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How Nato can help the Greeks

Nato should assist Greece in reducing its military expenditure by guaranteeing its security.

US President Barack Obama meets with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Photograph: Getty Images.

Fifty years ago, the United States and United Kingdom, were so worried about economic and political stability in the eastern Mediterranean they gave massive loans to both Greece and Turkey to strengthen the capital base in both nations. In 1963, America withdrew its anti-Soviet missiles in Turkey and the fledgling European Economic Community offered a future accession partnership to the Turks to anchor the nation firmly within the orbit of western democracy.

In 2012, Europe needs to offer financial help to the Greeks but Washington and Nato can play a part in reducing the Greeks’ paraonoia – oh no not another Greek word! – about their national security. In addition to the well-reported problems of corruption, clientalism and tax cheating Greece faces other difficulties which no other EU member state shares.

The single biggest part of the Greek economy is the shipping industry – representing about seven per cent of the Greek economy. In Britain, the minuscule shipping industry pays 780 million pounds in tax to HMRC. Greek shipping oligarchs pay no tax. The British authorities could help by sending details of Greek oligarchs who have recently purchased Mayfair mansions to get their Euros out of Greece, to the Athens tax authorities.

The biggest land and property owner in Greece is the Orthodox church. It pays no tax and its priests and monks also live tax-free. It is time for the Greek religious community to render unto Ceasar that which is Caesar’s and pay their dime in tax dues.

The other barely known aspect of Greek public spending is the disproportionate amount spent on importing arms from Germany, France and the US. Greece spend 50 per cent more, as a share of its GDP, on arms than Britain, France or Turkey. The reason is the fear that one day there will be conflict with Turkey. Greeks remember, with cause, the Turkish intervention in Cyprus in 1974 when an initial arrival of Turkish soldiers to prevent Greek-Cypriot fascist sympathisants from initiating anti-Turk Srebrenicas turned into a full-scale invasion and annexation of the northern third of the island.

Turkish airplanes regularly over-fly Greek islands and with the lure of under-sea energy sources there is tension enough in the region to justify, in Greek eyes, a very high level of military expenditure. So Washington and Nato should now give Greece an unqualified security guarantee that any assault of Greek territorial integrity will be met with full Nato defence capability.

Paris and Berlin should tell their arms merchants to roll over payment for Greek defence orders. It is not fully understood that most of the EU money going to Greece arrives in Athens and leaves five minutes later for French and German banks to pay off debt. Only about six billion euros has stayed in Greece. Athens should not be required to send billions to northern European arms manufacturers untll the economic story there has calmed down.

Greece also can help with its own regional security. When the Turkish Cypriots voted to accept the UN brokered deal for a settlement for the divided island, Greek Cypriots under the benevolent eye of Athens were whipped up to vote it down. An historic opportunity was lost. Greece could not press for a new settlement on Cyprus based on the Annan plan.

Greece could also help stabilize its northern neighbours in the western Balkans by easing its Swiftian rejection of the right of Macedonia to call itself Macedonia and by rejecting the Moscow led campaign to deny recognition to Kosovo. Nearly 100 nations, including all the major democracies now have diplomatic and trade relations with Kosovo and the fiction that the nation will one day revert to rule by Serbia is just that – a myth that Athens should not encourage.

The reporting on Greece has almost entirely focused on economic, fiscal and Eurozone aspects of the crisis. But security and diplomatic tools can also be used to help bring stability to Greece and the region. For British Europhobes who have invested all their belief in willing the collapse of the single currency, saving Greece is now to be devoutly not wished for.  But wider regional, European and even Atlantic considerations should not want Greece to collapse into the kind of chaos that led to the 1967 military intervention or worse.

Helping the Greeks by saying they can reduce arms spending to Turkish or British level while at the same time getting oligarchs and the orthodox church to pay taxes would be part of the process of helping Greece back onto its feet.