Painful dilemma

Only those who take comfort in illusions were surprised by developments regarding, on the one hand, Europe’s nascent rapid reaction force, and the Cyprus issue, on the other. The intense pressure on Athens recently to accept the so-called Ankara document is not going to lift. It is not only Turkey which has dismissed any thoughts about renegotiating the agreement or, at least, modifying it. Washington seems to hold the same view. Greece is frustratingly alone on this issue. Even those of Greece’s EU peers, such as France, which had backed defense autonomy for the EU, have been forced into retreat. True, the Euroforce cannot operate without NATO assets but this is not the reason why they have backed down. In other words, they were not intimidated by Turkey’s threat to veto the use of NATO infrastructure. It is simply that none of the European states wants to come into conflict with the United States. The USA has taken advantage of Ankara’s ambition to have an equal say in EU decisions on military operations to undermine Europe’s path toward military independence. For this reason, Athens has been placed in a very unfavorable position. In reality, Athens is not just faced with Ankara. It is faced with Washington as well. The government of Prime Minister Costas Simitis has been caught in a daunting dilemma. On the one hand, it does not want to exercise a veto that would isolate it from its NATO and EU partners. On the other hand, however, it is not willing to endorse the controversial document. This is, first of all, because it would undermine Europe’s autonomous defense planning. Second, it is because it would reproduce Greek-Turkish differences, which currently exist in NATO, within the EU’s defense framework as well. Finally, accepting the document would entail a huge political cost for the government. On the Cyprus issue, the situation is no more promising. But there is a qualitative difference between the two issues. As regards Cyprus’s course toward accession, it can be said that Greece has followed a cautious diplomatic approach. In contrast, during the long bargaining among American, British and Turkish officials, Athens displayed an inexplicable inertia. It broke the basic rule that political action is more effective before an agreement has been reached rather than after. Greece now has to pay the price of this inertia.