15 May 2010

Greeks, guns and Turks

That the Greeks have been living beyond their means is common knowledge. Not so commonly known is their excessive spending on their military. They spend 3.3 per cent of their GDP on weaponry, more than any other nation in the European Union and substantially more than their chief antagonist, Turkey. Greece is the biggest importer of conventional weapons in Europe. The chief providers of its military fix are France, Germany and the United States.

That it can no longer afford its lavish military was amply demonstrated by its last annual military parade. Unlike past parades, there were no tanks. The reason? The government explained it couldn't afford the fuel.

The reason for its big defence budget is of course its long-standing quarrels with its Aegean neighbour, Turkey. Now this is changing. Meeting with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou in Athens, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan announced both countries planned to cut military spending and stated, "I believe ... the 21 accords and co-operation protocols that we will sign with our neighbour and friend Greece will mark the beginning of a new era in our relations." Panos Beglitis, the Greek deputy defence minister, has said this year alone the Greek defence budget will be reduced from from €6.8-billion to €6-billion. 

"A new era" with its neighbour. Good sense is prevailing. If Greece's economic woes have helped end an animosity that endured for centuries, then that is a very silver lining indeed.

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