Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Old Problems and New Possibilities

In preparation of Prime Minister Erdogan's visit to Greece, Turkish Foreign Ministry undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu is in Athens this week working out just how much progress can be made in bilateral relations between the two countries. Both NATO members, Greece and Turkey have for years spent huge sums of money on weapons, most of it going to Western weapons contractors. The sums are particularly burdensome for Greece, which has a small population and a GDP far below that of Turkey, prompting Greek citizens to pay a considerably larger amount in defense spending per capita than Turks. The financial crisis has presented an opportunity to reach a new stage in relations, and hopefully, scale back this spending. However, domestic problems and old prejudices in both countries and Turkey's lagging accession process play a spoiling role -- much to the benefit of weapons contractors. From Today's Zaman:

Greece, the country with the highest military expenditure to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio in Europe, has in a sense become a victim of its arms race with Turkey. In 2000 Turkey devoted $16.4 billion to its military spending, while that figure was $8.7 billion for Greece in the same year. In 2003 Turkey's military spending stood at $13.4 billion, compared to $8.5 million in Greece. Per capita defense spending in Turkey was around $164 on average in the 2000s, while this number never went below $709 in Greece.

Turkey's military spending gradually declined and fell to $11.6 billion in 2008, while Greece's military expenditures consistently increased, reaching $9.7 billion in the same year. Speaking about Greece's military spending and its connection to the financial crisis, International Crisis Group (ICG) Turkey analyst Hugh Pope said reports of large German sales of armaments to both Turkey and Greece illustrate a phenomenon -- which he says is most likely just coincidental -- that the German policy of excluding Turkey from the EU has contributed to tensions between Turkey and Greece, from which the German arms industry has then profited.

“Although the January trip to Turkey by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has done much to improve the climate, past statements by German politicians have left the impression that Germany opposes Turkey's EU membership, which frustrates Turkey and feeds tensions between Turkey and Greece,” Pope stressed.

An additional paradox is that Germany is also doing its best to help Greece emerge from the financial crisis as its partner in the EU, while one of the contributing reasons for that crisis is the fact that Greece's per capita military spending is higher than the average of NATO member countries. According to Pope, fear of Turkey is one of the main reasons why Greece spends large amounts on its military.

According to the Deutschlandfunk radio station, Greece buys 31 percent of its arms from Germany. This is a high figure considering that Greece ranks fifth among arms buyers in the world.

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