Security and Cooperation in Southeastern Europe:
The Objectives of Greece
His Excellency Evangelos Vasileios I. Meimarakis
Minister of National Defense of Greece
I feel particularly happy to be with you today in this beautiful city of Berlin and my participation in the effort to foster a fertile dialogue on promoting cooperation, trust, and security makes me feel especially pleased and responsible. There is no doubt that the path toward achieving extensive cooperation and developing common strategies and doctrines is still long and especially laborious. There is also no doubt that numerous problems will arise during the process of reform and adaptation to new and often uncertain situations. However, it is our job to move forward and undertake responsibilities, especially our responsibility to deliver stability and prosperity for all our citizens.
AN INTERNATIONAL ENVIRONMENT IN TRANSITION
The international environment is changing rapidly. Worldwide, we see hope alternating with disappointment. We are going through a transitional period, which is characterized by insecurity and deep concern:
- Concern expressed in different forms, as a result of rapid changes or violence and terrorism
- Concern over the ability of defense tools to effectively counter asymmetric threats
- Concern over the control of nuclear energy, which should be used solely for peaceful purposes
- Concern over issues pertaining to pandemic diseases and the scarcity of energy and natural resources
- Concern over the issues of human trafficking and organized crime
- Concern over the effects of climate changes and how to protect the environment
During this period of time, the essential link between the international community and our democratic countries, based on the rule of law, individual freedoms, and social peace, represents both the goal and the means of countering asymmetric threats, including the predominant terrorist threat. We are all aware that the war against terrorism will not be short, and we also know that successfully countering terrorism will be a hard task, since terrorism is not purely a military threat against the security of the state and society.
We must make every possible effort to protect our citizens from abominable terrorist attacks, fanaticism, irrationality, and hatred, no matter what their source. It is of vital importance to understand that in today’s interdependent world, threats against each one of us are actually threats against all of us. Security for each one of us separately is security for all of us collectively. Thus the issue of defense and security extends beyond the adaptation of strategic doctrines and the development of new national military strategies.
Nevertheless, radical reforms in the defense and security sectors as well as adaptation to new approaches, strategies, and policies have evolved into high-priority issues for modern states and for defense, security, and international cooperation organizations. The successful countering of traditional or new forms of threats necessitates the radical modernization and reconstruction of the AF in terms of strategic concept and its consequent operational application. We must aim for full adaptation to new technologic developments.
Southeastern Europe still has a number of destabilizing sources, but fortunately we are not encountering the tension of past crises. The Balkans and Europe have freed themselves from the weighty legacy of the past. The logic of confrontation has been greatly curtailed, albeit not completely eliminated. Nonetheless, today there are many causes for optimism:
- Since 2003, the Association and Stabilization Strategy has developed into a “pre-accession process” and many states have signed Stabilization Agreements with the EU.
- Balkan Cooperation has brought the leaders of Serbia and Albania to the table after 50 years.
- Bulgaria and Romania are firmly moving toward integration into Europe, and soon will become members of the Union.
- Cyprus is an EU member-state.
- Turkey is an EU candidate country.
Greece, the most developed country in the region, recently reshaped its foreign policy as well as its role in the wider area of southeastern Europe. Long ago Greece stopped being a passive recipient of developments and stopped confining itself to reflexive management of national issues. By developing strategic objectives and creating a vision and a goal, Greece has made remarkable progress and will continue to develop.
By following a specific plan, sharing views with a wide range of political forces, programming rigorously, and implementing our policies, today Greece is also actively involved in the developments in the region. Greece plays a fundamental role in and is a strategic partner of the international community as it strives to resolve serious regional problems through a series of EU and other international initiatives as well as through an agenda that includes a multitude of proposals and international interests. Our involvement in the region stems not only from our foreign policy but from our geostrategic and geopolitical position. It is also a result of our country’s contribution to world peace, security, and stability, which are essential in the contemporary landscape, and because of our strong and unfailing devotion to the values of democracy and peace.
Greece has always been at a crossroads of cultures and religions. Our history and culture have taught us that diversity is a treasure that must be preserved. We therefore do not wish to pursue or impose uniformity. While we line up with those who have common values and principles, we see our region’s diversity as a source of creativity rather than a source of disputes.
Greece has worked responsibly and persistently to carry out its objective and to consolidate peace, stability, and security in our border areas. The Euro-Atlantic Alliance and the European Union have recognized our efforts by naming Greece a “pillar state” that supports security, stability, and development in the region. Konstantinos Karamanlis, the pioneer of the Balkan Cooperation, played a particularly important role in changing the atmosphere in southeastern Europe, creating priceless cooperation and promoting strong relationships.
The Hellenic chairmanship of the South Eastern European Cooperation Process (SEECP) will soon expire, and during the ninth summit of the SEECP leaders of states and governments in Thessaloniki we had the opportunity to assess the progress we have made. The results were extremely encouraging. During the Hellenic chairmanship, there has been tangible progress on cooperation and we have achieved great success. Several high spots are the institutional enhancement of the Cooperation Process, the development of infrastructures in the region, and the work to fight organized crime and eradicate corruption in our region.
The approval of the text prepared by the Hellenic presidency, “Appraisal of the perspectives of the Thessaloniki Agenda in relation to the European integration of the Western Balkans,” is another achievement. This text underlines the shared conviction of the countries in our region about what needs to be done in the future to implement the Thessaloniki Agenda. We are continuing to work to create an atmosphere of enhanced trust, mutual understanding, and cooperation in order to ensure our countries’ and our people’s progress and prosperity. We will not allow this work to regress nor tolerate situations that could impede our progress toward a better future through dialogue, joint efforts, and good neighborly relations.
Now that the procedure for determining the final status of Kosovo has entered a crucial phase, the aforementioned parameters are of vital importance. Kosovo is a priority issue that must be handled with caution and prudence. A viable and realistic solution should be sought exclusively through dialogue and emerge through careful and substantial negotiations with all parties, taking into consideration the resolutions of the Security Council and the principles and values of the European Union.
Within this context, Greece supports the Euro-Atlantic perspective regarding the southeastern European countries and encourages their participation in the Partnership for Peace (PfP). We also fully support the European vision of all of our neighboring countries. We have committed a significant portion of our political-diplomatic efforts to enhancing and facilitating the process for enabling the Balkan nations to become equal members of a dynamic European Union.
We are also working to improve Greek-Turkish relations in order to eliminate tension in the region. We are promoting bilateral cooperation in fields of mutual interest but further development of our relationship will depend mainly on the behavior of our neighboring country. Turkey should bear in mind that it must fully comply with the criteria and principles necessary for accession, an important one of which is participating in good neighborly relations. All candidate countries and potential candidates for accession must understand that achieving their goal depends primarily on how rapidly they promote the necessary reforms and how effective their participation is in initiatives that strengthen regional cooperation, stability, and good relations with all neighboring countries.
Today, foreign policy and national defense are so closely linked that it is inconceivable to have a national defense policy that neither serves nor is based on foreign policy. Thus, our Ministry of National Defense works to prevent conflicts by reducing tensions and contributing to mutual understanding and trust. It is commonly known that the Greek defense policy provides for the safeguarding of its territorial integrity and security and respects international law.
By cooperating with the Southeastern European Countries Defense Ministries (SEDM) as well as with a series of initiatives and activities, we have established a regional security system that is being enhanced day by day. Greece plays a vital role in this system and, because we believe in deepening and broadening cooperation among the SEDM ministers, we support the participation of the defense ministers of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia-Montenegro in our ministerial meetings as observers.
The agreement that was signed during the EU General Affairs and External Relations Summit in November 2005 on the formation of a Battle Group, which made Greece a “Frame-Nation” and included participation by Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania, was welcomed by all European member-states and gave Greece the opportunity to continue its active and vital role in the Balkans. We also observe with interest the progress made by the armed forces of the countries of the region that have recently joined with NATO structures and assist them whenever required.
Now is a critical time for us. For historical, political, economic, and social reasons we cannot afford to be complacent or arrogant. To the contrary, we need to consult with other nations to develop peaceful solutions to the problems that are emerging on the international political stage to strengthen democracy, freedom, and progress. Only in this way can we assure the peace, security, primacy of international law, multilateral international action, full employment, social solidarity, justice, equality, and elimination of discrimination that our citizens are demanding and that all citizens deserve. As an international community that wishes to provide fundamental freedoms, encourage our people’s participation in political activity, promote economic reforms, and improve socioeconomic conditions for our citizens, we must combine freedom with order and social justice. We must also act on our people’s irreversible decision to participate in a collective security system that will constitute the cornerstone for reaching our vision of world peace.