Deficits in Greece’s strategic outlook

The author currently teaches at Gaziantep Hasan Kalyoncu University and is a researcher at the Security Studies Directorate of the Foundation for Political, Economic, and Social Research (SETA) based in Ankara, Türkiye.


In the annals of Greek politics, Türkiye has long been at the top of Athens’ list of concerns, complaints and demands.

The basic philosophy of the Greek leadership relies on the repetition of well-known narratives such as “The threat comes from the East”. This prejudice tends to be enriched by the self-confidence of representing the older Greek civilization whose validity has expired. But the facts of the modern world weaken the Greek mood to defend its national interests through lawsuits and promises to third parties.

Rising tensions in Aegean, Mediterranean

Given that Greece has always enjoyed the ‘offered’ privileges of Western ‘powers’, the strategy could be based on preserving the achievements of the last two centuries by accepting peaceful coexistence through a strict commitment to already agreed treaties . In this sense we can refer to the agreed norms of the legitimate arrangements for a stable South East Europe. For example, the demilitarization of islands a few miles off the Turkish coast is a “foreseen” guarantee by the “then” five major European powers of a lasting peace in the Aegean. Turkey’s strategy in the Aegean has always managed the disputes and not challenged the established “order” in the interests of “peaceful coexistence”.

The political and military picture in the Aegean seems to challenge the sustainability of inked treaties and other agreements, as the Greeks constantly seek to consolidate their “covert” territorial expansionism to imprison Türkiye on its shores as if the entire Aegean under Greek sovereignty would be . The exclusive economic zone and continental shelf debates support this hypothesis.

But it is clear that the treaties of the last century are still in force and easy to understand. The islands that passed into Greek “possession” with their name and the rest – “the islands and rocks above the sea’s surface” – were not part of that promise. Once Greece breaks the terms of those standard-setting treaties, the Lausanne and Paris Treaties, the results will surely challenge order in the Aegean.

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What could be the cost of such an escalation strategy for the Greeks? A conflict, however, is a matter of calculation by the parties involved; hence in this case it is no more than potentiality. On the other hand, this question must be extensively deepened in order to predict and project the effects of a deficit in the strategic perspective through concrete samples. Therefore, a comparative analysis in terms of the economic and defense capabilities of both countries can be an appropriate approach.

Statistical comparison

Greece’s government revenues amounted to 89.81 billion euros ($88.6 billion) in 2021, while government expenditures stood at around 105.8 billion euros with a deficit of 15.99 billion euros. The Turkish government’s budget expenditures totaled 88.87 billion euros, while revenues reached 78.18 billion euros. However, Türkiye’s export and tourism boost in 2022 is expected to narrow the revenue and expenditure gap.

The Greek National Statistics Service points to a public debt of 193.3% of GDP in 2021, from a peak of 206.3% in 2020. The public debt of Türkiye is 39.7% of GDP in December 2021, which is five times lower is than that of Greece. The level of debt and the percentage of GDP affect the economic durability and sustainability of defense preparedness. Given that Greece experienced economic devastation in 2008, speculator expansionism and an aggressive military-based strategy could result in defense spending that is disconnected from the reality of the Greek economy.

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Also worth noting is a comparison of government spending in terms of the degree of autonomy and depth of shock resilience. The respective GDPs of Greece and Türkiye in 2021 were US$216.38 and US$851 billion, respectively, making Turkey’s economy almost four times the size of Greece’s. Greek military spending per GDP is 3.8%, while Türkiye spends a little less than 2.1% of its GDP as per NATO requirements. Interestingly, Greek military spending per GDP is higher than the US percentage (3.5%) and depends mostly on sourcing from other countries.

Türkiye’s defense industry, based on the accumulation of Turkish know-how, has started exporting defense products to finance the manufacture of what the Turkish Armed Forces need. Greece’s military exports in 2021 totaled US$17 million, while Türkiye achieved US$3.2 billion, in addition to US$8.5 billion worth of new orders from Turkish defense contractors. The value of spending by Turkish defense companies on R&D earmarked for 2021 was $1.6 billion.

On the other hand, Greek defense imports totaled $5.31 billion in 2021, excluding newly ordered warships and aircraft in 2022. For example, the cost of Rafael aircraft is $2.32 billion. Curiously, while the deal to procure 3+1 FDI French frigates accounts for the bulk of military spending, spending is not transparent to Greek voters.

If you compare Turkish and Greek military procurement, Türkiye relies on national products that are financed from a surplus. Türkiye avoids any dependence on a third actor that might foster loyalty to an external actor’s political goals.

In terms of dependency on the other players, Türkiye has achieved a defense revolution for two decades thanks to covert Western sanctions. With its dynamic economy and social base, Türkiye can build autonomy in strategy and decision-making processes.

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Things are different for the Greeks compared to Türkiye. There may be a long list of burdens on Greece as far as aggressive Greek strategies are put forward. Greek leaders have always described their national security as an extension of solidarity and support from their “allies” – mainly EU countries and the US. This strategy is clearly challenging from a realistic point of view, as it is well known that a “self-help” principle is essential for achieving security.

GReece’s Pay for Support Tragedy

There has been a pay-for-support tragedy for Greeks as far as they have raised their voices in European and American halls. Greece may enjoy this support until they can afford it, but it is evident that the global and Greek economies are vulnerable.

Aside from arms procurement, Greece prefers to host foreign military presence as a deterrent. The initial concern is whether the goals and scope of the host states are in line with Greek interests.

All in all, Greece sacrificed its independence as a proxy state with revisionism to expand into the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean. In the absence of a strategic perspective to assess Greece’s capacity and predict ongoing third-party strategies, the “security dilemma” gave way to hard “words and actions” for the continuity of potential conflicts. The Greeks’ ignorance of “self-help” and reliance on third parties halted diplomacy and deprived the Greek people of progress and prosperity.

*The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policies of Anadolu Agency.

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