2020 was a difficult year for Greek national security and the country in general, due to both Turkish actions and the Covid-19 pandemic, the latter an unprecedented crisis that profoundly affected not only the entire state mechanism and the Greek economy and society, but also the whole planet. The management of Turkish revisionist policies was – and continues to be – the main concern of the Greek national security mechanism. Greece focused its efforts on a “smart power” policy, with two main pillars: a) internal empowerment, aiming to increase its deterrence capacity, and b) external strengthening, taking into account the interests of key actors. Historical experience has shown that maintaining a stable military balance is one of the key requirements for the effective management of bilateral relations with Turkey. Greece, despite wishing to avoid the additional financial burden due to new armaments programs, feels forced to do so and will proceed in the most efficient way.
In 2020, a systematic effort was made to deal with the consequences of the long-term neglect of the Hellenic Armed Forces (largely due to austerity policies), without at the same time causing undue damage to the Greek economy. Indicatively, the following programs should be mentioned: the acquisition of 18 Rafale fighters, which will provide a significant qualitative advantage to the Air Force; the planned acquisition of four MH-60 Romeo maritime helicopters (and of three additional helicopters in the near future), considered to be the primary anti-submarine warfare helicopter; the acquisition of a sufficient number of torpedoes for Type 214 submarines; the upgrade of F-16 block 50 fighter planes; the acquisition of a significant number of M1117 armored security vehicles; the lease of Heron unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) from Israel; and the activation of several types of aircraft, grounded for extended periods of time due to lack of spare parts and general support.
For the Navy, the main goal includes – ideally in the form of a “package” – the acquisition of four new multi-role frigates, the upgrade of four MEKO frigates, an intermediate solution with the transfer of two frigates, while the selection criteria include cost, technical characteristics, domestic added value and shipbuilding in a Greek shipyard (if operating). The standardization of new frigates and MEKO frigates’ systems is desirable. The apparent reduction in costs and the general improvement of tenders justify the decision for a slight delay in this crucial program’s implementation.
One should also note the 60% increase – compared to the previous year – in the number of admissions to the Armed Forces’ academies, the announcement for the recruitment of a significant number of professional soldiers, the creation of an international flight training center in Kalamata through financial leasing, and the privatization of the Hellenic Vehicle Industry (ELVO), in the context of the effort to consolidate the Greek defense industry. Finally, the length of military service has been increased.
In terms of external balancing, the main objective was to strengthen the country’s international image and role, as well as to increase its relative weight in the context of the EU. The aim was to be an active player at all levels inside the Union and take advantage of various tools and opportunities. The effort was quite successful as Greece secured a total of €72 billion from the Recovery and Resilience Facility and Cohesion Fund, and actively participated in efforts to increase the EU’s regional and global role, climate change management and the promotion of a green economy, as well as the European management of the Covid-19 pandemic. Finally, the goal of integrating Greek-Turkish relations into the wider context of Euro-Turkish relations was achieved, as recorded in the European Council’s Conclusions. However, it is easy to forget that our country has other important pending issues within the EU (economic recovery and refugees/migration management), which limit the range of options and room for maneuver in other areas. There is also a systematic difficulty in understanding how the EU works, leading to overly high expectations, which ignore the fact that countries make decisions based on their national interests.
Further, we sought a deepening of regional alliances; there was significant progress in the field of exclusive economic zones delimitation with the signing of agreements with Italy and Egypt, as well as an agreement in principle with Albania on recourse to the Hague tribunal to delimit maritime zones between the two countries. At the same time, Greece proceeded to close off bays and extended its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles in the Ionian, up to Cape Tainaro, exercising the right recognized by the International Law of the Sea Convention and keeping open its options for the future.
In the context of the – highly desirable – continuity in foreign policy, emphasis was placed on further deepening the strategic cooperation with the USA, Israel and Egypt. Significant openings were also made to the United Arab Emirates, with which a Joint Declaration of Strategic Partnership and a bilateral agreement on foreign policy and defense were signed, as well as to Saudi Arabia. Greece’s intention is to expand tripartite cooperation by including a major power, India, and to create a network of cooperating countries in the Eastern Mediterranean and the wider region with the common goal of increasing regional stability. Finally, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit, there was an effort to improve Greek-Russian relations, an effort that will continue, as Athens wishes to maintain good relations with all major powers on the global chessboard.
Regarding the monitoring and protection of land borders, after the Turkish actions in Evros and the transformation of the problem from a bilateral to an EU-Turkey one, a new 25-kilometer-long security fence is being constructed in the Evros area, in addition to the existing one, which is being reinforced where required. The completion of the project is expected within the first four months of 2021. Regarding maritime borders, a tender was carried out for the development of the National Integrated Maritime Surveillance System. The installation of the first surveillance stations is expected within 2023. In addition, the Hellenic Coast Guard acquired a number of patrol ships and boats. As a result the increased protection of the country’s sea and land borders led to a decrease of 84% in migration flows in 2020.
Regarding internal security, reference should be made, inter alia, to the following: the new planning of visible policing in order to increase the feeling of security, the armament program – after many years – for the Hellenic Police, a mild policing program with emphasis on foot patrols in cooperation with the local authorities for the prevention and control of criminal behavior, the recruitment of border guards, the restructuring of the General Secretariat for Civil Protection, the upgrading of the voluntary civil protection system, the reorganization of the Hellenic Fire Service and the full activation of the European emergency number 112, changes in penitentiary system and the creation of modern detention centers.
The National Intelligence Service (EYP), a key component of the national security architecture of any organized state, is undergoing a broad institutional and technological modernization, with an emphasis on restructuring its operational branches and contributing to the management of cyber threats. Finally, the drafting of national strategies is under way as the National Cybersecurity Strategy was completed, and the National Security Strategy and the Homeland Security Strategy are in the preparation stage. At the same time, there is progress in the implementation of the roadmap for the establishment of a National Security Council. Overall, it can hardly be disputed that the assessment is extremely positive, as, in about a year-and-a-half of this government, more has been achieved than in a decade. However, there is still much more to be done.
The road ahead
A disproportionately large portion of our resources will inevitably continue to be allocated to managing the Turkish challenge. However, we must avoid the “trap” of a unidimensional and monothematic foreign policy. Our main goal should continue to be the increase of geopolitical value and the accumulation of diplomatic assets for the country. For this purpose, the following is required:
* Launching of initiatives and active participation in EU affairs, in an effort to increase Greece’s relative weight and added value. Special reference should be made to France, a traditional ally and friend of our country, with whom we will continue to build a strategic relationship, but also to Germany, with whom our interests in the particularly important issue of European management of refugees/migration largely coincide;
* Increase our footprint inside the NATO alliance;
* Build an even closer strategic relationship with the new US administration and successfully negotiate the new Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA);
* Further consolidate Greece’s role in the Eastern Mediterranean and the wider region.
Regarding the further strengthening of our deterrence capacity, priorities include: increasing the availability of weapons systems; defense industry consolidation (Hellenic Aerospace Industry, shipyards), rapid investment in new technologies (including UAVs and counter-drone systems, with national capacity building) and low-cost/high-impact solutions; extended use of the whole-of-government-approach applied in the Evros crisis; efficient management of human resources and materiel for what may prove to be a lengthy crisis.
Regarding relations with Turkey, Greece will continue to resist any attempt to challenge its national sovereignty, but also to seek de-escalation and better relations. More specifically, there are two options: a relationship based on a positive agenda, with cooperation in some areas and (peaceful) disagreement in others should efforts for a full normalization of relations on the basis of international law of the sea fail or a cold war, where there is always the risk of a heated escalation. Greece certainly prefers the first option, but is also prepared for the second.
On January 25, the exploratory talks will resume, aiming to explore intentions, not to negotiate. Expectations for substantial progress must be limited, due to the changes in the neighboring country since 2016 and the unfolding of its revisionist agenda. Ankara may seek to raise issues that the current government – and any other Greek government – is not willing to negotiate for. Issues such as the demilitarization of Aegean islands (a highly pretextual issue for Ankara), the sovereignty of specific islands and islets, the Muslim minority of Thrace (the Greek state will soon introduce measures to improve the socio-economic situation in the region), or any discussion regarding a revision of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. This does not negate the need for contacts, as they are within an explanatory framework, in order to informally and non-bindingly investigate the real intentions of the other side and enable the search for convergences. Greece has no reason to avoid or fear dialogue, while at the same time it has every right not to accept it under a state of threats and challenges. After all, in diplomatic practice, the agenda is always the product of an agreement between two sides and not imposed unilaterally.
2021 will be another difficult year, with high uncertainty and instability and potential structural changes regionally and globally. Managing threats and seizing opportunities will require quick reflexes, an effective mechanism for strategic planning and crisis management, which are the responsibility of the government, as well as the maximum possible consensus, which will be the responsibility of the entire political system and Greek society.
Thanos P. Dokos is national security adviser to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.