Greece is the subject of a large-scale rearmament program which will hopefully lead to a change in military doctrine. The imminent arrival of Rafale fighter jets, the recent purchase of new warships, the acquisition of Israeli defense systems and the modernization of Greek special forces have shifted the balance of power in favor of Greece.
The acquisition of advanced defensive equipment is a necessary prerequisite for the proper use of military force, but it is not the only one. A typical example is the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean in the summer of 1974. Despite Greek air and naval superiority, with the Phantom F-4E and German submarines respectively, Athens failed miserably to protect the Republic of Cyprus. Without proper doctrine and high morale, Greek armaments alone failed to stop the Turkish invasion.
The scars of Cyprus have shaped an outdated and defensive perception of military strategy. We are at a point where Greek forces are operating on a daily basis. There is a gray area of Turkish activities which are carried out at a level higher than peace and at a level lower than war. The constant harassment of Greek fighters, the relentless overflights over the Greek islands, aggressive intelligence-gathering operations and the militarization of migrants all set the stage for a dysfunctional “new normal” that could escalate into conventional warfare.
In the existing institutional texts, the military doctrine of Greece is defined as defensive and dissuasive to prevent the loss of sovereign territory. However, our doctrine does not faithfully reflect the drastic changes seen on today’s battlefields. New technological applications favor the side which takes the initiative. The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), in tandem with the use of artificial intelligence and robotics, is leading us towards a revolution in military affairs. We are at the dawn of a new era in which the conduct of military operations depends on speed, precise targeting and, above all, the element of surprise.
Either way, there is less clarity on who is the aggressor and who is the advocate. Unfortunately, the truth eventually became a subjective reality shaped by the cynicism of geopolitics and the tools used to guide public opinion. There are more and more examples of this. In September 2020, Azerbaijan launched hostilities against the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. With the support of Moscow and Ankara, as well as the machinations of Azeri propaganda organizations, Baku did not hold itself responsible for its actions against the unarmed population of the enclave.
The new equipment will provide the Hellenic Armed Forces with unprecedented operational capabilities. In a few years, the situation in the Aegean Sea and in the Eastern Mediterranean will be completely different. Fighters of the Hellenic Air Force, equipped with radars and advanced weapon systems, will dominate the sky. The frigates of the Hellenic Navy, with their exceptional anti-aircraft capabilities, will be able to create no-fly zones for enemy combatants with their zone of prohibition and anti-access (A2 / AD) armament. In addition, the Hellenic Special Forces and some units of the Hellenic Army will be able to deploy quickly to any Greek territory.
Our military doctrine cannot remain static and immutable. Adopting deterrence through retaliation is the right choice for Greece. A new military philosophy is needed, one that will not be strangled by obsolete notions of attack and defense. Ideally, the new doctrine will emphasize offensive defense and strategic, operational and tactical initiative taking to completely demoralize the adversary. Training scenarios that focus on freeing captured territory send the wrong message to a very experienced opponent who knows how to win wars. It is clear that the Imia crisis still haunts us. The armed forces must be able to act in a way that would make any offensive movement too costly. In practice, the military should focus more on long range strikes, even if only at a training level.
Turkey is currently going through an unprecedented financial crisis which could degenerate into real political instability. It would be great if our neighbor to the east could forge a path towards democracy and prosperity, to become a peaceful and sincere partner who seeks collaboration. Until then, the worst-case scenario is still something we need to prepare for. The rearmament program must be accompanied by a change in military doctrine. No one can ever dare to threaten our country again.
Emmanuel Karagiannis is a lecturer in international studies at King’s College London and the University of Macedonia.