OPINION

Statement within a statement

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statement that the Greek economic crisis can be attributed to its costly defense against a make-believe enemy, as well as his warning to his countrymen about making the same mistake, were intended mainly for Turkish public consumption and especially aimed at the military establishment. After scoring an important victory in the referendum that approved constitutional reforms which will effectively curb the influence of the Turkish military and prosecutors, Erdogan seems to be turning his attention toward trimming defense spending. The Turkish premier obviously knows that the miserable state of the Greek economy cannot be blamed solely on the significant amount of funds it pours into defense, though admittedly in many cases arms procurements have provided the ideal vehicle for under-the-table transactions that lined the pockets of certain ruthless politicians. Erdogan also knows that the greater amount of money a specific sector absorbs – in this case, the armed forces – the greater its status becomes on every level and especially abroad. More importantly, Turkey’s premier does not want to see revenues that have come from the country’s impressive leap in tourism being pumped into armaments, which he views as unnecessary. Given that Turkey has always purported – even during very tense situations in the Aegean Sea – that it has no aggressive tendencies toward Greece, there is nothing new about Erdogan’s statement that Greece is shadowboxing with make-believe enemies. What was original about his statement was his saying that Turkey has for years wasted its energy on make-believe enemies that were constructed from within the country and from outside its borders. With this statement, he challenged the prevalent perception at home of Turkey being a country surrounded by hostile, unfriendly and unstable states and therefore needing to retain the military advantage over all its neighbors. In short, Erdogan is trying to bring policy over military matters in line with the general dogma of his foreign policy, whereby Turkey is seeking peace with all its neighbors. His statement, in fact, had little to do with Greece.