Greece’s battered defense budget will be cut another 100 million euros in a trade-off the country’s coalition government made with international lenders to reduce the Value Added Tax (VAT) on restaurants and tavernas and boost a record-breaking tourist season.
The VAT was slashed from 23 to 13 percent for the rest of the year in what Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said was a test to see if it helps bring in more tourists.
For many Greeks, austerity during a crushing economic crisis has replaced Turkey as the perceived enemy, given they are more worried about survival than the likelihood of clashing with their neighbor.
Samaras reached a compromise with the Troika to pare back military spending despite 30 percent reductions during the last three years. Greece allocated the military 5.8 billion euros, or 2.3 percent of GDP, down from 3.2 percent in 2009 when the economic crisis began.
Critics say Greece overspent for decades, noting it ranks 10th in the world among conventional weapons importers. “Many arms deals, including Greece, have to do with a political statement and not a strategic assessment of whether the country needs the weapons,” Carina Solmirano, researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told SETimes.
Military leaders say the budget cuts, including salary reductions of up to 37 percent, have affected the country’s defense capability and the military’s morale.
About 40 percent of headquarters personnel and facilities have been pared, a fifth of admirals and generals have retired without being replaced, two headquarters corps closed and up to 25 percent of units disbanded, including half of Air Force combat units that regularly track Turkish fighter jets.
Solmirano said some of the cuts will likely not have a large impact on military capability. “They could just delay programs for the future, such as research and development in weapons systems.”
Until the effect of the new cuts is calculated it will be hard to determine the overall impact on the military, said Ioannis Michaletos of the Athens-based Institute for Security & Defence Analysis.
“If cuts exceed 100 million euros there are going to be reductions in foreign missions,” Michaletos told SETimes, such as its annual allocation of 120 million euros to participate in NATO’s Afghanistan mission.
Michaletos explained Greece is already planning to shut down bases and reconstruct the order of battle. “This will continue for the foreseeable future and is a good thing, since it saves money and it does not reduce capabilities.”
But, he added, NATO participation will also be affected, depending on the size of the budget cuts, and will scale back future plans. NGreece increased military spending 51 percent between 2002 and 2009, with the threat of Turkey, real or imagined, as the driving force.
Previous cuts forced the Hellenic Air Force to ground many of its F-16 multi-role fighters because of a lack of spare parts and maintenance and the army could not accept 400 US Abrams tanks because it could not afford to transport them.
Greece has bought state-of-the-art submarines, hundreds of Leopard tanks, howitzers, Mirage and F-16 jets since the late 1990s, and even while administering significant austerity measures.
The on-going and future reductions are bound to take a toll, according to Stavros Karkaletsis, defense specialist and head of the Hellenic Centre for European & International Analysis.
“If there is a new cut, we will cross red lines for safety and security. The cuts have been in logistics and weapons and we did not buy, no ships or planes, and this will be especially bad for the Navy and Air Force.”
(Used with permission of Southeast European Times, www.setimes.com)