For decades we knew that Washington would step in to defuse the situation in the event that tensions between Greece and Turkey rose dangerously.
The United States’ recent political withdrawal from many parts of the world, however, is also affecting the likelihood of an American intervention in Greek-Turkish affairs. This is the result of personal strategic choices made by the US president, and while they do not appear to be espoused by the diplomatic establishment – as shown by repeated public and private objections, many of them loud – the man in the White House has the final say.
At other times, the American intervention to ease the tension seen in recent months between the two NATO allies would have started with the US assistant secretary of state for European affairs, then moved up to the level of the secretary of state and, in exceptional circumstances – as appears to be the case today – all the way up to the president.
However, despite a number of symbolic moves and appearances as well as statements from American diplomats to this end, it is clear that there is a vacuum in terms of American involvement in the region stemming from Donald Trump’s idiosyncrasy but also his personal relationship with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Given this new situation, attention is now focused on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who takes a different, less critical approach to Turkey than the French leadership.
Some even accuse Merkel of placating the Turkish president’s authoritarianism and aggression in order to protect German interests, though others see Berlin’s more moderate stance as giving it greater influence over Ankara. We will only judge by the results.
In that context German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is due to travel to Athens and Ankara today in a bid to ease the tensions by restarting the informal discussion between the chancellor’s foreign policy adviser, the Greek prime minister’s diplomatic adviser and the spokesman of the Turkish president with the aim of resuming exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey that came to a standstill four years ago.
Amid these developments, Germany has emerged as the only party apparently willing and able to prevent a dangerous turn of events in the Eastern Mediterranean.
A win by Joe Biden in November’s presidential election in the United States and his ascending to the presidency next January would potentially bring America back to its traditional mediation role, but by then it may be too late.