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Hellenic Republic Ministry of National Defence

Speech Delivered by the Minister of National Defence Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos at the “Economist” Roundtable with the Government of Greece

Speech Delivered by the Minister of National Defence Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos at the “Economist” Roundtable with the Government of Greece
Speech Delivered by the Minister of National Defence Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos at the “Economist” Roundtable with the Government of Greece
Speech Delivered by the Minister of National Defence Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos at the “Economist” Roundtable with the Government of Greece
Speech Delivered by the Minister of National Defence Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos at the “Economist” Roundtable with the Government of Greece
Speech Delivered by the Minister of National Defence Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos at the “Economist” Roundtable with the Government of Greece
Speech Delivered by the Minister of National Defence Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos at the “Economist” Roundtable with the Government of Greece
Speech Delivered by the Minister of National Defence Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos at the “Economist” Roundtable with the Government of Greece
Speech Delivered by the Minister of National Defence Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos at the “Economist” Roundtable with the Government of Greece
Speech Delivered by the Minister of National Defence Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos at the “Economist” Roundtable with the Government of Greece
Speech Delivered by the Minister of National Defence Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos at the “Economist” Roundtable with the Government of Greece

The Minister of National Defence Mr. Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos participated today in the “24th Roundtable with the Government of Greece”, organized by the “Economist”.

Mr. Panagiotopoulos participated in the session: “Security challenges: Reducing tension – Migratory flows, epidemics, geopolitical insecurity: how do they affect Security”. Interventions were also made by the Cypriot Minister of National Defence Mr. Charalambos Petrides and the Ambassador of the US to Greece Mr. Geoffrey Pyatt.

The speech delivered by the Minister of National Defence is the following:

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: “Minister, Ambassador, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to participate in today’s discussion organized by the “Economist” in the context of the conference, and to share my thoughts with my dear colleague, the Minister of Defence of the Republic of Cyprus Mr. Charalambos Petrides, and my friend, the Ambassador of the United States Mr. Geoffrey Pyatt, with whom I had the opportunity to closely collaborate and further develop the, already close, defence relation between Greece and the United States. This relation started producing visible results some time ago, and as time goes by, the results will be further confirmed and surfaced. The presence of distinguished guests to this conference is an honour.

The connection of issues to the current geopolitical developments, as well as the originality of the included activities, make this year’s event a benchmark to the drawing of constructive conclusions and the promotion of the important role played by Greece in the Balkans and the Mediterranean, but also in the broader region, as a EU and NATO member.

Last year, I talked about to “security challenges”. This year, I can refer to “security threats” which, one way or the other, have already emerged and inflict our reaction towards tackling them.

In the context of this session’s issue, “Migratory flows, Pandemic. Geopolitical insecurity”, the question is how they affect security. I will reverse this, saying: How would they not affect the security environment? It is impossible for them to leave the security environment unaffected.

For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the broader region of the Mediterranean – the East Mediterranean in particular – has become once more the source of a wide range of security challenges and risks; regional conflicts, flare-up of international terrorism, increase and promotion of aggressive Islamic fundamentalism and a number of other threats, some of which have hybrid and asymmetrical characteristics. The front in Syria and Libya, the refugee and migratory flows, the threat of international terrorism and the expanding extremism, form an explosive mixture of challenges and threats for Greece that is close to these hotbeds, to those regions of instability.

Unfortunately, Turkey plays a negative role in the current situation. Wherever there is a hotbed, Turkey is somewhere around, in Syria, in Libya, in the East Mediterranean, off Cyprus island.

With its aggressive behaviour which lies outside the framework of International Law, Turkey makes unsubstantial claims against the sovereign rights of Greece and Cyprus (two EU m-s and one NATO ally), which in the future may extend to more states in the region. At the same time, it promotes a constantly growing expansionist-revisionist policy, which puts in immediate danger the security and harmonious coexistence of the Mediterranean countries, maintaining tension at relatively high levels, challenging the European Union’s external borders, even generating tension within NATO.

At the same time, it exploits – or it tried to exploit – migratory flows, aiming at promoting its geopolitical interests, “instrumentalising” and using refugees and immigrants as a bargaining chip in its talks with the EU, mainly for financial gain, but also as a destabilizing tool against Greece. We are all aware of last March’s events in the region of Evros.

We had to deal with a situation that was taking place in terms of an “organized attempt for intrusion and violation of European and Greek borders”. We were forced to tackle this situation with great determination – as we had no alternative – and taking into account the protection of our own, which are also the European, borders.

As far as the “Covid-19” strain is concerned, the pandemic redefined the concept of “security threats”; a threat of this size and nature, a threat which may even render an aircraft carrier inactive, may have immediate impact to the security environment.

The international community had to review its outlook on what might be considered a threat at national and global level, due to the pandemic. However, the allies, the EU m-s, the NATO partners, we all came closer. We learned from each others experience, we tried to analyse the lessons learnt from tackling the pandemic, so as to be able to face the next phase, which is evolving.

Greece naturally contributed to the overall effort to help the Healthcare system respond to this great challenge and pressure. Our first priority was to protect the Armed Forces personnel. Just like any other country, we wanted to keep our Armed Forces operational and prevent the pandemic from unsettling their operability. I believe that we were successful to a very good extent, as we simply took adequate measures in time, thus not disturbing the overall operation of the Armed Forces.

As a conclusion, I would like to say that Greece develops initiatives in the broader region, in view of promoting security, stability and cooperation. We firmly believe that respect of the International Law and the principles of good neighbourly relations is a prerequisite to the relations among the countries in our broader region. Unfortunately, our neighbouring country’s behaviour does not correspond to such Principles, therefore having a destabilizing character. Risks are being formed and need to be tackled.

One way to face these risks has two axes:

  • Intensification of the diplomatic effort (which is already intense) with Defence Diplomacy, i.e. activation of the relations with our Allies, mostly at defence level.

  • Reinforcement of the Armed Forces, simply trying to become stronger. This means a more intense, focused, smart and prioritized effort to reinforce the capabilities of all three Services of the Armed Forces, in order to amplify their deterrence power.


 

“Yes” to diplomacy, yet also “yes” to the parallel effort of becoming militarily stronger. Practically, these are the two axes by which we respond to all the security challenges in our region, as well as in the broader area.

At the end of the discussion session, Mr. Panagiotopoulos answered the following question:

JOURNALIST: The question referred to a serious commitment made by the United States, in the form of investments, chiefly in the field of Defence. I would like to ask you about the Greek investments in the field of Defence. We had the recent announcement on the reinforcement of the Navy and the Air Force. I think that this will not be easy, particularly in times of financial restrictions.

To what extent can this investment be financially affordable? I can understand that there is a balance that needs to be kept. Are you satisfied from the support you have from the electorate, so as to be able to give priority to defence expenses?

NIKOLAOS PANAGIOTOPOULOS: This is a very interesting question! My answer is that there are two aspects: On one side, there is the aspect of acquiring weapon systems, and the constant effort to improve the existing infrastructure. On the other hand, there is the reformation of the domestic defence industry.

As far as the first aspect is concerned, the PM announced a series of interventions for the reinforcement of the Armed Forces’ capabilities. I would like to clarify that this is not a “thoughtless expenditure” worth 10 bn. It is a series of accurately calculated, prioritized and smart moves which largely respond to out needs. Therefore, we need to be very smart, selective and specific to our priorities, without deviating from what the PM announced, regarding the acquisition, but also the renewal of the existing systems. This is also a very important aspect of the overall equation. We shall not act lavishly, but deeply respecting the Greek people who finance all these armaments. This also conforms to our platform, as it was presented in the Greek Parliament, since the first moment I assumed the post of Defence Minister. These are things that need to be made in the long run, and step by step; we shall take the proper decisions, which will lead us to the desired outcome.

The second aspect regards the Defence Industry. A country such as Greece, which has Armed Forces characterised by excellent operational capability and efficiency, needs to be supported by a powerful, productive and internationally competitive defence industry. This is the only way.

There are some weaknesses from the past, especially since the time of the financial crisis; based on these givens, we participate in negotiations and discussions with potential strategic allies, so as to ensure the necessary boost for the achievement of our goal. For example, he had an important progress in the case of Elefsis, where a successful company of the field assumed the management and the future of the “Elefsis Shipyards”, giving them back their earlier prestige.

Moreover, we have the case of the Hellenic Vehicle Industry at its final stage, which will soon produce results. As far as the Hellenic Aerospace Industry is concerned, we have many expectations, not only for the Hellenic Air Force, but maybe even for the prospect of making it an international hub for aircraft works in the broader area.

All the above form a very distinctive strategic goal. We are working hard towards achieving it. It is not easy, time and effort are required, yet things will be better very soon.