Greece has informed its partners and the international community of what its red lines are in the event of an attempted violation of its sovereign rights, National Security Adviser Alexandros Diakopoulos says in an interview with Kathimerini’s Sunday edition.
Diakopoulos says that a heated “incident” between Greece and Turkey would have negative repercussions for all sides. Furthermore, he adds that conditions favor neither a meeting between the leaders of the two countries nor taking recourse to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
The government official points out that excellent ties between Greece and France have paved the way for signing some form of strategic agreement in the future, while emphasizing the importance for Greece of Article 5 of the NATO treaty and the European Union’s mutual assistance clause.
We are in a difficult period. Greece is pursuing guarantees that derive from its membership in multinational organizations and alliances. Do we really have a say, or are we just a bystander to developments?
Greece is pursuing a policy of principles, firmly anchored to international law. We are not asking for more guarantees than those due to us by virtue of our membership of those groups and alliances. These organizations must, first, show the due solidarity with a member-state (NATO-EU) and, second, operate on the basis of the principles and values they were made to serve – i.e. democracy, freedom, justice and an international system based on rules. However, I need to emphasize that if a country wants to have a say in the security architecture of the broader region, it needs to actively engage in it.
Are you concerned that tension could escalate during the fall given Turkey’s plans to conduct exploratory drilling within the Greek continental shelf?
Greece, beyond its diplomatic and other efforts that include its being receptive to establishing and maintaining channels of communication with the other side, has made clear two things, which have also been communicated to its partners and the international community in general. First, we will not tolerate a violation of our sovereign rights on the grounds of an illegal memorandum. We have drawn a clear red line on that. Second, [we have made clear] that Turkey’s relations with the EU have to go through Greece’s filter of respectful and good-neighborly relations. If you add to these the critical deterrent force of the Armed Forces, despite the problems left behind by the 10-year economic crisis, an escalation becomes unthinkable. A heated “incident” would be a lose-lose-lose situation. It would destabilize the region, cause unprecedented damage to the alliance and huge economic problems for Europe.
Do you believe conditions are ripe for a meeting between Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan? And regardless of the chances for a meeting, do you think there is room for negotiations with Ankara?
These are two different things. At this moment – and this is my personal opinion – I believe that a meeting with the Turkish president, if it is not about a specific subject, would be premature and likely to produce the opposite results. A negotiation concerns a more progressed stage than the one we find ourselves in at the moment because in order to hold a negotiation you first need to have a clear framework in which to negotiate – which in our opinion can only be that of international law – and you must have reached a clear agreement on the subject of this negotiation. I believe that cutting off channels of communication for so long was a mistake and it was the responsibility of Turkey. We need to establish channels of communication which – if everything goes well and Turkey respects good-neighborly relations – will through exploratory talks at some point lead to the negotiation you are referring to. In other words, at this moment and given the current situation, I do not see a negotiation taking place any time soon.
Do you believe that, considering its deep internal contradictions, Turkey is interested in dialogue or does it want to impose some sort of fait accompli?
Turkey, like every other country and society, is not one-dimensional. Within Turkey’s society and political system there exist different trends. The recent past saw the prevalence of certain – totally absurd in my opinion – Eurasian views which were pushing Turkey into conflict with the West. These views have probably been sidelined. There was also the view that the international system is a free-for-all and that everything is about power politics. It was as if we were going back to a Hobbesian past where everyone was against everyone else. I believe that this view is wrong and it has limits which are set by the international system itself. Therefore I believe that there also exist people who understand that Turkey’s interests are better served by playing according to the rules of international law and the international system; and that there is more to be gained this way than by adopting schemes of rivalry and confrontation. No one wants to exclude Turkey. However, because of its attitude it runs the risk of making its exclusion a self-fulfilled prophecy.
Is there any truth to reports of an upcoming strategic agreement between Greece and France?
It’s better not to talk about these types of agreements, even if they are still in the making, before they are finalized. What I can say, however, is that Greece and France currently share a common perspective on the Eastern Mediterranean and the future of Europe. This overlap of interest and views creates firm political ground for proceeding with an agreement of this sort in the future.
What can Greece expect with regard to Libya?
Greece deems that Europe must not be absent from Libya, a country lying in its soft underbelly, and has sided with those who are calling for an end to hostilities. We have an interest in building stability and in securing the future of the Libyan people, who are currently suffering because of third parties who are interfering in the country and fueling conflict. Hostilities must end immediately, enabling agreements that will lead to elections and to a government with a popular mandate so it can bring stability and growth to Libya. It should be noted that the mandate of [Libyan Prime Minister Fayez] al-Sarraj expired years ago and that Parliament is the only institution in Libya that enjoys some sort of popular legitimacy via elections.
Arms spending has dropped sharply in recent years. Are we likely to see a change in this policy?
It is true that we have fallen behind in recent years but, as I said earlier, we have managed to maintain a critical deterrence force. As far as arms spending is concerned, I must make two points. First, the economy is as significant a power structure as defense. As the past has shown, you must not spend too much on arms procurements if this is at the expense of your national economy in the near future. Thus arms procurements and economic growth go hand-in-hand. Second, the government inherited – and fortunately so – several programs which had already been launched from before, which were quite costly. I am talking here about the upgrade of P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft and the upgrade of F-16 fighter jets to the advanced Viper class at a cost of 1.5 billion euros. Meanwhile, the government found limited availability of aircraft such as the Mirage 2000. None of all that is cost-free. It also found the issue of the two torpedo boat at the Elefsina shipyards was stalling. One of them, the sixth, is already at the dock, and we expect the seventh to launch within a month. Finally, we are in talks about purchasing new frigates. The Navy needs to be reinforced with frigates and I believe this will happen sooner or later.
Athens and Rome recently signed an agreement delimiting an exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Do you see something similar being possible with Egypt?
The agreement with Italy is a huge success for the Foreign Ministry, given that it had been pending for some 40 years. As far as I know, talks are already under way with Egypt, which are very complex and difficult. The success of any agreement, if one is reached, will rely mainly to what degree it will effectively cancel out the Turkish-Libyan accord via an international dispute, where one side would have adhered to the letter of international law faithfully and the other would be operating arbitrarily and illegally in the same area. Any other discussion on the issue would be a case of not seeing the forest for the trees.
If an agreement with Egypt is not attained, can Greece take recourse to The Hague?
For a country that acts in accordance with international law, taking recourse to The Hague is always an option. However, this would take time, the consent of the other side and new negotiations on the arbitration agreement, while it would also engender the risk of involvement from another country which could (even if it has not ratified the Law of the Sea) invoke its legal interests and interfere in the process. Given my response to the previous question and the importance of the time factor, I believe that the option of The Hague does not serve our purposes.
On the basis of which clauses could Greece expect assistance from another European country in the event that it came under threat? Are there legal provisions we could use?
Greece is a member of the EU and NATO. In the framework of the EU, there is a mutual assistance clause in Article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty and in the context of NATO there’s the collective defense of Article 5. I find it inconceivable, however, that we may have to invoke these clauses against any member of the Alliance that is also seeking to become a partner of the EU, because if this were to happen, that country would have to sever all ties with the West.