Greece cashiers its military leaders

It’s been a while since we looked in on Greece, which has become the single most destabilizing force in the industrialized financial world.  The EU finally reached agreement with the Greeks last week on budget reforms and debt repayments for a second bailout to forestall a collapse of the euro and then of the global financial network.  On Monday, Greece surprised everyone by declaring that it would put the agreement’s unpopular austerity measures into a national referendum, surprising their EU counterparts and putting the entire deal at risk.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Greece just ousted its military leaders in a move that has opposition parties outraged:

In a surprise development, Panos Beglitis, Defence Minister, a close confidante of Mr Papandreou, summoned the chiefs of the army, navy and air-force and announced that they were being replaced by other senior officers.

Neither the minister nor any government spokesman offered an explanation for the sudden, sweeping changes, which were scheduled to be considered on November 7 as part of a regular annual review of military leadership retirements and promotions. Usually the annual changes do not affect the entire leadership.

“Under no circumstances will these changes be accepted, at a time when the government is collapsing and has not even secured a vote of confidence,” said an official announcement by the opposition conservative New Democracy party. …

The left wing SYRIZA party said that the government’s decision “gives the impression that it wants to create a highly politicized armed forces that it can control at a time of political crisis”. It called on the President of the Republic not to proceed with the formal ratification of the defence minister’s decree and to wait until new general elections take place.

Similar statements were made by all smaller political parties from the extreme right to the hard-line communists.

There could be two possibilities for this move.  The Telegraph notes the absence of any rumors of a “Turkish-style” military intervention, but that might be because the rumors hadn’t spread far enough.  Greece has a history of military rule, although the military has behaved for the last 37 years after the last national referendum in Greece abolished the monarchy.  It’s possible that the government caught wind of a revolt among senior leadership and cashiered the leadership before they could take any action.  It’s also possible that the current government might decide that it needs to suspend democracy for a while and needs allies in those positions to get the military to enforce a shift to an autocracy, but that doesn’t make much sense in light of the government’s continuing insistence on a national referendum.

Their action could precipitate a military intervention, though, if the dismissal is seen as politically motivated.  Greece is hardly a model of political stability at the moment, and the military might come to the conclusion that the current government lacks the legitimacy to issue these dismissals.  If the opposition parties block the nominations for their replacements, it will leave the military leadership in limbo.  The Greek military might not have the same interventionist tradition as the Turkish armed forces do, but they don’t entirely lack precedent, either.

Germany is not amused by the Greek referendum dodge:

Germany’s finance minister and other senior officials urged Greece on Wednesday to stick to the aid plan agreed with the euro zone and IMF and to avoid the dangerous instability posed by the prospect of a referendum on the latest bailout deal.

“It would be helpful if clarity is achieved as soon as possible on which path Greece wants to take,” Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper. …

German European Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said Papandreou’s actions had “made the situation considerably worse for countries which don’t have the highest credit rating, and the danger of further setbacks is rising.”

He told the daily Die Welt that the Greek leader should have given European leaders advance warning of his referendum plans at their twin summits last week. The mass-circulation Bild daily said “even the chancellor was taken by surprise.”

In other words, the Greek government is a remarkably erratic diplomatic and fiscal partner, which the EU might regret not considering when it added Greece to the euro.  They are becoming increasingly erratic in their politics as well.  With a vote of confidence approaching in their parliament on Friday, it may end up getting the heave-ho — and that will really unravel Europe’s attempts to keep the euro from sinking into collapse.