Which Bankrupt EU State Is the World’s Fourth Biggest Arms Importer?

Nothing exposes the hypocrisy of those currently running the EU and almost every one of its member states more than the recent discovery by French journalist Jean-Louis Denier that the Greek government is being encouraged to spend vast sums of money on a range of hardware which no-one needs and no sane person wants.

Having spent the last couple of years arguing that austerity is not the ‘necessary’ policy response demanded by the financial and economic crisis, I find that, behind the scenes, it isn’t in any real sense austerity which is happening at all.

It turns out that throughout this crisis of Greek public debt, and under the direction of the same international potentates who are imposing cuts in spending on welfare, pensions, health care, the public sector and all of the other usual targets, the country’s ‘socialist’ government has continued to spend vast sums on armaments.

The fact that the principal suppliers of these arms are two of ‘austerity’s’ biggest proponents, the USA and Germany, should not surprise us. We have moved beyond a situation in which lying by leaders is not so much accepted as expected, into one in which reality plays no role whatsoever in their discourse.

Greece may, in the estimation of politicians and the mass media, be a badly-governed, corrupt kleptocracy populated by robber barons and a lazy, feckless class of reluctant workers, but it is at least armed to the teeth. The immediate cause of Greece’s financial crisis was a doubling, from 2005 to 2008, of the value of loans from western banks to the country’s government. By the end of that period, these loans amounted to $160 billion.

At the same time, the ‘defence’ bill of this relatively small, relatively poor European Union member state was growing by a third in five years (to 2009) as it became the world’s fourth largest importer of armaments.

This is a country with fewer than 11 million people, one of the world’s lowest birth-rates, and a negative rate of growth. With a GDP ahead of that of Spain it isn’t as poor as sometimes assumed, but its wealth is unequally distributed and it spends only 4% of its annual budget on education, putting it 105th in a global league table. Within the EU, only Slovakia spends proportionally less on schooling its people.

The Greek ‘defence’ budget, moreover, is higher than this, at 4.3% of GDP. Such figures can be hard to credit.

It’s more than two thousand years since any part of Greece was a superpower, yet its leaders prefer bombs to books. It is thus clear that the ever-increasing bail-outs are in reality, directly or indirectly, consecrated to the purchase of arms. Year on year, Greece has been spending money it does not have on weapons it does not need.

According to a joint investigation by Greek and German justices, bribery of top Greek politicians, public officials and military leaders has been used to secure contracts. The money to purchase these weapons is supplied by bank loans which come from the same countries which are supplying the arms, including the US, Germany and France. About $3 billion on French combat helicopters; $2 billion on US fighter planes; roughly the same figure on French Mirage aircraft; almost three times that sum on German submarines; and a trifling half a million or so on French combat helicopters.

This presumably exempts Greece from recent criticism from outgoing US Defence Secretary Robert Gates that Europeans don’t spend enough on arming themselves. Just what Greece is expecting to defend itself from is unclear.

Its old enemy Turkey is in fact gradually reducing its arms purchases and last year proposed to Greece an accord under which each would cut its spending on weaponry by 20%. Despite its financial crisis, Greece refused to agree to this.

Only in 2009 did Athens start to experience difficulties in paying for imported arms, and at that point the EU began to show concern. When it could meet the bill for the astronomical sums spent on weaponry which, mercifully enough, is for the most part unlikely ever to be used, no-one had a problem.

This puts into a strange new context the recent spat between Germany and the European Central Bank as to how best to help Greece to pay its debts without destabilising markets. Every single aspect of this row serves merely to cover up the reality of a situation in which a middle-income country can no longer afford to provide the means whereby its people can lead decent, productive, satisfying lives, yet can spend billions and billions on instruments designed to bring other lives to a premature end.

Back in Greece, protests continue as a new round of cuts, amounting to €6.5 billion before the end of 2011, is debated in the Greek parliament. Deputies from the ruling former social-democratic PASOK are beginning to defect.

I was recently asked an interesting question by a young American woman who had been watching events unfolding in Spain. An uprising in a dictatorship has an easy solution, in a sense, she said: you can introduce parliamentary democracy and hope that this provides a platform for resolving grievances which everyone can respect. But what happens if you have an uprising in a parliamentary democracy?

I couldn’t answer. But I suspect we may soon find out.

  • First appeared at Spectrazine.
  • Steve McGiffen is editor of Spectrezine where this article first appeared. Read other articles by Steve.