Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Franco-Hellenic defence pact: rectifying a 100-year-old strategic mistake

France, smarting from being snubbed and humiliated by the signing of the AUKUS pact, which dealt a $66bn blow to France’s defence industries and undermined French ambitions in the Indo-Pacific theatre, showed its geo-strategic aspirations in the Eastern Mediterranean this week with the signing of a wide-ranging defence deal with Greece.

The deal complements the agreement inked earlier this year for Greece to buy 24 French-made Dessault Rafale fighter jets and envisages not only the sale of three Belharra FDI-type frigates to Greece – with the option of a fourth – but also amounts to a mutual assistance pact, with both countries pledging to come to each other’s aid in the event of attack by a third country.

‘The Parties shall provide each other with assistance and contribution, with all appropriate means at their disposal, and if necessary by the use of armed force, if they jointly find that an armed attack is taking place against the territory of one of the two, in accordance with Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations.’

The agreement is aimed at curtailing Turkish ambitions in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey’s Blue Homeland doctrine explicitly challenges Greek sovereignty and imagines Turkish hegemony in the Aegean and expanded sway in the Levant, which France with its long-term interests there, considers its sphere of influence.

Both France and Greece touted the deal as a sign of growing European defence autonomy and co-operation – a step towards an EU defence union; though it’s hard to claim this while other significant European countries, such as Spain, Italy and particularly Germany – with deep economic, defence and geo-strategic ties to Ankara – have repeatedly sided with Turkey as Greece (and Cyprus) brought Turkey’s aggressive threats to Greek sovereignty to the EU level in anticipation of solidarity (and sanctions) only to receive the coldest of shoulders.

Still, the deal does indicate how both Greece and France regard NATO as increasingly unreliable. The 70-year-old military alliance is being narrowly used by the USA to confront Russia – which countries such as Greece and France do not regard as a significant threat; while Greece has also found it increasingly deficient in curtailing the persistent belligerence it faces from Turkey, also a NATO member. 

Ironically, the Franco-Hellenic deal comes 100 years after France, having initially given reluctant approval to the Treaty of Sevres (1920), which allowed for Greece to liberate Ionia and Eastern Thrace from the collapsing Ottoman empire, ended up supporting Turkish nationalists as they sought to prevent the division of Anatolia between Greece, Armenia, Italy and France.

France always jealous and suspicious of British imperial ambitions in the Near East, and concerned that Greece, under the patronage of Britain, would emerge as too powerful in the Eastern Mediterranean, having first handed over Cilicia to the Turks – along with all the weaponry the French army had been using to control the area – decided, in a series of cynical and treacherous moves, to abandon altogether the Allied cause in Turkey.

French diplomatic support and the provision of materiel to the Turks proved fatal for Greek hopes in Ionia and Eastern Thrace and has crystalised, 100 years later, with the re-emergence of vaulting Turkish ambitions in the Eastern Mediterranean. In these circumstances, the French are now backing the Greek horse, showing how it can often take decades for faulty strategic decisions to come back to haunt you.