Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias commented on Greece's relations with India, Asia and Africa at the Hellenic National Defence College on "Challenges, perspectives and strategic objectives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs" held on November 23, 2022.
Honorable Commander, General,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I’d like to thank Lieutenant General Spanos for inviting me today. It is a great pleasure and honor to address you.
I am also very excited to be here in this historic building of the former Evelpidon School.
It is a very great opportunity for me, as the person in charge of our country's foreign policy, to address the personnel of our armed and security forces; as well as the officers from the Republic of Cyprus, and our friends and partners from Egypt, North Macedonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Unfortunately, we are not experiencing a period of normalcy, but rather a series of constant challenges.
I’ll start with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. War on the European continent in the 21st century. A development that would have been considered inconceivable if we had been discussing that in the very same room two years ago.
But aside from that, it is not just Russian revisionism. Revisionism is in full swing in other regions as well, and revisionist forces are violating, through either words or deeds, International Law. There is, of course, the danger of the food crisis which has to do with the difficulty of exporting grain from Russia and Ukraine, but also, with the issue of fertilizers; an issue which may have received less publicity, but it is perhaps more important.
In addition to this - because crises never come alone – there’s the energy crisis, which is unfolding on two fronts: both in terms of the quantity and cost of energy, which secondarily leads to inflation and even more strain on societies.
Our country, therefore, faces all this as well as a threat of war from Turkey, the well-known casus belli. It is confronted with a challenge to our sovereignty and our sovereign rights, a series of hybrid threats, and an obvious attempt to smear our country’s image abroad. And it also faces something we have not seen before: the instrumentalization of the migration issue, which of course other countries have copied, as Belarus has. I am referring to the 2020 crisis, as well as to the persistent, albeit in a more complex and sophisticated way, presence of the migration issue in the “showcase” of Turkish arguments.
Many people who do not follow these developments on a daily basis, as you do, would wonder what is new. There have been escalations in Greece’s relations with Turkey numerous times. Today though, there is one differentiating factor, and that is duration.
I remind you that in the autumn of 1974 following the invasion of Cyprus, Constantine Karamanlis met with the Turkish Prime Minister. And Greece resumed talking with Turkey. The same had occurred in all the periods of crisis with Turkey. The crises were brief and were always followed by a period of dialogue, which was more or less successful, usually less so. However, this dialogue had the merit of calming the situation. That has not occurred this time.
There’s an ongoing, escalating crisis, which is nearing, if not exceeding, three years now. There’s no such precedent. And, of course, the substance of this crisis, the broader one, is that Greek sovereignty over the islands of the Eastern Aegean, and even marginally over Crete itself, is being directly challenged.
I add to this the Turkish-Libyan "memorandum".
The theoretical background of the Turkish-Libyan "memorandum" is that islands, regardless of their size - I recall that Crete is the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean - have no rights other than territorial waters. In fact, the Aegean islands have 6 miles of territorial waters. Anything else is a cause for war for Turkey. Greece on its part though clearly invokes International Law and the International Law of the Sea on this issue.
Let me now give you a brief schematic presentation of how we are pursuing our policy. We have a foreign policy that I call the policy of cycles, of six cycles. A seventh can be added. If you remember the old Olympic Airways logo, the circles are intersecting, but they are not concentric.
We consider the first cycle to be the relationship with our European partners and friends. Not only within the EU, to which we belong, but also at the bilateral level, which we as a country had quite neglected.
There’s, of course, our relationship with France. With the Agreement that I also had the honour of signing, our relationship with France has elevated at a strategic level. It was accompanied by the procurement of the frigates. You are well aware of its significance to the Hellenic Navy. Allow me though, to make a point. This is not the first time that Greece has purchased military equipment from France, such as the Rafale aircraft and the frigates.
It had done so previously. France, though, has never signed an Αgreement with us in the past, such as the recent one. This is the first time it has signed such an Αgreement.
Aside from that, I shall not elaborate on our relations with the United States; you are well aware of them. I have had the honour of signing two Αgreements with the United States. You know their importance better than I do. But I’d like to tell you that the United States represent the second cycle.
The emergence of Alexandroupolis on the geopolitical stage carries additional weight in our cooperation.
Let me now come to the third cycle: the Middle East, the Gulf, and North Africa. Greece maintains very close relations with Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Our country negotiated with Italy for 50 years, so that we could eventually sign the Exclusive Economic Zone delimitation Αgreement that I signed.
The fourth cycle is the Balkans, the Western Balkans actually because the Eastern Balkans are members of the EU. We have agreed in principle with Albania to refer the issue of the delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
We are also doing everything in our power to help the Western Balkans join the EU. We believe that this is vital for the stability of the region and serves our national interest as well.
The fifth cycle is about emerging powers, which share our perception of international reality. I am referring to India. I believe that India will be regarded as the third superpower by the next generation. There are also other countries like Japan and Vietnam.
There’s Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, with which Greece should develop a strategic relationship. Its positions as regards International Law and the role that Indonesia reserves for itself with regard to UNCLOS are fully compatible with our aspirations and our interests.
Australia, which has a sizeable Greek diaspora, holds the same views on International Law.
Sixth, there are our relations with the African continent, which have been completely "neglected" by our country. For some inexplicable reason, Greece had revised the established view that existed under both Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. The Mediterranean is not a border, the Mediterranean is a bridge that connects rather than divides.
And there are, of course, great challenges in Sub-Saharan Africa. Because I have visited the countries in that region, I can tell you that the situation is getting worse by the day.
Terrorism and fundamentalism are edging closer to the shores, especially on the Atlantic coast. If terrorism reaches these coasts and spreads towards the sea and the lines of communication there, that will exacerbate the already enormous problems. And to the south, the Great Lakes region is under pressure as well.
We are also gradually building up a seventh and final cycle, which concerns our participation in various international organizations. For example, the La Francophonie with 88 countries - I was in Tunis the day before yesterday to attend the Organization’s (OIF) Summit; the Lusophony, with the Portuguese-speaking countries, mainly in Africa; the ASEAN, where we have been granted observer status for the last 2-3 months; SICA [Sistema de Integración Centroamericana] in Central America, where I hope we will be granted observer status in the coming months. And a number of other long-listed regional organizations, where, I believe it is very important that we are present.
I will conclude by saying that, while diplomacy is a very powerful deterrent tool, without the main deterrent tool that you serve, namely the armed forces, the country cannot fulfill the objective of defending its national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and sovereign rights. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this.