2011-06-28 The Prospect of a Greek Military Coup

Photo by RobW_

The Greek government is prepared to vote on austerity measures on Wednesday, June 29. The vote will take place in the midst of a general strike launched by the unions to oppose cuts that would most impact minimum wage earners and Greeks who are struggling the most in the current economic conditions.

Talk has been circulating on whether a military coup might happen if austerity measures pass. In a message from an “Independent Movement of Military People” to the Minister of Defence Panagiotis Beglitis, the army chided him for making false promise and creating a wealthy network of strong patronage ties.

The message calls out the Minister for offending Military Honor, which is supposed to be a public good. It asserts that the Independent Movement will continue to fight for its rights and entitlements, which are owed to members of the Army, and families of deceased colleagues.

“We are thinking Greeks who gave an oath to uphold the Constitution and Laws” of Greece, the message declares. And, furthermore, it chastises the Minister for failing to deal with the Veterans’ associations and current and pressing issues facing Armed Forces officers properly.

A number of US State Embassy cables have been released by WikiLeaks in recent months. The Greek newspaper Ta Nea has been covering revelations in the cables.

One cable from June 2008 addresses the military-to-military relationship between Greece and the US by looking at “the Good, the Bad and the Necessary.” A section shows how the Greek military has depended on the patronage of the US:

The Greeks are disappointed that U.S. International Military Education and Training (IMET) funds for Greece have been drastically reduced from USD 540,000 in 2008 to USD 100,000 in 2009. U.S. military training is a highly valued commodity with Hellenic armed forces personnel and is probably the most effective of our defense cooperation activities. We expect Greece to send more military personnel to other countries for training, with a probable concomitant increase in those nations' influence with the Greek armed forces.

As STRATFOR, a global intelligence company that publishes daily intelligence briefings, details, Greece’s geography places constraints on population growth and the production of domestic capital. It has helped contribute to the uneven distribution of wealth and is part of the reason why there is a deep conflict between labor and capital in the country.

Greece has not accepted the constraints that its geography imposes upon the country and has fought to maintain membership in the “first-world club” by borrowing money to procure top-of-the-line military equipment. It has indebted itself to patrons to maintain its status among world powers.

Throughout the past years, it appears not only has Greece continued to accept patronage from the US but it has begun to expand its relationship with Russia:

Over the last several months, PM Karamanlis has accelerated his long-term project of developing closer ties with Moscow. This is evident in recent deals on energy pipelines, but also in stepped-up high-level visits, increasing cultural ties, and Greek purchases of Russian military equipment. The latter includes, most notably, signature on a deal for Greek purchase of several hundred Russian armored personnel carriers (BMPs). The BMP purchase neither advances Greece's NATO interoperability, nor improves Greek defense capabilities, and was not recommended by the Hellenic military. The Greek political leadership has often made procurement decisions on political criteria, so the purchase of Russian BMPs for criteria other than military necessity is not unprecedented, but it is disturbing. In addition to our concerns about NATO interoperability, however, we are also concerned that GOG moves toward Russia may draw Greece into a relationship that it is ill-equipped to manage.

The crisis in Greece presents an opportunity for Russian companies, according to STRATFOR. Russia could potentially use Greece to “block a key European alternative route for natural gas supplies.”

The European Union, which currently gets around a quarter of its natural gas from Russia, is looking for alternatives to Russian-dominated natural gas transportation pipelines. At the forefront of the union’s plans is the “southern gas corridor,” which is essentially an amalgamation of several different projects that would bring Azerbaijani and potentially Central Asian or Middle Eastern natural gas into Europe via Turkey. Greece is an important component of this plan since it rests on one route by which natural gas piped through Turkey would enter the European Union — the other option would be to run north through Bulgaria and Romania. From Greece, any proposed natural gas pipelines would have to make the short jump across the Strait of Otranto to Italy.

Since 2007, the US has been working to transform Greece’s focus on “traditional regional threats.” A cable sent out on the push for a transformation that would lead to Greece fulfilling its commitment to the NATO Alliance shows tardiness—"a result of budget constraints, the Greek public's reflexive anti-Americanism -- and by extension, anti-NATO feeling -- and the traditional obsession with the Turkish "threat.’”

Additionally, the cable laments the fact that “Greece’s military procurement system remains focused, at best, on traditional weapons systems, such as F-16 fighters and heavy armor. At worst, it focuses on buying incompatible and/or un-needed weapons systems to score political points with European governments.” It indicates discouragement at the fact that Greece’s assistance in the war in Afghanistan has been “hamstrung by caveats.”

The Greek military is supposedly one of the most pro-American institutions in Greece. History and extensive ties mean if the Greek military mounts some sort of coup the State Department and Pentagon might have some kind of intelligence on plans before the world began to see it unfold on Twitter or Al Jazeera English.

In fact, the German popular daily Bild covered the CIA's warning in a recent report that "tough austerity measures" and an increasingly dire situation could result in a coup. If street protests escalated into violence and rebellion that led the Greek government to lose control, the military could step in and take control.

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