The Greek Defense Policy 1974-1981

Article published on May 13, 2011
community published
Article published on May 13, 2011
by Vassilios Damiras With the dramatic fall of the junta on July 24, 1974, the National Unity government of Karamanlis and the subsequent conservative administration of the New Democracy political party found the Greek armed forces with very low morale and inadequately prepared to deal with   the Turkish menace or any other military threat.
The military equipment and the structure of the armed forces, both largely obsolete, were the result of a long and painful embargo by the United States against the military dictatorship, which embargo was supported by most Greek statesmen as a means towards ending the brutal dictatorship. Only Evangelos Averoff, who became Karamanlis's defense minister, opposed the military embargo in several communications to congressional committees, but strictly for national security reasons and not in support of the colonels. Averoff argued that Ankara would exploit the Greek military weakness in order to promote Turkey's expansionist interest in the region. In the end as history so clearly depicts, Ankara did manipulate the Greek military weakness.

With the dramatic fall of the junta on July 24, 1974, the National Unity government of Karamanlis and the subsequent conservative administration of the New Democracy political party found the Greek armed forces with very low morale and inadequately prepared to deal with   the Turkish menace or any other military threat. The military equipment and the structure of the armed forces, both largely obsolete, were the result of a long and painful embargo by the United States against the military dictatorship, which embargo was supported by most Greek statesmen as a means towards ending the brutal dictatorship. Only Evangelos Averoff, who became Karamanlis's defense minister, opposed the military embargo in several communications to congressional committees, but strictly for national security reasons and not in support of the colonels. Averoff argued that Ankara would exploit the Greek military weakness in order to promote Turkey's expansionist interest in the region. In the end as history so clearly depicts, Ankara did manipulate the Greek military weakness.

When Karamanlis returned to Greece from Paris on July 24, 1974, he was faced with three crucial options regarding the Cyprus situation. The first was to go to war with Turkey.  Paradoxically the Greek dictators had kept the Greek republic exposed by leaving the Aegean Islands totally undefended against a possible Turkish military operation. The second option was to seek a truce so as to gain time and to later begin massive rearmament that would enable Greece to eject the Turkish forces out of Cyprus at an opportune moment. Had this option been chosen, Greece and Turkey likely would have initiated a chain reaction of reverences wars similar to those that occurred between Israel and Palestine. Moreover, US President Richard Nixon in a message to Karamanlis reflected and pressed Athens to avoid the possibility of Greek-Turkish war. An armed conflict between two neighbors and allies threatened to create serious problems in NATO’s mission and cohesion, therefore destroying America’s national interest in the Eastern Mediterranean region. The US kept equal distance between Athens and Ankara. That policy caused great disappointment in the socio-political structure in Greece, where Washington’s diplomatic stance perceived to favor Turkey expansionist policies.

Moreover, a Greco-Turkish confrontation would have been a climate of high tension that would have prevented Greece from securing membership in the European Community (EC). The third option was to arm Greece for adequate deterrence of future Turkish expansionism in Cyprus, the Aegean, and Thrace, while at the same time applying political, economic and diplomatic pressures to promote a viable settlement in Cyprus and the Aegean Sea dispute.

Karamanlis elected the third option, believing that at that point, Greek national security required maximum integration in the European Community, even though from the Greek point of view that strategic decision meant abandoning certain territorial and nationalistic goals such as a union with Cyprus and the idea Greek policy needs to isolate Turkey from European institutions such as the EC. Karamanlis's strategic decision set an important precedent for Greek national security policy for the ensuing twenty years. From that point on, Greek strategy tried to emulate European strategic patterns, mainly those of France.

In Greece, the low morale of the Hellenic armed forces was the result of their being blamed for the Cyprus debacle, even though they had not engaged in combat against the Turkish military machine. Although the military establishment was criticized for inadequate mobilization, it is well known that this state of affairs was the result of hasty decisions made by the junta regime in the absence of professional soldiers. The armed forces of Greece were further demoralized by the strategic blunder of the exit of Greece from the military wing of NATO in 1974. Karamanlis, imitating Charles de Gaulle, withdrew from the military branch of the NATO alliance because of the pressure of public opinion, and did so without consultation with any national military leadership (which at the time did not exist). By withdrawing all armed forces from NATO Joint Command, Greece lost the operational control of the Aegean Sea, which was gladly assumed by the Turkish armed forces. Domestically, Karamanlis used the Greek withdrawal from NATO as an avenue to enhance his popularity and promote a wave of anti-American sentiment, as he wanted to disassociate Greece from United States. He believed that strong European ties could be more productive for Greece's strategic cause and position. He especially perceived that a very close military friendship with France could create a powerful Greece in the region. Karamanlis admired the French system because he had lived in France since 1963. He perceived that by adopting the French/de Gaulle democratic system, he could create a cult/nationalistic feeling around his personality and his ideas about Greek democracy. Eventually, he successfully managed to create a cult­-love around his personality. Greeks called him ethnarc, equivalent to “father of the modem and democratic Greek nation.”

The first defense decision of the Karamanlis government, after concerted diplomatic actions targeted at isolating the Turkish government internationally and portraying it as the aggressor, was to demobilize the Greek armed forces, and to disengage them from the political affairs of Greece in which they had been active during the seven years of military rule. The second decision was to acquire the military equipment urgently needed to overcome the Turkish superiority in materiel.

After a personal appeal made by Karamanlis to President Giscard d'Estaing of France, a de Gaulle proponent and personal friend of Karamanlis, Greece purchased thirty-three Mirage F-1 fighters and thus achieved limited air superiority in the Aegean Sea. In addition, the Greek Air Force enhanced its F-4 fleet by acquiring this aircraft type from the US Air Force. At the same time, the air force acquired from the US Navy fifty A-7 bombers, twelve C-130 Hercules cargo planes, and from Olympic Airlines, six Japanese YS-II-200 transport aircraft. Furthermore, a number of helicopters of different types and capabilities were purchased from the USA and France. The Hellenic Navy, too, was reinforced. Two Standard-Kortenear frigates from the Netherlands were purchased, as were fourteen Combatant missile boats with Exocet and Penguin missiles from France and Norway. Additional well-regarded missiles from France were acquired on an urgent basis. In addition, the Greek government bought eight submarines from West Germany. Finally, the Greek fleet enhanced its capabilities with antisubmarine helicopters from France and the USA. To counter the mass of the Turkish tanks in Thrace, the army was provided with 250 AMX French tanks, 240 AMX armored personnel carriers (APC) from France, a number of antitank MILAN and TOW missiles and other accessories, and more than ninety helicopters. In addition, they purchased 170 Leopard lA3 and 109 Leopard lA4 tanks from West Germany, and 359 M-60Al tanks, and 200 M-I13 armored personnel vehicles from USA. In addition, the Hellenic army got a variety of helicopters from the US army. With immediate material needs addressed, the political leadership’s attention turned to psychological factors: the conservative government started to create a local defense industry with the assistance of the U.S., France, the Netherlands and West Germany. The new Greek military industry started to build the Leonidas armored personnel carrier. In addition, it manufactured the Artemis 30 anti­-aircraft system. Finally, the new Hellenic military industry produced the G3 rifle. All these weapons were funded through national budget monies, foreign and domestic loans, and US loans (Foreign Military Financing program, or FMF).

Defense Minister Averoff succeeded in raising the morale of the armed forces by involving senior officers along with the cadres of the army in the central decisions, and by exploiting the spirit of revenge against the Turks. This approach proved to be effective, although PASOK, as the opposition political party, was quite critical of the armed forces and especially of the officer’s corps, which in its view eroded the discipline of the army and indirectly caused the defeat in Cyprus.

Averoff’s position, reflected in the political directives of the government to the military and in the slogan, "Not one foot of national territory is negotiable,”improved both discipline and morale. The armed forces then adopted the doctrine of a "forward strategy with flexible response against any possible invasion.” This became the defense doctrine of New Democracy (in Greek, Néa Demokratía). It met the needs of the situation and made best use of the nation's current capabilities.

Specific measures taken to execute that new defense doctrine were incorporated in a four-part strategy. First, the bulk of the Hellenic armed forces were positioned in the Aegean islands and Thrace. A considerable number of reserves were kept back; ready to be introduced at any threatened point of the extended borderline, by airlift, by sea ferries, or though improved routes and railways. Second, Greek national guard battalions were reorganized to defend critical points, and the manual, Political Planning of Urgent Situations, was revised and upgraded under laws No. 17/1974 and 1977 (despite the Panhellenic Socialist Movement-PASOK's opposition). Third, the air force was reinforced to provide necessary air cover, to undertake interdiction operations and close air support, and to strike at targets of military and economic significance deep in Turkish territory. Fourth, the Hellenic Navy was to be the dominant power in the Aegean Sea and remain a constant menace to Turkish shores and ports. Moreover, through the development of Greek military readiness against Turkey’s armed forces, Greece was able to fulfill its politico-military obligation to NATO with its reserve armed forces even though it was not technically under NATO unified command, and also was able to effectively counter any military threat from the north.

Therefore, from a significantly strengthened position, the Karamanlis administration started negotiations for the reintegration of the military into NATO. The result was the Rogers Plan, characterized as a monument of obscurity, but was a sensible formula at the time for the country's reentry into NATO and a step in the direction of regaining operational control over the Aegean Sea. On October 22, 1980, US General Bernard Rogers, the US Supreme Allied Commander, and George Rallis, the new conservative prime minister of Greece, signed the Greek re-entrance to the military part of NATO in the face of strong Turkish opposition.

When Karamanlis moved from the position of prime minister to that of Greece’s president in May 1980, the weak Rallis government, under pressure from PASOK, slowed modernization and relaxed discipline somewhat. For instance, after a five-day work week with continuous eight-hour days had been introduced in the civil service and the armed forces, both were then targeted by PASOK agitators and left-wing ideologies who clamored for their democratization. From that point on, profound changes occurred in the armed forces, with immense side effects regarding training, discipline, well-being, and morale. Disparities in military training and readiness became endemic. Units that were, in accordance with their military mission, to be on constant alert and in hard training, had to train more hours without rest, while units and headquarters in the interior behaved as ordinary civil servants, often insisting on a nine-to-five schedule. Because of political interference, the front line units began to lose status, while interior units enhanced theirs. As a result, more serious morale and discipline problems emerged. Those were the first results of PASOK's defense policies, offered against an impotent Rallis cabinet that tried to please everyone but in the end satisfied no one.

It is evident that Karamanlis and New Democracy relied heavily on European military aid and especially French materiel, since Karamanlis wanted to curtail the American influence over Greek defense policies. As it was mentioned above, Karamanlis’s political inclination was to appear as a Greek de Gaulle. Without a doubt, he achieved his politico-military goal. As it was indicated above, the Greeks called Karamanlis ethnarc (akin to “father of the nation.”) If New Democracy had worked closely with the American defense industry rather than France’s, Greece could have achieved procurement of more military materiel on better terms and conditions. In addition, it was misguided to assume France a capable ally. History vividly indicates that France was associated with humiliating surrenders and embarrassing collaborations with various enemies. Moreover, French military materiel was considered to have questionable results in the battlefield. Therefore, Greece having France as a loyal ally was far more a problem than a benefit. During that time, Greece needed a strong ally like the US to deal with the situation, not an ally like France with ambiguous and dubious behavior in the international arena. Once more it was a utopian leap of faith then (as it remains now) to assume France a capable military partner or ally. In contrast, Ankara used the US-Turkish alliance to promote her national interests and was successful. Athens needed to do exactly the same but did not.

Vassilios Damiras is Defense Consultant in the US.