The recent visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo secured the future of Greek-American relations. Washington has evidently decided to upgrade Greece’s role into that of a privileged ally and partner in the region. In the vital sector of energy, our country is being transformed into a hub for transporting American liquefied natural gas to the Balkans, and the ports of northern Greece are acquiring strategic significance in America’s energy plans for Europe.
In the meantime, military cooperation between the two countries is also expanding. American and Greek forces are training together with increased frequency and the US is expected to play a pivotal role in upgrading the Hellenic Air Force and reviving the country’s defense industry.
Alliances with the great naval forces have been the biggest constant in Greek foreign policy since 1830. Great Britain, France and (later) the United States have played the role of strategic ally to the Greek state. However, from the start of the Cold War until relatively recently, Greece’s geopolitical fate has become intrinsically linked with that of Turkey. The result is that the West has overlooked Greek interests in the name of NATO cohesion.
Turkey’s gradual emancipation from the West may prove the biggest single event of this decade in terms of the regional security system. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey has distanced itself diplomatically, militarily and psychologically from Europe and the United States. The Greek prime minister was making a definite point when he said that recent Turkish actions are “contrary to the values of the Western world.”
In the wake of the Erdogan regime, Turkey will be more conservative and anti-West, as the deconstruction of Kemalism and society’s re-Islamification are things that will not be easily reversed.
The current international system is defined by competition between the West and the revisionist forces of the East. These now include Turkey, which has invaded four countries (Cyprus, Iraq, Syria and Libya), supports radical Islamist organizations (Hamas) and violates sanctions against pariah states like Iran and Venezuela.
It is against such a backdrop that Athens is having to construct a new geopolitical identity that will cast the country as a bulwark of the West in the Eastern Mediterranean, similarly to other countries. Romania, for example, presents itself as a guardian of Western interests in the Black Sea, and in North Africa this role is mainly held by Egypt. It is a development that would bring multiple tangible benefits for Greece, protecting it diplomatically from Turkish revisionism and strengthening its negotiating power within the European Union.
Either way though, Athens is not alone. Together with Israel and Cyprus, Greece forms a security community of liberal democracies that share common interests and values. France, which acts in a complementary manner to the United States, has understood Greece’s new geostrategic value and is keen to take advantage of it. Having steered clear of the trap of Islamophobia and excessive opposition to Russia, Athens is in a position to provide valuable “solutions” with its enhanced military presence and multifaceted diplomatic initiatives in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Greece’s rising geopolitical importance, though, cannot be accomplished only by cultivating personal contacts between leaders. Officials come and go, but national interests are eternal. The tension with Turkey is likely to last for many years to come and our politicians have an obligation to openly address the institutional shortages and shortcomings affecting the planning of a national strategy. More attention also needs to be paid to reorganizing public diplomacy so that it can more effectively rise to modern-day challenges. The new national narrative must focus on Greece’s credibility as a reliable ally for America and the rest of the Western forces in a constantly volatile region.
As he signed the Treaty of Sèvres 100 years ago, Eleftherios Venizelos confessed that he had never used the term “Greek rights.” According to the Greek statesman, it is a sentimental term that is not understood by the Europeans. Instead, he said, he spoke of legitimate Greek interests, but also of the interests of humanity.
As Turkey assumes the role of troublemaker in the Mediterranean, Greece can seize the opportunity to attach itself more firmly to the West’s chariot. The stakes are much higher than the narrow national interest.
Emmanuel Karagiannis is an associate professor in the Defense Studies Department of King’s College London and at the University of Macedonia.