A strategic partnership?

Cultivating excessive expectations is a bad habit when it comes to foreign policy. And, yes, diplomatic niceties about «strategic partnerships,» such as those voiced during the recent meeting between Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and US President George W. Bush, are welcome but should not be taken at face value. To be sure, maintaining strong and beneficial ties with the United States should be high on the agenda of the political administration in Athens. But it would be a big mistake to overestimate Greece’s leverage at the international level, whether in the Balkan peninsula or the Middle East. It is equally deceptive to believe that the recent clash between US and Turkish interests, as well as European Union pressure on Ankara for further democratization of its political system, have reinforced Athens’s bargaining position to any considerable degree. It is understandable that a country going through hard times would want to seek a way out, but cultivating illusions is dangerous. Rather, policymakers in Athens must concentrate on defending national interests in Cyprus, particularly as peace talks on the divided Mediterranean island are about to resume. At the same time, the conservative administration must do its best to safeguard Greek interests in the Aegean Sea. To the extent that Karamanlis made these issues clear to the American president, his visit to the White House was a successful one. Let’s leave «high» strategy issues to the academics. Foreign policy does not exist in a vacuum for the simple reason that it is little more than the projection of a state’s political, economic, and cultural power on the international level. All states are subject to this rock-solid principle and so long as Greece continues to be badly managed – a second-tier power politically and economically – it will never have an important say on global developments. The collapse of the communist states in the Balkans and the breakup of former Yugoslavia once gave Greece a unique opportunity to flex its muscle in a vital geographical area. Instead, Greece’s inept policymaking made it more reactive than proactive. It was sad in a sense that during his meeting with Bush at the White House, the Greek prime minister once again had to discuss developments on the FYROM name dispute, an issue that has been on the agenda for some 15 years. Karamanlis said that Bush’s «strategic partnership» remarks referred to consolidating «peace, stability and prosperity» in the Balkans and the broader region. But these words usually mean different things to different people. It was like that when the US government in November recognized FYROM as «the Republic of Macedonia,» deeming that its move would contribute to the stability of the small Balkan state and the broader region. Greece, on the other hand, saw the American initiative as a destabilizing development. It is normal for allies to have problems. And meetings between state leaders are significant and useful as they can expand the basis of cooperation. Nevertheless, a 45-minute meeting is by no means enough to form a strategic partnership or hammer out a common action plan.