By Sarah Golden, Transatlantic Security Analyst
According to the current Prime Minister of Greece, Antonis Samaras, Greece is now in a great depression similar to that of the U.S. in the 1930s. In the U.S.’s case, war helped to lift the nation out of depression by kick-starting private industry. Looking at Greece’s military budget over the past decade, it seems the opposite occurred. Long before and during the current crisis, Greece spent like it was in a war; and likely a world war at that, considering how profligate its spending has been. In 2011, even in the midst of a devastating financial crisis, Greece’s military budget accounted for 3.1% of its GDP, which amounted to over $9 billion. As a result of this spending, Greece now claims the top spot in the European Union in terms of military spending in relation to annual GDP. This is quite a sum for a nation that’s about the size of Alabama with a population only slightly larger than the entire state of Michigan. This is also a lot of money for a country that, quite literally, has no money. And as if all of these variables weren’t reason enough for Greece to cut its military expenditures, the nation has very few legitimate security concerns – not to mention that it also hasn’t been fully engaged in a war since the 1970s. Why in the world, then, is Greece spending so much on what appears to be unnecessary military technology?
Ironically enough, some of the blame for Greece’s irrational expenditures can be put on one of the countries that is trying to help it out of the hole it’s dug for itself: Germany. In 2011 alone German military technology imports accounted for 25% of Greece’s overall military budget; totaling about $2 billion. This made Greece the third largest importer of German military technology, right behind China and India. Germany hasn’t been acting alone though. France has also taken advantage of Greece’s thirst for high-tech, high-priced toys, providing it with 50 Mirage 2000 fighter jets, setting the country back another $1 billion. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the U.S. very recently also provided 400 high-tech M1A1 Abrams tanks to Greece. However, to its credit, the U.S. claimed to make a concerted effort to “spend smart” with Greece, by offering it a refurbishing package in addition to supplying it with the armor.
What is arguably the most peculiar part of Greece’s current predicament is its unwavering fear of the Turks. According to a study conducted by the Hellenic Foundation for European Foreign Policy, Turkey is, and will continue to be, Greece’s largest security concern despite a recognition of Turkey’s increased attempts at Western integration. In fact, Turkey’s accession to NATO, as well as its attempt to gain admittance into the EU, has diminished the prospect of improved relations with Greece. Greece views Turkey’s desire to become more integrated in Europe as an infringement on its turf, which, it believes, will result in Greece losing favor with the more powerful Western nations. In other words, Greece can no longer garner the support of its European allies against a common Muslim enemy because Turkey is no longer viewed in that particular negative light. All in all, Greece has refused to let go of its past suspicion of Turkey, despite the minimal odds of an attack originating from Ankara. This has led Greece to pay less attention to the nation’s more realistic concerns, such as border control and illicit trade. What is equally as remarkable, according to the Hellenic Foundation’s findings, is that even though many within Greece realize that Turkey is not a threat, they refuse to decrease their military budget to levels more in line with their European partners. The question, then, is: can Greece continue to afford to feed its fears?
Realistically speaking, Greece’s days of frivolous military spending are likely coming to an end. If it wants to receive further monetary assistance from European lenders, its needs to begin paying back the 400 billion Euros it owes to the IMF, the European Central Bank and various other bondholders. Currently, Greece has been tasked by these lenders to cut 11.5 billion Euros from its overall national budget by 2014. This means Greece will need to make huge budget cuts in addition to a significant tax hike. The nation’s large military budget seems like a logical place to start.
Unfortunately, the end result of Greece’s military spending has been significantly counter-productive to its overall goal of increasing national security. In fact, it’s done quite the opposite and has actually contributed to the European monetary tailspin, which put the region in a state of total economic insecurity. With the vast majority of European leaders worried about keeping their respective national economies afloat, less priority can be given to legitimate international security concerns, such as the growing instability of Iraq and Syria; both of which have been dealing with the increased presence of terrorist organizations in recent weeks. Greece’s debacle can serve as an example of how military might doesn’t necessarily yield security.