The economic situation in Greece is dire. Walk the streets of Athens and you will see Greeks digging in trash cans for food. With no jobs and withdrawal limits imposed on locals, hard cash is elusive and hard to come by. Those situated outside defence circles will therefore be surprised (and perhaps a little shocked) to discover that according to NATO Greece is a large defence spender with 2.38% of its GDP for 2015, second to the United States who spends 3.59 % of its GDP on defence.
Despite the austerity measures, defence launches and acquisitions continue and include the Hellenic Navy P-3B maritime patrol aircraft modernization and upgrade programme, the commissioning of the HS Katsonis – a Type 214 submarine (Greece now operates 11 submarines), and funding for 10 ex-U.S. Army Boeing CH-47D Chinook helicopters. Military personnel salaries, for the most part, have been exempt from cuts however in July 2016, a proposal surfaced aiming to cut salaries by 200 to 400 Euros per month depending on rank. Greek military leaders are concerned that salary cuts could affect morale, and coupled with the current economic climate, may fan the fire of a number of grievances.
Greece is positioned strategically in the Balkan Peninsula with ease of access to three continents. It borders Bulgaria and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the North, Turkey to the Northeast, Albania to the Northwest, and three seas – the Ionian Sea to the West, the Mediterranean Sea to the South, and the Aegean Sea to the East. There is no doubt that with the current refugee crisis gripping Europe security concerns have escalated. According to John Nomikos, Director of the Research Institute for European and American Studies (RIEAS), Greece is in the middle of what he calls a “security thunderstorm”. According to the UN Refugee Agency, in 2016 Greece recorded 164,730 refugee sea arrivals with 856,723 in 2015. Mr Nomikos added that the increase in transnational organized crime, human trafficking, and the Islamic terrorist threat as well as the disintegration of Greek social cohesion requires drastic reform and restructuring of the Greek defence and intelligence community with increased cooperation amongst agencies.
Refugee crisis aside, one has to wonder if the base of Greece’s defence spending may still be rooted in the decades-long conflict with Turkey compounded by the Turkish occupation of Cyprus in the 70s. You can ask any Greek why their defence spending is high and they will tell you that Greece will not let the events of the past recur in future. Turkey has a habit of unnerving the Greeks by violating their airspace without submitting flight plans and at times with armed fighter jets, keeping them on constant alert. For instance, on 15 February 2016, Turkish fighter jets violated Greek airspace 22 times within a 24-hour period.
Greece is often overlooked because of its current economic crisis however the significance of its geostrategic location instantly establishes it as a key defence player. Evidence of this lies in Crete, which has assumed great strategic significance for NATO and the U.S.
Crete hosts the following NATO operational and training infrastructure:
- NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Center (NMIOTC).
- NATO Missile Firing Installation (NAMFI) – with a range of more than 14.440 Km2 of ground, sea, and air space.
- NATO FORACS Greece (NFG) near Souda Bay where all multinational operational units joining NATO formations have to use FORACS to ensure interoperability for joint-service and multi-national operations. The site performs precision dynamic calibration measurements of the accuracy of target and navigation sensors (sonar, fire control, navigation radar, electronic surveillance, electro-optic sensors, inertial navigation systems, etc.) against common geographical references to satisfy national requirements and meet NATO material readiness standards.
Crete hosts the following U.S. operational infrastructure:
- The U.S. Naval Support Activity (NSA), providing operational support to U.S, allied, and coalition forces.
- The U.S. Naval European Meteorology and Oceanography Detachment
As a gateway to Europe, the Middle East, North and Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southwest Asia, Greece’s defence budget (if spent wisely), is essential in protecting not only its territory, but that of its allies.
Written by Sylvia Caravotas (Satovarac Consulting) for OIDA