Of armaments and agreements

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

The recent bilateral pact of strategic cooperation agreed between France and Greece, including a clause for mutual assistance in case of third-party aggression, has been causing concern to the other side of the Aegean. Ankara termed the French-Greek pact “a threat to regional peace and stability” claiming it tends to support “Greece’s maximalist claims for jurisdiction over maritime areas and airspace that are in-compatible with international law”. The official Turkish position goes on to say that this pact “harms NATO” as well as “relations with the EU”. Once the opposing side to a defense equation holds such language, the pact must be indeed a matter of interest.

Berlin promptly took the initiative to deny any kind of annoyance on part of Greece’s EU partners. The pact contains – according to the German Foreign Ministry – “clear references to the status (of both Greece and France) as EU and NATO Member States”, so it does not unsettle existing alliances. More important: the U.S. State Department was prompt in stating “we strongly support Greece’s role in creating stability on the region” and welcoming the French pact-related armaments sales to Greece: 3+1 Belh@rra frigates (with a possible extension to 3+1 Gowind corvettes), coming close on the step of two dozen Rafale fighter planes.

Ambitious bilateral agreements and advanced armaments procurement are all to the good when a country has to deal with a rambunctious and at times openly aggressive neighbour and tries to enlist support from usually reluctant allies in existing collective-defense organizations. Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis justified the French-Greek accord by stating that NATO Treaty art. 5 over collective defense has proved quite unsufficient to counter Turkish bellicosity; also, that EU mutual defense clause (art 42 para 7 of the Treaty on European Union) in case of armed aggression on a Member State’s territory cannot be really relied upon under Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean conditions.

Of course, the real challenge arises when such bilateral agreements and armament deals are brought in contact with real-time/in-the-field threats. So, insofar the situation in the Aegean is concerned, the salient question is whether assistance on part of France will be forthcoming if (and when) Greece decides to expand its territorial waters from their present breadth of 6 to (the international standard of) 12 miles. It just so happens than in these very days a search vessel of French interests – the Nautical Geo – had undertaken survey work 10 miles east of Crete (as preparatory work to the EastMed gas pipeline) under a Navtex issued by Greece; then it proceeded toward Cyprus. Turkish naval forces interfered with course source of Nautical Geo, approaching to some hundred yards. Ankara claims that the course followed falls within the EEZ jointly declared with Turkey and Libya in the area.

As the new weaponry acquired by Greece, the real question is when they will become operational: the Belh@rra vessels are supposed to be delivered no sooner than 2025…