Looming war puts Athens in a policy dilemma of defending interests while not betraying position

There is a general impression that the current Iraq crisis is creating the conditions for other disturbances around the world. It is nothing like the 1991 crisis, when the allied intervention simply forced Saddam Hussein’s troops to retreat from Kuwait. On the contrary, all the evidence suggests that this time many things will change. Many observers talk about a new world, with new alliances and new divisions, as the USA shifts from the rationale of a superpower to that of hegemony, and the opposition that this shift will trigger off. This is indicated by clashes among the powerful debates developing on both sides of the Atlantic, comments by leaders, diplomatic action, even articles in the international press, and in general the ease with which accusations are being flung in every direction. Europe is already influenced by the prospective conflict. The shared opposition of France and Germany to the war illustrates the differing perceptions of the new world that is being established with Iraq as a starting point. What Americans refer to as «Old» Europe seems to have found a chance to emancipate itself, as it feels the need to resist the coming events. The Franco-German axis and its rapprochement with Russia demonstrate a tendency for defense, for the creation of some kind buffer against the superiority and ability of American hegemony. Various scenarios are doing the rounds of the world’s great capitals. Diplomacy is superfluous and ideological discussions are once more finding fertile ground to develop and reclaim the place they deserve in the world of politics. The French and Germans have expressed their opposition in theoretical terms. They speak of their European dream, of a different continent that will not be based on the strength of firepower, but on its social and political culture, and that will be distinguished by its ability to solve problems peacefully. They say they will not follow the arms race; they play down the threat of terrorism and insist that the root causes of terrorism must be attacked – poverty, inequality, lack of education and culture, disease and underdevelopment in the Third World. In Athens, these perceptions are more welcome, better suited as they are to the culture that followed the reinstatement of democracy. They also fit in better with underlying anti-Americanism, and they are rationalized on the grounds of the strong ties that Greece has formed over the past 20 years with European capitals, especially with Berlin and Paris. Most people feel that the progress, prosperity, adaptation and modernization of Greece were based on this relationship and the inflow of funds from the European Union. It was from this relationship that Greece drew its power and superiority over its neighbors in the Balkans and southeastern Europe, and from which it draws hope for the future and for the country’s definitive departure from the period of underdevelopment. Nevertheless, despite the apparent opposition of Greeks to the war, there is widespread concern in political circles about the future, arising primarily from Greece’s dual European and Atlantic connections. Many politicians note that Greece has a significant feature in that its security depends mainly on its relations with the USA, so it must carefully weigh its position in the coming events. In private discussions with politicians, particularly those who have the opportunity to talk to the Americans, they express deep concern at what will happen after the Iraq crisis. While accepting that Greece says ‘No’ to war, they point out that the war will occur and will have consequences. Those who are privy to the US viewpoint say war will be unleashed against Iraq and it will be instantaneous. It is said that within a week of the start of bombardment, Saddam Hussein’s support system will collapse and American troops will be in Baghdad, while the whole region will be in the process of reorganization. The same sources say that Iraq will remain united and will be ruled by opposition parties in cooperation with the Americans. The Kurds in northern Iraq will demand a form of autonomy. Meanwhile, plans are underway to topple the regimes of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria. They describe Iran as a society in turmoil, with a concealed cosmopolitanism and a strong desire to be rid of theocratic rule by the mullahs. Democratization scenarios are being written for Saudi Arabia, and, as for Syria, it is said that Bashir Assad is hostage to his late father’s generals. Jordan is seen as friendly, but the same sources see no solution for Palestine, which they see as a difficult problem to solve. If these plans materialize, they will obviously create turmoil, and will inevitably affect existing balances in the region. Turkey is expected to come out stronger and will make more demands on Cyprus, as it has in the talks that have already been announced on Greek-Turkish differences. But those who report the plans and projections of the Americans don’t stop there. They point out that if the major European powers oppose US President George W. Bush’s plans to the very end, and French President Jacques Chirac exercises France’s veto in the United Nations Security Council, the split in Europe will shift out of control. The Americans, who believe that the Germans and French have revived their geostrategic plans from the beginning of last century and are trying to forge a new alliance with Russia, will do everything to divide Europe. According to sources familiar with American plans, the lever for this division – spearheaded by Britain and the countries with an Atlantic tradition, Spain and Italy – will be the new European members, Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Baltic countries, which have a fear of Russia. The memory of Soviet influence on those countries is still fresh, and there is a strong desire for protection from that danger. And this is where the security game will be played out. The same sources say that the Americans will not hesitate to move their defense umbrella further east, leaving Germany uncovered, and creating a new buffer to the east, allocating roles to countries which until yesterday were seen as poor relations. If things develop along those lines, the dominant NATO powers in the Balkans could soon be Bulgaria and Romania, said one source, exaggerating to demonstrate the extent of the threatened arrangements. And he pointed out that Greece is surrounded by American subordinates. No matter how alien these scenarios seem, they demonstrate the need for care in formulating Greek policy. Local politicians say these scenarios cannot be ignored as possible future events and support the view that Greece cannot unthinkingly follow the Franco-German line as long as Greek security depends significantly on the USA. They say the Iraq crisis will change the world, and that Greece must act in accordance with its long-term interests. They conclude that while Greece obviously cannot betray its European position, neither can it jeopardize its security. At this exceptional time, when everything is in a state of flux, prudence, caution and thorough evaluation are essential.