Key points of Minister of Defence Evangelos Venizelos’ speech at the Supreme Joint War College
Thessaloniki, December 10, 2010
On the economic crisis:
The economic situation is particularly difficult. The country is in a financial vortex, not alone but along with many other European countries. The crisis is not just European and does not concern the euro zone exclusively. It concerns almost all currency zones.
It is, in reality, a political crisis, one that illustrates the weakness of the EU to function as an integrated political entity supporting –by using the necessary institutions and the necessary political initiatives- the great enterprise that is the Euro. It is a contradiction to have advanced financial institutions, a common currency, to have the ECB and not have a strong EU budget, no institutions to oversee the intra-Community commerce, no institutions for the replacement of developmental deficits -as is the case in other parts of the world with federal systems of government.
The crisis became political long ago, because it is clear that we are in need of structural procedures and institutions of global economic governance. Unfortunately, neither can the G20 act as a substitute for the UN, nor can the G8 act as an economic and financial Security Council.
Greece’s fate relies too heavily on European and international developments that it does not control and on which it can only have minimal influence. So what is required is extreme caution. And caution is required because there are dominant perceptions and criteria which are not easily opposed by more complex and sophisticated arguments, especially when one is in a weak negotiating position.
But there are many things we can do as a country, using our own initiatives. Those are actually the three axes on which we need to move:
- The first axis is the consistent implementation of the memorandum, namely the contractual terms and foundations of the loan between Greece and the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF. If the installments are not disbursed the country will not be able to cover its borrowing and public spending needs. This is the least of it. It is the preamble
- The second axis is to do everything above and beyond the memorandum, [things] concerning our own national initiatives and national strategy for reconstruction. Those initiatives are linked to the state in the forms of public administration, growth support, the welfare state and a network of social cohesion and security that not only bears costs but is also in need of institutions, sensibilities and an administrative efficiency.
- The third axis is to create the conditions for a new vision that illuminates the exit of the tunnel.
If completed, as we’d like to think, the extension of the €110 billion loan repayment which accounts for about 1/3 of the Greece’s debt will become the first precondition. Right now we have to break down how the rest of the debt is allocated to the bond holders -another third of it is in the hands of the ECB, Greek banks and Greek pension funds and the last third is in the hands of markets- in order to take the necessary steps and [achieve] primary surpluses and high growth rates.
Without primary surpluses and high growth rates a country whose debt exceeds 160% of the GDP cannot easily escape the vortex. So over the next three years an intensive and nationwide effort is needed.
Everyone must participate in this effort within his or her capabilities and with a sense of national cohesion and social justice that is not easy to consolidate because people have reasonable doubt whether the [financial] burden has been fairly allocated. This primarily concerns those who are not employees and retirees of the public or private sectors. But we need time to do all that and time is scarce.
On national sovereignty:
There are hidden and subcutaneous forms of reduced sovereignty such as, for example, those relating to monetary, fiscal and social policy. And there are also unbiased and fleeting forms [of reduced sovereignty] such as “national amputation” which means the infringement of sovereignty in the most traditional meaning of the term in International Law. This cannot be tolerated and it will not be tolerated.
It is important, when a country is under economic and financial distress and supervision, to send a message abroad: our condition does not bend in any way our foreign and, especially, our national defence and security policies. And we must believe in it, we must declare it and we must make it happen. This is very important in terms of not only how we handle both the daily tensions and crises, but also in terms of the lingering problems that, in reality, are under a continuous and open handling process –not a negotiation.”
On the national defence and security policy:
There are certain principles that are self-evident.
Greece is governed by its attitude towards International Law and the need to protect human rights. Greece believes in good neighborly relations. It proclaims and believes the doctrine of respect for existing borders. Greece is not a revisionist state and does not play games regarding those issues. The country invests politically and diplomatically in the overall stability of the region. Greece wishes for Europe, for Southeast Europe and for the Eastern Mediterranean regions to be peaceful, stable, growing and prosperous. Greece understands very clearly that in the last ten years key changes have occurred but it also understands that persistent situations in our region have remained. The accession of Bulgaria and Romania in the EU and NATO was important.
Greece has fought to achieve this goal. In what concerns the economy, the institutions and defence, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece shape up a single large space in the Balkans. It is important that Albania and Croatia join NATO too. It is important for Serbia to want to integrate fully into the Euro-Atlantic institutions and to solve all cooperation problems with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). It is important for Montenegro to aim at full integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. It is important that FYROM realises that joining NATO and the EU goes through the solution of the name issue in a mutually acceptable manner.
We often witness in the non-EU Mediterranean states a struggle between countries and non-state entities that play a vital role in international and regional security issues. There’s not just the Israeli-Palestinian problem, there are other parameters [to consider] too.
On the assessment of threat:
It is very important to say that the national defense policy is in fact based on sound and unbiased threat assessments. Unfortunately,
Greece’s threat assessment cannot be the same as in other European countries which assess the threat on the level of NATO or the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Beyond those later assessments -as set out and approved at the Lisbon Summit text for NATO’s new strategic concept or in the texts of the European Council in connection with the CSDP- Greece faces a regional problem and an acute regional contradiction. And this happens because Turkey, a neighboring country and ally, a NATO member for 58 years –same as Greece- and a candidate for EU accession with Greece’s support, is also a country that continues to occupy the northern part of Cyprus militarily. It is also a country that has formally declared, with a National Assembly decision, the threat to use force if Greece exercises its right to determine the extent of its territorial waters as is prescribed by International Law.
There is no doubt that there is an over-concentration of military forces in the region of Evros, in NE Greece, and in the Asia Minor coast. There are also violations in the air and the sea every day, violations in connection to explorations on the continental shelf or the sea area above the continental shelf, as well as problems in search and rescue missions in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean.
And there is also no doubt that within NATO’s command structure, both within its force structure and within its operational planning, there have been problems with respect to operational control during the last 36 years -especially during the last thirty years since the 1980’s when Greece rejoined the military arm of the Alliance. Furthermore, there is also no doubt that now that the geography of NATO’s new command structure will be discussed, those issues will again be addressed as they have always been during large scale military exercises. We saw an important example of that recently as Greece has been forced to not participate in major military exercises such as Noble Aspect due to its disagreements over its planning. This is a reality.
On the other hand Greece’s bilateral contacts, at all levels, are very important. Greece continues to firmly support Turkey’s European perspective but the negotiation chapters for Turkey cannot be all opened since there is a distance from what the acquis communautaire calls for. There is a distance from the rules of the European institutional and political culture given that Turkey does not apply the Ankara Protocol regarding the approximation of Cypriot ships and aircraft at Turkish ports and airports. There is distance because Turkey still refuses to recognize one of the 27 EU member states and prevents its accession into a number of “painless” major international organizations, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
This is a political and institutional contradiction within NATO and the EU and Greece’s strategy is undoubtedly to focus on our initial assessment.
On the other hand there is the good news. The notorious “danger from the north” of the Cold War era has disappeared. This allows for a radically different design of our Armed Forces layout. Where it was needed to have capabilities –expensive ones, requiring huge personnel commitments- now having good diplomatic relations and good military intelligence is enough.
We do not believe that a scenario of general military conflict between Greece and Turkey in River Evros, the Aegean Sea, the Eastern Mediterranean or Cyprus is applicable. But the issues need to be addressed in their entirety in order to no longer have a national defence planning to include this possibility. We want to avoid military crises, but we must also be prepared for that eventuality.