In the eye of the storm

The letter from US President George W. Bush to Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis last week was important in that it not only explained the reasons why Washington decided to recognize the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) simply as the «Republic of Macedonia,» but, more crucially, because in it the newly re-elected American president called for closer cooperation between Athens and Washington with respect to their common objectives in the Balkan region and beyond. One could pooh-pooh Bush’s call as a purely formal statement. However, the changeover at the State Department as of January 1, 2005 and Greece’s seat at the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member cast his remarks in a different light. As of the new year, Greece will cease to deal with matters of narrow national interest and, by virtue of its seat on the Security Council, will have to take a clear stand on crucial international issues. Bush’s re-election and Colin Powell’s replacement as secretary of state by current National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice signals the continuation of Washington’s interventionist policy in the Middle East region and beyond. Moreover, no one can rule out the use of military means against other states in the region, such as Iran. To be sure, as a member of the Security Council, Greece will soon be faced with big political dilemmas. The much-hyped European Union will prove to be of little comfort as it has still to acquire legal identity internationally – even if ratification of the European Constitution is expected to remedy this problem. At the same time, the Iraq crisis, within the context of the UN, has highlighted the divisions that plague the governments of the 25-member bloc, meaning that Greece will not be able to invoke a single European policy. However, even if the EU members were to reach common ground and make a unanimous protest against some of Washington’s international policies – an unlikely prospect indeed – a Greek decision to line up with its EU peers against America would be inviting trouble. Having said that, we should note that Greece’s right to reject unfavorable settlements of its bilateral issues in the face of Washington’s disagreement is one thing, while opposing US policy on Iran or any other country of strategic importance to the Bush administration is quite another. In short, the decision by the PASOK administration to seek a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council – a decision whose repercussions will have to be dealt with by the Karamanlis administration – means that Athens may find itself in the way of America’s foreign policy initiatives. In the light of Turkey’s claims in the Aegean and international pressure on the Cyprus issue, the last thing Greece needs at present is to have to take a stand on the policies of the US administration. In fact, this is exactly what will happen over the next couple of years and, for this reason, Bush’s reference to shared goals in the Balkans and beyond should not be taken lightly. Paying the price of an ill-timed decision, such as the one to host the Olympic Games, Greece found itself in the eye of the storm. Only this time, the consequences could be graver and not simply economic.