OPINION

Sailing safely in troubled waters

sailing-safely-in-troubled-waters

In a year that was defined by, among others, global – and permanent, at this point – insecurity and instability, continued efforts to manage the fallout of the Covid pandemic, and the increasing frequency of extreme weather and natural disasters, Greece continued investing in its national security on the basis of a long-term strategic plan and a policy of “smart power,” with three main pillars: a) increasing its deterrence capabilities, b) building new and reinforcing existing alliances and regional cooperation organizations, and c) building national resilience, by shielding our infrastructure and networks.

Special attention should be paid to the crucial reinforcement of the Hellenic Armed Forces over the last two years with advanced weapon systems, as a result of the revisionist policy of our eastern neighbor and its aggressive maneuvers. Indicatively, it is worth highlighting the following armament programs being successfully carried out by the Ministry of National Defense and the General Staff: the purchase of 24 Rafale fighter jets, which will give the Hellenic Air Force a substantial qualitative advantage, the acquisition of four MH-60 Romeo helicopters (and a further three in the near future), the leading anti-submarine warfare helicopter, the procurement of more torpedoes for the Type 214 submarines, the agreement to construct a new flight training center near Kalamata in the southern Peloponnese and hiring Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) from Israel (and the very important Aegis civil protection program).

There was also the landmark acquisition of the three (plus one) French multipurpose Belharra-class frigates by the Hellenic Navy, with their very advanced air defense system and their command-and-control capabilities, which along with the Rafale aircraft will enhance Greece’s ability to conduct operations in the Eastern Mediterranean. The reinforcement of the Hellenic Navy will also include the modernization of the MEKO frigates and the purchase of several corvettes. Important factors in this decision, apart from purely operational ones, will be the cost, the pursuit of the greatest possible harmony with existing ship types and the scope of added domestic value. The successful conclusion of the frigate program, when it came to its cost and the offered capabilities package, was primarily determined by the emergence of a strategic partnership between France and Greece, who share common geostrategic interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. Additionally, it was also determined by the government’s negotiating strategy that, with patience and diligent research, chose the most advantageous option to reinforce the Hellenic Navy, not just in the short term but also with an eye on the future. The government will pursue a similar approach with its corvette program.

When it comes to the further enhancement of Greece’s deterrence capabilities, current priorities include: maintaining the current effort to increase the availability of weapons systems, the further shake-up of the defense industry (the foundations for a solution for Skaramangas Shipyards have already been laid, efforts are ongoing to find a sustainable solution for Elefsis Shipyards, we are looking for a strategic investment partner for the Hellenic Aerospace Industry and for a solution to the troubles of Hellenic Defense Systems), the prioritization of important armament programs including the search for a new national rifle, the Spike NLOS missile system, the final decision over the modernization of the F-16 Block 50 fighter jets and, a central issue of any future plans, a decision over fifth generation F-35 fighter jets, rapid investment in new technologies (including UAV and anti-drone systems, with the development of a domestic industry) and low-cost high-deterrence capable solutions, imprinting on the whole governmental mechanism a common culture of security and a holistic course of action like the one successfully applied in the Evros crisis. At the same time the confrontation of hybrid threats will become a general priority, increasing “resilience” in our country (the new Security Strategy, which will be ready in 2022, is being introduced to this end), and we will shield our borders to deter the weaponization of migratory flows.

All the aforementioned armament programs, and other smaller projects, as well as the necessary modernization of existing infrastructure, are all necessary to alleviate the impact of the 10-year financial crisis on the Armed Forces, but they are not an end in themselves and neither is there any intent on the Greek side to engage in a frenetic arms race, which would probably inflict irreparable damage on the Greek economy. Reinforcing our deterrence capabilities along with our multifaceted diplomatic activity, particularly intense and successful over the last two years, are the central driving forces in achieving a vitally important political goal: the defense of our national sovereignty and sovereign rights from maneuvers that seek to challenge them.

There were also rapid developments in Greece’s diplomatic activities. The central goals of our diplomacy continue to be the deepening and strengthening of our alliances, the increase of our political displacement within the EU, and the improvement of Greece’s international standing as a stabilizing factor in the region and a provider of security through the expanding of our strategic horizon and by becoming more outward-looking. Without a doubt, the mutual defense agreement between France and Greece was a great success for our country, as is the extension of the Mutual Defense and Cooperation Agreement (MDCA) with the United States (which includes provisions on the modernization of US bases and infrastructure on Greek soil, as well as the transfer of surplus American military materiel). Both agreements (in a similar vein to the 2020 agreement with the UAE) include security guarantees and provisions of support in emergencies.

Finally, when it comes to relations with Turkey, the will on both sides to continue exploratory talks and an expressed interest in financial cooperation can be seen as relatively positive developments. However, there are still serious issues in Greece’s relations with a very difficult neighbor, which does have great capabilities but also a number of weaknesses and several open fronts. One can hope that Ankara will realize the negative consequences that consistently following its current approach on a series of issues will have on a bilateral, regional and European level before its too late.

Greece feels the need to always have a shield in hand, raised in defense of its national interests, sovereignty and sovereign rights. A shield, defensive and diplomatic, whose goal is to deter those who would threaten them. The other hand can, at any time, wield a sword to defend its rights, if its message of determination and deterrence is ignored. However, if the other side approaches in good faith, the hand could instead be outstretched in cooperation over common issues and challenges, like climate change, the Covid pandemic, managing migratory flows, green energy transition and a series of other issues. Greece is ready for both eventualities, even if it clearly prefers the latter.


Thanos P. Dokos is national security adviser to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.