Fewer but better
Greece spends proportionately more on security than any other country in the world, including the United States, taking into account population and economic indicators. The truth is that Greece’s mammoth security budget is made necessary by outside factors, most importantly the military threat posed by Turkey on the eastern border. Despite significant improvements in bilateral ties achieved over the past few years, tension in Greece’s relations with Ankara has failed to disappear completely. Historically, the ever-present threat to the east ensured that even during the turbulent years that followed the 1967-1974 military dictatorship, the defense budget was approved with virtual consensus among Greece’s political parties. The broad consensus across the left-right spectrum also reflected popular preference. People realize that national security may not be everything but the country is nothing without it. Regrettably, though, the huge security budget has taken its toll on economic development and social solidarity. Reports published yesterday in Sunday’s Kathimerini concerning arms procurements during the 1998-2004 period appear to confirm widespread public concerns following a slew of scandal allegations against the Socialist administration. The findings point to extensive squandering of public wealth and unnerving budget overruns, the existence of arms systems that are left to rust inside military depots, and, finally, weapons deals that suit the requirements of a land-locked country that faces the danger of invasion by land forces rather than Greece’s particular geographical and defensive conditions. In short, the findings show the absence of any integrated defense planning that would take into consideration the real military needs and the country’s desirable political alliances. As a result, the price tag does not correspond to our defense armor in place. Our aim here is not to blame the past administrations for major mistakes and economic misdeeds – necessary as that may be. Above all, we need to underscore the need for a radical overhaul of Greece’s arms purchases program. Greece must follow the rule: Better fewer but better. The Greek people who have been called upon to shoulder this heavy burden must at least be sure that their sacrifices are warranted. They must be sure that the country’s weapons system is capable of neutralizing any potential military threat and not a costly albeit ineffective means of protection.