Greece Is One Of Few NATO Members To Have Met Defense Spending Goal
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
When President Trump heads to Europe this week, he's sure to press NATO allies to spend more on defense. Four years ago, members of NATO pledged to devote at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product to military spending. Nearly half have yet to comply. A country that has met the goal is one you might not expect. Joanna Kakissis reports from Athens.
JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: When the prime minister of Greece visited Washington last year, President Trump commended his country on weathering an economic crisis.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I also commend Greece for being one of the few NATO countries currently spending at least 2 percent of GDP on defense.
KAKISSIS: Greece actually spends 2.36 percent of GDP on defense, and that's second only to the United States. This surprises even foreign policy experts.
ANGELOS SYRIGOS: Some of them who do not know exactly what is the situation of the area - they look surprised.
KAKISSIS: That's international relations professor Angelos Syrigos.
SYRIGOS: Others that they know the problems we have with Turkey consider it as a natural consequence of the bilateral relationship with Turkey.
KAKISSIS: That's a fancy way of saying that Greece sees neighboring Turkey as a military threat. The two countries have a long and troubled history, including 1974 when Turkey invaded Cyprus, an island nation inhabited by ethnic Greeks and Turks. It's a history that still resonates even here at this port where a Navy officer Maria-Fotini Sakka is finishing her shift. Her father fought the Turks in Cyprus.
MARIA-FOTINI SAKKA: (Speaking Greek).
KAKISSIS: "I grew up hearing about how he had to dodge their bombs," she says, "and just talking about it now makes my hair stand on end." After the invasion, Greece amped up its military spending until it reached almost 6 percent of GDP in the 1990s.
THANOS DOKOS: That money was spent for a wide range of military equipment.
KAKISSIS: Thanos Dokos is a leading defense analyst in Athens.
DOKOS: Greece felt that it needs to develop all three legs of its military forces - land, air and navy because of geography, because of the large number of islands.
KAKISSIS: Between 1997 and 2004, Greece spent billions on equipment, including advanced missiles and submarines from EU member states France and Germany. Syrigos, the international relations professor, says Greece didn't need much of that equipment.
SYRIGOS: We followed the needs of the minister who was in charge, and he wanted to take some extra money from...
KAKISSIS: Extra money - you mean bribes.
SYRIGOS: Yes, he was bribed. Actually he's in jail.
KAKISSIS: Military spending has decreased since the 2010 debt crisis as the Greek economy has shrunk by a quarter. But don't expect it to go down too much. A military job is steady work these days when steady work is often hard to get, and the soldiers still have their eye on Turkey. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.