Greece must prepare for the worst

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
Greece must prepare for the worst
Credit: Belga

Greece, a member of the European Union and NATO, is in clear and present danger of loss of sovereignty and territorial integrity.

There should be no doubt that Turkey has territorial ambitions regarding the eastern territories of Greece. Turkey and its leadership (even beyond its current President) seem to be gearing up to redraw their western border.

Doing this they think they would provide solutions to, and freedom from, the constraints they have identified in becoming in the first instance the dominant political and economic power in the Eastern Mediterranean, resurrecting what they envision as a revived Ottoman state, and eventually becoming one of a handful of great powers in the world.

Greece must prepare to defend itself as well as the European Union in which it belongs.

These constraints and problems that Turkey’s leadership has identified regarding its Neo-Ottoman ambitions include inter alia Greece’s sovereignty over the vast majority of the eastern Aegean islands, from Samothraki and Lemnos in the north opposite the Dardanelles all the way to Kastellorizo off the coast of Antalya in the deep south; Greece’s corresponding lawful claims and rights regarding territorial waters, airspace, continental shelf and exclusive economic zone; and the existence within Greece’s northeast mainland province of Thrace of a sizeable Muslim minority that Turkey wants to claim as its own brethren.

Turkey’s President and broader leadership see their country’s future as restrained and immobilized by the Gordian knot of the above constraints. And they are poised, more than ever before, to untie that knot with force — possibly with one cut.

The cut would involve a recycling of Turkey’s ‘tried and true’ Cyprus invasion model, annexing the eastern Aegean and Thrace and establishing a border with Greece running down the middle of the Aegean in an irreversible fait accompli.

Such a move would give Turkey what its leadership wants for their country and they have said it in so many ways — words and actions — virtually on a daily basis for years but lately in a rising crescendo. 

There are inescapable signs on the part of Turkey’s leadership and its nationalist and fundamentalist political proxies within Turkey in terms of declarations of bellicose threats, publicizing of maps with redrawn borders, and blunt actions — from overflights over Greek land and sea territories to asymmetrical warfare systematically and callusly using migrants as human battering rams at the Greek border and from bilateral agreements such as the December 2019 one with Libya divvying up Greek sovereign rights to attempting oil/gas exploration within the Greek continental shelf as these words are written.

So, it is a matter of time, before Turkey will try to untie that Gordian knot. And the time is very near and not many years or decades into the future.

The personal time constraints of the 66-year old President of Turkey, who not only wants to leave as his legacy his country in the image of his vision of a new Great Turkey, but also wants to enjoy ruling it in such a state, urge him to act quickly.

Just in late May 2020, he participated by video in a Koranic reading of the “Conquest” verse (sūrah) at Hagia Sophia — the 6th century Byzantine cathedral—stating: “We will leave behind a Turkey befitting of our ancestor Fatih [the Conqueror],” referring to the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror, who captured Constantinople (Istanbul) in late May 1453.

The Turkish President’s urgency is corroborated by the long running and intensifying economic dysfunctionalities and internal political contradictions of Turkey, which, in its leadership’s mind, would either be de-emphasized and diverted or even successfully resolved by the territorial expansion of Turkey.

What is Greece to do at a time that it is preparing to celebrate its 200-year anniversary of Greek independence from Ottoman rule? How can it avoid a war that may lead to loss of a significant part of its territory, tremendous loss of life, and assured ethnic cleansing of Greek people from their millennia-old ancestral lands?

As George Washington said: “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace." Greece has to accelerate preparations to decisively meet and stop the impending incursion and attempt at annexation of Greek territory by Turkey. This is actually the only thing that will come close to guaranteeing that such incursion and attempt at annexation will not happen. And if it happens, it is the only thing that will effectively fend it off.

How can a country depleted from more than 12 years of economic crisis and slow post-crisis recovery achieve this? Especially in the context of the new body blow of the 2020 pandemic. This is the time to make bold, enlightened and quick government decisions on the part of the Greek Government.

Greece needs to prepare for the worst by urgently allocating significant human energy and economic resources in preparing its military defense. Greece has to discuss with its European Union partners about recasting and reorienting Greece’s budget towards its national defense, which would include using for these preparations a significant part of Greece’s cash reserves, which were built up with inter-alia EU resources during the recent adjustment program.

In the end, it is a matter of life-and-death for Greece and it is difficult to imagine that either the Greek Government or its European partners would hesitate for long about where the priorities for use of resources should be.

Is it better to spend a good part of the state’s cash reserves and assets in defending the Greek homeland or to keep them for the moment and have them for use when Greece is left a rump state with its eastern part missing and devastated by a lost war and its hellish aftermath?

Of course, using part of the reserves and accepting a fiscal relaxation in the short and medium term to effect a rapid defense buildup would come at a price and sacrifices would have to be made both in terms of fiscal restraint in nondefense areas and the overall government budget over the long term, but that price would be much less than the loss of Greek and EU territory.

Greece would have, of course, to exhaust all possible economic assistance possibilities through existing European Union cooperation and spending programs, as well as through resources available from other NATO allies, such as the United States.

Hopefully, Greece’s partners will be quick in accommodating its proposals to use a part of the financial reserves provided to Greece at the end of the economic adjustment programs in 2018 and, very importantly, provide Greece with high quality military equipment and materiel with speedy delivery and at low cost.

After all, Greece will be defending not only itself but the European Union itself. In this context, European partners may also need to consider providing some further debt relief to Greece beyond what was provided at the end of the recent adjustment program.

Greece also has to prepare urgently its human resources that would carry out the defense of its territory. This would involve preparing the command, organization and planning of its armed defense, but also the actual forces — citizens — that would have to be ready to defend Greece’s borders. All these resources have to be at the highest level of readiness in all manner of ways, including in numbers, in order to confront the massive military of Turkey as an imminent, and not a distant, event.

Surely, Greece has to continue its efforts on the diplomatic front, as it has done for so many years, and should actually further intensify these efforts. However, this by itself is not the solution to the inexorable march of Turkey’s territorial ambitions against Greece.

Diplomatic efforts are an indispensable component of communicating with Turkey about Greece’s sincere willingness to live in peace with Turkey as well as Greece’s unswerving commitment to defend its territorial integrity and sovereign rights at all costs.

Very importantly, diplomacy is essential for communicating with the rest of the world Greece’s positions and maintaining their legitimacy as well as the legitimacy of any actions that unfortunately may need to be taken in the defense of the Greek homeland and the EU itself. European Union partners could help here if they put their collective mind and weight to it as they ought to.

Finally, without hysteria and bellicosity, the people of Greece as a whole ought to quietly get ready and accept to urgently reprioritize Greece’s energy and resources towards defending their homeland. Only if they do, they will get to keep their country.

The European Union also has to think carefully and quickly what it will do in terms of decisive real (including kinetic) action when Greece faces the ultimate challenge: Will it do what European powers did when the last Byzantine emperor asked for help to defend Constantinople in 1453? Too little and too late?

In any event, the ultimate challenge for Greece would also be the ultimate test for the European Union as a Union.

Andreas V Georgiou

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