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12° Nicosia,
23 September, 2020
 
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Tangible rewards for alliance-building

The need for closer ties with the US and Israel became apparent

Alexis Papachelas

Alexis Papachelas

Greece's military spending has shrunk dramatically as a result of the crisis, widening the defense gap with Turkey. Successive Greek governments have spent billions on armaments over the past few decades, yet there is very little to show for it in terms of a defense industry. After an ambitious start, state-owned firms such as the Hellenic Aerospace Industry (EAV) and others were gradually choked by mismanagement from political parties and unionism.

Ankara learned its lesson after the three-year US arms embargo in the 1970s, which prompted it to develop a long-term plan and a strong defense industry, and today Turkey is regarded as a pioneer in cutting-edge technology. No one can say how it will be affected if the United States goes ahead with sanctions over the country''s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system. Right now, it is not even certain that US President Donald Trump will allow any sanctions at all. The irony, of course, is that Turkey has gone from gaining so much from cooperation with Israel in the area of defense, to the Israeli lobby now pushing the United States to cut Turkey off from the F-35 fighter jet program.

For its part, Greece has been playing its diplomatic cards right. The need for closer ties with the US and Israel became apparent with the onset of the crisis, and, in a rare show of political maturity, the governments of George Papandreou, Antonis Samaras and Alexis Tsipras pursued this line. Now it seems that both the US and Israel are looking forward to a further deepening of this relationship under the administration of Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

But since in diplomacy, as in so many other things, it takes two to tango, Greece needs to start reaching for tangible and quantifiable rewards that will help it narrow the gap with Turkey within the next decade. Restarting its defense industry could be among the initiatives it could push for. The country has plenty of talent in the area of technology and several major procurement programs are due to begin shortly. If the shenanigans of the past (such as the fiasco with the Elefsina shipyards) are truly behind us, Greece is in a position to accomplish a lot. But we need to get serious and start acting, if only a little bit, like a small country that is able to do a lot thanks to a plan, a domestic brain trust and American support.

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