- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2001

NICOSIA, Cyprus Plans for dramatic cuts in Greek defense spending have eased tension in the Eastern Mediterranean, but Turkey has given no indication that it will follow suit in the near future.

Critics accused the Greek government of Prime Minister Costas Simitis of a naive handling of the country's defenses.

Nonetheless, diplomats in the region see the change of the Greek military doctrine, which no longer considers Turkey as the main enemy, as a major and significant development.

In a series of statements, Greek Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos indicated that the defense concept of the "Turkish threat from the east" no longer applied.

In response, his Turkish counterpart, Sabahattin Cakmakoglu, said: "It is impossible not to be pleased by this. Turkish-Greek relations have been advancing along a positive path … but we have not been able to register any progress on real issues."

Greece plans to slash arms procurement during the next three years by $6.7 billion and reduce armed forces personnel from 140,000 to 90,000.

The funds thus saved will be used for the 2004 Athens Olympics, increased old-age pensions, education and social programs.

The conservative opposition has criticized the measures announced by the socialist government. Worried Greek generals have been assured that state-of-the-art defense systems will be purchased after the costly Olympics.

Costas Karamanlis, head of the opposition New Democracy party, said "statistics and creative accountancy will not help the government." Other opposition members warned that the Greek budget was under stress.

"It is clear that we have exceeded the economy's abilities and we will have to make a forced landing," one Greek government official said.

Political commentator Costas Iordanidis, writing in the Athens daily Kathimerini, said, "The decision to curb defense spending reflects the failure of fiscal policy, tarnishes the virtual reality of prosperity, reveals a naive approach to the military threat facing the country."

The arms-procurement cuts have postponed until after 2004 the $4 billion order for Euro fighter Typhoon jets, produced by the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company.

"The well has run dry," commented the Athens daily Eleftherotipia.

Greece has not changed its military relations with Cyprus and its commitment to defend the southern part of the island. In Cyprus itself, military spending has not been affected because, Foreign Minister Yiannakis Cassoulides said, "national security cannot be left to chance."

The Greek plans have caused a considerable rift within the Cabinet, but the political impact of the measures is clear: Greece is no longer obsessed by the Turkish threat.

The change comes largely because Greece considers the European Union as a major political shield. Equally, the Greeks believe that Turkey's application for EU membership is bound to affect its international behavior, particularly since Ankara has achieved its security objective by placing 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus.

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