The Origins of the Greek Defense Policy in the Post-1974 Period

Article published on April 8, 2011
community published
Article published on April 8, 2011
by Vassilios Damiras The national security history of twentieth-century Greece can be divided into the pre-1974 epoch and post-1974 period, when full civilian control of the military emerged, too late to forestall a disastrous military misadventure in Cyprus, but in time to end the continual internal political conflict that had made Greece vulnerable to military seizures of power.
The post-1974 period brought a new era to the Greek military and the Hellenic defense doctrine in order to face the new military threats mainly from Turkey.

Greek statesmen believed that having a strong armed force could create both military and diplomatic conditions for a victory over Turkey. Furthermore, a strong Greek military presence in the region could serve as a deterrent force, and protect Greek rights in the eastern Mediterranean Sea region. However, politicians used this new defense planning only for the purpose of enhancing their domestic status. Thus, Athens in many instances lost important defense and diplomatic opportunities in the ongoing battle for the survival of the Greek nation-state. Also, this specific policy isolated Greece from the U.S.A. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) two major and significant providers to Greek security and stability. Since then Greece appeared to be NATO’s naughty child.

Historically, the two persistent concerns of the Greek defense have been Turkish aggression over the years, and the Balkan Slavs. Both groups want to see Greece destroyed. The intensity and the direction of the threats have changed several times during the last two centuries. After World War Two (1939-1945), world communism was the major concern, and this meant that the enemy came from the north. This defense perception dominated the Greek military establishment until the 1970s. However, in the 1960s the Turkish threat appeared in the horizon. Turkey used the Cyprus issue as an excuse to challenge Greek survival in the region.

Specifically, the 1974 Turkish invasion of the island of Cyprus due to the Greek coup d'etat raised crucial issues for the Greek survival. Moreover, Turkish behavior clearly indicated that the main military threat was from the east. In addition to the Cyprus dispute, Ankara claimed rights in four other critical issues: 1-the delimitation of the continental shelf, 2-the extent of Aegean territorial waters, 3-the allocation of operational responsibility for the Aegean air space within the NATO framework, and 4-Turkey's complaints regarding the demilitarization of the islands of eastern Aegean. These territorial claims clearly illustrate that Ankara since 1974 has followed a revisionist policy aimed at altering the status quo, which was created by the treaties of Lausanne (1923), Montreaux (1936), and Paris (1947).

In reaction to the Turkish aggression over Cyprus and Turkey’s territorial claims over Greek territory commencing in 1974, Greece underwent a gradual but dramatic change in the military policy. This change occurred in order to deal with the hostile actions of Turkey. Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis and his newly created political party, Néa Demokratía (New Democracy), initiated the dramatic changes in the Greek military sector.

The new Hellenic defense doctrine needed to take into account that geography and history have placed Greece in crucial geopolitical and geostrategic areas, amid Europe, Asia, and Africa. Greece situated at a crossroads between East and West, North and South, in the eastern Mediterranean, a sea area of enormous political, strategic, and economic significance, occupies a critical geographic position: it is surrounded by hot spots of ethno-political and religious tensions and conflicts. Most importantly, since 1974, Turkey was understood to be the major military threat to the survival and sustenance of the Greek civilization and nation-state. Greece, with 3,012 islands and rocky islets, and 15,000 km of coastline, was and is Europe's gateway to Asia and Africa. Therefore, in these crucial circumstances, Athens needed to execute a new defense dogma for the purpose in responding to the newly created Turkish menace.

Vassilios Damiras is a Defense Consultant in the United States.