On April 29, I attended a conference in Washington, DC titled “A New NATO, Euro-Atlantic Security, and the Greek-American Partnership” sponsored by The Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, The Defense Analysis of the Hellenic Ministry of National Defense, The Konstantinos G. Karamanlis Foundation, and NATO.
The last panel of the conference was titled “The Future of the Greek-American Partnership.” During this panel the discussion centered on the importance and contributions of Greece in the Western Alliance. The speakers from the Washington think tank community, included from RAND, Dr. F. Stephen Larrabee and former U.S. Ambassador to Greece, Charles P. Ries. A very detailed presentation was also given as to Greeceʼs contributions by Vice Admiral Dimitrios Elefsiniotis, Deputy Chief of Operations, Hellenic National Defense General Staff.
The think-tank experts spoke of Greece in ways which those of us, who follow the issues daily, are acutely aware of Greeceʼs immense contributions. It was especially refreshing and gratifying to hear it from important elements of the Washington, DC think tank community who have a major role in formulating U.S. foreign policy. The problem is, these persons have not published their findings under the auspices of their think tanks. Their comments, thus, could remain within the walls of the conference room. Itʼs important that the information presented receives wider distribution and that the Greek American community be made aware so that we can use this information in our discussions and communications with policy makers.
Dr. Larrabeeʼs comments underscored what many of us have been saying for years, that Greece is “Best placed to play a stable role for the region and that she has played a leading role for security and stability in the region…including being a proponent of multilateral cooperation.” He proclaimed that “Greece has played a major role that the U.S. has wanted it to play in the Southeastern region.” He said that there has been a “détente with Turkey since 1999 but that it has been mostly due to the shift from Greece rather than Turkey.” Although I would concur with the latter part of the statement, itʼs hard to imply that this détente has been enduring when Turkey continues to violate Greeceʼs territorial integrity on a daily basis and still has part of its official policy “casus belli” as it relates to the Aegean Sea.
Ambassador Ries spoke of how Washington sees Greece by reiterating Greeceʼs strategic location and her membership in NATO and the EU. He said that the “Balkans are very important in the optic view of how the U.S. sees Greece” and that Greece is a “Superpower with respect to the Balkans.”
He said that “Souda Bay is not mentioned enough” and that its importance left a “lasting impression when Incirlik was not made available during the Iraq War.”
This is an immensely important point which we at the AHI continue to highlight. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Souda Bay and take a tour of the American section there. I posed a question about how we consider Souda Bay to be the most important facility for the projection of U.S. interests in the region. It was commented that when the Chief of Naval Operations was asked regarding recommendations for scaling back Navy facilities in the Mediterranean, he said “Do what you want with the others, but leave Souda Bay alone.” That speaks volumes for the importance of this facility.
The Ambassador mentioned that Washington views Greece not only from the various issues that we are all aware of, but from the “broader perspective.” He said that “dialogue and consultations matter” and that “real issues get you to the table.” I couldnʼt agree more. He continued, the “Greeks need to say how they can help.” I couldnʼt disagree more. This is the paradox that defines, in my opinion, the U.S.-Greece relationship. While Washington knows what Greece is contributing, they seem to forget what they already know for whatever reason—is it for leverage and appeasement as it relates to Turkey? Itʼs perplexing and frustrating. The Ambassador also talked about how the aftermath of Greeceʼs veto of FYROM in NATO last year “left a bad taste [in Washington].”
I had a chance to make some comments. I reminded the Ambassador it was the previous administration that created a problem for Greece in the negotiations with FYROM by recognizing FYROM as Macedonia in November, 2004. How could the U.S. question a decision by Greece on acting on an issue that it felt was in its own national interests? I further mentioned that Greece, as highlighted by the discussion at the conference, continues to contribute immensely to the western alliance, including U.S. interests, and has never asked for 32 billion dollars in exchange for this cooperation, the amount that Turkey was asking to allow the U.S. forces to go through Turkish soil to open a northern front in Iraq in 2003.
Significant communication links for commerce and energy sources pass through Greece that are important for the wider region. Greece, as highlighted, is situated at a vitally important strategic region for U.S. and NATO interests. The projection of these interests depends heavily on the stability of the region. Thus, the U.S. has an important stake in fostering good relations between two NATO allies, Greece and Turkey and in achieving a just and viable settlement of the Cyprus problem.
Greece, is of vital importance, because of geographic location and being home to the most important naval base in the Mediterranean Sea, Souda Bay, Crete. There are thousands of visits by U.S and NATO military ships and planes to Souda Bay and its adjacent air base annually. It is critical for the United States to deliver troops, cargo, and supplies to Iraq and Afghanistan.
On March 19th at a roll out ceremony to unveil the delivery to the Greek Air Force of the “F-16 Peace Xenia IV” in Fort Worth, Texas, Bruce S. Lemkin, Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force, stated: “From World War II and the Cold War through today, Greece had remained a stalwart NATO ally and friend. [Since 9/11] Greece [has] provided strong political support, the use of Greek airspace, and offered Greek military assets to combat terrorism, including the deployment of a Greek frigate to the Arabian Sea for almost two years!..Greece has been resolute in its support of operations in the struggles against terrorism and extremism, through the vitally important use of Souda Bay Air Field as landing base, unrestricted over flights, and providing a continuous rotation of personnel to Afghanistan since 2002.”
In addition, Greece is a top contributor to the defense efforts of NATO, spending an estimated 3% of its GDP on defense, and is also an active participant in peacekeeping and peace-building operations conducted by international organizations, including the UN, NATO, the EU, and OSCE. And as Vice Admiral Elefsiniotis stated, there are currently “2,200 Greek military personnel” deployed in these operations.
In promoting a multilateral approach to diplomacy and foreign policy, the U.S should look to Greece as an immensely valuable link in this region. With its close cultural, political and economic ties to the Mediterranean countries, the Balkans, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, Greece is an ideal strategic partner for the U.S. with regard to diplomatic, political, and economic relations with countries from these regions.
Greece is by far the most economic and politically stable country in the Balkans. It has assisted the U.S. in bringing political stability and economic development to this volatile region, having invested over $22 billion in the countries of the region, thereby creating over 200,000 new jobs, and having contributed over $750 million in development aid for the region.
Greece is a vitally important ally for Euro-Atlantic security and U.S. interests. She contributes to the alliance because she takes her responsibilities as a member very seriously and does not attempt to leverage her cooperation for personal gain. That canʼt be said for all members. The U.S. needs to start acknowledging this reality more resolutely at all levels of our foreign policy institutions.
**** Nick Larigakis, Executive Director, American Hellenic Institute
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