OPINION

Arms middlemen

Yesterday’s decision by the Government Council on Foreign Policy and Defense (KYSEA) to proceed with an armaments purchase worth 2.13 billion euros, by directly awarding contracts, has sparked many questions and considerable discontent. First, a serious contradiction demands explanation. Since 1996, Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s government has supposedly been trying to defuse tension in Greek-Turkish relations. For this purpose, daring foreign policy initiatives have been taken. Yet since 1996 Greek armament programs have skyrocketed to 10.5 billion euros. How do political pronouncements about arms reduction chime in with the practice of over-armament? And there is another problem which has taken on scandalous dimensions: the part played by various middlemen, and their cost to the national economy. Leave aside government claims that middlemen secure better prices than the government could in direct agreements with other states. Greece buys arms from allies, after all. This administration is not under an international ban or sanctions, and obliged to resort to the services of shifty dealers or pay any price to overcome obstacles to purchasing arms. The fact is that the middlemen in the arms trade, whose job is bribing governments and other officials to choose certain arms systems, not only add to the purchase price their own – by no means modest – commission, but everything else they spend on commissions and bribes. The commissions for the most part go into the pockets of corrupt officials, but a good portion of them goes into the coffers of the ruling party of the day in the form of secret funding. This business has got to stop. The apparent discretion and secrecy which supposedly protect vital state secrets must not be used to maintain a Third World situation of corruption and murky payoffs which enrich supporters and some party coffers. The Greek people already pay billions of euros to political parties through the state budget, and they aren’t prepared to pay more through exorbitant arms purchases which preserve an extraordinarily costly system of parasites. Modernization means a break with the Third World regime in this sector too.