Keeping Greece in is not just about the money

The discussion about Greece and its future in the monetary union, or the lack thereof, has focused on economic issues to the near-exclusion of all else. This is myopic.

Historians continue to debate who lost Yalta, the territorial settlement at the end of WWII that recognized a Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern and Central Europe. Will they one day debate who lost Greece?

Greece is an important NATO member. If it is forced out of the monetary union, and by extension the EU, it would increase the risks it leaves NATO. Could this turn into Europe’s Cuba?

History may repeat itself, but if the first time is tragedy, the second time may not be a farce but a bigger tragedy. Europe thought it could usher Ukraine into the European Union, ignoring geopolitics. It is repeating this naive and dangerous mistake by not considering Greece’s geopolitical significance.

A Grexit could be the biggest European geostrategic blunder since the Suez Crisis, when Britain and France (and Israel) thought economic issues (in this case the ownership of the Suez Canal) trumped geopolitical issues. They were mistaken. It accomplished what few other things did in those early years of the Cold War: the US and the Soviet Union to vote on the same side at the new United Nations – for the belligerent forces to return to their own countries.

While the central banks and economists are debating the merits of a 10-billion-euro bridge loan for Greece, the real bridge that Greece provides is all but ignored. Greece bridges the North and South, and East and West like no other country. It has special relationships with Israel, Egypt, Palestine, Russia, Iran and China.

It is member of the EU and NATO and the Western European Union (defense) with access to the Balkans and the Mediterranean. It is a buffer country in terms of immigration from North Africa and the Middle East, including a potential check on jihadists. With ISIS spreading, a civil war in Syria and Libya becoming a failed state, Greece’s geostrategic importance has grown even as its economy has shrunk by a quarter.

In Ukraine, Europe has been forced to recognize that Russia does not accept the post-WWII territorial settlement. Russia continues to occupy parts of Georgia since the 2008 confrontation. It supports an autonomous region in Moldova. Russia uses its power to destabilize what it calls the near-abroad. In what promises to be a protracted confrontation with Russia, the geostrategic assets represented by Greece are irreplaceable.

Greece’s geostrategic importance is not completely separate from its debt crisis. Greece is one of the few EMU countries that meets its NATO commitment for military spending. It has been among the most important customers of German and French weapons makers. Greece regularly spends a little more than 2 percent of its GDP on defense.

Greece is responsible for securing an EU border and has often argued that it does not receive sufficient European support for its responsibilities. Greece provides for a public good, the common defense, that is largely uncompensated and aggravates its indebtedness.

* Marc Chandler is senior vice president of Global Head of Markets Strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman and associate professor at the New York University Center for Global Affairs.