Geopolitics is a game that is much like poker. This means that you have to keep your cards close to your chest and, most importantly, keep the other players guessing. No one should be taking you for granted, expecting your next move. The constants do not change, of course, and anyone who tries to stray from them is at risk of going off the rails.
Greece is in a position where it is looking for the perfect combination: It wants to narrow the distance with Turkey in terms of its defense program, within reason, and it also wants some kind of strategic commitment from its allies that will prevent an uncontrollable crisis in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean. It’s a tough play, but recent developments may make it easier.
Take, for example, the rift in French-US relations. President Emmanuel Macron is in a corner. He needs to prove that he’s a leader of a strategically autonomous Europe and he would also like to score a victory. Athens could take advantage of this situation to negotiate a French cooperation agreement in the event that one or the other comes under attack. Such commitments mean little, of course, if they don’t include tangible steps such as, for example, introducing a military presence in a sensitive part of the country. Athens can also approach the United States, of course, and see what it can accomplish before making any decisions.
There is nothing new about such games. Konstantinos Karamanlis would invite France’s Charles de Gaulle to remind him that Greece was indeed committed to the North Atlantic Alliance, but… Even the dictators played the game, threatening the Americans with an order for Mirage jets, which was completed after the fall of the junta. And Andreas Papandreou played it too, with the “buy of the century,” which he divided between the US and France.
In terms of the bigger picture, Greece would definitely benefit from closer defense cooperation within the European Union, when defending Greece – and Europe’s borders – is the biggest national issue at hand. There is some cooperation in this area over migration but we are a long way from guarantees of protection from any threat.
So, to the Northern Europeans wondering why Greece needs so many arms, the answer is that we would gladly reduce them if we knew that Farmakonisi and Agathonisi were guaranteed protection by the European powers. No one is asking them to turn against Turkey – that would be in no one’s interest. What we want is a peaceful and predictable Turkey close to Europe. And we will continue to tend to our preventive capabilities and play geopolitical poker until that happens.