Greece has an important decision to make over the next couple of months regarding its planned purchase of frigates for the navy. It is a move that comes in the wake of the decision to upgrade F-16 fighter jets, acquire Rafale jets and handle a number of long-festering wounds. At the same time, the country is also implementing decisions such as that for a special forces joint command that has been under discussion since the 1996 Imia crisis. This all represents the first time in many years that things are moving in the area of defense, which had fallen behind because of the deep economic crisis.
The decision for the frigates is a tough and complex one. If Greece were a typical “client,” it would examine the offers submitted by different countries and firms, weigh the cost and make a decision. We are not a typical client, though, but a country facing threats and with much to weigh before making a choice. One of the theories, for example, is that “shopping” from a big power entails an “insurance contract” against Turkey. This could come in the form of certain guarantees or a “weapon” that would allow Greece to bring some balance to the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean. It is a demanding equation that calls for serious and exhaustive negotiations. The choice between a “simple” or a “geopolitical” solution is equally hard.
The second issue concerns how soon the new frigates will be ready and whether there’s an interim solution until then, such as used ships that would be able to bolster Greece’s fleet at once.
In bigger countries, discussions on such major decisions are held out in the open, in the public sphere, and the fact that this is also the case in Greece right now is very positive. Citizens demand to know what the choices are and where their taxes are going. But the decision ultimately rests with those who have manned the Greek seas under such difficult conditions. They know what they need and how to use it. Their input, in combination with the government’s political and diplomatic considerations, will shape the final choice.