President Mesterházy, Secretary-General Stoltenberg, distinguished Vice-Presidents, fellow Parliamentarians…
I would like to offer you a warm ‘virtual’ welcome to Athens, and the 66th Annual session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
I am sorry we cannot be together in person, in the city where many of the ideals that underpin modern democracy were born, some 2,500 years ago. The pandemic may have separated us physically, but innovation at least means that we can still be together as we embark on five days of crucial work in support of NATO.
For the last sixty-five years the NATO Parliamentary Assembly has been critical to the strengthening of our Atlantic Alliance. I myself was a member of the Assembly for 8 years and I can attest to its importance.
Over the past decades, NATO’s role, and the role of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, has adapted and evolved to the demands and challenges of an ever-changing world. In addressing the post-Cold War security threats and challenges, NATO’s flexibility, that willingness to respond and re-set, has been our greatest asset as an Alliance.
While old threats still persist, today they commingle with new threat vectors. Shifting, blending and mixing. The new risks we face are compounding at speed. Regional power-plays. The ever present risk of terrorism. The ghostly hand of hostile state actors in the grey zone – sitting behind cyber attacks, disinformation campaigns and activating proxies to chip away at our democracies.
And of course, in this year, biological risks. A global pandemic – the like of which the world has not seen for a hundred years – disrupting our societies, our economies, our way of life. Who could have imagined that we would be announcing curfews, shutting economies, preventing the movement of people?
So it is in that global context that we meet this week. And it is why I believe NATO’s mission, and your work supporting that mission, has never been more important than it is today.
Greece has been a member of this Alliance since 1952. We joined three years after NATO’s founding and just seven years after the defeat of Nazi Germany.
For decades, NATO membership has sat alongside a secure framework for constitutional government. Being part of the institutional framework of the West has helped too – active members not just of NATO but of the United Nations and the European Union.
Ladies and gentlemen, NATO has done a huge amount beyond our borders in the last 25 years. In the Balkans. In Afghanistan. And in training support in Iraq. But today the threat is more complex, more nuanced, more evolving. Our modern challenges concern conflict, poverty, power vacuums and lawlessness. Challenges that have led to the rise of terrorism, and mass migration.
Greece has been at the forefront of that movement of people, with hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants arriving from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and sub-Saharan Africa. Arrivals that have placed a huge burden on our borders, our communities and on our local services.
A 21st century NATO is vital to our ability to defend against every-one of these new threats and challenges.
So, what could a new NATO look like?
The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us the value of expertise, co-operation and information and intelligence sharing. And it has highlighted the importance of investment in emerging technologies. The lesson for NATO is that our partnerships must be similarly open and adaptable.
We must work with those who share the Alliance’s values and can help address evolving security challenges outside NATO’s borders. That means increased cooperation with countries such as India, to address security challenges in Asia.
And on NATO’s Southern flank, where conflict in Syria and Libya continue to threaten instability, we must seize on new partnerships and increase co-operation with partners in Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf.
All of us here today are part of a Trans-Atlantic family. We gain strength from the unity of our values and from the security of our shared defence guarantee. That guarantee should be underpinned by the genuine commitment of all our member states. Allies cannot afford to disregard the geopolitical implications of their policies and actions, in particular when these have a direct effect on the Alliance’s overall security and cohesion.
Allies cannot cooperate with jihadist groups nor can they deploy S-400 missiles. Such practices undermine NATO’s values and reduce its solidarity, cohesion, unity and effectiveness as a political-military Organization and they are at odds with the objectives of the Alliance itself and its defence interests.
When it comes to Russia and China, we should remain open to the prospect of meaningful dialogue, but also continue to engage in collective defence and security.
That’s why I warmly welcome President-Elect Biden’s commitment to the Alliance and to European security. NATO’s success is borne of collective solidarity – our alliance not only enhances America’s power it also ensures Europe’s defence.
As Prime Minister I am proud that Greece not only meets but exceeds its commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence annually. We have made significant new investment commitments this year in military equipment, strengthening our strategic capability and participating in key NATO operations and missions.
Greece sits at the apex of the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa. We are at the forefront of efforts to promote peace and security, democracy, multilateral dialogue, and regional cooperation. It is a region of huge strategic importance to NATO, and of course to the EU.
While being a security provider, Greece itself has been facing security challenges, which undermine NATO’s unity. In 2020 that unity has been severely tested, due to Turkey’s provocations and unilateral actions.
In March, we were faced with the weaponisation of migratory flows; in summer, we had to set our armed forces on high alert, because of actions against our sovereignty and sovereign rights over our seas. Eventually, two allied naval forces were facing each other for 35 days, a situation endangering our security and the stability of NATO’s southern flank.
Throughout I have urged President Erdogan to look outward, towards the EU and the West, to engage and to solve our differences in the spirit of collaboration. As I’ve said on many occasions this year, Greece and Turkey must talk, and if we cannot agree, then we must settle our disputes at the international court and let the rule of law prevail.
We are sincerely committed to good faith dialogue; we have been patiently waiting for reciprocity. However, if our calls remain unanswered, it will become inevitable for the EU to take measures to protect its strategic interests and those of its member States.
Ladies and gentlemen. Above all I am a Parliamentarian and a democrat. Democracy only flourishes when there is security between states. The great historian and author Thucydides wrote the definitive history of how Athenian democracy was overthrown by ‘great power’ rivalry. As we gather here this week can we really be confident that a modern-day Thucydides might not one day tell a similar story about the decline of 21st century democracy?
If we are to ensure that this doesn’t happen, if we are to ensure the continuity of our democratic system, then it is clear that the vital institutional pillar, NATO, remains firm – essential as it is to the collective security of both Europe and North America. Protecting our shared interests, assuring stability across our shared geographies, and guaranteeing peace between the World’s ‘great powers’ for decades to come.
Thank you for your attention. On behalf of the Greek people I wish you well in the days ahead.