Greece allocates 2.2% of its GDP to military spending: a significant percentage, basically constant over the years, emblematic of the fact that Athens continues to consider the maintenance of large military forces as a priority, especially in relation to tensions with Turkey. Historical interests in the Middle East have often prompted Athens to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with respect to which Greece has held a pro-Palestinian position. However, this sympathy has not prevented Greece from engaging in intense military cooperation and a common counter-terrorist fight with Israel since the end of the 1990s. Greece’s historic ally is the United States. The first arms suppliers of the Greek defense, the USAthey have a consolidated military partnership with Athens, which was renewed on the occasion of the fight against international terrorism. The Greek government had responded with significant support for Operation Enduring Freedom, launched by the Bush administration in the aftermath of the September 2001 World Trade Center attacks: airspace was made available to the campaign, logistical support was provided to military activities and major counter-terrorist operations were carried out. Relations with NATOthey have returned to normal since Greece decided to rejoin the organization in 1980. Athens had withdrawn from the integrated military structure in August 1974 to protest the lack of reaction to the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus. Greek soldiers are deployed in two of NATO’s main military operations, in Kosovo and Afghanistan, as well as a thousand permanently stationed in Cyprus.
The control of traffic, trade routes and migratory flows that cross the Mediterranean, economic and security cooperation between the countries bordering it and, again, the political stabilization of unstable neighboring regions (the Balkans and the Middle East) are some of the issues. international which see Greece particularly involved. In each of these areas, the country participates in important multilateral initiatives implemented by Western governments over the last two decades for the political-strategic stabilization of South-Eastern Europe. Among the latter, the Union for the Mediterranean (Um), the NATO Mediterranean Dialogue or the South Eastern Europe Cooperation Process (SEECP) stand out.
There are also potential internal threats to national security, linked to Marxist and anarchist terrorist activity and to the far-right fringes linked to the Golden Dawn party. In the summer of 2002, some anti-terrorism operations led to the arrest of numerous members of the ’17 November ‘terrorist group. In recent years there has been a return of attacks by anti-imperialist groups, to which the violent actions of the far right have been added. In conjunction with the social protests linked to the cuts in public spending envisaged by the government, street clashes and attacks have been taking place since 2010, with bomb explosions in sensitive areas of Athens.
The difficult relations between Greece and Turkey
Athens historically views Turkey as the main threat to national security. Mutual suspicion and cultural and political antagonism can be considered fundamental elements of the process of creation both of the respective national identities and of the relative modern states. Phases of open conflict alternating with phases of reconciliation have thus characterized the relations between the two countries, ever since Greece became independent of the Ottoman Empire in 1829. Since then, in fact, it is possible to count four wars (two Greco-Turkish Wars, in 1887 and 1919-22, the Balkan War of 1912 and the First World War) and a fair number of political crises, often reaching the threshold of confrontation. armed.
The main reasons for disagreement, which remain almost completely unchanged even today, are based both on cultural reasons, linked primarily to the religious difference between the two populations, and on a historical dualism which over the years has resulted in the inability to resolve bilateral disputes or reach agreements on typical neighborhood issues: territorial demarcation, control of common borders, rights of economic exploitation of areas with contested sovereignty or, again, the treatment of the respective minorities.
The problems linked to the difficult internal coexistence between the two populations, and the respective ethnic minorities hosted, have often been the spark for the ignition of moments of high political tension: the conditions of the Greek population in Istanbul and the recognition of the Orthodox Church of Constantinople, on the one hand, and those of the Muslim minorities, primarily Turks, who live in the western part of Thrace, on the other. The most significant tear, still very much felt by Greek and Turkish national public opinion today, concerns the Cyprus crisis of July 1974 and the consequent political and administrative division of the island into two ethnically homogeneous entities, the Greek one in the south and the Turkish one in the north.. Greece and Turkey have also come to the brink of armed conflict several other times, even in more recent years. In 1987, war came on the occasion of the so-called ‘Sismik accident’, from the name of the Turkish ship that was about to cross over into Greek waters to carry out oil explorations. In 1996, tensions arose in connection with the dispute over the sovereignty of the tiny Aegean islet Imia / Kardak. Against this background, the end of the nineties marked the start of a new phase of political détente, inaugurated by the so-called ‘earthquake diplomacy’: a phase of political understanding which began on the basis of the reactions of mutual solidarity that occurred following the earthquakes that hit the two countries in 1999. Also in 1999, the Greek decision not to veto Turkey’s entry into the EU paved the way, on the occasion of the European Council in Helsinki, to grant Ankara the status of candidate for European membership. The first year and a half of Papandreu’s government – already a protagonist as Greek foreign minister (1999-2004) during the years of intense dialogue with his Turkish counterpart Ismail Cem Ipekçi – marked a further strengthening of this new phase of bilateral relations, which continued until today.
However, the extraordinary wave of refugees recorded in 2015 underlined a persistent mistrust between the two countries: cooperation between Greece and Turkey in the management of migrant flows between the coasts of the two countries was in fact very limited, so much so that an invitation was requested. by Brussels to a more coordinated management of the emergency. If Turkey seems to have responded positively, Greece has so far expressed hesitation, for fear that Ankara could extend its influence in the Aegean Sea with the occasion.