The Minister of National Defence, Evangelos Apostolakis, on Monday 1 July 2019, in the framework of the Annual International Summer Seminar 2019 - Cycle B: “New State of Affairs in the Western Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean”, organized by the Institute of International Relations of the Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, delivered a speech entitled “Greece’s Defence and Security Policy in a Turbulent Region”. After his speech, a discussion with the participants ensued.
The Minister of National Defence in his speech stated the following:
“Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to participate in the Annual International Summer Seminar 2019 at the premises of the Institute of International Relations. The rich and significant work that the Institute has shown throughout the thirty years of its operation, as well as the added value of speakers and guests, promote the science of international relations and offer the best guarantees of the Seminar’s success.
I am confident that through the submission of constructive proposals and concerns at national and international level, the seminar will make an important contribution to dialogue and the exploration of new approaches on defence and security related issues. And clearly, with regard to the ongoing developments and the challenges that Greece has to tackle in its immediate geopolitical environment.
This is of course the crowning point of the excellent preparation and efforts on behalf of the organizers and for that reason, I would like to congratulate the Chairman of the Institute’s Board of Directors, Mr. Charalampos Papasotiriou, and the Research Director, Mr. Constantinos Filis, as well as all parties involved for their overall contribution.
I would begin by emphasizing what we all know. That the current international and regional environment is characterized by the influence of globalization, intense phenomena of instability, liquidity, high interdependencies and volatile balances of power. Greece, due to its geographical location and its strategic value in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean, is amid a rapidly evolving and demanding environment, with fragile balances and many challenges of global geostrategic and geo-economic importance.
At this point in time, the changes in global power sharing, the age-long crises in Syria and Libya, the strategic competitions and the rapid developments in the surrounding geopolitical and energy environment, contribute to the increase of destabilization threats in the wider region of our national interest.
Greece thus has to cope reliably and effectively with a number of complex and multidimensional potential challenges and problems, in an orderly manner and within the framework of international legality, while ensuring the safeguarding of its national interests. And clearly, in such a critical geopolitical region, defence diplomacy acquires special significance for our country.
Therefore, in order to cope with all these challenges, we have adopted policies that set cooperation, peace and the highlighting of Greece’s role as security provider in the wider region of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans as a national priority.
The contribution of the Armed Forces in the said national effort is implemented through the pursuit of active and multidimensional defence diplomacy, which serves and has direct implications for the political aspect. Through joined actions in the field of defence diplomacy with other national power institutions, the strengthening of Greece’s security, its stabilizing presence in the international arena and its constructive role as a driving force for positive developments in the immediate and wider region is being promoted.
Greece builds bridges of cooperation and dialogue with the countries of the wider region, contributing at the same time to the development of good neighbourly relations, mutual trust and constructive interaction.
However, I will say once again that we have to live together with a tough neighbour. We deal with Turkey’s provocative actions in the area of the Aegean and with various unfounded complaints, always reacting with prudence and strategic composure. It goes without saying that our attitude should not be misunderstood to be weakness.
On our part, we are making great strides towards normalizing these relations. In this context, meetings between technical groups of both countries have been carried out recently and actions have been identified in the framework of Confidence Building Measures, whose progress has been the subject of our discussion with my Turkish counterpart last week in Brussels.
It is my conviction that this communication channel should remain open. We are seeking to recess the tension, since -like I always say- the accumulation of all these tensions presents a risk for an accident and carries a high likelihood that the situation further escalates.
In any case, we pursue peace and stability; however, at the same time, we defend decisively our sovereignty rights. The political will, as well as the Armed Forces’ deterrent power and combat effectiveness, have sent a clear message to all directions.
At this point, I would like to refer to Turkey’s recent decision to proceed with the illegal drilling in the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of Cyprus. It is a decision that we have condemned and which has caused international reaction. In particular recently, when the European Union sent for the first time such a clear message of defence of international legality and clear support of Cyprus’ positions.
We applaud the Cyprus’ cool and composed approach and we are waiting, in coordination with the Republic of Cyprus, as well as our EU partners and allies, for the steps to be taken next.
Continuing, please allow me to stress that our strategic planning is focused on a number of parameters, such as:
The actions of international actors in Syria, Libya and the general developments in the Middle East and North Africa;
The developments on energy-related matters in the wider region, where we have a common strategy with Cyprus, as well as on all other matters;
The geopolitical correlations and balances in the Balkans;
The developments in connection with the issues and the forms of irregular immigration;
The Allied and European policy on the said issues and in general, the country’s involvement in the framework of NATO, EU and other international organizations, mainly the UN and the ASCE.
Undoubtedly, we participate actively in the security and defence arrangements of NATO, the European Union and International Organizations, as well as in the development of initiatives within these entities, for the purpose of enhancing security. We are constantly increasing our outreach, since the maintenance of our footprint abroad is our strategic goal.
We pursue a number of activities and joint trainings with the Armed Forces from almost all countries in the region, as well as other countries worldwide. From Cyprus of course, with which we are strengthening our brotherly relationship, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, the Gulf states, Israel, Jordan, USA, but also from all Balkan countries.
Speaking of the sensitive area of the Balkans, Greece continues to pursue the strengthening of stability and the Euro-Atlantic orientation of the countries in the region, by implementing capacity building defence actions. The quarter Greece – Bulgaria – Romania – Serbia is an important arrangement of development and cooperation, while at the same time it introduces a dynamic and confirms Greece’s key role in the region.
In this respect, I would like to point out that by means of the Prespa Agreement, the accession of Northern Macedonia to NATO will contribute to the establishment of the sense of stability and the enhancement of cooperation and peaceful coexistence in the region. Our objective is that our country becomes the key defence strategic partner of the said country.
And this has been already put into effect, through the Agreement on Defence Cooperation that has been recently concluded with my counterpart. This includes a specific plan of actions and measures, such as for instance the provision of Air Policing services that we are already offering to Albania and Montenegro. Of course, everything takes place for the purpose of extending and deepening our bilateral cooperation in the defence sector and mainly, supporting our neighbouring country during the NATO accession procedure.
Furthermore, our defence diplomacy capitalizes on the legacy of the traditionally good relations between Greece and the Arab world, thus contributing to the stability in the Southeastern Mediterranean. In this way, we bring countries with particular, different and/or historically opposite policies close together, promoting the cooperation between them. The very close military cooperation between Greece and Egypt and the one with Israel are an illustrative example.
Besides, Greece shows that it is extremely active in establishing new correlations of powers and alliances. The tripartite partnerships Greece-Cyprus-Egypt, Greece-Cyprus-Israel, but also Greece-Cyprus-Jordan prove that in the most eloquent way. In particular, the participation of the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, in the recent tripartite summit between Greece, Cyprus and Israel represents a tangible evidence of USA’s support and a strong message to all directions.
I would also like to stress that we are united to the USA with a strategic military relationship that is at its best. The Armed Forces of both countries have an excellent cooperation with a number of activities in operational, individual and academic training. The conduct of the First Strategic Dialogue between Greece and the USA in Washington DC in December was a confirmation of our excellent and multi-level cooperation in the field of Defence and Security, but also a base for further strengthening our said equal strategic relationship. We are already moving forward in the direction of implementation of what we have agreed.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The transformation and adaptation of the Armed Forces to new circumstances is a one-way street. We are very well aware of the fact that the meeting of our needs through the domestic defence industry has added value that acquires a strategic importance.
I would very strongly stress that a significant part of the efforts in this field involves the highlighting and exploitation of the potential inherent in shipbuilding industry. There is no way that Greece, a country with a huge maritime tradition, the country with the leading merchant fleet in the world, is lagging behind where shipbuilding industry is concerned. Therefore, it is necessary that the shipyard docks emerge from stagnation for the benefit of the Armed Forces, for the benefit of Greece. And we are already harvesting the first results of this effort.
In this context, just to give you an example, we have completed in Greece the shipbuilding programme for type 214 submarines in Skaramagkas shipyards that has given us the opportunity to develop a fleet composed of the most modern conventional submarines in the world. Furthermore, we are in the process of completing another shipbuilding programme involving new Missile Torpedo Boats with the use of domestic workforce in Elefsina.
At the same time, helicopters have been received from the USA, the upgrading of F-16 aircrafts is underway and the modernization of P-3B maritime patrol aircrafts is being implemented. Also, the necessary steps have been taken for the modernization of MEKO-type Frigates, the reinforcement of the Fleet with Frigates, the upgrading of Mirage aircrafts and the modernization of air defence and surveillance system, whilst fully respecting the sacrifices made by the Greek people.
All these actions form part of the effort that we make for the support and revitalization of the domestic defence and shipbuilding industry, with clear benefits for the national economy. We do our utmost to contribute to the progress of companies, such as the Hellenic Shipyards and the Elefsis Shipyards, the Hellenic Aerospace Industry, the Hellenic Defence Systems and the Hellenic Vehicle Industry.
Of course, the exponential technological progress and development in the fields of cyberdefence and space does not allow us to remain a passive observer. I would like to highlight that the Ministry of National Defence is fully aware of the fact that the use and exploitation of the fields of space and cyberdefence confers significant strategic advantages and is essential for the National Defence and the Country’s Security. Therefore, we assist and strongly support all national efforts in this direction.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The schematic reading of the wider region of national interest, the reality we are living in also requires the promotion of peace and stability, the adoption of the policy principles of cooperation and dialogue and the development of good neighbourly relations, mutual trust and constructive interaction, in order to address security challenges.
Those are the lessons of history. That is what the current reality requires. That is what our country is doing.
We are implementing a coherent, composed and long-term high strategy, within the framework of international legality, playing one of the key roles in the security of the region of our interest. Therefore, relying on our human resources and our defence capabilities, we assert our reliable deterrent capability and we promote the consolidation of Greece’s role as a pillar of stability.
We are in favour of the peaceful coexistence of countries and the settlement of any disputes between them, in accordance with the provisions of the UN Charter and the International Law.
However, let me be clear and unequivocal. We are fully committed to defending our national positions, as defined in the International Law and the international conventions.
With these thoughts in mind, I should like to thank you very much for affording me the opportunity to be able to come here to present my views and finally, I wish you every success in the works of the seminar.