Following the gradual return of the Greek naval units to the Salamis base after the biggest mobilization of the Hellenic Navy in recent history, it can be said that the latest crisis with Turkey has bequeathed Greece with multiple operational, social and diplomatic benefits. This historic summer, Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave Greece the following 10 gifts.
1) The lessons and the experience that the Hellenic Navy gained during these two months equal 10 Parmenion drills; in other words, they amount to 10 years of condensed experience and knowledge. This is extremely important, particularly because the current leadership of the Hellenic Navy is focused on analyzing all available data and drawing conclusions about how to deal with the Turkish threat. This hopefully also applies on a political level as the country’s leadership had an opportunity to oversee proper operations that could have easily resulted in an escalation. The crisis was essentially a rehearsal for any future developments, so Greece should thank Erdogan for exposing the weaknesses of Turkey’s naval forces in a way never seen before.
2) The performance of Greek crews, the sense of duty in the face of the Turkish threat and the exposure of the shortcomings of the Turkish fleet boosted the morale of the Hellenic Navy and of the Hellenic Armed Forces in general. This is very important as human resources is the determining factor in the developments in the field, and here Greece has a clear advantage.
3) The clear supremacy of the Hellenic Navy, particularly in the field of anti-submarine warfare, certainly had a very negative effect on the morale of the Turkish Navy. The captains of the Turkish submarines are aware that had there been an escalation they would be written off. Greek victories in this field are not a secret and they have certainly fueled concern among the Turkish Navy. The tension in Erdogan’s voice could be a sign of this recognition: How is it possible that a state wracked by a 10-year economic crisis managed to corner Turkey, which has (in the mind of Erdogan, at least) successfully stood up against the US, Israel, Russia and France?
4) Greek crews and the entire support system of the Armed Forces underwent two months of training in low-intensity albeit extended operations. The country’s Armed Forces were exposed to a type of operations that depends on the performance of the entire mechanism in terms of logistics and psychology, and the management of the personnel involved in extended operations.
5) The incident involving the mild collision between a Greek and a Turkish warship was a necessary reminder of the importance of seamanship, a factor perhaps underestimated by people who only focus on the technological aspect of weaponry. This experience will in my opinion prompt Greece to redefine its priorities in the basic naval training of Hellenic Navy officers. This is very interesting as it confirms previous assessments by people in the Hellenic Navy leadership who five years ago wrote down specific guidelines on responding to similar incidents.
6) The summer was very important for the families of Hellenic Navy officials. The family factor is key in the performance of personnel and it is important to keep in mind that while the Greek fleet was in the field, the crews’ families were waging their own battle; and this is something society should be grateful for. It was a tough summer for these families, but it also prepared them for possible events in the future.
7) The crisis was also decisive for Greek society because it served as a reminder of the profoundly existential threat along the country’s eastern border. This was probably forgotten for years as Greek society had rather passively accepted a situation whereby the Turkish Armed Forces maintained tension in the Aegean. Society’s support to the Hellenic Armed Forces and the political leadership of the time, regardless of partisan identity, is tantamount to national capital.
8) Also the masks have come off with regard to Erdogan’s intentions and the extent to which he is prepared to go. Those in Greece who had in the past tried to smooth the edges of Turkey’s positions – be that a result of wrong belief or assessment, naïveté or deceit – no longer have any excuses.
9) It is by now clear to the international community that Greece is a factor of stability but is nevertheless determined to defend its national interests. Meanwhile, Erdogan is seen as a threat to the equilibrium in the region. This gave Greece the opportunity to invest in traditional as well as new alliances, something that had not happened for decades.
10) Finally, Erdogan’s unprecedented aggressiveness gave the Greek government the needed political capital to make difficult albeit necessary decisions on arms procurements so as to finally deal with chronic problems. I am personally grateful to Erdogan for pushing Greeks to restore their damaged pride; for reminding the Greek people of what they are capable of and for preparing them for the future.
Aside from the collective lessons that we learned this summer, now it is time to show our appreciation to the members of the Hellenic Armed Forces and their families.
In the end, victory does not come from a single distinguished hero but from thousands of invisible ones. From the young boatswain on the frigate to the exhausted helicopter and hovercraft engineers, the invisible submarine crews and their sleepless families that were apprehensive for two months while their loved ones were on the front line.
The political leadership perhaps ought to issue an address to the nation expressing society’s collective gratitude to all these unknown heroes and to thank the local communities from Evros to Kastellorizo for their active support to the Armed Forces. A public thank you is the least that the nation can do in return for what they have been through.
Nikolas Katsimpras is a lecturer at Columbia University’s Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Program. He is a veteran officer of the Hellenic Navy.