas, including regional information exchange, joint crisis management and an open line of communication. While Greece is in a position to organize such a meeting, which serves as a reference point for the Balkans, some are wondering whether Athens should be talking to Ankara at a military level and perhaps not only. An overabundance of patriotism inspired by different motives on each side is threatening to torpedo efforts to reduce the tension between the two states, which have not yet yielded any concrete results. And this, despite the fact that the confidence-building measures decided by the foreign ministries of the two countries – based on the Papoulias-Gilmaz memorandum and the «diplomacy of the generals» – have never, despite some assertions to the contrary, held out any hope of changes being made to established policies. While new balances are being created via new approaches, which include Greek-Turkish relations, the first conference of Balkan chiefs of staff is uniquely important, because it is something completely new in a region with many old problems that have proved to be remarkably persistent.

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