My Big Fat Greek Army - And German Responsibility For The Waste

Why is debt-ridden Greece still spending more, per capita, on its military than any other country in Europe? And why are German companies so eager to sell them arms?

Greek soldiers marching in Athens
Greek soldiers marching in Athens
Gerhard Hegmann

BERLIN — One factor rarely mentioned in the debate over Greece's debt is Athens' huge military expenditure. Indeed, in proportional terms, the Greek military is Europe's most costly.

But it turns out that a notable portion of the responsibility for the spending equipment falls on Germany, where arms manufacturers are profiting on Greek purchases of military weaponry it clearly cannot afford.

To avoid the state defaulting, Greece is supposed to cut public spending, which should include reduction of the wages of civil servants, pensions and social security benefits. But, at the same time, more and more is being spent on the military. A communique last week suggested that the Greeks are considering the purchase and maintenance of new long-range missiles to support the Russian anti-aircraft system S-300.

The sole focus in this case is the replacement of existing missiles, says Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, who noted that some of the systems in use were becoming obsolete. But precisely what sums of money were to be invested has not been disclosed as of yet.

Though a NATO member, Greece has owned the Russian anti-aircraft system S-300 since the early 1990s on top of their US Patriot system. According to experts, these systems have to be serviced regularly and replacement parts must be purchased.

The price of an S-300 guided missile is supposed to be below that of a Patriot guided missile; experts estimate it to be around $1 million per missile.

Although Greece had to reduce its expenditure on new military acquisitions in light of the imposed austerity measures, the maintenance costs of the arms build-up are now accruing. In 2014, for example, Greece ordered tank ammunition worth 52 million euros from the Rheinmetall cooperation. That is the price for 12,000 rounds of 120-mm caliber ammunition for their Leopard 2 tanks.

Krauss-Maffei Wegmann Leopard tanks in Iraq — Photo: Dino246

The tanks had been purchased in 2009, accounting for a major windfall for the German armament company Krauss-Maffei Wegmann.

But the purchase of the matching ammunition had been delayed for years. The Greek forces now command 353 Leopard 2 tanks and, with that, have more modern tanks than the German Federal Armed Forces.

Out of proportion

Greece's thirst for reinforcing its military comes from its historical standoff, a kind of Cold War, with its neighbor Turkey. With approximately 130,000 soldiers serving a country of 11 million inhabitants Greece has by far the largest army per capita in all of Europe. The total number of Greek tanks is around 1,600, many of these being old Leopard models.

To fully comprehend the dimensions of the Greek arms build-up a comparison is needed: Germany would have to hire an additional 180,000 soldiers and buy an extra 10,000 tanks to reach the same level of armament in proportional terms.

Greece’s high armament expenditure have undoubtedly contributed to the quasi-bankruptcy of the state. If seen in relation to Greece’s GDP, Athens has been spending more on its military than any other European state for several decades.

NATO estimates that Greece has spent 3.1% of its GDP on its military, as compared to, for example, Austria which spends 0.8%.

In the last decade alone Greece imported military items worth $11 billion. Taking this into account, Greece was the world’s fifth largest arms importer between 2005 and 2009. This circumstance was of particular benefit to German companies.

Germany, together with the US and France, is the principal supplier. Greece obtains 31% of its arms from German companies and is the second largest customer when it comes to buying armaments from the holdings of the German Federal Armed Forces. ThyssenKrupp was responsible for transforming the Greek shipyard, Hellenic Shipyards, into a modern producer of U-Boats in the Mediterranean.

A deal done 15 years ago to provide seven submarines is going to give Hellenic Shipyards a profit of 2.84 billion euros, and includes producing four new 214 Class submarines and modernizing three aging submarines.

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.



• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.


Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.


Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

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"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."


Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

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471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!!

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