ATHENS – With no real potential enemies apart from NATO ally Turkey and the tiny neighboring country of FYROM to its north, Greece was still Europe’s biggest importer of weapons from 2007 to 2011, despite an economic crisis which has led Greeks to having their pay cut, taxes hiked, pensions slashed and some 150,000 public workers scheduled to be fired over the next three years.
A report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) showed that until an interim hybrid government of PASOK Socialists and their bitter rival New Democracy Conservatives decided to pare defense spending in order to keep international aid coming, that Greece was relatively putting out more money than any other country in Europe to keep arms coming, including France and Germany, the countries who put the most pressure on Greece to cut public expenditures in other areas.
Before the four-year binge, which included the years from 2009-2011 when Greece was constantly on the edge of bankruptcy and putting harsh measures on the populace, arms imports from 2002 to 2006 fell by 18 percent, but Greece still ranked 10th internationally after being as high as fourth. The United States, Russia, Germany, France and Britain are the world’s top arms exporters, and Germany’s biggest market for arms is Greece, including for a scandal-marred submarine sale that has led to charges being brought against a former Greek defense minister. Greece is France’s second-biggest client and imports 10 percent of all arms sold by that country.
While austerity measures continue to be imposed, defense spending still remains relatively untouched despite new pending cutbacks. The Guardian newspaper in England reported that in 2006, as the financial crisis was looming, Greece was the third biggest arms importer after China and India. And over the past 10 years its military budget has stood at an average of 4% of GDP, more than $1,428 per person, although, apart from occasional mock dogfights with Turkish fighter jets, Greece faces no potential for war with any country. The Guardian said if Greece had spent the EU average of 1.7% over the last 20 years, it would have saved a total of 52% of its GDP – meaning instead of being completely bankrupt it would be among the more typical countries struggling with the recession. Turkey has on several occasions proposed a mutual reduction in arms spending, something Greece has repeatedly refused to agree to although relations between the countries have markedly improved over the past few years and Greece supports Turkey’s entry into the EU.
Greece has also said it needs to defend its borders against growing unlawful immigration, but clearly it doesn’t need tanks, fighter jets and submarines to do so. The Guardian said that one reason for Greece’s continued spending on weapons is pressure from Germany and France. Greece buys 15 percent of all the weapons made by Germany. Greece is surviving on a first bailout of $152 billion from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB), and a second just approved bailout of $172 billion. When the first was being negotiated, Greece was spending 7.1 billion euros, or $9.38 billion, on its military, including $1.32 billion on weapons from French and German companies, such as 223 howitzers from German manufacturers.
Greece continues to spend the most in the EU on weapons as a percentage of GDP and remains one of the biggest arms importers in the world, and both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have insisted Greece keep buying weapons from their countries but also keep slashing spending on health care, pensions, salaries and other basic human needs.