Greece purchasers still spends billions on weapons
Posted on May 5, 2010, Wednesday
ATHENS: Greece is one of Europe’s biggest weapons purchasers but despite its economic crisis cannot cut the multi-billion dollar bill without securing a full peace with arch-rival Turkey, analysts said.Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to visit Greece next week underscoring progress made in bilateral relations but Greece is still buying warplanes, submarines and weapons even as it accepts a 110 billion euro international rescue.
A warning to the Greeks to reconsider their priorities came from International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn who noted Sunday that military spending would be ‘clearly reduced’ under the bailout.
In February, the defence ministry said that because of the ‘urgency’ of the debt crisis it hoped to cut about 700 million euros of arms spending this year.
Greek defence minister Evangelos Venizelos has said the defence budget, including armed forces wages, would be six billion euros this year, or 2.8 per cent of national output.
Athens spent the same amount on arms purchases in 2008 according to Nato, a higher percentage of output than France and Britain.
“It would be ideal to be able to drastically cut military spending but this is something that can only be done simultaneously with Turkey,” said a Greek government source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Greece is burdened by the cost of armaments stemming from the threat of Turkey,” defence minister Venizelos said recently.
“The layout of our forces is based on a threat evaluation with only one name,” he said.
“No matter how fast things move, for the next years, we have to live with this situation,” the minister said.
Greece and Turkey have been fighting wars since the days of the Byzantine Empire and nearly came to blows as recently as 1996 over an uninhabited string of islets in the Aegean Sea.
But under pressure from international markets, the IMF and European Union, the government has shown that it is ready to cast taboos aside if it can save a penny in the process.
In March, the country held a scaled-back Independence Day parade without tanks, planes and missiles for the first time in over three decades to save around two million euros in operational costs.
Each warplane overflight costs 35,000 euros, a defence ministry source said at the time.
The defence ministry is struggling to cut losses on two billion euros spent on German-built submarines, one of which proved to be faulty but is still going ahead with negotiations for French frigates.
With Turkish jets still flying each day near Greek islands in contested territory in the Aegean Sea, analysts doubt that the neighbours will be able to reach an agreement soon.
“Military spending will fall by 10 to 15 per cent this year, that much is sure but I don’t see a spectacular reduction in the order of 20 per cent,” said Thanos Dokos, an expert on Greek-Turkish relations at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) think-tank.
“Nothing has really changed fundamentally,” he told AFP.