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Hellenic Republic Ministry of National Defence

Excerpts from Defense Minister Evangelos Venizelos’ press conference on the Greek role for the implementation of UN Resolution 1973 on Libya

Q: Greece’s airspace, its FIR, its territory and some of the country’s ports have been made available to the armed forces of countries participating in operations against Libya. The press lacks knowledge of the national legal status of such facilitations. Should the matter be discussed in Parliament or, if it is a bilateral issue, must it be discussed in the Government Council for Foreign Affairs and Defense (KYSEA)?

A: Greece fully respects its obligations under International Law. Therefore, it respects and implements the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 which calls for countries and regional organizations to act towards the implementation of a no-fly zone and towards imposing an arms embargo in Libya. Those measures aim to protect unarmed civilian, to make humanitarian operations possible and to create a climate for political and diplomatic negotiation in order to reach a viable solution in this country.

Greece also respects it's obligations as an EU and NATO member. Consequently, Greece participates in all actions undertaken by the EU, mainly on humanitarian grounds and by NATO under the framework of the decisions that were agreed during the last NATO’s Defense Ministers Summit on February 25th, the day NATO was faced with the problem in Libya itself.

Greece does not participate in military operations, currently underway, by groups of countries outside the framework of NATO and the EU.

On a bilateral level however, Greece constantly receives requests for facilitations of a supportive nature. Greece accepts and meets those requests because they come from friendly and allied countries and their legal basis is the UN Security Council Resolution 1973.

Legally speaking, what applies for the UN applies also for the EU. Greece is a member of the UN and has passed on to it competencies that are constitutionally provisioned, according to Article 28, par. 2 of the Greek Constitution. The UN creates law, as does the EU, the so-called Resolutions which, in reality, are decisions by the Security Council ever since Greece joined the UN. They are executed automatically and, where necessary, the relevant Greek Presidential decrees for their implementation are issued. It has more than typical legal powers. So the legal framework is the legal process by the UN and, in this case, the regulatory framework of the UN Security Council Resolution 1973

Q: So Greece is making its bases, airspace and FIR available as facilitations, because the UN Security Council Resolution provides a legal basis for that?

A: Obviously. But more specific agreements also apply; bilateral or multilateral, agreements that have been voted in as laws. For example, all of Greece’s agreements with NATO and its bilateral agreements with many countries, in terms of military cooperation, or with the United States for the use of the Souda Bay facilities.

Q: The facilitations by Greece on this matter are those you have previously mentioned?

Α: Within the framework of NATO’s operational planning for two converging operations –the implementation of a no-fly zone and an arms embargo- Greece has stated that it provides the Souda Bay facility, the Aktion and Andravida airfields, a frigate (with its helicopter) which in any case patrols in the area between the island of Crete and Libya and an ERIEYE Early Warning Radar System embedded on an Embraer aircraft.

Additionally, Greece provides a Combat Search and Rescue helicopter which, to be precise, is made available solely for the arms embargo and not for the no-fly zone operation. Because those operations will take place simultaneously, however, –and in order to simplify things- Greece includes the helicopter in that list.All those abide by an allied and international logic. But they stem, however, from a national logic. What I mean to say is that the Search and Rescue helicopter operates within what we consider territory of Greek jurisdiction. For Greece, how Greece understands it, how the Athens FIR operates and how the responsibility of the search and rescue area is defined, is very important.

Moreover, the ERIEYE radar system provides the Larissa CAOC (Combined Air Operations Center) with images. Greece is strongly interested in the radar’s active participation in as many Larissa CAOC activities as possible. And that’s the criterion that Greece sets for the terms of providing facilitations too. It is worth mentioning, therefore, that a French aircraft carrier wants to operate within the Athens FIR area, because that means submitting flight plans and conducting search and rescue operations.

Q: Greece participates in NATO’s air force rapid response contingent with a number of fighter jets. In case NATO decides to get involved in the situation, will Greek participation be a separate eventuality?

Α: The forces of NATO member-states are available anyway. But to make them available, a special statement has to be issued. Greece has not issued such a force availability statement. I want to clarify the following: Greece faced –like many other countries- a condition that included the following: We had an apparent period of awkwardness on the part of the UN who, following the issuance of Security Council Resolution 1970, could not make unanimously -or without the fear of a veto- a more coherent and practical decision in relation to what is happening in Libya. At some point, after many days, Security Council Resolution 1973 was adopted with five abstentions.Then, we were called to implement the NAC decisions regarding the political directives that NATO provides its military leadership with and we were ready to proceed to a force availability statement for NATO operations. Greece would have done the same in the case that European operations under the Common Security and Defence Policy were conducted. But an incapacity to make definite decisions arose there as well.

Greece, therefore, was faced with stand-alone decisions by countries, or groups of countries, outside the framework of NATO and the EU.

That meant that nationally and diplomatically it would not be prudent for Greece to publically state its intent regarding the availability of forces on a NATO level, because that process itself had been halted. There neither was a need, nor a setting for Greece to declare its force availability for non-NATO operations because, in any case, Greece does not take part in such operations. And for the benefit of reaching a final decision regarding the level of participation in NATO operations, Greece had to first gather enough comparative data about the [overall] participation level.

Q: So, what has been written by the press about a participation of four Greek F-16 fighting jets is not true?

A: The only discrepancy is the participation of the F-16 fighter jets which are, in any case, reconnaissance-interception aircraft and not bomber-aircraft. When the Chairman of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff informed the political leadership about Greece’s capabilities, he informed us about Greece’s capacity to make such type of aircraft available. This was a military briefing on Greece’s capabilities. That’s one thing, and what we decide to do on a political level, at what time and under what circumstances is another. Never did Greece declare, during a force generation conference, any thing that had to be retracted, because first we wanted to see what Italy declared, what other countries with historical ties and burdens in the region will declare. Greece had to take under consideration three parameters:

·  First, we are a NATO and EU member and we have to participate in the mainstream.

·  Second, we have historical ties with the Arab world and that the Arab world has an internal dialogue in place and many sensitivities, which are not easily discernable by someone who cannot read the signs.

·  And third, Greece’s geographical proximity to Libya, which is a given fact, regardless of the current political situation in the country.

We had to weigh all that and I believe that Greece did so in the best possible manner.

Q: You spoke about the five abstentions in the UN Security Council. Do you mean something by that?

A: I would like to say something which is obvious and internationally acknowledged: It was a difficult decision to make. It is unusual for a decision to be made with 5 abstentions, including abstentions by two Permanent Members of the Security Council. It shows how difficult it was to in make this decision.

Q: On that issue… the implementation of the no-fly zone over Libya could last over 100 days. During that period of time, if the allied forces get tired and ask Greece for certain air assets, to patrol for example, will Greece say deny [such request]?

Α: Such an issue has not been put on the table. But if it is, Greece will assess the situation. However, a structural error is made: Focusing the discussion on four fighter jets, which in any case would not participate in bombing expeditions, underestimates the country’s important contribution. Greece’s role is of a supportive nature. But it is upgraded and, of course, the country must find the appropriate balance point, one that in the long-term helps maintain its credibility. Let’s not forget that any operation’s final objective is to reach a political solution. Final solutions are never military, they are political.

Q: Can you tell us if there are outstanding requests, on a bilateral level, for facilitations to countries other than those that have been mentioned in Greek media? What is the problem in NAC right now and a decision cannot be reached?

Α: The stalemate in NAC is purely of a procedural nature. I would say that it is a complication of styles.

As far as the requests are concerned: There are many friendly and allied countries that have made such requests. Greece tries to meet their demands, taking into consideration the capacity of its infrastructures. And because NATO co-ordination is absent at the moment, Greece is forced to do that itsef, as final recipient [of the requests]. But as you understand some sort of central command must be established from a point onwards. Right now there are demands from Belgium, which happened to be present in Greece, participating in a common training exercise, from Denmark, Norway, Qatar, the UAE, the US and France. Greece tries, to the degree possible, to meet those demands. Besides, not all those demands are equal and they are not all demands for immediate implementation. There are demands concerning non-NATO operations but there are others that are being made pre-emptively, If I may say, in anticipation of a NATO operation. And that will be the stage where the central management will take place, in cooperation with NATO.

Q: if Greek airfields presently already made available are not enough, will Greece make other airfields available too?

A: We must wait and see when NATO will intervene in this matter, because we must see what goes on in other Mediterranean regions. Right now Greece monitors what takes place in other countries too, Italy, France, Malta.

Q: I have the feeling that NATO operations will commence shortly, if NAC clears the obstacle…

A: I cannot make such a statement or assessment. I cannot speak about a body that is in constant session. NAC’s key characteristic is that it is in constant session, it can be called into order at any moment.

Q: Regarding the EU initiative that was agreed upon yesterday, pertaining to humanitarian actions: Will Greece provide military assets in that operation? Is there such a request?

A: There is no such request. In any case, Greece has a network of assets, a force setup. Other things can be requested through those, for example transporting people. Greece, at a previous stage, had made preparations, if you recall, to transport Egyptians and Bangladeshi nationals and so on. And we had made such availability known. Nothing else, more specific, has been asked of us.

Q: From what I understand, and from what most people do too, the stalemate in NAC is attributed, to a large degree, to Turkey’s position…

A: During some phases of the sessions, yes.

Q: According to a Hurriyet Daily News article on March 20th, Turkey is said to have asked for three things by NATO, in order to approve the operational plans of the no-fly zone.The first thing is safeguarding legitimacy, in accordance to the UN decision.

The second is for a clear operational plan for protecting unarmed civilians and the third is for the Arab League to participate in the enforcement of the no-fly zone over Libyan soil.

With those criteria in mind, the Turkish stance can be interpreted as trying to, or wishing to, play a different role in the region, to be, in a way, a link between the West and the Arab world. The Davutoglu doctrine abides by that logic.

Greece has made its decision and taken a stance and, given the traditionally amicable relations of the country with the Arab world, could Greece not play such a role itself in your view?

Α: The Security Council Resolution 1973 is based on the need to protect unarmed civilians and support humanitarian operations, and it considers a prerequisite the respect of Libya’s national sovereignty and national unity. It also aims at the implementation of a cease-fire, and anyway, a political solution. A procedural prerequisite for assuming any action of a military nature, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, is, according to the Security Council Resolution, to brief before-hand the UN Secretary General  and –for the first time as a requirement of a Security Council Resolution- the Secretary General of the Arab League.

So, briefing on the matter the Secretary General of the Arab League is a prerequisite for this operation. Furthermore, in the preamble of the SC Resolution and for it to declare the need for the implementation a no-fly zone, the decision invokes and mentions the Arab League’s own proposal to implement a no-fly zone in Libya.

That is, therefore, the framework within which Greece moves on.

Q: How do you characterize the Turkish stance?

Α: Turkey’s position is expressed in NAC in a way that’s not always apparent. Turkey’s stance is expressed, primarily, by its Prime Minister and secondarily by its Foreign and Defence Ministers.

Greece always sees Turkey as a UN and NATO member-state. So, Turkey must meet its obligations under the UN and NATO frameworks. If a country chooses not to follow the mainstream, that’s their choice and they will have to explain their decision on the basis of their own strategy. Greece has its own criteria in place, its own national strategy. This is not a Greek-Turkish or regional matter.

Moreover, there’s nothing worse in foreign policy and in defence and security policy than a policy of dependent reflexes. What I mean by that is a policy of “I see a country doing something and, in return, I do something that’s related to the other country’s reaction”. If a country lacks an original analysis assessment and does not make decisions based on its own criteria and strategy, then it might possible be led to contradictions and a dead-end.

Q: Minister, taking into consideration that the Arab world protest to NATO’s involvement and given the fact that suicide bomb mission cannot be excluded –either by the Qaddafi regime or by other people from the various tribe there [Libya]- and lastly, given the fact that Greece’s bases and airflieds will house many allied forces, has Greece taken any additional precautionary measures?

A: Greece has taken all the precautionary measures for military installations necessary and at the same time the Chairman of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff is in close consultation with the Hellenic police, the Coast Guard and the National Intelligence service in order to take all the policing measures as well. This is not solely a military security problem but also a problem of confronting dangers of a police nature, ones we obviously take in account and under very serious consideration.