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Hellenic Republic Ministry of National Defence

Address by the Minister of National Defence, Mr. P. Beglitis, during a one-day conference at the MFA (28.07.2011)

 

“Minister of Foreign Affairs, dear friend Stavros Lambrinidis,

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

General Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,

 

Ambassador Zeppos,

 

Dear friends,

 

I am deeply moved to be in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), at the invitation of the political leadership and of the Minister of Foreign Affairs (FA) to participate in this one-day conference, organized for Greek Ambassadors serving abroad.

 

The presence both of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Mr Venizelos, and of the Minister of FA are to underline that economic, foreign and defence policy constitute the core of what is called national power. In other words, they make up a critical aggregate of national power for every country. The priorities of our country are currently different; they are much more complex. The fiscal and financial situation along with the global and European financial crisis dictate the priorities of the Hellenic Ministry of National Defence.

 

Colleagues ambassadors in Europe, you are all over the world and you are aware of the deep impact of the crisis on defence budgets, on the establishment of Armed Forces, on the choices and priorities of the political leaderships of the Ministries of National Defence. This crisis has greatly affected defence policies implemented by governments and will continue doing so. Consider the political choices in Europe: budgets of competent Ministries are curtailed, what results in cuts to defence armaments, influencing forces and weapon systems caps.

 

Let’s take a look at the political choice made by the Obama Administration; that is, the two versions of the Secretaries of Defense: Robert Gates and the newly-assigned Leon Panetta who, in the frame of the new financial policy, opted for vertical and unprecedented – at least for the post-war period – cuts to defence spending and of course to military personnel and defence armament caps for the following five years.

 

I am certain that you follow the international Mass Media and publications. The Economist just recently – that is, last week – included an extensive article referring to the tremendous financial difficulties entailed in the implementation of the USA F35 aircraft project, which is of interest to Europe, to Greece because of its broader strategic planning, as well as to many other countries, participating in the said project.

 

Respective curtailment policies are currently taking place in Europe, with Germany, France and the UK launching ambitious changes regarding finances and running costs of their Ministries of Defence (MOD).

 

Defence and foreign policy form a powerful team whose objective is to defend a country’s national interests: that is the conventional – even though substantial – concept of territorial integrity, national independence, national sovereignty, national pride and dignity of a country and of its people.

 

Objectively speaking, both Ministries work as communicating vessels. The MFA holds the leading role, while the MOD supports our negotiating positions, both operationally and substantially.

 

A logical question would be: “How can anyone feel safe when it comes to National Defence, when in the light of the crisis or of fiscal austerity that all of us are afflicted with, both as people and as a country, the Ministry of Defence implements cuts to operational expenses or defence armaments”.

 

Dear colleagues, I do believe that this question does not correspond to reality. I have never believed, even less today due to my experience as Minister of National Defence and 22 months in political power, that money can always establish the most powerful armies. Assets and defence budgets are not always directly proportionate to the power and deterrence force of a country’s Armed Forces. This applies even more to Greece of the last 40 years where National Defence has been, let’s say, a taboo issue for every political power in the country. A field where parliamentary control has never been put into force; where the Parliament has never dealt with defence spending; however, with the general political consent, we all supported and voted for these expenditures.

 

This has not always been to our benefit. Despite the fact that we had high defence budgets in comparison with the GDP and proceeded with large-scale procurements of weapon systems right after the regime change, I am not at all convinced that we did achieve a cost-benefit balance. In other words, I am not sure if we managed to balance defence and military power, by spending greatly on National Defence. The dominant position of every political party in power since 1974 has been a quantitative one, an extended approach, if you may, to defence budgets, in the name of ever-existing threats.

 

However, the actual and critical operational needs of the country were not evaluated, and quite often we had to deal with – willingly or not – some kind of artificial demand in the field of defence and defence equipment. This situation – not only because of the financial crisis – could not go on. Because if it did, sooner or later, crisis or no crisis, the country would have to face a huge impasse, having to do with its inability to finance the social state or a cost-consuming sector like the country’s National Defence. There had to be some changes and to be honest, we had to take advantage, even as a pretext, of the financial crisis, in order to be able to make radical changes and encourage new mentalities in many structures and policies of National Defence.

 

In other words, even if there was no financial crisis, we would have to invent it, so that dogmatic approaches would be eradicated from Defence.

 

Consequently, the expenditure percentage which for many years was over 5,5%, reached 6% of the GDP. We are currently in 2,13% of the GDP. Since 2009 that we are in political power, there has been an annual, slight decrease. In 2010, the budget was finalized in 2,49% of the GDP, and today we are in 2,13%. We hope the defence budget will be finalized at this percentage by the end of 2011.

 

Being the political supervisor of the Ministry of National Defence, one might ask me: “Has this reduction influenced your way of making decisions?”

 

Not at all. As strange as it may sound, because of some perception I myself used to share in the past, it is true. This reduction has influenced neither the operational expenses, that is the daily spending in order to operate a big Organization like the Armed Forces which employ approximately 140.000 career personnel and 20.000 civilians, nor the defence equipment. A country is not powerful, and should not feel as such, due to constant weapons procurements. A country is powerful when it can make the most of its weapon systems. That is, to have full operational efficiency and readiness. This element, this criterion, has never been highly appreciated in our country or the MOD.

 

Before we talk about defence equipment and new procurements, we will have to find out – and this is what we have been doing for the past 22 months - how we are going to exploit the existing defence material; how we are going to integrate it in the new defence and security policy; how to actively and operationally link it to the new command and force structure, adopted by the Ministry of Defence; how to maximize the lifespan and operational capability of weapon systems, through the procurement of spare parts.

 

These are not easy choices to make, because like I said earlier, we are familiar with opposite perceptions and practices. However, we had to do it and we did it, ignoring the political cost and the easily expressed opinions of artificial patriotism. We must inspire the country with a new feeling of national security, especially now that social cohesion is collapsing and the confidence of people is being shuddered.

 

We have to inspire this, by reinforcing the Armed Forces in a significant way. The changes we made do not only refer to the shaping of a new institutional frame for the defence procurements field, where mistrust and suspicion have been dominant for many years. Law 3978 which integrates Guidance 81/2009 of the European Union has been an important change. So have been our interventions regarding the social role of the Armed Forces and their transparency in all of their operations. We also took action to consolidate meritocracy, justice, equality and equality before the Law for all cadres, and establish the widest possible consent and understanding at a national level. I would like to say that I feel really proud, and the political leadership of the MOD shares the same feeling, because we have put into action national understanding and a wider consent among the political powers of the country.

 

If the critical field of the Armed Forces requires something, that is national consent; it demands that we stay away from old perceptions that embrace the concept of party dominance; because shifting of governments causes disorder in the field of military leadership, and the Armed Forces in general.

 

National Defence gives us the capability to provide the MFA with our assistance in exercising defence diplomacy, meaning some other form of foreign policy. Our goal, our strategy as Government which is globally accepted by the political forces, is Greece; despite the crisis, despite the problems in Europe and the international system, Greece should be actively present in the international, European and regional organizations, be those economic or defensive.

 

We promote this idea in the European Union, especially in its aspect related to defence and security, even more in the light of the new institutional data, as established by the Treaty of Lisbon, with all its provisions and regulations. We promote this within NATO, in our bilateral relations with friends, partners and neighbouring countries. We always defend this with a feeling of national responsibility and with our main priority being the defence of the country’s national interests and strategic added value, wherever required.

 

Our presence is mainly developing in three fields, three levels. At a bilateral level, which is of interest to many of you, at the multilateral and regional level of the European Union and NATO which is of equal interest to many of my colleagues ambassadors, and of course, at an international level, in the frame of the UN. With regard to the bilateral level, I would like to stress three points.

 

First, in the wider Balkan area, we confirm our support to the integration of all countries of the Western Balkans, with FYROM also included, in the Euro-atlantic institutions and organizations; always under the fundamental conditions and basic terms we are all familiar with and promote during our negotiations and talks with our foreign partners. The area of the Balkans is a privileged one which enables the exercise of defence diplomacy. We implement this through agreements of bilateral military and defence cooperation, through wider institutional groupings, such as SEEBRIG in the frame of the former Balkan initiative or initiative of Southeastern Europe, through the acceptance of institutional groups in the defence field established by the EU, that is Battlegroups such as HELBROC which is established in our country.

 

Furthermore, at a bilateral level, we are responsible to secure the airspace of partners, such as Bulgaria and Albania. I can assure you it is a great asset to be able to establish air force operational supremacy and cover for partners and allies in the wider area, through exploitation of the said capability.

 

Second, with regard to the bilateral military and defence relations with Turkey.

 

On our behalf, I would like to say that the Greek people have nothing to worry about when it comes to the existing threat of Turkey. Today, through the revision of the national defence and security policy, we acknowledge that the existing Turkish threat in the area of Evros, the Aegean Sea and Cyprus – because of the ongoing occupation of one part of the island – as expressed by the revisionist policy in the Aegean Sea, can actually be dealt with efficiently, when and if there is a need to.

 

Our doctrine when it comes to Turkey is of defensive and at the same time, of deterring character. It aims to prevent any eventual attempt made by Turkey to acquire local points; because we believe that any military crisis with Turkey will not take the form of a generalized war, rather that of a localized crisis or localized conflict.

 

We have to adjust our doctrine to such a scenario. At the same time, we have – and I need to say this for all colleagues serving in the Balkans - declassified the once post-war Balkan threat or else, the Northern threat. According to the new defence and security policy there is no threat coming from the North. There are allies, there are partners, and there are possible members of the Euro-atlantic institutions. But in any case, there is no such threat.

 

However, we do prepare for a future threat in the form of ultra-nationalism or irredentism in the Balkans or even for an attempt made by third forces, that is Turkey, to exploit the Balkan area.

 

However, doctrine-wise and strategy-wise, the Balkan area no longer poses a threat, what entails a complete reorganization of our forces in the area of Central and Western Macedonia.

 

This is of great assistance to us. It helps us concentrate our forces there where threats really exist. This cannot be done instantly, because it is expensive; nevertheless, it is currently underway. This is what we call the new force structure.

 

With regard to our relations with Turkey, we are currently implementing 29 military Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs), complementary to the political CBMs, under the supervision of my colleague, the Minister of FA. We also provide all discussions with the military and operational know-how, regarding issues of stance and practices on behalf of Turkey, both in the air and at sea.

 

Just a small remark that may be of use to your work. Turkey has reduced both its naval and air activity in the Aegean Sea, especially following 15 June, implementation date of the moratorium, which is based on the agreements reached between Gilmaz and Papoulias. Comparatively speaking, during the past years, there has been a declining tendency, what results in a significant quantitative decrease of violations of the FIR and of the National Air Space. Additionally, there is a vertical decrease, even a total decrease of over-flights of the islands and the territorial area of Greece.

 

On other hand, naval activity has increased. And this has to be linked to the growing tendency of Turkey to stress its naval presence as regional force, not only in the Aegean, but in the eastern Mediterranean as well. Not that this increased naval presence always conflicts with Maritime Law, and mainly with the concept of innocent passage. Many times, the Hellenic Navy ascertains such violations that either take the form of halting or other forms of passage. In any case, everything is registered and dealt with in cooperation with the MFA, which I really want to congratulate for the cooperation and understanding on a daily basis, for all issues pertaining to our common responsibilities, but mainly to our relations with Turkey.

 

The third part of this bilateral level refers to the relations with Cyprus. Just a week ago, I was in Cyprus for three days, right after the tragic accident that caused a psychological and existential shock to the Cypriot people and affected the balance of the political system as well. Along with my counterpart, the Minister of Defence, and the entire Government of the Republic of Cyprus, we reaffirmed our close cooperation in the field of defence and military cooperation, through the establishment of what we jointly call “permanent structured defence cooperation” of both the sovereign states of Greece and the Republic of Cyprus, in the wider area of the eastern Mediterranean.

 

It may sound complicated to you, but this is what exactly depicts institutional and political developments in the European Union, following the Treaty of Lisbon. It actually replaces a term of the past that was more rhetorical and psychological than practical, in a realistic and effective way. I am referring to the famous joint defence doctrine and joint defence area between Cyprus and Greece.

 

We are totally dedicated to the continuous reinforcement of the defence and deterrence power of the Republic of Cyprus, both through the presence of the Hellenic Force in Cyprus and the reinforcement of the National Guard, in the frame of bilateral cooperation. There is close cooperation between the two General Staffs, that is the Hellenic National Defence General Staff and the Cyprus National Guard General Staff, and we will continue towards this direction.

 

The second level is that of the European Union. Despite the institutional advancements provided for by the Treaty as to defence and security, through the Permanent Structured Cooperation and solidarity and mutual assistance clauses, there is no one to claim that great progress has been made. It is not just the financial crisis in the European Union, but rather the strategic – if not existential – crisis in significant fields that hinders its autonomy. This is something we can work on through dynamic initiatives, in order to render these institutions and processes meaningful.

 

We are dynamically involved in all international peacekeeping operations of the EU, whether in Somalia with “Atlanta” to counter piracy or in Bosnia-Herzegovina or other geographical areas as well.

 

The relations with NATO, the Atlantic Alliance, constitute a big and important chapter in the frame of the EU. This is a critical issue with a strong, defensive aspect, in the light of 2003 “Berlin plus” agreement and, of course, in view of the developments that took place in the meantime, such as the integration of the Republic of Cyprus in the EU.

 

With regard to the relations between the EU and NATO, these have to be inter-organizational ones. They will have to be based on the autonomy of both organizations; they will have to be achieved, developed and expanded, through practical steps, defined in a way similar to that used in the past, through important initiatives, on behalf of the MFA and its leadership, following October 2009.

 

Nevertheless, in no case should the crisis with Turkey, much more the stance of Turkey towards the Republic of Cyprus, downgrade the equal, sovereign role of an EU member-state, such as the Republic of Cyprus, within NATO.

 

For us, this is the point of departure for any negotiating attempt that will take place in the near future. Under no pretenses or excuse could Turkey get integrated in this wider institutional frame of the EU, mainly in the fields of defence and security, if it has not previously met the conditions of the EU; most importantly, if it has not met the fundamental prerequisites set regarding the Republic of Cyprus.

 

This is perfectly clear to our Government and the competent Ministries of FA and National Defence. The second part relates to the relations with NATO. We have just completed a very important negotiation. I would like to congratulate all colleagues, of the MFA to begin with, its leadership and all colleagues who contributed to this successful completion for the interests of our country: the negotiation for the new command structure of the North-Atlantic Alliance. This is a very important result for the country, as we have finally achieved to eradicate all tension and conflict sources, established in the area of the southeastern Mediterranean, in the south wing of NATO.

 

Deactivation of Air HQ Izmir actually highlights the end of an era: an era of tension in the frame of the Atlantic Alliance. The same relations, rules, stances and practices must prevail in the south wing of NATO, just like in any other military wing.

 

We have taken a very important step towards this direction.

 

We will try so that institutional texts and practices of the past be eradicated or considerably marginalized. The same applies to the negotiation currently underway, regarding staffing of important operational posts in the frame of the new allied command structure.

 

It goes without saying, because there is too much criticism regarding the CAOC in Larissa, that this CAOC will remain. It will remain in the frame of the MOU signed with SHAPE regarding contribution in NATO operations, and in the frame of our national planning.

 

Dear colleagues, on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, I would like to thank you for the assistance provided to our Ministry, to the competent Directorates, and of course to the Ministry of Defence and MFA liaison, Ambassador Chronopoulos.

 

In addition, I would like to ask for two things. The first one has to do with the national defence industries both of the wider public and private sector as well. I would like to ask our diplomatic personnel, our embassies around the world to provide as much support and assistance possible, whether asked by the political leadership of the MFA or the MOD, or asked by entrepreneurs of the defence industries, in order to establish cooperation with the countries you are assigned to. This is a critical point. Defence industries must be extrovert. We have extremely dynamic industries, with excellent know-how, export-oriented, of competitive European and international character; this is why we need your help.

 

A second, really important issue you have to bear in mind, especially those of you who serve in countries with which Greece has traditional and historical relations in defence equipment procurement, in the frame of defence cooperation, is that of defence equipment in general. We will never say that due to the crisis the country is no longer interested in defence equipment. Being Minister of National Defence, I have never said that, I am not saying it now and I never will. The country, in its effort to overcome the crisis, to shaping a new defence and military planning is interested in reinforcing its defence through new equipment, not in the concept of the past, but on the basis of a modern logic, oriented to the future of the Armed Forces.

 

Therefore, try to be flexible during your talks, by stressing that the new institutional frame of the country has been radically modified to enhance transparency. Our country is interested in reaching “state to state” or “government to government” agreements, so that we remove any “shady aspects” related to defence procurements. We are really happy to have promoted these relations to an inter-state level, both with the USA and other European countries.

 

In conclusion, I would like to refer to the defence relations with Israel, in particular. The goal of our government and of both competent ministries is to further develop these relations. Not because this is imposed by the timing of the crisis between Israel and Turkey, but because it is to the national interest of our country; because it enhances the strategic added value of our country within this geo-strategic and geo-economic area. As of early September, I will be in Israel to sign a bilateral agreement of defence and military cooperation with my counterpart Minister of Defence. We are moving forward with this cooperation, not only in traditional fields, such as talks and mutual visits. This cooperation has taken the form of joint exercises, which is of great interest to the Israeli side.

 

However, in no case would the development of relations with Israel mean a downgrade of the relations with the Arab world, with our friends the Arab people, with the countries of the wider Middle East. Besides, the same applies to Turkey with which we want to develop our relations, always in the frame previously mentioned.

 

In conclusion, during your discussions, you should bear in mind that the strategic space of Greece is exceptionally important to NATO and the EU. The crisis in Libya has proved it; it has also been proved by the promotion of Souda bay to a strategic place for the wider interests of the Alliance. Souda bay is our most powerful weapon in NATO, the EU, our bilateral relations with the USA. We have to take advantage of our strategic space in order to be able to negotiate from a position of strength, if you may. This will be useful during the next period, when talks regarding missile defence and security will take place at a wider European level. These talks and negotiations are of interest to us. They have to do with our national interests and I believe that they are a good chance to further upgrade the geostrategic position of the country.

 

Thank you very much.

 

Mr. Lozos: Minister, I cannot but agree with you that the MOD and the MFA constitute a very powerful team. They really are communicating vessels. Daily cooperation, achievements like the one you mentioned regarding the new NATO command structure reaffirm this and I would like to thank the Ministry and the National Defence General Staff for the cooperation and the confidence shown in the MFA.

 

If I may, I would like to ask two or three brief questions. You mentioned the cuts to defence budgets and caps. This is true, it takes place everywhere, but at the same time these reductions are combined with the transformation of doctrines to establish more flexible Armed Forces.

 

I do know that the MOD has been drafting a strategic doctrine to deal with its own issues. We as well, under the auspices of the General Secretariat, started relevant discussions a long time ago. I would like to ask – of course we are still elaborating this – if there could be some kind of synchronization, of harmonization of concepts and plans, so that we come up with a complete view, since these issues form communicating vessels.

 

One second issue that has to do with peacekeeping operations. Peacekeeping operations are really important to the promotion of the Hellenic Diplomacy.

 

I know there is a generalized feeling of concern within the National Defence General Staff. We would like to ask for a more rationalized spending system which is crucial at this point. Thank you very much.

 

Mr. Demiris: Thank you Minister. Just like you implied it, one of the most critical factors of our international presence is the participation in EU missions and others. To what extent will the financial crisis affect our participation in the said missions? Furthermore, I would like to ask you to avoid being too hasty in sacrificing vital and critical missions, and to evaluate things using political criteria, just like those mentioned earlier.

 

You also referred to the clauses of the Treaty of Lisbon. It is, indeed, important to believe that the solution to our problems, even to the financial ones, would be more shared action, more shared defence and security policy. In this frame, I wonder if we can really take up new initiatives, or use the same we took up for clauses such as permanent cooperation in issues that the two Ministries are competent for.

 

Something similar could be done for the relations between the EU and NATO, where the most appropriate approach would be the inter-organizational one you stated earlier. So, wouldn’t it be useful to find out what this exactly means, which is the best way to promote it? Sometimes it is better to leave others put forward good proposals, when it comes to some vital issues.

 

Finally, the MOD, since you referred to industry issues, should probably take more advantage of the European Defence Agency and of its programmes and be quite flexible while examining issues that pertain to its reinforcement.

 

Mr. Spinellis: Thank you very much Minister. Just a quick remark: apart from armament issues, Russians are really interested in investing in Greece, mainly in the real estate business where they come up against the well-known problem of borderline areas. Does the Ministry intend to do something about this? There are too many, large-scale investments which are still pending. Thank you.

 

P. Beglitis: Thank you very much, General Secretary. I will first answer the question made by Ambassador Spinellis. I did not have much time to refer to critical strategic sizes like our relations with Russia, with no intention to underestimate them. On the contrary, our goal is to upgrade these relations in the field of defence, of wider security and cooperation in Europe.

 

Just recently, President Medvedev and Prime Minister Papandreou communicated in writing. We are interested to develop the relations with Russia on an equal footing. At a European level, one can ascertain that NATO missile defence is linked to the Russian one, as well as to the new USA planning in the fields of security, missile defence, according to the new, institutional acquis of Lisbon in comparison with NATO strategic doctrine that relates to the harmonization principle. Consequently, we consider the Russians as equal partners and counterparts in this effort. There is no rivalry, much less conflict.

 

We do maintain relations as regards armaments; we want to continue expanding these relations. However, relations must always be based on mutual interest. And honestly, Mr Spinellis, during the negotiations made on defence armaments, pricing exceeded the planning already made by the MOD. But, we keep the negotiations going, in order to find alternative ways of cooperation in the field of defence armaments.

 

You underlined the issue of borderline areas, and I am glad you did, because I can now announce that through a legal initiative of mine presented before the Hellenic Parliament, there has been a declassification of regions and areas of Greece, with few exceptions related to national security and our national interests.

 

Chalkidiki which is of great interest to the Russians has been declassified, and besides, it was not at all reasonable to have it still included in borderline areas. This is why a bureaucratic approval procedure was required, even by the Minister of National Defence, in order for one to purchase land, build a house or make an investment.

 

So, you can inform your Russian counterparts that a significant part of areas throughout Greece have finally been declassified, with the exception of Thrace and some islands in the eastern Aegean Sea. All else has to do with a new process which is much faster and anti-bureaucratic.

 

I totally agree with Mr Demiris. Besides, I myself stressed the initiatives that have to be taken in order to implement the clauses of the Treaty of Lisbon, along with the cooperation in the frame of the European Defence Agency. We have to take advantage of a real tool, such as “pooling and sharing”.

 

Nowadays, in view of the financial crisis, cooperation among the Armed Forces of European countries and NATO is required, in order to reduce cost and defence spending.

 

You can take advantage of all this. Our Air Force is among the leaders in operational readiness within NATO. We are already cooperating with Italy, Belgium and France in the field of Air Force crew training.

 

A final word on peacekeeping operations. I did not say we have already started reconsidering our participation in peacekeeping operations or that we are about to do so. However, at some point, we will have to. Neither because we need to, since participation costs are high, nor because public opinion forces us to – I am referring to Afghanistan or Kosovo.

 

I need to say that in the long run, in the light of developments, looking closely at the relations with other countries, their stance, the developments in Afghanistan and in Kosovo, we have to follow the “mainstream” actions taken in the frame of NATO and the USA.

 

Regarding Afghanistan, we are following the gradual US troops withdrawal, so that we are prepared. I am not saying we are about to withdraw from Kosovo. However, we must keep up with the developments. On the other hand, we should not exaggerate our share of participation. The country must return to its strategic size, if you may. We cannot participate in every mission; we cannot be omnipresent. We must first secure our national interests. We are there where our national interests are related to the wider allied and partner interests. So, there should be some kind of screening, and this is underway: we are currently implementing this, both cost-wise and benefit-wise, in order to better serve the country’s interests. Without dogmatism involved, we must see clearly the new picture.

 

Thank you very much”.