On Monday, the Minister of National Defense, Evangelos Apostolakis, addressed the Sub-Committees on Democratic Governance and the Transatlantic Relations of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. The Minister said the following:
Ladies and Gentlemen Members of the Alliance member states,
It is a great honor for me, the fact that we are here today, in the House of the Hellenes, in the framework of informing the Subcommittees of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Alliance on issues of mutual interest.
Ladies and gentlemen
Greece, due to its geostrategic position in South Eastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, is in a rapidly evolving and demanding environment with many challenges of global geostrategic and economic importance.
At the same time, as a NATO and EU country, it is called upon to address regional security issues, which make up what we now call the “grid of new security challenges“, such as international terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, organized crime, cyber attacks, energy security, as well as the migratory-refugee crisis.
The latter is one of the biggest security challenges facing the country. Since 2015, Greece has been the entry for more than one million refugee migrants seeking entry to Europe via Turkish routes. In 2016, we considered the engagement of the Armed Forces imperative and critical, maintaining their institutional role, in cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior and the newly established Ministry of Migration Policy, in the context of a coherent government policy response.
NATO, in February 2016, actively intervened with the “Aegean Activity”, contributing to the reduction of migratory flows from Turkish territory to the Greek islands. At the same time, it is a successful example of NATO-EU cooperation in the operational field, based on the principles of autonomy in decision-making and complementarity.
To meet these challenges, we have adopted policies that prioritize peace and security. The aim is for our country to continue to be a foundation of peace and stability, building bridges of cooperation and dialogue with all the countries of the wider region and contributing to the development of good neighborly relations and interaction.
Taking on our role in the modern security environment, we apply a defense policy [centering] on:
1. Strong and armed Armed Forces for the implementation of the defense doctrine and deterrent of the National Defense Policy.
2. Active participation in NATO and EU security and defense structures, as well as the development of initiatives within them to enhance security.
3. Cultivating dialogue and cooperation with our geopolitical environment, instead of confrontation and conflict, on the basis of International Law and Collaborative Security.
As a result of the implementation of these principles, in recent years the Greek Armed Forces have been actively involved in various peacekeeping and counterterrorism actions such as SNMG-2, SEA GUARDIAN, NATO Resolute Support Mission to Afghanistan, KFOR Joint Undertaking, ENDURING FREEDOM in Iraq, UNIFIL in Lebanon, and FRONTEX support to enhance European border security.
In addition, as a practical implementation of the Allied Alliance for the South, Greece supports the establishment of the Interbranch Headquarters and Regional Node in Naples, Italy. At the same time, Greece, in the framework of the Permanent Structured Cooperation of the EU (PESCO), participates in 5 programs as Head Nation and 9 as a participant.
By examining the presence and activity of Russia in the Balkan region, we find a timeless interest due to Moscow’s strategic aspirations for the region, while in recent years there has been an increase in its presence in the economic and, above all, in the energy sector.
In any case, as I endorsed at the recent NATO Defence Minister Summit, it is a strong belief that it is particularly important to maintain Russia’s connection with the European security architecture. In this spirit, we believe that the “dual approach” towards Russia still has real value, and therefore communication channels at a strategic level must remain open.
Against this background, given that our country maintains historical and cultural ties with Russia, and considering that Greece is one of the oldest members of NATO and the EU, it can play a positive role in improving relations between the two sides.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Greece, recognizing its role in the wider region of geopolitical interest, supports the Allied footprint in the South. In particular, the country has opted for an unwavering policy of principles and positions based on regional co-operation, ultimately seeking to establish an expanding group of regional partners with a mutual interest in security, stability, and development.
In this context, Greece, by promoting Defense Diplomacy, has a key role to play in promoting synergies and initiatives, is leading multilateral defensive schemes, and acts as a communication channel between the Middle East and Gulf countries such as Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, and Qatar, organizing multilateral exercises and holding ministerial meetings.
In particular, the tripartite co-operation schemes, Greece-Cyprus-Israel and Greece-Cyprus-Egypt, are decisively contributing to the promotion of stability and security in the eastern Mediterranean region.
Speaking of the Balkans, let me stress that the accession of North Macedonia to NATO will help consolidate and strengthen the sense of stability and strengthen cooperation and peaceful coexistence in the region.
We look forward to deepening our cooperation with North Macedonia because it is in our strategic interest. We have an important role to play as this country will be required to systematically transform its Armed Forces to meet the Alliance’s pre-requisite standards and requirements regarding interoperability and standardization.
As I have said during our recent meeting on the sidelines of NATO’s Ministers of Defense summit in my counterpart in North Macedonia, we are ready to provide Air Traffic Services that we already offer to Albania and Montenegro, as well as any other possible support for the smooth integration of the country into NATO structures.
Our aim is to make our country, the main strategic partner of North Macedonia. And we’ll do it. All of these actions strengthen the alliance profile in the sensitive areas of the Balkans, North Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.
With regard to our relations with neighboring Turkey, we are reacting to the challenges in the Aegean, where unfortunately the number of violations of national airspace and national territorial waters reaches very high levels, always with prudence and strategic temper. Despite the existing problems and dangerous incidents in the air and at sea, which can lead to a serious accident, we are constantly trying to normalize and reduce tension.
On this logic and on the basis of the relevant agreement at the recent meeting between the Greek Prime Minister and the Turkish President, we have decided with my counterpart, Mr Akar, at our meeting on the sidelines of the NATO Defense Ministers’ meeting to schedule in the near future a meeting between technical teams of the two countries to identify actions under Confidence Building Measures. I hope that we will soon have tangible results on the decisions we have made, thus contributing to building a relationship based on respect for international law.
As far as the wider field of Defense and Prevention is concerned, Greece actively supports NATO’s adaptation process from 2014 onwards. We believe that Enhanced Forward Presence programs in the Baltic Sea and Tailored Forward Presence in the Black Sea are balanced and strengthened the Alliance’s dissuasive profile. In addition, the reorganization of the Administration Structure and the strengthening of the Structure of Forces’ role in NATO’s level of ambition are positive steps that we support.
We also support the need to safeguard the North Atlantic communication lines between Europe and North America. However, we believe that the Mediterranean continues to be an area of major importance for Europe’s security, and its alliance presence must remain unchanged.
At the same time, Greece will not cease to seek to strengthen the stability of the countries of the region with weak security structures through the implementation of defense capacity-building actions, strengthening the defense and security structures in these countries so that they become self-sufficient in facing challenges and threats .
Ladies and gentlemen
Greece regards participation in regional and international security initiatives as a high priority. Consequently, despite the challenges it faced in recent years, it responded directly to the refugee crisis and the war on terror, honoring its commitments at NATO, EU, and UN level.
Greece will continue to support all NATO adaptation actions within its capabilities as it faces on a daily basis security challenges requiring a large number of national forces to remain in a high-level preparedness. At this point, I would like to point out that we are respecting the burden sharing in the Alliance, remaining one of the few NATO countries that invest more than 2% of GDP for defense spending.
In closing, I would like to stress that addressing the current security challenges demands the commitment of all member states to the vision and principles of the Alliance. We must look forward to the fact that NATO is primarily an Alliance of values based on International Law where national sovereignty is respected and no member can impose its will on another.
In any case, it is particularly important that we all contribute to gradually establish a stable and secure international environment free from threats of destabilization.