One of the first times US Ambassador in Athens Geoffrey R. Pyatt publicly mentioned Greece as “a pillar of stability” was autumn of 2017 at the University of Macedonia in front of a group of my students at the Department of International Relations and European Studies. He was the first US ambassador to enter a Greek public university since 1974; thus, his statement goes beyond the dull pleasantries frequent in diplomatic practice. Yet, is this oral token of appreciation enough for the challenges awaiting Greece ahead?
Nowadays, the international system has nothing in common with the easy days of 2017. The Covid-19 pandemic, the messy conclusion of the American presence in Afghanistan and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have generated a new international balance of power. Greece is at crossroads again, only this time together with the rest of the international system. Will it choose to be the reliable partner promoting stability in the region, or will it face the responsibility to transform into a pillar of dynamism? The first entails fewer risks but fewer gains too. The second generates more challenges but much greater opportunities.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will be meeting US President Joe Biden at the White House on May 16. On top of that, he will be addressing a Joint Meeting of Congress the very next day. The American political structure is sending the clear message that Greece is a valuable ally. After all, Athens made all the necessary steps to show its opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These were not easy measures for the Greek economy, but Athens showed once again how a NATO member must behave when the going gets tough.
I do not claim the Oracle’s abilities. However, it is more than certain that on May 16, the American president will smile at the Greek premier and will refer to Greece, once again, as a pillar of stability in the Eastern Mediterranean. Is this enough? I argue it’s not. I am not suggesting adopting Turkey’s evasive neutral role in every crisis the US has been involved in in the 21st century (i.e. the American invasion of in Iraq in 2003, Operation Odyssey Dawn against Muammar Gaddafi, the no-sanctions approach against Russia etc) to prove to our American allies our geostrategic value. Such a posture would be against Greece’s timeless moral code. We Greeks come from the depths of history, and we have survived until today by not compromising our collective ethos under any circumstances. However, after an extended period, now is the right moment for the Greek premier to meet the American president with an agenda that will go far beyond the Turkish provocations in the Aegean Sea or with some conventional recommendations about the rise in the number of American tourists on Greek islands this year.
Mitsotakis can take the initiative and prove that Greece is ready to climb up a level from where we conveniently settled since the end of WWII
This visit must endorse a new role for Greece as a bastion of dynamism in the Eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Europe. Mitsotakis has the historic opportunity, as well as the ability, to present Greece’s recommendations on how to enhance transatlanticism in Europe; on how to end the European dependence on Russian natural gas through the deepening of the energy consortium synergies between Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt; on how to welcome the subsidizing of Chairs of American Studies at Greek public universities by American endowments; on how to build a national high-tech industry with the support of the US; on how to deepen intelligence cooperation between the American and the Greek agencies; on how to become a crucial part of the cybersecurity shield of the Eastern Mediterranean; on how to build strong people-to-people links and institutions through the activation of the Greek-American diaspora.
The Greek premier can be the one who will take the initiative and prove that Greece is ready to climb up a level from where we conveniently settled since the end of WWII, that of a small country with humble expectations from ourselves. The role of “pillar of stability” can offer us some big smiles of apprehension or friendly pats on the shoulder. Yet, the potentials of our nation are much higher, and Greek-American relations must reach a greater depth for mutual benefit. May 16 can mark a paradigm shift in Greek-American ties instead of the usual “groundhog day” every time a Greek PM visits the “shining city on a hill.”
Spyros Litsas is a professor of international relations theory at the University of Macedonia.