NATO & Greece

Report on March 1st 2011 NATO PA Assembly in Athens

Created on Wednesday, 30 March 2011 18:05 Published Date
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On the meeting of the

NATO Parliamentary Assembly

Mediterranean and Middle East Special Group

Seminar in Athens

“Political Unrest, Economic Uncertainty and Security in the Mediterranean”

1-2 March 2011

By Madalena Papadopoulou


Parliamentarians of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly- Mediterranean and Middle East Special Group met last week in Athens to discuss with their partners from the region the current challenges, and their implications for security in the frame of the financial crisis.  The Group underlined the significance of the political changes across the Middle East and North Africa and developed a framework of possible action for the forthcoming developments.

The Seminar entitled “Political Unrest, Economic Uncertainty, and Security in the Middle East” focused inter alia on the political situation in Lebanon and the internal and external challenges, especially the relationship with Syria and Iran highlighting their impact on Lebanon’s politics. Particularly interesting was the discussion on the developments with regard to the Mediterranean Dialogue and the prospects of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative where Parliamentarians tried to locate new opportunities for strengthening both endeavours. The last day of the seminar was dedicated to the financial crisis and its implications to the Mediterranean area.  Of course the issue that clearly attracted the interest of the participants both days of the seminar was the current political unrest in Egypt, Tunisia, and especially Libya and whether NATO should prepare for a more active role in the country and the region in general.

The Hellenic delegation headed by Mr Eftychios Damianakis highlighted the stabilising role that Greece is -as it should- playing in the Mediterranean region, not only due to its unique geostrategic position but also because of the yearlong strong relations with the Arab nations. Mr Damianakis brought the attention to the collective security issue that is created by these circumstances in the Mediterranean, as the revolt is beyond the tight framework of the countries in North Africa.

The President of the Hellenic Parliament, Mr Philippos Petsalnikos, opened the seminar pointing to the willingness and the capability of the Hellenic nation to assist and offer all its services to the just cause of the Arab nations that seek regime change and establishment of democratic institutions in their countries. The President called for caution in the initiatives of the international community; mistakes of the past should be avoided and the Western countries should respect the national, cultural, and generally the specific and unique characteristics of the countries in question when they promote democracy. Western countries should not just transplant democratic institutions but rather assist the fighting population in their seeking of a liberal and just political system.

Mr Petsalnikos also highlighted the need for the beginning of a Mediterranean Dialogue among the countries of the region which is now more urgent than ever, since the political unrest in North Africa will inevitably have an impact on the economies not only of Europe but of the whole world. The aforementioned impact is already visible when one considers the rise in the price of oil which obstructs the smooth operation of the free market and of course complicates the commercial relations between the oil producing and oil receiving countries. The President of the NATO PA, Dr Karl Lamers, reminded the participants very successfully that the EU helped Eastern and Central Europe when they requested aid for the transition to democracy, and the EU can repeat it to the MENA region as long as it is asked to do so.

Mr Dimitris Droutsas, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, welcomed the beginning of the works of the Group and presented “Greece’s View of Political Instability in the Southern Mediterranean Region and its Effects on Europe”.  Mr Droutsas insisted, in the same spirit, on the need to act and provide economic and humanitarian aid to the population of Libya and the other North African countries. The current uprising affects not only the North African countries but also the Southern member states of the EU and consequently the whole Union by the migrating flows to Italy and Greece which already face a severe problem in that respect. The two countries should not lift this burden by themselves because this is a challenge for the whole European institution and hence the Union should act promptly to support them. The Minister spoke also of a “Marshall Plan” that could be conducted by the European Union to provide those countries with the aforementioned aid and to enhance stability in the region. Moreover, the EU should consider that all North African countries may seek establishment of democracy but each case is different and should be dealt with keeping this fact in mind; thus the transition procedures should be different. The Egyptian Ambassador agreed that the situation at the MENA region constitutes a security challenge for the whole area but insisted that it is one thing for the EU countries to be concerned on the matter, and another to actually intervene. Finally, Mr Droutsas concluded that long term planning is not enough and measures to deal with the security threats –such as migration flows- are also essential in the short run.

The first session of the seminar was dedicated to Politics and Economics of Lebanon, followed by the presentation of Iran’s and Syria’s impact on the country. Dr Barah Mikail of the FRIDE in Madrid and Dr Dimitris Xenakis of the University of Crete analysed the current challenges that Lebanon is facing in its democratic institutions and how the democratic development in the country is affected by both internal and external factors. Consequently, Dr Emmanuel Ottolenghi of FDD and Dr Alexandros Koutsis of Panteion University focused on the Syrian and Iranian actions and intentions on Lebanon. The shift in the government was welcomed as most Lebanese know that things could have been worse and that the ousting of Saad Hariri could provoke insecurity and instability in the country. However, the coalition formed by a Maronite Christian President, a Sunni Muslim Prime Minister, and a Shia Speaker of Parliament testifies a complex sectarian system. Najib Mikati, Hariri’s successor, is accused by many Sunnis of his close ties with Syria. Let us not forget that Syria was viewed as the likely culprit for the suicide attack that killed Hariri. Iran and Syria are struggling for who is going to control Lebanon and become the dominant outside actor. Syria tried to exploit its talks with Saudi Arabia to regain pre-eminence in the country, but when this effort failed Damascus precipitated a government crisis in which the tension between Hezbollah and Saad Hariri escalated. Then Syrians were able to intervene and play a mediating role. The speakers also brought the attention to Israel’s security issue regarding the political developments in Lebanon.

The Istanbul Cooperation Initiative and the issue of strengthening NATO’s engagement in the Gulf region triggered a vivid discussion as many parliamentarians wondered whether this is a viable framework. Mr Emile Hokayem of IISS and Dr Thanos Dokos were scheduled to present the issue. The discussion was focused on the need to promote the endeavour since enhancing security and regional stability through a transatlantic engagement with the Gulf States is seen as a projection of the new strategic doctrine of NATO. Cooperation with those states is essential for the fight against terrorism, control of the proliferation of WMD materials and arms illegal trafficking among other security challenges.

To that direction towards developing and implementing the ICI, the views of interested countries in the region will have to be taken into account through a regular consultation process. Of course what could not be excluded from the conversation was also the need to revive the Partnership for Peace and the Mediterranean Dialogue, and how those initiatives can be more actively promoted. Under current circumstances there is a challenge and an opportunity at the same time for a stronger and more fruitful cooperation in that regard.

The first day closed with a round table conversation on the impact of popular unrest in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern region. The journalist Mr Issandr el Amrani led the discussion and provoked a lengthy conversation among the Parliamentarians. Everyone agreed that in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya the popular uprising had some common elements such as the fact that they were leaderless and there was an internal need of the Arab population for their quest of democracy, but each case is and should be dealt differently with respect to the unique characteristics of each country. Although NATO has all its options on the table as to how to be involved in the rising security challenge, Parliamentarians and especially partners originating from the North African region called for non intervention or at least for very careful planning following the political developments in each country.

The second day of the seminar focused on the financial crisis and its impact on the current situation in the MENA region. Mr Evangelos Venizelos, Minister of Defence of Greece, presented “…The security and defence challenges in the Mediterranean in a time of fiscal restraint…”. Mr Venizelos talked about Greece’s role in organising the rescue initiatives from Libya, the assistance to China in the efforts to take the Chinese out of the country, and of course the willingness of the Hellenic nation to offer its navy to the needs of the humanitarian cause highlighting the geostrategic position of Greece, which hosts NATO’s base in the Souda Bay in Crete. However, Greece is willing to offer assistance only under the prism of the Security Council’s decisions without exceeding its jurisdiction and with respect to the will of the uprising Arab population. Greece has a unique geostrategic position and a history of close ties with the Arab countries and so it can play a significant role in the political developments in North Africa. Concerning the Mediterranean Dialogue, however, he stressed that it did not proceed as it should up to now and he does not expect the initiative to do so in the future.

The Minister drew the attention to the migration issue, which for Greece is considered an enormous security challenge since, as he said, around 80% of immigrants that enter the EU pass through Greece. The problem is not only for Greece to solve but for the whole Union and there should be coordination of efforts. Particularly interesting was his focus on the military programmes and expenditures urging the European countries to come clear as to how Greece “should” proceed with its fiscal policies since once they are called for restraint in expenses it “cannot succumb to the pressure of our allies to buy more military equipment”; this is quite contradictory. Although Greece is currently suffering from the financial crisis, and even though the government had to take a loan from the IMF and the EU Bank, it is still one of the 30 most powerful economies in the world, and let us not forget that it has the 23rd position in the rankings of growth, it has a controlled private debt, and strong banking system as opposed to Ireland. Therefore, problems can and will be overcome. Moreover, Mr Venizelos reminded the Parliamentarians that Greece regardless of the economic crisis has never limited its participation in the security initiatives of the EU and NATO, as for example with the issue of piracy.

Dr Keith Harley, Emeritus Professor of Economics, offered a comprehensive analysis on the trends and implications of defence budgets in the Mediterranean region. He stressed that there is indeed a Defence Economic Problem that not even the USA can avoid, which implies cuts in defence spending and consequently difficult choices to be made in that regard. Efficiency needs to be improved via fewer partners since large numbers cause more problems, and work sharing based on competition abandoning fair shares. Dr Harley made a case for defence investment and urged parliamentarians to consider not only the costs –which of course are easier to identify- but also the benefits; after all he said it is about avoiding the cost of conflict and promoting and stabilising peace.

The works of the Group were concluded by Nicola de Santis, Head of the Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative Countries Section at the NATO Public Diplomacy Division who spoke about NATO’s perspective on the political earthquakes in Tunisia and Egypt.  De Santis argued that political dialogue is very important and is complementary to the intergovernmental level. NATO’s new doctrine sets a particular focus on “partnerships”. In that respect, what is currently happening in North Africa constitutes a great opportunity for the Alliance. New challenges crave for new cooperation and tighter relationship between the two sides especially in issues such as energy security or cyber security. He, also, stressed that NATO should not directly interfere but rather remind the importance of democratic values and support their struggle for democracy. The North African countries’ struggles have three common elements; they are popular uprisings, not addressed against the West but against their governments, and they are leaderless uprisings. Their legitimate fight should by all means be supported pushing for positive change. De Santis claimed that NATO is not thinking of interfering and that this is “out of discussion”. Rather NATO’s way forward is a comprehensive approach to the issue as other organisations are -as they should- coming first such as the UN. NATO’s role should be supportive for the stability and security of the region, for better conditions of living and eventually for peace to prevail.

The Mediterranean and Middle East Special Group issued a Declaration at the closing of the Seminar in which Parliamentarians underlined the significance of the profound political changes now sweeping across the MENA region. The declaration made clear that the scope and pace of change in each country differs, and the outcomes are yet to be seen as they cannot be evaluated at present. The Group condemned violence against the uprising populations and believes that the appropriate response to the legitimate grievances of the civil societies is genuine democratic reform and not repression.  The security landscape is changing in the region with important implications not only for MENA but also for NATO member and non-member countries alike. In the short run Western countries should offer significant humanitarian aid and support the democratic forces pushing for positive change in the region, respecting the unique concerns and sensitivities of the different countries. The Assembly has a positive track record in assisting with reforms. In particular, it may offer a lot to areas such as democratic institution building, democratic control of the security sector, construction of links among democratically elected parliamentarians, and not least parliamentarian staff training. The Group unanimously approved the declaration stressing that the NATO PA plays a full part in assisting those nations aspiring to establish democratic government.

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Interview on the Results of NATO's Lisbon Summit and Greece by Voice of America

Created on Wednesday, 24 November 2010 18:52 Published Date
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Dr. Efthymiopoulos was interviewed by the Voice of America (VOA) on Sunday 21st November 2010. Add a comment Add a comment

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Η πολιτική της Ελλάδος στο ΝΑΤΟ, αποτελεί μέρος της εξωτερικής πολιτικής, της χώρας. Η οποία δεύτερη ωστόσο, σε γενικότερα πλαίσια, ορίζεται από πολλαπλούς παράγοντες, και την εκάστοτε οικονομική και κοινωνική εσωτερική αναπτυξιακή πορεία της χώρας. Στην παρούσα πολιτική κατάσταση, η ελληνική εξωτερική πολιτική σε γενικά πλαίσια όπως επίσης και σε επίπεδο διεθνών Οργανισμών, όπως και στο ΝΑΤΟ, θεωρείται πως δεν μπορεί παρά να παραμείνει σταθερή στα γνωστά πολιτικά επίπεδα, δεδομένης και της οικονομικής δυσχέρειας της χώρας.

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Read more: «Διαμορφώνοντας μια νέα Ελληνική Εξωτερική Πολιτική και στο ΝΑΤΟ»