It was 70 years ago on this very day that Greece joined NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, establishing its place in the defense of Western nations.
Greece joined ΝΑΤΟ with the second wave of expansion under the centrist Liberal Party government of Nikolaos Plastiras.
Just three years after the Greek Civil War, this was also when the world was experiencing the first years of the Cold War, which would split the world politically.
Greece’s neighbor Turkey joined NATO on the same resolution. The Greek Parliament ratified the accession agreement on February 18, 1952.
Greek Left opposed NATO accession
The Greek Parliament ratified Greece’s agreement to join NATO with only eight members of the United Democratic Left (EDA) and independent leftist MP Michalis Kyrkos voting against it.
In his speech, Prime Minister Plastiras said: “One cannot deny now that Greece as part of the Atlantic Treaty along with the great powers, all free republics, is safer… All other theories about peace and neutrality have nothing to do with this fact.”
Kyrkos and the leftist MPs countered that it was in Greece’s interest to stay out of the conflict between the two coalitions (NATO and the Soviet Union) and seek only relations of friendship and cooperation.
Kyrkos argued that since both the Western allies and Russia fought alongside against Nazi Germany during World War II, Greece could assume a neutral role.
EDA lawmaker Ioannis Passalidis expressed the view that for Greece the struggle between NATO and the Soviet Union was in essence the choice between the capitalist system and the socialist system.
Passalidis said that the arguments in favor of NATO, the talk about democracy and culture were a smokescreen, and that a neutral Greece could contribute to bridging the gap between the two systems.
Greece withdraws from NATO’s military wing
On August 14, 1974, the coalition government of Constantine Karamanlis withdrew Greece from NATO’s military wing after Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus, livid at the fact that NATO had allowed this to occur.
The Greek government issued a statement at the time charging “… NATO has proved incapable of preventing Turkey from launching a new barbaric and unprovoked attack (against Cyprus).
“Therefore, NATO has no reason to exist as it cannot serve the purpose for which it was established, by not being capable of preventing war between two members…. ”
Six years later, and 70 days before Greece’s accession to the European Economic Community (now the European Union), the New Democracy government under Georgios Rallis decided that Greece would return to NATO’s military wing.
This was October 19, 1980. The decision was welcomed by Western governments, while the Soviet Union’s news agency TASS stated at the time that “Greece gave in to American pressure.”
On the domestic front, PASOK, the rising political power of the time headed by Andreas Papandreou, and the Greek Communist Party (KKE) expressed complete opposition to the reintegration of Greece in NATO.
Militant rallies against NATO were organized across Greece, ending in clashes between demonstrators and police.
One year later, PASOK won the national election. One of the pre-election slogans of the party was “Out of NATO.” Yet Greece remained within the alliance.
NATO and current Greece-Turkey relations
In light of Turkey’s erratic behavior in the East Mediterranean and repeated bellicose threats against Greece in the past three years, NATO has turned a blind eye to Athens’ calls for support in regards to enforcing international law and specifically the Law of the Sea.
Turkey has repeatedly violated Greek airspace while at the same time it has entered waters that are part of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone.
Greece and Turkey are allies within NATO. Yet Ankara continues to dispute Greece’s sovereignty of certain islands in the East Aegean. These disputes are often accompanied by threats of Turkish military intervention.
So far, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has refused to condemn Turkey’s illegal acts in the Eastern Mediterranean and threats of war towards Greece.
Stoltenberg has stated that when two countries which are NATO allies have differences between them, they must sort them out themselves.