It is a particular pleasure for me to be here today at this discussion and not solely for a speech. I am particularly glad because after a decision by the President of the Hellenic - American Union Mr. Chris Spyros and the Administrative Council we will be able to discuss the Hellenic – American relations.
I would like to particularly thank the President of the Hellenic – American Union for his kindness to let us present particular issues pertaining to foreign policy, defence policy and particularly our relations with the United States of America.
During my speech I will try to mention those comparative advantages of our country, which make it an important factor of stability and power in the region, characteristics which evidently make it a valuable partner and ally of anyone interested in the security in Southeastern Europe and Eastern Mediterranean and consequently of the USA, which have invested a political, military and financial capital to the security of the Euro - Atlantic region, and under the current conditions, to the Southeastern Europe and Eastern Mediterranean.
I will mention the everyday living conditions and the challenges and dilemmas which Greece faces today in the field of defence policy, but also to the choices and decisions which it is called to make concerning its relations and cooperation with the International Community and particularly with the USA.
I believe that we shouldn’t underestimate neither overestimate our country’s capabilities, or the ones of the countries around us, but on the contrary we must proceed to very careful and objective analyses of the developments, the correlations and arising perspectives, so that we can achieve the maximisation of Greece’s geopolitical gains.
We are not the focal point of the world. We are just the focal point of our own interests. The rest of the states will supports us only if they have a reason to do so, and by reason I mean interests. And it is exactly at this point that we trace the dilemma of our strategy: Will we be a country which will operate within the zero-sum thinking, striving to achieve our goals through someone else’s losses, or will we seek to promote a “win – win” rationale which will benefit everybody and with which we will try to trace and establish a common ground of interests, something securing the strongest momentum to their common promotion and fulfillment.
History has taught us that progress is more effectively, viably and steadily achieved in the long-term through the second choice, that of mutual benefit. It is this choice which has made our country committed to its international relations, principles and values such as abiding by the Rule of International Law, respect to the territorial integrity of other countries, but also freedom and democracy in general.
That is why our constant priority is to exercise an active, multidimensional defence foreign policy, which will allow us to utilise our geopolitical position, so that we can promote peace and stability and open communication channels, mitigating, with our intervention, traditional and new oppositions.
In this spirit, our country has developed a wide and multidimensional network of cooperation with many other countries in the region, which are expanding to defence cooperation with those states that share with us perceptions and approached towards security, stability and peace. We are already extensively developing bilateral and trilateral defence cooperative relations with Bulgaria, Romania and other countries of the Balkans, like Serbia and Montenegro to the north, and to the south with Cyprus at the epicenter we are expanding to Egypt, Israel, Jordan, UAE and all the moderate countries of the region, without excluding anyone, with the intention to accept any other countries who can and wish to contribute to the realisation of the common security perception.
We do the same with the USA with which, in my view, we have common interests in the region, each for its own reasons.
So I would like to begin with the map of the region. It may sound like a stereotype but I cannot avoid mentioning the position of Greece at a key geographical location.
Our country controls the points of access of Southeastern Europe to Africa and the Middle East, while the Aegean and Crete dominate the Eastern Mediterranean by controlling the sea route of communication with the Black Sea.
So whoever wishes an open and unhindered communication through the sea lines and by land, understands that Greece is exceptionally important being located at this particular place of the planet. I will give a brief explanation of the open communication and transport lines: They mean free navigation, facilitation of commerce and traffic of goods, flourishing of tourism, security of Europe’s energy supply and others, either through pipelines or ships transferring carbohydrates.
Particularly on the issue of energy, I will have to say that our country’s emergence as an energy transit hub along with Cyprus, Israel and Italy, through the construction of the East Med pipeline and the Eurasian Interconnector (with obvious financial and geopolitical benefits for our country), will contribute to the differentiation of the sources and furthermore to the dispersal of danger from practices of monopolies or oligopolies, affecting security and sufficiency of Europe’s energy supply. Greece’s upgrade to a European energy hub is enhanced even more through plans such as TAP, IGB, the floating storage re-gasification unit of natural gas in Alexandroupoli, where as recently stated by the US Ambassador, we hope also to see an American investor.
Of course, whoever securely preserves the lines of transport open and unhindered, must be in a position to exercise effective control for the containment of illegal activities of trafficking individuals, fuels, drugs, weaponry and ammunition but also weapons of mass destruction as well as aspirant terrorists.
At this point I would like to also mention the other side of our region, meaning the side with the illegal trafficking of oil, individuals, weapons and drugs where terrorism is funded. The wider region of Southeastern Mediterranean and particularly the triangle between Malta, Suez, Cyprus and the area south of Crete is the region which when some entity will be able to control, it will also be able to halt the 40-50% of ISIS funding capabilities, as well as the ones of DAESH and other terrorist organisations.
What Greece strives for today is to once more unite the European South with Northern Africa and Middle East, in a way that it will contribute to the conversion of the Eastern Mediterranean to a sea of peace, security, prosperity and wealth, as it has been during many historical periods.
The geophysical map always remains the same. What changes are the geopolitical correlations, which are exactly the ones which make the conversion of the geopolitical importance of each country through time.
This is our country’s most competitive advantage in the wider region of the Southeastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean: Its geopolitical identity, which make it one of the most important partners and allies of the USA, but also of all these countries which begin to have interests in the region.
One of the strongest characteristics of our country is that of respect towards the Rule of International Law. Greece proves daily with its stance that the basic regulator of its relations with every country is legality and not manipulation of the rule of law, its selective use or selective disregard. And it is this consistent stance of decades which our friends and allies know and respect, even those who disagree with us.
Our country today has proven with its deeds its reliability and honesty, with regards to its relations to other countries and especially the USA. Washington is well aware that we talk to each other as friends, partners and allies and that we never tried to force them into eastern type haggles. Everybody can understand the value of trust in a relationship, which if it is lost then it is hard to be recovered. So Greece always keeps its promises and never makes false ones. This is how you build reliability, preserve trust and enhance it.
In terms of defence, Greece has always stood by the side of the USA, in WWI, WWII, Korea and later Iraq, Afghanistan and wherever it was needed, even when it came into conflict with its own ethics, regarding the coreligionist peoples of the Balkans.
Another characteristic enhancing our geopolitical identity and our relations with the USA is political stability which has been characterising our country for decades. If we take a look at the last thirty years we will see that Greece has a stable and secure political system which guarantees social cohesion domestically and peace abroad.
Our country, although having faced the greatest financial crisis of the post war era, is ready to leave this period behind without having a broken social fabric. Without transferring the financial crisis to the geopolitical level, a fact which enhances and guarantees the image and the essence of its stability policy in the region, where unfortunately even in our neighbouring countries, the ravages of war are still evident in the Balkans, there are ethnic conflicts domestically, social unrest, claims inconsistent to history, challenging even the notion of unchanging borders itself, religious conflicts and extremisms, attempts for coup d’ etat and corruption, efforts of religious extremism infiltrating and connecting to organised crime and terrorism.
It is exactly this connection of organised crime to terrorism and the black money crossing the Balkans, which we must carefully monitor, because it is a role enhancing our country’s geopolitical position, especially in the Balkans.
The transformation of Islamic extremism, which in defeat seeks a new form of terrorism, cannot be anticipated. Furthermore the issue of the refugees, which should be dealt with through the establishment of favourable and peaceful conditions for the safe return of the refugees to their homes, forms a picture which depicts the reality around us. Furthermore we should not overlook the possible and existing threat which might arise by huge future refugee flows, coming mainly from countries of the sub-Saharan Africa, which have the ability to threaten the European structure, mainly due to their size.
At this point I would like to stress the importance of the role played by the Hellenic Armed Forces in the issue of the refugees. When the Armed Forces took action for the resolution of the issue, because developments had reached a point where only the Armed Forces could give a solution, there were many who said that it was a mistake. It was proven that the engagement of the Armed Forces was absolutely correct, because the stance of Greece with regards to the refugee issue, excluded Greece from the countries targeted by terrorist organisations. A country which, while in crisis, gave food and accommodation to refugees in need and victims of terrorism and for that reason it was particularly appreciated. And when they later tried – and we in the Armed Forces are fully aware of that – to create cells and conduct hits in our country, the great proof that the country was not targeted is the fact that the refugees themselves, who received Greece’s help, refused to participate and include our country in their activities.
Throughout this bleak reality, Greece constitutes a pillar of stability. Our country has the most modern network of airport and seaport facilities, through which it can transfer quickly and securely any number of personnel, materials, assets and capabilities from and to the continental mainland of Southeastern Europe, the Balkans, the coasts of the Black Sea and the Middle East. The USA are aware of this and they utilise our political intention, but also the excellent services which we can provide, especially with the Base of Souda.
Our country is one of the most powerful ones in the region, being at the same time a member of NATO and the EU and furthermore, due to its history, constitutes a country of our East, a fact which attributes particular added geopolitical value. What we strive to do through NATO and the EU, apart of course from promoting our common interests, is to detect the common benefits of our country, so that we can secure the supplementary action of International Organisations. That is why we sign bilateral and multilateral defence agreements with other countries, without overlooking our country’s relations with countries like Russia, China and Latin American countries like Brazil.
The exercises conducted by our Country’s Armed Forces during the last three years, constitute an example and a lesson for the military academies throughout the world. We are the first country which managed to bring together for an Air Force exercise the USA, Israel, the UAE and Italy.
The geostrategic options of our country are also indicative of the trust between us and the USA. During the last 30 years it has been proven in practice that our strategic cooperation with Washington is unwavering. Our relations have always been important, but they have now reached their highest level after the hard work done by the two governments. An exceptionally successful visit of Mr. Obama, who was then President of the USA, was conducted last year and 45 days ago we also had the exceptionally successful visit of the Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to the USA, during which the Greek Prime Minister received the clear message of President Trump and Vice – President Pence, who apart from their appreciation for the alliance with our country, expressed their commitment to make every effort to help Greece overcome its financial difficulties. Today our relations have reached the best possible condition, with a government of allied parties, having a mostly left orientation. Almost all of the Greek political scene has embraced the gravity of our relations with the USA and is no more swaying between dubious choices.
At this point I would like to state what happened in July 2015. Without being able to release details about that period, I would like to say that our continued membership in the EU and the final solution given in spite of the efforts of Wolfgang Schauble and the German policy aiming for the exit of Greece from the EU, making it a country for the storage of refugees and immigrants, happened because of the US intervention and of President Obama personally. In a matter of minutes, President Obama with the help of President Hollande upset the scenario of Greece’s exit from the EU, making it a country for the storage of souls.
At this point I would like to particularly mention the strategic composure demonstrated by our country when challenged by its neighbours. We had in the past and will continue to have the full operational capabilities needed and the decisiveness which allow us to respond forcefully and effectively to any threat. We do not respond, not due to weakness, but due to a strategic choice, because we are steadily oriented towards peace. There are individuals who, for reasons of internal political consumption, interpret patience and endurance as weaknesses, but seriousness, responsibility and comprehension of the “big picture” are more valuable councilors than superficiality, frivolity and impulsiveness.
At this point I would like to make something absolutely clear. The strategic choice of tranquility is something different from retreating in terms of national sovereignty. The orders given by the Chief of HNDGS and the rules of engagement released by me from the first moment we took office is that at any given moment, whoever calls in question even a millimetre of our national sovereignty, we will strike immediately with all the firepower at the Armed Forces disposal. We will not retreat for any reason whatsoever. It is absolutely clear that the period when our flags placed on our rocks “were blown away by the wind” has gone. The flags, as long as there is even one living officer, NCO, soldier, member of the National Guard or citizen on the island, will be lowered by us only to be replaced because of wear from time.
Through the passing of time and with the essential support and help of the USA, our country’ Armed Forces have achieved to acquire a very high level of armaments, operational capabilities and experiences, a fact which classifies them as one of the most military advanced countries. The level of cooperation of the Armed Forces with those of the USA, which as I said earlier has reached its peak, is due to the fact that the personnel of both armies has built through time a mutual relation of respect and trust. The operational capabilities of the USA will know a sheer increase in case the capabilities and the infrastructure of Greece are used, because it neighbours regions which are literally on fire, like Syria.
Crete is of particular importance for our common interests and especially Souda which provides to the US Navy and the US Air Force capabilities, facilities, support and security unlike any other provided by any other country in the region of the Mediterranean.
Apart from the purely military capabilities which act in a supplementary way for the two countries, there are also other reasons for which our country constitutes a unique choice of cooperation for those who are interested in the developments in the Middle East. Greece maintains relations of respect and trust with almost all the Arab countries of the Middle East and Northern Africa. These relations based on history have been also cultivated and enhanced through the exercise of careful defence diplomacy.
Greece has repeatedly provided its good services to the countries of the region and has been a reliable and objective, prestigious and effective mediator, maintaining with great care exceptionally sensitive balance. Greece has been and remains a country which for thousands of years supports respect for the different, tolerance and pluralism between religions and cultures. That way our country has been historically recognised as a bridge through which the cultural, religious, social but also the geopolitical perception of Middle Eats is transported to the West for the rest of the western world and vice - versa.
Greece is the only country in the world which can talk at the same time to Israel and the Arab countries with the same honesty.
Everything mentioned thus far composes a geostrategic imprint of Greece in a way attributing to the country its mightiest geopolitical feature. That is that our country is recognised as a pillar of stability in the midst of an arc of instability and uncertainty beginning from the Balkans and continuing to the Black Sea, the Middle East and Northern Africa. Our National Strategy looks forward to the preservation and enhancement of our role as a pillar of stability and any country wanting peace, security and prosperity in the region has only to decisively enhance our initiatives and efforts.
I understand that someone may wonder: Why is Greece more important for the USA in the region than other countries like Turkey for example?
We have to be sincere: Turkey is a great and important country. However, -unfortunately in my opinion – it makes an important and earnest effort to lose every friend and ally. Having developed an irredentist and arrogant policy, it has transformed the thoroughly advertised policy of “zero problems with the neighbours” to a “no neighbours with zero problems”.
Its ostensible argument about multiculturalism and tolerance is daily falling apart through a well planned policy, which reached its peak with the conduct of an Islamic liturgy and the assignment of a permanent imam in the Holy Temple of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. At this point I have to say that the constant and tireless efforts of Mr. Chris Spyros and the Hagia Sophia World Parish which I would like to commend, for the conduct of an Orthodox Christian liturgy in Hagia Sophia become more current than ever, giving the opportunity to the President of Turkey to prove if he actually means what he says about religious tolerance and multiculturalism.
Furthermore, even the Muslim countries of the Middle East themselves, as well as the Balkan Muslims have comprehended that Turkey fervently desires to become their patron and not their partner and that Ankara wishing to revive the Ottoman Empire, systematically and methodically slides towards a totalitarian regime, something which has happened in the past in other countries of the region, usually with disastrous results.
Unfortunately Turkey is daily transforming to a second Iran in our region, according to the words of a top American analyst and active politician.
Closing my speech I would like to particularly mention the Greek expatriates, living and creating in the USA. The Greek expatriates have a particular characteristic which unfortunately we do not mention often, although we should. We mention it only when we are there next to them and not when we are here in metropolitan Greece.
The Greeks of America have historically supported unconditionally and unreservedly, from the first moments of their presence in America, their new homeland and the decisions of the US Governments and that way they have become a pillar of the American structure and might.
Greece daily strives to achieve stability and security, progress and prosperity in the region. Not only for its citizens, but also for the citizens of all the countries of the Southeastern Europe and the Balkans, as well as those of the Middle East and Northern Africa.
The cadres of the Hellenic Armed Forces in times of peace produce heroes because they exercise daily and act as if being in conditions of war. Each year we have fallen heroes who lose their lives for faith and country securing national sovereignty, territorial integrity but mainly safeguarding the principles and ideals of the nation.
We firmly believe that a safe Mediterranean means safe Europe and safe world. In this context, our country, as a reliable partner and ally of the USA makes every possible effort within its continuously increasing capabilities to achieve it.
Our country’s geostrategic position in combination with its comparative and antagonistic advantages which I mentioned before, act complementarily with those of the USA. We and the USA have reached a common conclusion at a bilateral level that the two countries under the current condition and also under the perspectives on the offing of the further upgrade of their cooperation, will achieve much more together than alone.
That is why we work jointly, so that through our common goals we will achieve mutual benefits which will lead us to a secure environment which will establish the conditions for peace, progress and prosperity in the region.
At this point and reaching the end of my speech I would like to say that with this huge financial crisis of the last ten years we were taught a lot. Our partners, like several states from the EU behaved as if they were our creditors and not our allies. The USA behaved as true allies and when we asked for their intervention they stood by our side. This is of particular importance – because some try to measure the gravity between USA and the EU – the fact that the USA and NATO have a powerful military force in the wider region is something which inspires respect.
The EU has not yet formulated a common foreign and defence policy. It is not possible to talk about a common defence policy when we have yet to recognise the European borders, as stipulated in the signed treaties. When I meet with Ministers of Defence of the EU – since I always invite them to come along to Agathonisi, Stroggyli, Kastelorizo, Inouses, Agios Efstratios – they understand that we face a violation of not only the Greek airspace but also of the European airspace, not just of the Greek national waters but also of the European waters, then they start to comprehend the lack of recognition of the common European borders.
That is currently our goal. The new effort made for the common European defence policy. Europe must decide: will it safeguard the European borders? Will it be a power of deterrence in the wider area against those who plan the overthrow of the national rule of law? Otherwise it will remain what my friend Amos Gilad describes, as an analyst from Israel and a very close partner of President Netanyahu: “if you ask a school in Northern Africa or the Middle East what NATO is, they will tell you that NATO is an army. If you ask them what EU is they will answer that it is a bank which often hasn’t got any money”.
Thank you very much”.