A Region Transformed: Greek Foreign Policy in Southeastern Europe - Dr. Ted Couloumbis, Director of ELIAMEP (Greece) and Southeast Europe Policy Scholar
October 5, 2006
Prof. Couloumbis' presentation outlined the conceptual framework for understanding major shifts in Greece's foreign policy in recent decades. He noted the thesis articulated by Yale University Prof. Bruce Russett in his book Triangulating Peace that countries that have consolidated political democracies and advanced liberal economies, and are members of the same institutions, such as NATO and the European Union, do not fight wars against each other.
Prof. Couloumbis anecdotally referred to a foreign journalist who had covered Greece in the l960s and 70's and expressed his disappointment that Greece was no longer an "interesting" country. The professor responded that relatively small or medium sized countries such as Greece generate front-page headlines when wars, catastrophes, or other crisis occur. Therefore, it was good news for Greece that is was no longer "interesting," as there were no major diplomatic confrontations, no deep polarization of political forces, and no further military interventions in politics.
Prof. Couloumbis stated that the pivotal shift in Greece's profile occurred in 1974, when the military dictatorship ruling since 1967 collapsed and a democratic government was re-instituted. From 1909 to 1974, Greece lived through a period the professor defines as "heroic," when the country endured domestic instability, external wars, civil strife and frequent military interventions in politics. Greece was a poor, underdeveloped country whose citizens sought to emigrate to other areas, such as the United States, Canada and Australia, to seek opportunity and progress denied at home.
In contrast, Prof. Couloumbis referred to the period after 1974 as "managerial," during which Greece became a consolidated democracy in which several governmental power transitions between conservatives and socialists occurred peacefully, without extra-constitutional factors such as the military or the now-dethroned royal family intervening to alter the results of elections. Economically, the country experienced sustained rates of rapid development, with per capita income reaching levels of over $20,000 per year. Greece no longer exports its citizens, but actually hosts an increasing number of immigrants. One in ten Greeks is an immigrant, mostly from Albania and other post-communist neighboring countries.
Prof. Couloumbis highlighted a serious domestic and international problem facing Greece in the form of "conceptual inertia," in which Greece continues to be viewed or perceived by both external actors and by a considerable portion of Greek public opinion as mired in its previous and troubled "heroic" period, rather than in its current and advanced "managerial" period, marked by consolidated democratic institutions and long-term economic and financial stability.
He further explained that during the managerial period, Greece freed itself from historical dependency upon both Britain, which was dominant in Greece until 1947, and the United States, which was an instrumental force in Greek domestic and foreign affairs from the 1947 implementation of the Truman Doctrine until 1981, when Greece entered the European Union (EU). Since joining the European bloc and given its membership in NATO since 1952, Greece would now best be described as interdependent. Prof. Couloumbis stated that external influences on Greek affairs are now passing through institutional filters, especially the EU institutions in Brussels.
Prof. Couloumbis described the critical shifts in Greece's foreign policy starting in the mid-1990' s. Greece shed the role of unilateral antagonist in southeastern Europe and embraced that of a multilateralist intermediary beginning in 1995, when it modified its policies from "conditional sanctions" to "conditional rewards," especially as they pertained to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and later to Turkey. Athens first agreed to postpone resolution of the name dispute with Skopje and then proceeded to become the top investor and trade partner in its small neighbor's economy.
Despite – or perhaps because of – the 1996 Imia/Kardak crisis and the1999 Ocalan crisis which nearly triggered war between Greece and Turkey, the two NATO allies and Aegean neighbors initiated a policy of détente and eventually of cooperation. Prof. Couloumbis emphasized that Greece has been a strong supporter of Turkey's bid to join the European Union. He disagreed with arguments that Greece's supportive stance was simply a tactical maneuver to guarantee Cyprus' accession to the European Union without the precondition of a settlement. Instead, he posited, the political elite of Greece understood that a Europe-oriented Turkey would make for a much better neighbor than one still isolated and struggling between secularism and Islam, economically troubled, and in perpetually escalating internal crisis.
Prof. Couloumbis assessed one of the most positive elements of Greek foreign policy since 1999: an inter-party consensus that, besides a marginal Communist party, has closed any lingering divisions between Greece's political parties regarding the country's long-term strategic interests and objectives.
Additionally, Greece believes in a strong Euro-Atlantic partnership that should be complementary, not competitive, especially in the defense and security sectors. A putative rift between the United States and Europe, according to Prof. Couloumbis, would prove especially counter-productive, destabilizing the southeastern European region still emerging from a bloody decade of ethnic separatist wars.
Prof. Couloumbis concluded that the convergence of American and Greek values and interests underlines the two countries' strategic partnership, and pronounced Greece's continued support for both EU and NATO enlargement, with appropriate conditionality, for all its neighbors, Christian and Muslim alike.