Our View: Time to move on from defending the defense dogma

IT SEEMS that Greece’s defense ministers cannot resist the temptation to serve up patriotic slogans and big promises when they visit Cyprus. Perhaps they consider it their national duty to boost the morale of Greek Cypriots with a few important sounding, but ultimately meaningless phrases. After all, talk and good intentions cost nothing and none of the hosts would be so rude as to question the words of the minister.

Greece’s new defense minister Panos Kammenos honoured this long and proud tradition during his two-day visit to the island. He may belong to a left-wing government, but Kammenos is the leader of Syriza’s junior coalition partners, the right-wing Independent Greeks who take a tough line on national matters. During the joint news conference he gave with his Cypriot counterpart Christoforos Fokaides, Kammenos said Greece planned to boost defense co-operation with Cyprus and repeated the slogan uttered by most defense ministers – “Greece is here”.

The “defensive shield of Hellenism” extended from Thrace, through the Aegean Sea to Cyprus, he said. After condemning Turkey’s violations of the Cyprus EEZ, which was a “clear provocation”, Kammenos said: “We want peace, but we are ready to respond, if necessary, to any attempt to infringe on the national sovereignty or territorial integrity of the wider defense area of Greece and Cyprus.”

He chose his words carefully, in the sense that, states have no national sovereignty over their EEZ, indicating Greece would not be responding when the Barbaros next sailed into the Cypriot EEZ. However, could anyone take seriously assurances about defending the “wider defense area of Greece and Cyprus”?

Greece, given its economic problems that have also affected the armed forces, should be happy to be able to protect its own defense area without having to worry about that of Cyprus. The distance between the two countries made this a difficult, if not impossible, task even at times of economic boom.

At least Kammenos stopped short of resurrecting the Unified Defence Dogma between Cyprus and Greece that came into being in the mid-90s amid much fanfare, but remained nothing more than a theoretical concept until its demise a few years later. He fudged the issue when asked about it at a news conference, saying there would be rearrangement of relations through practical co-operation. Perhaps he felt he had to say something as he had been asked.

It is a pity that the defense minister of every Greek government feels obliged to repeat the same hackneyed and, ultimately, meaningless defense rhetoric as soon as he sets foot in Cyprus. We wonder if, after all these years, anyone still believes these platitudes. (Cyprus Mail 13/02/2015)