Souda Bay an ‘important spot on the global map’
The former US secretary of state speaks to Kathimerini about Greece’s role, the behavior of Turkey, and the war in Ukraine
Greece’s strategic value for the United States, which has been confirmed during the war in Ukraine, was noted in an interview to Kathimerini by former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who emphasized the role of the US Naval Base at Souda Bay, Crete.
Pompeo, who is among the most likely Republican candidates in the 2024 presidential election, if former president Donald Trump does not run, spoke about the importance of the US-Greece Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA), noting that it was implemented over three American and two Greek administrations, which shows it is built on a solid and long-term basis. He also noted the key role that Greece plays as a gateway to Europe for the transport of natural gas from the East Mediterranean.
The former US official said that the use or threat of use of force by Turkey against Greece is unacceptable, while he maintains that when it comes to the war in Ukraine there is no room for a “middle ground” and calls on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to take a clear position. He also blamed US President Joe Biden for making the climate crisis a priority for America’s national security policy at a time when he believes there should have been a strong emphasis on “hard power.”
The former secretary of state, congressman for six years, and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, who participated in the conference co-organized in Washington earlier this month by the Delphi Economic Forum and the Hellenic American Leadership Council with the support of Kathimerini, also talked about the significant influence of Orthodoxy and expressed his full support for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, highlighting the positive role played by Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos (Bartholomew), in contrast to that of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow.
Ukraine is the issue of the day. Through that prism, some thoughts on the visit you made to Greece as secretary of state. You went to Thessaloniki, to Athens, to Souda Bay. What was the purpose?
I very much wanted to go out and see things other than Athens. It’s a wonderful, lovely place. I’d been there a couple of times. As a secretary of state and in my previous role as well. I wanted to get to see other parts. I wanted to get to see people across the spectrum. I wanted to get out to Souda Bay to see what we were doing together from a security perspective. And then, Thessaloniki is also a very special place, a different part of Greece. And I wanted the opportunity to see that firsthand. I was traveling there with my wife as well. It’s a country that we love personally and one that is incredibly important to the United States from a diplomatic, economic and security matter.
How important is it now with Turkey’s situation, given Ukraine? How do you assess Souda Bay right now for US policy in the region?
In some ways, it was prescient to go visit there, given what’s unfolded in the months after that visit. If you just put it on the map and then step back and draw circles, aircraft range circles, long-range, all kinds, you can clearly length the travel for commercial air travel and for goods and products, you can see this is an important geographic spot on the global map. And it’s an absolute imperative that we get the security relationships right, so that we can get the economic piece of this in the right spot as well. And Souda Bay has played a long, historical role in that and needs to continue as well. I wanted to go see it for myself. I read about it. I’ve been briefed on it, but I wanted to go stay on the ground and talk to some of the folks who are actually executing it there as well.
About Europe’s gas dependence on Russia, the discussion about a pipeline, and other ways to transport it from Egypt, Cyprus, Israel. How important is it right now? Has it become more important, given what’s happening with the Europe-Russia relationship, for this amount of gas to get through Alexandroupoli, or otherwise, to Europe?
I think it was just as important two years ago as it is now, but it can be seen now. It can be felt. Global energy markets’ cost matters. We want affordable energy for citizens of our countries, but we can also now see that there’s an enormous cost of political instability, and relying on nations that can’t be depended on, causing disruption to a gas supply chain, a natural gas supply chain is enormously costly, and now I think that calculation will be greater than it was. I think the perception has changed. So, yes, we know there’s an enormous amount of natural gas in the region. We know that it can be produced affordably. Now we have to find the transportation mechanisms to get it there most efficiently. And when we do that, when we begin to build out the hub-and-spoke associated with that, we’ll have affordable gas for countries all across the region and through Europe, and we’ll have it in a way that is stable, predictable for the long term.
Which makes Greece quite important. A gate to Europe, if we can call it that.
Very important, very central. As said in your question about Souda Bay, there are things about maps that are unchangeable. Sea lanes, pipeline routes, actual locations of the natural resource – in this case, natural gas. Those things are physical and one needs to acknowledge them and then work through them to deliver good outcomes.
We have the US ambassador here, who has been instrumental on the bilateral relationship. One aspect of it, which is very important right now, is the area of defense. And one of our ports, Alexandroupoli, is a port that helps a lot. So you’ve been in Greece during the development of this agreement under two Greek governments. What’s the role of Greece in all this, especially in light of what’s happening in Ukraine?
Yes, two Greek governments, at least two American governments, maybe three, depending on how you count. All good. Again, not political. The fact that we were able to sign the defense cooperation agreement on President Trump’s watch, that was predated by a lot of good hard work that came before it. I think Greece has truly stepped forward to develop its capabilities. This is truly important. It’s important for Greece. It’s important for the Eastern Med. It’s important for NATO. All of this work must continue. Whatever happens in the next weeks or months in Ukraine, we now can see that there are those who aren’t going to respect the simple things that we’d all come to take for granted after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And it’s going to take countries like Greece, prime ministers. By the way, this will postdate Prime Minister Mitsotakis. This challenge will postdate President Biden. This effort will need to be continuous and long-term, and the commitment and strategic objectives that the shared desires of Western countries will be paramount to be continued across the time. If we don’t get that right, if it is intermittent, if one administration comes in Greece and stops it, or the same thing happens here in the United States, this will be bad for Greece and the United States, and that will be bad more broadly for NATO and Western civilization.
How do you assess the situation in Ukraine? How worried are you? What will the next day look like in Europe?
Well, we all pray for the Ukrainian people. This has been a catastrophe on multiple levels, destabilizing, certainly for Ukraine and Eastern Europe, but for, I think, a much broader group of those of us who believe in Western civilization, the central ideas and national sovereignty. This is something that has so disturbed that system that I think much still turns on how the next days and weeks go, and there’s still a lot to be decided. It depends in part on how the West behaves, but the ramifications of what has taken place here, regardless of the final nuances of how this ends, will have deep implications for how we all provide global stability and prosperity in the decades to come.
How do you view Greece’s response to the Ukraine crisis? There’s been diplomatic and some military contribution.
I applaud what Greece has done, what Prime Minister Mitsotakis has done, I think it’s been great. I was happy to see him in Turkey just the other day, when he met with President Erdogan. I think that’s fantastic. The earlier guests finished with a comment on what’s happening inside the Orthodox Church. This was something that we worked on in our administration when autocephaly was granted to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. I was criticized for that. One need only look at those standing with the barbarians and those standing with those who are defending freedom and sovereignty and individual liberty to figure out which part of the Orthodox Church has this right. It is not Kirill. It is our holiness Bartholomew, and I pray that they continue to be supported and are successful.
Are you satisfied seeing Turkey’s role right now in the Ukraine crisis? President Erdogan is trying to, I wouldn’t say play both sides, but Greece has sent ammunition and has been very critical.
You want every country, Turkey included, to be more all-in in this central idea, this European idea, this Western model. I want President Erdogan to adopt that. There’s no middle ground when there are children and families being destroyed in Ukraine, there’s no hedging. There’s no playing the middle here. This is what China has chosen to do, right? They’ve leaned in with the Russians, but they’ve made a few cursory statements from their deputy assistant under former whatever secretary. We should demand that every country – President Bush talked about it – is with us or against us. But here this is even clearer in some sense. This is a question about human dignity and whether you’re going to respect that. And President Erdogan in Turkey ought to do that, just as I would expect every other nation, every other church across the world to do. This is a moment for clarity.
What is your view on the continuing overflights by Turkey, a NATO ally? Now they’ve moved even further, disputing the Greek sovereignty of islands. They, right now, are implementing the Montreux Convention. At the same time they are trying to revise the Treaty of Lausanne, which on many levels is a major part of our relationship with Turkey. Can a country follow international law on one part that it feels it serves its interests, and not on another?
Of course not. There’ll be disputes over what this law says and what it requires. That’s not abnormal. It is abnormal for it to continue for this long, and it is abnormal to try and resolve this in a kinetic way. There is a dispute resolution mechanism for each of those agreements. One shouldn’t apply pressure, one shouldn’t send naval vessels, as happened during our time. My ambassador in Greece, my ambassador in Turkey, the three of us were on the phone trying to push this back in the right direction to say if there is conflict, if there’s dispute, fair enough. Let’s sit down and it may take a long time, but let’s sit down and hammer this out and come to a resolution that is acceptable to each of the parties. When one party to it either fails to comply with the agreement intentionally or begins to try and enforce it through a mechanism that is not authorized in the agreement, then you have crossed a line that is perhaps different in magnitude and scale of what’s taking place, but it is no different as a matter of understanding how sovereign nations should interact with each other.
And I assume use of force or the threat of use of force should not be accepted, especially between allies.
We would pray that civilization was past that today. We sadly see too often in too many places that that view is naive, and it means that those of us who value that need to be prepared to have the capacity to use force in response to these kinds of aggressions that are clearly across the line.
Do you see more need for multilateral approaches, something the Trump administration was not that hot about?
Nobody can argue with the fact that Vladimir Putin’s calculus changed from what it was during the Trump administration. He may have been wrong, but his perception, his analysis of perceived risk, changed from this. Vladimir Putin didn’t change. He’s been the same thug for an awfully long time. What changed was his cost-benefit analysis. And the timing was chosen very intentionally. As for multilateralism? You can critique our administration all you want, I think we left NATO stronger. I think the world is a beneficiary of the fact that NATO was stronger when Putin attacked than it was when we came in, four years prior to that. It wasn’t enough. Frankly, there had been decades of neglect from European countries. And frankly, when it comes to the challenge of the Chinese Communist Party – we’ll talk about Ukraine today – I still view the CCP as the central threat for the next 20 or 30 years. There has been enormous neglect inside US policy as well to this. We need multilateral organizations that work, that will deliver. Last thing, and you can critique this too, multilateral organizations work best when America leads, when America is prepared to do the hard work of demanding that each of us take on our own role. I think history reflects that. I’m proud of that. But we all need to work together to deliver on these very outcomes that we’re all praying we get to.
During the Trump administration, there was a lot of push from Washington on NATO countries to increase their contribution for defense. Greece actually is one of the countries that is above the 2% – way above. Now, including Germany, most countries seem to be coming around to thinking more seriously about European defense, more contributions from themselves. How do you assess this and NATO’s role? The European defense strategy might be increased, but would it be within NATO? Could it be more independent than NATO?
As Europe wants to stand up and do this independently and separate and above their commitments to NATO, I think that’s great, but the responsibility to NATO is all of ours. Every NATO nation has that responsibility. I must say it’s been heartening to watch European countries make announcements saying they’re going to get there, they’re going to get to 2%. We’ve all harped on this magic number, because it was out there, it was a promise that was made by each of the countries. That’s just openers and 2% is an annual number. If history is right, this moment will pass. I hope the impulse to secure freedom around the world doesn’t pass. If you go back and read the papers from the activities surrounding what happened in Crimea – you go look at 2014 – you’ll be hard-pressed to find people talking about Crimea in 2016, 17 or 18. We all feel this very much today, it’s on our TVs, it’s filling our screens and our hearts. This is a long-term, permanent challenge to Western ideas and the response can’t be “Great, I had my 2% number back in 2024, now back to normal.”
And my last thought on this is: This is about leadership. We did put pressure on. So what you would have seen was the Trump administration doing this at Brussels or in my meetings, wherever they were with NATO’s partners asking them to live up to their commitment. But my ask was actually different, at least in private. My ask in private was you have to go make the case to your own people because in the end, it’s hard to make the case to the United States citizens as well, right, it’s a duty of every official to explain why it matters to the United States that we have a strong capacity, that we have a strong military and capable diplomats and ambassadors.
What I urged them to do wasn’t just sign up and say we’ll do 2%, but to go back home – in countries with parliaments, these were all elected officials. I wasn’t, as a secretary of state, but many are – to go back to their home district and give a speech and explain why it matters that Germany spends not 2% but 3 or 4% of their GDP and their wealth. And do so in a smart way, that is apply those resources against real problems. I think that those countries will be better at home. I know the world will be better for it, but it takes leaders convincing their own people that these are the right things to do. That’s the true task. If this is just something somebody signs up for in a meeting, while there’s artillery raining down in Kyiv, in 2025, they’ll be on to something else. They’ll be back to climate change.
What do you mean?
This administration’s policy has put climate change at the top of its national security agenda. One need not critique whether that’s the right answer or wrong answer to understand that a solar panel is not going to stop Vladimir Putin. It’s just not. This is serious hard power. This is what authoritarians and dictators understand, and we need to make sure that when we’re thinking about security, we think about lots of other things, but if we are serious about defending our own sovereignty and the sovereignty of our friends and allies and making sure our adversaries respect us and are deterred, then we have to be serious about preparing that hard power capability.
You mentioned China. How do you see the possibility of China getting closer to Russia because of this?
My sense is that there is an ever-clearer line being drawn between authoritarianism and Western civilization. We know which side of the line Vladimir Putin falls on. We know which side of the line the Ayatollah Khamenei falls on. We know which side Chairman Kim falls on. And we know which side Xi Jinping in China falls on. I do see this line sharpening in the sense that, for a long time, many in the West believed if we traded a little bit more with them, if we bought some more trinkets from them and we became more interconnected, then their authoritarian nature, their absolute denial of basic human dignity, in places like China, would change. I think the mask has been pulled off now, and so I do think you will see Russia and China working closer together because they have no friends any place else. And so out of necessity, not out of love for each other or desire, they will end up working more closely together. We just need to be thoughtful and serious in responding to them collectively.
Isn’t that worrisome? Because they are huge players.
Well, one huge player, one very large country.
One is more economically efficient. The other has the resources.
Each with massive nuclear weapons programs and each with some desire for expanded power beyond their own borders. So yes, in that sense, their collective power is very significant. But we should never underestimate the power of the West between Europe and India, South Korea, Japan, Australia, Southeast Asian countries who no more want to be under the jackboot of Xi Jinping than a man on the Moon, Canada, North America, more broadly, even South America, we can work together to make sure that the Western idea stands. This is the imperative. This is the work for the next 10, 15, 30 next generations. If we get it right, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin aren’t 10 feet tall, nor other peoples. We will prevail because it’s the right way to go, and I think humanity can see that.
I mentioned your past, but there is also a future. Will you seek the Republican nomination?
You’re not going to have any more luck than anybody else has. Here’s what I’ll say: I do get asked about this a lot. We have lots of elections going on. The South Koreans just had a big election. There’s lots of important elections. We’ve got an important election here in the United States in November. I’m personally working my tail off to help folks who think about the world the way I do to be successful. I’ve been at this since I was 18 years old, I’m going to stay connected. The things that I’ve been working on all this time still are at risk and I’ll keep working. I have no idea what place I’ll find myself 14 or 24 months from now.
And the midterm elections – since we’ve moved into US politics – do you feel the Republican Party will do better and capture the House or maybe even the Senate?
I got out of the prediction business a long time ago. The American economy is struggling. Employers are struggling to find work force. Inflation. That last number, the producer price number from today was 10 percent, an all-time historic high. What I will do is a little bit of historical analysis. Those in power at the time when you have economic challenges like that tend not to perform very well.