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Country Profile

Greece has been an important U.S. ally since becoming part of NATO in 1952, principally because of its strategic location in the Aegean Sea. The United States exported over $3.3 billion in weapons to Greece between 1990-2000; foreign military sales agreements for fiscal year 2000 exceeded $2.39 billion due to the purchase of 50 F-16 fighter jets. Also, since 1992, Greece has been a leading recipient of excess defense material from reductions mandated by the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.

The main issue of concern about U.S. weapons exports to Greece centers on Greece's very tense relationship with neighboring Turkey, also a member of NATO. The source of much of the conflict between Greece and Turkey is over the many disputed islands in the Aegean and the Mediterranean Seas. The Greek Defense Ministry reported that in 1996 Turkish jet-fighters violated Greek air space 1,600 times, of which 538 were over-land (mostly islands in the Aegean). This was a dramatic increase over the 73 over-land violations reported in 1995 (Washington Times, 9 Feb. 1997).

This tension boiled over in January 1996, in a dispute over two small uninhabited islands in the Aegean Sea called Imia in Greece and Kardak in Turkey. The dispute started when a Turkish boat ran aground and refused help from a Greek coast guard ship, saying it was on Turkish territory. This story received attention in the Greek media and was further played up after Turkish journalists took down the Greek flag and put up a Turkish one. The dispute became an issue of national honor, and both sides moved warships into the area. It was only after President Clinton intervened that both Prime Ministers agreed to stand-down their forces (Washington Times, 31 January 1996 and New York Times, 1 February 1996).

Cyprus is another major source of conflict between Greece and Turkey. In response to a potential Greek invasion, Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 and set up a new government in the northeast part of the island. Since then, Cyprus has become one of the most heavily armed islands in the world with 30,000 Turkish troops facing Greek-Cypriot forces across a UN-patrolled border. Click here for U.S. intelligence testimony on the situation in Cyprus. The United Nations and the United States both support the withdrawal of Turkish troops from the island. 

Periodically, tensions have flared. Greek Prime Minister Kostis Simitis warned in August of 1996, that any military move by Turkish forces on the divided island of Cyprus would lead to war (Washington Times, 18 August 1996). The decision in January of 1998 by the Cypriot government to buy an advanced Russian air-defense system set-off the Turkish government, which threatened to use force if the government of Cyprus took delivery of the anti-aircraft missiles. A January, 1998 article from the Christian Science Monitor provides background on the situation in Cyprus and on this particular arms sales dispute.

Beginning in July 2000, encouraging reports have been emerging periodically from Cyprus. Informal talks between Greek and Turkish residents periodically help to reinvigorate peace initiatives. However, in late 2001, amidst intensified efforts to end Turkish occupation in northern Cyprus, the Cypriot government reported an increased frequency in the violations of the repubic's airspace by Turkish military aircraft. The U.S. has asked Cyprus to surrender weapons obtained by the Cypriot National Guard in order to difuse tensions and yet it remains an arms supplier to both Greece and Turkey who install these weapons on the island.

Any prospect for lasting peace in the Aegean would seem to be complicated by the U.S. arms export policy to Greece and Turkey. The U.S. government has engaged in an action-reaction of arms sales to Greece and Turkey. Until 1997, the U.S. government sought to manage the Greek-Turkish arms race by providing aid and arms on a 7:10 basis. That is, for every $7 million of arms sold or given to Greece, Turkey received $10 million. But beyond balancing the financial aid, the U.S. government sells or gives the same weapons systems to both sides to maintain the balance. Some examples just from 1996 are:

  • In December 1995, the United States sold Turkey 120 Army tactical missiles (ATACMS). (The missile has a range of 30-165 km and can be upgraded to travel a greater distance. It carriers an anti-personnel/anti-material cluster munitions warhead that spews shrapnel over a 150 square meter area.) This was a controversial sale, since the ATACMS had only entered the U.S. Army's arsenal a few years before. The following summer, the United States sold 40 ATACMS to Greece;
  • In April 1996, the U.S. government gave both Greece and Turkey 523 BLU-107 Durandal anti-runway munitions;
  • In April 1996, the U.S. government sold improved radar systems to Greece for its F-16 fighter jets and made the same deal with Turkey two months later.

During a further wave of increased tensions in the winter of 1998-99, Greece reacted to perceived threats from Turkey and deployed a missile system on Crete. This action led to mounting tensions and triggered a further flow of similar weapons transfers from the U.S. to both Greece and Turkey. In late 1998 the U.S. government sold the Turkish Navy Knox and Perry Class frigates. A year later, a smaller number of Knox Class frigates were freely given to Greece as excess defense articles. In September 2001, a $212 million contract to Raytheon for Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles once again names both Greece and Turkey as recipients of this naval weapon. A further, more detailed comparison of sales to both countries can be found in the February 1999 issue of the Arms Sales Monitor.

Greece considers Turkey its principal military adversary. Greece's armed forces number 168,000 while Turkey has 693,000 soldiers. To counter this numerical disadvantage, the government of Greece recently embarked on a ten-year, $17 billion modernization program. Their shopping list includes 60 jet fighter aircraft, six new warships, an AWACS plane, two new submarines, new tanks, four Apache attack helicopters, and seven transport helicopters. Plans also include the overall restructuring of the military and the local defense industry, modernizing existing F-4 Phantom warplanes and buying missiles, anti-aircraft systems and trainer aircraft. U.S. Foreign Military Financing to Greece and Turkey was cut in 1998, but the U.S. still plays an active role in selling U.S. weapons to each country.  The Greek publication Elevtherotipia reported that former Ambassador Nicholas Burns had taken part in attempting to dissuade Greek officials from purchasing the Eurofighter in favor of a U.S. military aircraft.

Since the military junta was overthrown in 1974, democracy has been re-established. The country has an overall good human rights record, with some exceptions in its treatment of non-Greek minorities. For more information, refer to the latest State Department human rights reports and Human Rights Watch reports below.

Background Information 

Last Updated:  January, 2002

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