Tsipras holds the exit from NATO up his sleeve

IULIAN MAREŞ (translated by Cosmin Ghidoveanu)
Ziarul BURSA #English Section / 15 iulie 2015

Tsipras holds the exit from NATO up his sleeve

In the 40 item program that SYRIZA presented in 2012, the last proposal was "closing all the foreign bases in Greece and the exit from NATO". After the coalition made up of SYRIZA and ANEL (The "Independent Greeks" party) won the elections in January this year, this electoral idea was no longer present among the list of priorities of the new Greek government, but it was mentioned in the context of the harsh negotiations carried out with the European creditors.

A potential Greek exit from the Alliance would only be partially similar to that of France, which decided in 1966, to exit the military command structure of NATO and to eliminate from its territory the bases that were not under French authority. NATO successfully overcame that partial "French-exit": it relocated its headquarters from Paris to Brussels, it restructured the Western European flank, it replaced the French members of the joint staff etc. And France fully returned to NATO in 2009.

A military "Grexit" could not be done overnight, regardless of how revolutionary SYRIZA's political vision may be.

It would be a lengthy process, during which the Greek state would gradually abandon the security guarantees that its current status of NATO members grants it, while at the same time acting towards ensuring alternative guarantees, built together with new allies.

The alternative of military neutrality is not out of the question, but it is unlikely, when considering the foreign forces that are pushing against Greece and are located in its immediate vicinity: the constant Turkish pressure and the rekindled Russian appetite for expanding its influence in Europe. The latter however, gives form to the nastiest possible scenario for NATO: Greece may remain in the Alliance, but as a Trojan horse controlled by Russia.

That hypothesis is not so out of place: the overall atmosphere in Greece is strikingly similar to the social-political climate that existed in France in the 60s, which was conducive to the success against NATO achieved by the espionage network led by Romanian officer Mihai Caraman, who was subsequently decorated by the KGB for exceptional results.

The French public was hostile to the European maker of rules at the time, namely the US, while the Greek public is hostile to the current European maker of rules, Germany. The political power in Paris sympathized the Eastern bloc, going as far as tacitly tolerating acts of espionage of the Eastern secret services directed at non-French "targets". In present-day Greece, the political power in Athens expresses an obvious desire to get closer to Russia.

The allies will have a common problem if, while Greece is a full NATO member, Greek politicians feel inspired by the outlook of "the new world order" which the Russian Federation promises and will be tempted to do favors in that regard.

Besides the positions of prime-minister, the Greek government that was invested in January 2015 has stipulated in its organizational chart, several deputy-minister and ministers charged with special responsibilities positions. Those latter government members are formally part of various ministries, because, functionally and legally, they answer directly to prime-minister Alexis Tsipras and in their day-to-day activity they follow SYRIZA's platform.

Following the negotiations, the political management of the Ministry of National Defense went to a trinity consisting of: minister - Panos Kammenos, founding leader of the ANEL, deputy-minister - Nikos Toskas, reserve general-major, previously a candidate in the elections on SYRIZA's lists, delegate-minister in charge of special tasks - Kostas Isihos, the head of SYRIZA's foreign policy.

Thus, right-wing party ANEL leads the ministry, but is seconded by a career officer which has been politically adopted by SYRIZA and by the international affairs expert of this left-wing party, which represents the prime-minister and does not answer to the minister. SYRIZA has assigned to its coalition partner the Ministry of Natonal Defense, but it is using that institution to apply its political program (the same model applies to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where officially-not-politically-affiliated Nikos Kotsias has been appointed, but who is also seconded by two SYRIZA delegate ministers). But who are the three people who currently ensure the political management of the Greek Ministry of National Defense?

Panos Kammenos is a career politician, who got his training in the center-right party "New Democracy", member of the Athens parliament since back in 1993. The general public opinion knows him through his notorious adhesion to the national Orthodoxism. The year 2012 was a turning point for Panos Kammenos, a year of major personal investments: he left behind 20 years of being a member of "The New Democracy" and founded the "Independent Greeks" party. In parallel, he became a co-founder of the Institute for Geopolitical Study "National Regeneration" in Athens, which subsequently helped organize several debates focused on the notion of independent future for Greece. In November 2014 his NGO signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, which operates under the patronage of the Russian President (up until 2009, that institute was officially subordinated to the Russian Foreign Intelligence service, SVR). As minister, Panos Kammenos has also went on a first official visit to Moscow in mid-April 2015, during which time he mentioned "the historical and religious ties" as a justification for the development of the military cooperation between Greece and Russia. According to the Greek mass-media, he had a private 45-minute long meeting with his Russian peer, Sergey Shoygu, without an interpreter. One month later, the same minister completed an evaluation of the properties that the Greek Army Forces own, which were found to be worth 32 billion Euros and he proposed the drafting of a plan which would allow those properties to generate an annual revenue of 1.5 billion Euros (compared to 1.1 million Euros which is what the ministry currently makes from the rental of tracts of land).

General-major Nikos Toskas had a military career of over 30 years, predominantly in armored vehicles units. He studied in the US and has followed training stages in the NATO command structures in Belgium, Italy and Bosnia. He retired in 2005, and subsequently joined the PASOK party, which he gave up on in 2011. In parallel with the political activity, he has been active in Greek think-tanks such as "Istame" and "Pratto". SYRIZA's proposal to become deputy-minister came as he had been serving for three years, as a simple professor of military strategy in the Academy of the Greek Army. As candidate, he supported SYRIZA's vision concerning the need to redefine the Greek foreign and defense policy. As deputy minister, he publicly presented in February last year, a document which was allegedly the result of a criminal investigation of the Greek authorities concerning the bribes paid by two German companies to get preferential contracts from the Ministry of National Defense. But the document did not include concrete mentions to contracts or Greek officials, as its three pages seem to have been handpicked in order to make accusations in the media exclusively against German companies.

Kostas Isihos was born in Argentina, grew up in Canada and returned to Greece in 1980. He stood out as a militant against the former military dictatorships in Chile and Argentina. As an expert in foreign policy, he participated in many conferences organized in countries which were part of Russia's traditional area of interest, such as Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela, Cuba, Finland, Italy, and he also served as an electoral observer in South Africa and Venezuela. In Greece, he had a career as an airline union leader, and in 1991 he became a founding member of Synaspimos, the political entity which SYRIZA originated from. As a politician, he led SYRIZA's foreign policy department, while also serving as co-president of the Russian-Greek Council for economic, industrial and technical-scientific cooperation. Since becoming delegate minister in the Ministry of National Defense, he frequently makes statements for Russian agency "Sputnik". In one of them, he announced the visit of minister Panos Kammenos to Moscow one month in advance, and in another he reported that he has officially asked Russia to make available to Greece historical documents concerning the German occupation during WW2, useful in helping Greece's demand for war compensations from Germany.

These three characters make up the political management of the Greek Ministry of National Defense: a minister potentially tempted by the pan-orthodox justification of a special relationship with Russia, with openly stated entrepreneurial intentions, former founder of a political party and of an NGO without transparent sources of funding, a deputy-minister that is undoubtedly a patriot, but a good subordinate and indebted to SYRIZA for taking him out of his inactivity, a delegate minister with early leftist convictions and assiduous traveler in countries that are friendly to Russia. Each of them has a powerful individual profile, but they all gravitate around the idea that Greece can and has to be more than it is today. To that kind of people, the means for achieving such a sacred goal matter less.

The most often mentioned publicly is article V of the North-Atlantic Treaty, the essence of which is the concept of "armed attack" against one or several of the member states, considered "an attack on all of them". But art. IV, with its vague and lax wording, which states that members "will have common consultations" anytime they will feel that "their territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened" serves as a doctrinary and legal pivot for a large range of actions or preventive protection conducted by the Alliance, especially in managing the asymmetric threats, which exceed the limitative notion of "armed attack".

Athens' political drift is already visible within the European Union, as Greece is the first member state where most of the positions of power are held by an extremist party. If Greece's drift towards Russia will manifest itself in a concrete manner in the future, an interpretation that NATO is facing a situation where the "political independence" of a member state will be plausible. Formally, someone within will need to pull on the alarm signal and ask for "consultations". Perhaps general-major Nikos Toskas will fulfill this role, based on his position of deputy-minister of National Defense. Or maybe he will just play SYRIZA's game, no matter what it may be in the future.

The Greek political class dreams of the mythical Hellas and having the power of reaping the benefits of being the mediator between "the old world", with its representative organizations (NATO, the EU, the World Bank, the IMF) and the "new world order" which was built gradually by the Russian Federation and China, through its new organizations (BRICS, AIIB - the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, SCO - The Shanghai Cooperation Organization). Like France in 1966, Greece now swings between the West and the East. But at what price for the others, its present day allies?

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