WASHINGTON, DC – The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) has released nine essays authored by participants of the Fifth Annual American Hellenic Institute Foundation College Student Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus.
The students’ insightful essays describe their personal experiences from the trip to Greece and Cyprus held June 19 to July 6. During the two-week program, the students were in Cyprus, June 22-27 and Athens, June 27 to July 6. They received firsthand experience about the foreign policy issues affecting Greece and Cyprus, their relations with the U.S., and the interests of the U.S. in the region.
The National Herald will publish three of the essays. This is the second in the series.”
By Despina Vastakis
With a population of only 11 million and an economic crisis that is crippling the nation, Greece is not thought of as a formidable military opponent. After our briefings with the Hellenic National Defense General Staff and the Greek Naval Headquarters located at Salamina Island, I was able to truly appreciate the significance of the Hellenic Armed Forces, not simply for domestic security, but for the international realm as a whole. Greece is located in a geographical hotspot. Turkey continues with its aggressive naval movements, the conflicts in the Middle East are escalating and threaten to spillover even further into the region, and the conflicts in northern Africa pose a potential security threat. Our meetings proved that the Hellenic Armed Forces are more than capable and prepared to handle any threat that may occur.
Not only did we have the opportunity to discuss the current security issues facing Greece, but we were also able to observe day-to-day operations of the Greek Navy. We were fortunate enough to go on a tour of a submarine and frigate, and hear about the issues that the Greek Navy must deal with on a daily basis. The Greek Navy has an extremely difficult job when dealing with their aggressive neighbors. Turkish ships are constantly crossing into Greek waters with more than two-to three-hundred incidents per year, averaging out to one incident per day. Whenever a Turkish ship crosses into Greek waters, the Greek ships must change the course of their exercises to “chase” the Turkish ships out of Greek waters. This is wasteful in both time and finances, and the Greek Navy submits reports of these incidents to no avail.
Souda Bay is a vitally important location to American interests, yet few people have even heard of it. Due to its vital strategic location, Souda Bay has been used by NATO for reconnaissance missions and air refueling support for Operations Desert Shield/Storm, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Greece has contributed to so many different international events and crises, especially through NATO. However, Souda Bay is not a large topic of discussion in the international community. Greece is one of three NATO countries to meet the minimum defense spending of two percent. Greece continues to be a strong and important country to United States interests, and it should be recognized as such by the international community.
This trip has opened my eyes to the great importance of the Hellenic Armed Forces, not only for domestic security, but for the United States and NATO. The Hellenic Armed Forces has continued to be a stronghold through Greek history despite the current economic crisis that is gripping the nation. With its important strategic location and dedicated armed forces, Greece is a significant international ally that should not be overlooked.
Despina Vastakis completed her first year of graduate school at Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), where she is majoring in International Affairs. She also completed her undergraduate degree in International Affairs and German at Georgia Tech in 2011. Despina participated in the fifth annual AHIF Foreign Policy College Student Trip to Greece and Cyprus sponsored by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation.