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Hellenic Republic Ministry of National Defence

Address of the Minister of National Defence to the standing Committee for national Defence and foreign affairs

Address of the Minister of National Defence to the standing Committee for national Defence and foreign affairs
Address of the Minister of National Defence to the standing Committee for national Defence and foreign affairs

The Minister of National Defence Mr Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos briefed today the members of the Standing Committee for National Defence and Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Parliament. Mr Panagiotopoulos mentioned the political orientation of the political and military leadership of the Ministry of National Defence, as well as the security challenges in Southeastern Europe and Eastern Mediterranean.

The full text of the address of the Minister of National Defence can be read below:

Chairman of the Committee,

Ladies and gentlemen of the Parliament,

Distinguished members of the Committee for National Defence and Foreign Affairs,

I gladly accept the invitation of the Chair, to attend this session in order to brief the members of the Committee on current developments in the field of defence and discuss the policies developed by the Ministry of National Defence as well as the numerous and complex security challenges we face against which we have to respond accordingly.

First of all, I would like to make two or three crucial remarks:

First, I think that we all agree that the issue of National Defence is not an affair of the political parties but a national one. Consequently, it is not a fertile ground for unproductive confrontation between parties, but for discussion and productive criticism on certain proposals, plans, planning and policies developed by the Ministry.

Second, the Ministry of National Defence is not the basic and main instrument of Foreign Policy planning. That is mainly the duty of the Head of the Government, the Prime Minister and of course of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Of necessity, the Ministry of National Defence engages in the planning of the country’s foreign policy, through the essential tool of Defence Diplomacy, developed currently and in the past.

The aim of our effort is to enhance the country’s deterrent force. Deterrence is the conviction, addressed everywhere, that due to the readiness and the capabilities of the Armed Forces, it is not in anyone’s benefit to have any ill intentions against our sovereign rights. The incurred cost will always be higher than any benefits that one might gain.

This is the essence of the notion of deterrence. Therefore, a powerful deterrent force means consolidation of a sense of security for the country and its citizens. Two elements constituting the country’s deterrent aspect, expressed through its Armed Forces: Readiness and combativeness. I attribute some basic parameters to the aforementioned elements.

The first is certainly the Armed Forces personnel. It contains the elements of leadership, planning, infrastructure and of course constant procedures of exercise and training.

The second parameter are the material assets, mainly the weapon systems, but also all the infrastructures for their support. The maintenance and upgrade of the existing weapon systems is of the outmost importance, their adjustment to the needs of our defence policy, the acquisition of new systems, whenever that is made necessary, because with the passing of time and while these systems are used, they are worn, while technology develops, so that new technologies must be approached, to arm every defence system to a great extent.

Let us not forget the financial capabilities. In the past we had painful experiences of extremely limited financial capabilities, which certainly affected the programme of maintenance and upgrade of our country’s armaments.

My desire is for us to safeguard the basic points of this discussion as a non negotiable practice, because the Government’s choice on Issues of National Strategy and Defence Policy which defend our National interests and our sovereign rights, is to maintain concord and understanding between the political parties. I think that there is volition to find common ground for the aforementioned understanding in this Committee.

I would like to assure the ladies and gentlemen of the Committee that along with the Ministry’s Political Leadership, the Deputy Minister – a former officer with valuable experience, especially in the Ministry’s everyday affairs – but also the Secretary General and the Political Leadership are working constantly so that the country’s Armed Forces will execute their mission in full, so that every Greek man and woman will feel safe.

In the institutional framework of our Constitutional obligations, but also of the Parliamentary institutional procedure for the briefing of the MPs, which I absolutely respect and adhere to without deviation, with the purpose of doing the same in the future, I will elaborate on the actions which are distributed in six focal points.

These focal points serve the strategic options of the Government. We consider the existence of a plan, continuity, work and effectiveness as essential for a particularly important and sensitive field as that of National Defence.

We are called to face security challenges in our region which affect our country directly. In essence, all the modern security challenges occur in the wider region of Southeastern Mediterranean. I indicatively mention illegal migration with the increased flows, which are a great cause of concern for us, the quite intense rivalry for the utilisation of resources, especially hydrocarbons. You all know what is happening in the Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone, but also in the wider region of the Southeastern Mediterranean.

Climate change and cyber-threats are some of the modern security challenges and anyone monitoring the international discourse on Defence knows that they constitute an idiomorphic mixture of hybrid threats. Hybrid threats are not those expressed against the security of a state in a conventional way, by mainly proceeding to military actions, but is a mixture of activities which aim to destabilise a country internally and therefore they have to be dealt with appropriately, not in the conventional military way, but with smarter and more complex methods.

Regarding Greco – Turkish relations, our basic aim is to promote a policy based on the stable principles of good neighbourly relations, respect for International Law and International Treaties. Towards that direction, the acknowledgement that Greece and Turkey can and have to cooperate in fields which are mutually beneficial and of course in a feasible context, will be a good start. Of course, the demonstration of proper conduct from both sides is essential.

The day before yesterday, I spoke on the phone with my Turkish counterpart Mr Hulusi Akar. He assured me that they wholeheartedly aim to talk with us, in order to find solutions, despite our differences. I assured him that we have the same aim, but at the same time we have a duty and our duty is to secure our Homeland’s Security, through the powerful presence and deterrent force of the Armed Forces. We agreed to talk. I believe that it matters to keep the channels of communication open, even in periods of tension. To that end, it would be beneficial to strive for some kind of understanding. And we agreed that we will meet each other for the first time to discuss in person, during the following meetings of the Ministers of Defence of the NATO member - states in Brussels, at the end of October.

We are not the main body for the conduct of the country’s Foreign Policy, but we certainly engage to a great extent, especially through Defence Diplomacy. And speaking of Defence Diplomacy I will now touch upon the issue of Cyprus.

This is a chief national issue for us, a strategic endeavour of the foreign and defence policy in Greece. So Greece stands with devotion by the side of the Republic of Cyprus. We closely monitor and coordinate through diplomatic channels with the EU to take measures regarding Turkey for all the illegal activities conducted in the Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone, which I should remind is an Exclusive Economic Zone of a member of the European Union.

Regarding the violations and the stance held by Turkey, I am conducting a very intense and systematic briefing of the Ambassadors who I meet in person. I have already met with Ambassadors of friendly countries from the wider region, and from other parts of the world, as well as with important officials either at the structures of the Ministries of Defence of other countries, such as Chiefs of Armed Forces or top officials of defence structures, like NATO and the Military Committee of the European Union.

My aim is the intense briefing and that is a constant process regarding, on one hand, Turkey’s stance and the violations it conducts and on the other hand the fact that in this complex environment, Greece is the stable and reliable ally, emerging as the undisputed provider of security and not a factor of instability. These positions of ours become easily accepted by every interlocutor. This means that they acknowledge Greece’s role, with everything that entails, for the country’s upgrade at least in terms of estimating all these factors.

So, Defence Diplomacy is conducted through a set of activities, with the Ministry of National Defence at the forefront, aiming to enhance cooperation and our alliances towards the direction of defending our national interests and the establishment of a climate of effective outreach of the Armed Forces through participation in military joint trainings and exercises within the Alliance, the European Union, as well as with other countries of our interest.

Towards that direction – and this is an important point – we strive to enhance defence relations with strategic allies, like the United States of America, with which we have lately developed a more intense strategic dialogue which functions as a catalyst for the further upgrade and expansion of the strategic relations between the two countries.

The famous MDCA (Mutual Defence Cooperation Agreement) between the two countries is almost ready regarding the final processed text. It will be signed before the visit of the US Secretary of State Mr Mike Pompeo in our country, who is currently known as a particularly powerful actor in the US Government, I would say more powerful than ever, in terms of his position.

He will visit Greece and among others the Ministry of National Defence, where the expansion of this strategic relation between the USA and Greece will be ascertained. How is that done? It is mainly achieved through actions precipitated by the Ministry of National Defence. That is the issue of Souda, where there is a request for a long-term relation of use of Souda by the American factor. We are currently processing this request.

It is the increased presence and the request for partial use of the Alexandroupoli harbour. We met there last Friday with the US Ambassador, where the salvage of a mud dredger which had sunk years ago, is currently conducted with American funding. This sunken mud dredger limits the use capabilities of the harbour. As I told you, this work is conducted with US assistance and an excellent synergy of domestic workers, working side by side with the people from the USA, coming from Greek technical companies coordinated and conducting work along with US companies, with a synergy of planning and materialisation, which substantially proves that something better and more essential is built regarding that strategic relationship.

At the same time we are aiming to the further development and enhancement of bilateral and multilateral relations by simultaneously expanding the international activities of the Ministry by taking pertinent initiatives. We utilise, for instance, the two military cooperation schemes of Greece – Cyprus – Israel and Greece – Cyprus – Egypt, as well as the bilateral cooperations with other countries of the region, which enhance the cooperation of the West with these countries and constitute factors of stability for the wider region.

That way we come to the fore as a beneficial interlocutor and partner with the states of the region as well as with the most powerful world powers. As I said, we also constitute a reliable central actor of stability promotion in the wider region of the Southeastern Mediterranean, as a definite security provider and not a factor of instability and volatility.

For the promotion of the above activities, I recently had the opportunity to discuss with my counterpart in Cyprus, during my visit there, as well as with officials of the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Cyprus, but also during the meetings conducted in Athens with high-ranking officials of the Ministry of Defence of Israel.

Regarding the policies developed by the Ministry of National Defence, I mentioned six focal points which serve the strategic choice of the Prime Minister and the Government for the sake of security in the country:

  • First focal point: We give particular emphasis to securing the sufficiency of the Armed Forces defence armament, focusing on technological supremacy and the utilisation of modern IT systems and administration systems.

It is not an easy task, mainly due to the financial problems and because I get the feeling that many problems have accumulated regarding the weapon systems maintenance and the acquisition of new ones. However, the best possible effort is made by the Military Leadership. Many proposals have been submitted, armaments programmes and sub-programmes currently materialised.

More than one hundred are at materialisation stage, throughout the Armed Forces. Of course, we also have to deal with the major issues which will be examined in the Parliament, since the pertinent contracts will be submitted for parliamentary authorisation and of course we will use any available means in order to brief the MPs, at the level of the Defence and Armaments Committees as well as at the level of the Parliament’s plenary sessions.

The three major programmes, set in order of precedence, are the following:

a) The upgrade of F-16 to Viper category which is the most modern asset in 4th generation aircrafts, at the threshold of the 5th generation. This extensive programme will have a further major effect since it will be conducted through the capabilities of the Hellenic Aerospace Industry. This programme will make the Hellenic Aerospace Industry functional and effective and it will definitely give it the capability to attract future similar projects of weapon systems upgrade, mainly regarding aircrafts from other countries.

A condition for such a development is the F-16 upgrade programme. In order to achieve that, we are currently examining a set of offsets, while this set’s main feature pertains to sub-programmes which mainly come and enhance the infrastructures of the Hellenic Aerospace Industry, through sub-manufacturing projects. When the time comes we will elaborate more regarding this programme.

b) The support of the Mirage already at our disposal. To that end, an agreement has already been concluded with the three engaged French companies. There were many problems in the past, not necessarily because of the Greek side, but they seem to be gradually resolved.

We certainly want the Mirage aircrafts at the best possible operational readiness because they are the weapon which truly and greatly enhances our capabilities in the Aegean.

c) The issue of the acquisition of the two new Belharra frigates. The Greek side has expressed an interest in acquiring a new frigate which will further provide the advantage of region defence with a very wide system of anti-air coverage, based on state of the art electronic assets and technologies. Of course, the French side has accepted.

We are dealing with the issue of funding, which is close to a resolution. However it does not come under the competency of the Ministry of National Defence. Of course, the issue of the Greek side’s requirements goes hand in hand with the issue of funding. We will not purchase what the French want to sell us, but what we want to take from the French, depending on the requirements of our Armed Forces. Consequently, a series of intense contacts has commenced between the two states’ working groups, the Hellenic Navy and the General Directorate for Defence Armaments on our side and the Directorate of Defence Armaments of the French, so as to reach an understanding regarding what exactly we want from that ship.

We are at an early stage, but if we agree with the French on exactly what we are asking and they conclude that they can offer it to us, then we will have found a common ground to proceed with this acquisition of a major weapon system, which dramatically upgrades our Fleet’s capabilities and also modernises it since our frigates are quite old.

  • Second focal point: Reorganisation of the Armed Forces structure.

We strive to increase the availability of personnel, which must not be coincidental. Perhaps you are aware that we will have a major intake of conscripts in the next Training Series. It is possibly more convenient to enlist in November for nine months, so that one can be free at the end of the summer or at the start of September to continue his studies or focus on any other affairs.

But there is unbalance at this point. We have too many conscripts in this Training Series, more than the Army can accommodate, even in terms of clothing, footwear and board.

We will do the best we can to allow enlistment in this Training Series of as many conscripts as possible. Maybe thus we will have the opportunity to enforce our Units in Thrace and on the islands, because they have the lowest percentage of staffing and clearly if we want to talk about and support the readiness of the Armed Forces then first of all we have to discus about the sufficient staffing of Units throughout the territory, but mainly on the borderline.

Regarding the upgrade of the National Guard and the Reserves we are drafting a pertinent Bill, in which, among others, we examine the commencement of National Guard training on a voluntary basis, to increase the operational readiness of the National Guard Units.

At the same time a study is drafted examining the establishment of a National Management Body for Cyberspace (Cyber Security), which is an essential field. The aim is to fortify major structures and networks. I talked to you about hybrid threats. The solution to counteract them is a powerful cyber-defence umbrella. There is absolute synergy between us and the competent Ministry and Minister on this issue.

We aim to establish the Armed Forces Studies Centre, equivalent of the Hellenic Police Centre for Security Studies, striving for a holistic approach and unification of actions in the critical field of research, applied as well as theoretical.

  • Third focal point: Update of the current legislative framework.

The main intervention will be the submission of a new Bill regarding Public Contracts, Procurements, Services and Works in the fields of Defence and Security.

We want a more effective and functional framework. We understand that the current law is in principle correct, besides it was a readjusted European Directive taken from the International Law, but moving forward we are facing rigidity, problems in functionality and difficulties in its functional implementation.

We want to have a quality classification. The contest for the acquisition of new frigates must not be conducted in the same way, with the same measures for security and transparency as a contest about the acquisition of a relatively cheap spare part, which we want to install on an airplane or as the contest for the acquisition of tents for the soldiers’ exercises. It is not the same case and so we must have some flexibility.

  • Fourth focal point: Enhancement of the Domestic Defence Industry since it constitutes a critical factor for the security of supply and the preservation of the Armed Forces operational capabilities.

We strive to maintain the further development and participation of the Domestic Defence Industry in the armament programmes in the context of national legislation, Directives and Regulations of the European Union. Of course, taking into consideration the stipulations of the National Defence Industrial Strategy.

We will have much to talk about when these contracts start coming to the Parliament regarding the Hellenic Aerospace Industry. I believe that we will soon have a legislative intervention to extend the contracts of the Shipyards with the Hellenic Navy. There is work to be done there. At the same time an effort is made to find an investor for the Shipyards. This is an unavoidable condition for the above to function properly and support the Armed Forces but also be able to attract other projects.

In the field of Research and Development we strive to expand our participation in the European Defence Industrial Development Programme - EDIDP and the co-funding capabilities that it offers, as well as in its successor the EDF (European Defence Fund), which has started functioning and in the future it will be a source of funding for investments in the field of Defence, particularly concerning cyber-defence and the new technologies.

The promotion of an intergovernmental agreement with the Republic of Cyprus is already underway. We signed a memorandum a few days ago, which constitutes the framework for the promotion of four research programmes. It will be presented to the Governmental Council on Foreign Policy and National Defence but also to the Parliament.

  • Fifth focal point: Upgrade of military training.

I am referring to actions for the utilisation of the military service so that the conscripts can acquire definitive qualifications, so that they can later enter the labour market. I would say that this is a pivotal intervention of the Ministry, so that the military service, which is considered by many a waste of time, will include something beneficial.

I should mention, for instance, the procedure for the certification of particular qualifications such as foreign language or certification for proficient users of computers. Imagine how this would upgrade and give motives for the military service.

Furthermore, we are planning an enhancement of the cooperation between the Higher Military Education Institutions and schools with the country’s Higher Education Institutions, as well as corresponding schools abroad, in the context of international cooperations. There is a proposal for the establishment of a National Defence University, which will include all of the Military Schools, from the National Defence College and the Higher Military Education Institutions to the Higher Military NCOs Schools. The pertinent proposals are currently processed and will be soon made public.

  • Sixth focal point: Utilisation of the Armed Forces real estate.

Our aim is to enhance and simplify the role of the National Defence Fund, where all the estate of the Armed Forces is assigned and mainly the Ministry’s real estate and also to increase the resources for the country’s defence. The above are significant for the optimisation of the function of the Directorate for the Armed Forces Real Estate Development.

At the same time, the completion of procedures for the utilisation of the Ministry’s Portable Assets and the commencement of electronic biddings are underway, with the basic aim of accelerating and simplifying the procedure so that the Armed Forces estate will be utilised.

Finally, I should mention three elements of lesser importance concerning range, but in essence issues which have their own significance in the international discourse for Defence. I am talking about environmental protection, the adjustment to climate change and the viable development.

Particular emphasis is given to energy upgrade and autonomy of the Armed Forces infrastructures, withdrawal from polluting forms of energy and adoption of optimal practices in waste management. It is the so-called reduction of carbon imprint of the Armed Forces in the Field of Defence.

Towards that direction we will have a proposal ready for the commencement of building a unified Camp in 2019, which will constitute a model of rational resource use and maximisation of the Armed Forces and Units operational readiness.

With a high sense of responsibility and sensitivity, the Armed Forces contribute their multifaceted work to society, establishing bonds with the wider social groups. This happens because the personnel has the capabilities to plan, materialise, execute, succeed in its work and on the other hand because the Armed Forces personnel is not separated from society but it comes from society.

That is the so-called powerful social imprint of the Armed Forces, whether it pertains to the exceptional contribution with air firefighting assets, those heroes whom we saw operating this summer too, often overcoming their own limits, or to the MEDEVAC of a patient with Air Force assets, from a frontier island to the centre of the country’s territory, or to the rapid and essential contribution of the Armed Forces in cases of natural disasters, which unfortunately will occur more often and more regularly due to the climate change. This regularity will obligate the Armed Forces to be the first to contribute to the assistance of disaster affected individuals.

Our aim is to have modern, powerful and battle-worthy Armed Forces with great deterrent force.

We will do whatever we can to achieve this. It is not an easy task due to existing problems, but various problems always existed. Nevertheless, the preservation of the country’s Armed Forces to a top condition of readiness and exceptional combativeness is a constant assertive process. Our aim is to intensify these processes.

I am optimistic that in this national effort of regrouping we will stand side by side. With a national vision and will for hard work, we are obligated to contribute, each from his/her own post and based on his/her capabilities for the enhancement of National Defence and Security, the promotion of Greece abroad and the country’s consolidation as a force for peace, security and stability of the region as a stable, undisputed and definite security provider.

Thank you for bearing with me and I am looking forward to the conducted discussion and of course I will answer any questions you may pose regarding the wider range of the Armed Forces function.

Thank you very much”.