The Minister of National Defence Evangelos Apostolakis met with the US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, on Thursday 6 June 2019.
During the said talks, the modern security environment and the defence relations of Greece and the USA were discussed.
The Minister of National Defence stressed, during his remarks, the exquisite level of defence cooperation between Greece and the USA, as can be concluded from the numerous joint activities which were realised recently but also from the two countries’ strategic dialogue which took place for the first time in December 2018. Furthermore, he stressed the defence diplomacy initiative taken by Greece for the development of a wide spectrum of international defence cooperations with countries of the Middle East, the Balkans and North Africa, which contribute to the enhancement of stability and peace in the wider region.
Later the Minister of National Defence participated, as a key speaker, in the 8th “EU and Foreign Policy Defence Forum 2019” annual conference. The conference dealt with the transatlantic cooperation in the field of defence and security, focusing on the achieved progress in the field of defence in the EU, in dealing with modern threats and challenges to security, artificial intelligence and burden distribution in the context of transatlantic cooperation. Another major point of focus was the EU-NATO relations and the EU-USA cooperation in the field of defence.
After the conference, the Minister of National Defence visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The address of the Minister of National Defence at the 8th “EU and Foreign Policy Defence Forum 2019” annual conference can be read below:
It is a true honor to be among eminent friends and allies and at the same time a great pleasure to have the opportunity to share my thoughts with an exquisite audience.
Especially today, a day for us to remember. On the six of June in 1944 and during the long summer that followed the allied forces in the coast of Normandy gave their ultimate battle against the Nazism. There, the allies stood and fought, side by side, in a giant effort to reclaim world’s liberty and defend the principles, the ideals and the virtues of democracy and humanity. Those principles and virtues still stand today for us.
This is a particularly important Forum and I am happy to be here. I would like to provide our perspective with regards to the defence and security of the East Med. Our close neighborhood.
This is to speak, a region of great strategic importance, dominated by a wide spectrum of challenges and risks, such as acts of terrorism, violent extremism, energy insecurity, smuggling, irregular immigration and human trafficking.
The security environment is highly complex and volatile, mainly because it is formed by ethnic animosities, nationalism, conflicts, weak democracies and feeble administrative institutions. Furthermore, climate change, economic crises, corruption, and trans-border organized criminal activities, encumber the situation even more.
Irregular immigration and refugee flows in the Aegean Sea, is one of the biggest challenges that Greece is currently facing. Additionally, Energy Security constitutes a quite challenging field in the wider area of the Southeastern Mediterranean. Moreover, recent developments in the region, such as those in Syria and Libya, arguably draw the attention of key geopolitical players.
The failure to cope with these challenges would definitely have a negative impact in the stability of the region, while the consequences may spread in the immediate neighborhood and beyond. Given their diverse nature, scale and complexity, a coordinated cooperation of regional and international allies and partners is required.
Greece, as a historic bastion of Democracy and an enduring pillar of stability, plays a significant role in the region’s geopolitical configuration and continuously seeks to promote cooperation, with the objective to achieve peace and prosperity in the region.
The Hellenic Armed Forces, by tradition and tendency, consider engagement in regional and global level security as one of their highest priorities and thus participate in all relevant efforts and initiatives. Maintaining a steady presence in ideals and posture we honor our commitments in the Framework of NATO, EU and UN. In this context, we respect the “burden sharing pledge” in the Alliance, remaining one of the few NATO countries that consistently keep the defence expenditures above 2% of their GDP.
Furthermore, indicative of our devotion and dedication to the UN principles and efforts, is the fact that Greece remains among the top 30 countries with the highest fund contribution to the UN peacekeeping budget.
The Hellenic Armed Forces firmly participate in a great number of NATO Operations, missions and standing forces.
Moreover, the Hellenic Armed Forces have made a substantial contribution to the training of our Allies and Partners, as well as to Regional Capacity Building efforts, by providing the services of the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Center and the Multinational Peace Support Operations Training Center.
I would also like to highlight our significant support to current NATO and EU missions and activities, through the contribution of national means and infrastructure of Souda Bay in the island of Crete. A forward located regroup, replenish, repair and training facility, with a variety of installations and facilities, forms a “One - Stop-Shop”, thus constituting a key enabler and force multiplier.
Regarding the EU, the Hellenic Armed Forces actively contribute to the development of an effective Common Security and Defence Polic, which is fundamental for enhancing the Union’s global strategic role and decisively contributes to “the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy”. In this vein, the Hellenic Armed Forces participate in EU CSDP missions and operations to prevent and manage conflicts and crises.
I would like at this point to emphasize on our firm response to the call for a Permanent Structured Cooperation in Europe, a decisive initiative towards a closer cooperation in defence and security across the EU and its Member States. In this manner, we lead significant PESCO projects such as Maritime Surveillance of the Eastern Mediterranean, Cyber Defense, Advanced Helicopter training, Intelligence training and Command System for Joint Special Operations Forces.
It is commonly accepted that EU and NATO share many security challenges that demand coordinated individual and collective actions. In this context, a mutually beneficial relationship between the two Organizations has been established and consolidated.
The initiatives to enhance EU-NATO cooperation and their contribution to security and protection of European citizens will be of great value, as long as they are in compliance with the agreed key guiding principles: openness and transparency, in full respect of the decision – making autonomy.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I stated before that Greece is striving to ensure stability and security in our wider area of interest. As a significantactor in the Eastern Mediterranean, Greece establishes new relations and enhances long standing ones. In this manner,Greece and the Hellenic Armed Forces promote Defence Diplomacy, and maintain excellent relations with most countries in the wider region, as we are widely accepted and appreciated.
We play a key role in promoting synergies, and act as a conduit among countries in the East Med and the Gulf, such as Cyprus, Morocco, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and the UAE. We participate in multilateral defence schemes between Greece-Cyprus-Israel, Greece-Cyprus-Egypt, and Greece-Bulgaria-Romania-Serbia, conducting exercises and holding meetings at Defense Ministerial level.
In this respect, we host multilateral exercises, where NATO allies and partners train side-by-side. In this context, I would like to emphasize on the conduct of our Air Force exercise Hniochos, with participants from USA, UK, UAE, Israel, Italy, Egypt and Cyprus.
The strategic cooperation with the US constitutes a defense priority for us. I would like to highlight the conduct of the recent Strategic Dialogue between Greece and USA, last December in Washington. We had the chance to promote even more our strategic partnership.
In this context, we welcome the “Eastern Med Security and Energy Partnership Act of 2019", sponsored by Senators Menendez and Rubio, and I highlight the significance of the participation of Secretary Pompeo in the recent trilateral summit meeting, between Greece – Israel – Cyprus.
Overall, I strongly believe that we are experiencing a great defence cooperation with strategic impact, which has not yet achieved its full potential and capacity.
Turning to the Balkans, I believe that the Prespes Agreement is a milestone for peace and stability. It constitutes a unique example of resolution of a long standing dispute in the Balkans region by peaceful means. Greece has always been supportive of the integration of the Western Balkans Countries into the Euro - Atlantic organizations.
Greece supports the transformation of North Macedonia’s Armed Forces, in order for them to become a reliable ally and a trustworthy neighbor. In this endeavor, a bilateral Defence Cooperation Agreement was signed last month, and as a matter of fact, two weeks ago we initiated Air Policing flight tests in North Macedonia.
Speaking publicly, I have to express my concerns about the destabilizing role and problematic stance of Turkey, expressed through unfounded allegations that disregard our national sovereignty and rights. Thus, we all should be constantly alarmed with the perspective of an accident that may potentially have multiple negative effects.
Furthermore, I would like to express our great concern over Turkey’s recent decision to carry out illegal drilling activities in the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of Cyprus. We therefore have called upon Turkey to respect the rights of Cyprus in the said maritime zone, and refrain from further unilateral actions that violate the International Law and undermine stability and prosperity in the region.
Greece’s firm policy and desire is the peaceful co-existence with its neighbors on the grounds of international law, extant treaties and legitimacy. In this spirit, and with the objective to reduce tension, I met with my Turkish counterpart and agreed to promote the extant Confidence Building Measures. Thereafter, technical teams from Greece and Turkey have already conducted a first meeting, two weeks ago, in Athens. We expect these meetings to be continued and have a positive outcome.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In this time of unpredictable challenges, which underline the requirement for adaptation and agility, Greece and the Hellenic Armed Forces remain on the “frontline”, by being relevant, capable, credible, proactive and qualified.
Greece, a credible ally of the US, NATO and EU, in the East Med, the Balkans and beyond, plays a key role in the geopolitical development of the region.
We maintain a “steady course” towards the future, with our history and tradition as the “compass”; and the preservation of stability, security, peace and prosperity as our destination.