Amid the Turbulence: Greek Security Policy in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans

By
Thanos P. Dokos

October 2001 - In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, post-Cold War global structures are in a state of flux. Analysts in small countries seek to identify trends and recommend policies to adjust to emerging global patterns.

The challenge for Greece, a small but regionally significant country that is democratic, Western, free-enterprise oriented, and strategically located at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa, is to safeguard its territorial integrity and protect its democratic system and values.

The Aegean Sea is an important shipping route, connecting the Black Sea with the Mediterranean, and a major transit route for the transport of energy products from Central Asia and the Caucasus to European and international markets. The Mediterranean region also constitutes a crucial faultline on what may be an emerging division of the world between North and South.

Greece and Turkey have developed bilateral ties premised upon rapprochement and strengthened by agreements aimed at normalizing relations in nine sectors, but formal crisis management mechanisms have yet to be established. Discussions on confidence-building measures have progressed only modestly. Importantly, there has been an increase in Greek-Turkish trade.

In the "post-Dayton" era, Greece is attempting to play a stabilizing role in the Balkans by formulating a comprehensive, cooperative approach to regional problems. The greatest priority has been accorded to reconstructing Serbia economically, preserving the territorial integrity of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), and containing extremist Albanian irredentism, which is a major destabilizing force in the region, as well as organized crime and illegal migration.

Greece will continue to import defense equipment from the U.S., but a gradual Europeanization of defense procurement is expected. For the moment, the Greek government's decision to reduce defense expenditures means that a number of acquisitions will be delayed.

In recent years, Greece has evolved from a rather inactive supporter of U.N. peacekeeping operations to an active participant. Greek troops have been stationed in Somalia, Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, and FYROM. Greece has also stepped up its participation in other U.N. activities, while being a signatory to all major arms control treaties and a participant in all non-proliferation regimes.

As a longstanding NATO member, Greece is trying successfully to move away from its image as an asterisk country within the alliance. Athens believes that NATO will probably need to retain forces, including those of Greece, in the Balkans for a decade or longer. In addition to forces in Kosovo and Bosnia, an alliance presence in FYROM, and perhaps Albania, will also be required.

Greece's membership in NATO and its strategic relationship with the U.S. are essential to confronting potential regional challenges. Indeed, a functional U.S.-Greece security relationship based upon mutual interests is a valuable asset in times of regional instability.

In this framework, Greece is prepared to contribute politically and militarily to alliance efforts to deter out-of-area threats in the Balkans and the Mediterranean, when issues of indisputable vital interest for the West are at stake.

This will be especially significant in the campaign against global terrorism. Greece was shocked and deeply saddened by the terrorist attacks against the U.S., which have led Greek officials to begin re-assessing their security priorities, as they re-examine "new asymmetric threats."

Athens concludes that the world has entered a period marked not by a clash of civilizations, that is, the West against Islam, but by a war between the civilized world, including many Muslim countries, and fanaticism. Greece is firmly in the Western camp and will fulfill obligations resulting from its membership in NATO and the EU.

Greece should also be expected to offer full cooperation in police, intelligence, and judicial matters, in accordance with EU policies, as well as the use of NATO and other facilities on Greek territory. It has already offered extensive overflight rights for U.S. military aircraft and tightened airport security measures. The Government Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, Greece's version of the U.S. National Security Council, has upgraded the importance of the terrorist threat in Greek security planning.

Looking ahead to the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece will need to further improve the effectiveness and professionalism of its security services, a process underway for nearly three years with U.S. and British assistance. There is also an emerging consensus that the security of the games should become a multinational responsibility.

Because Greece is situated in a conflict-prone region, where the use of force in inter-state relations is a regular option, security policy compatible with international and alliance commitments must consider a complex array of issues, such as the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy, EU and NATO enlargement, relations with Russia, and trans-Atlantic relations.

Greece's foreign policy elite perceives the U.S. as a benevolent force that has a duty to serve as a moral example internationally. As a result, there is concern about the rather strong signs of unilateralism in U.S. foreign policy in recent months.

In the context of North-South relations, Greece is slowly becoming more actively involved in the shaping of EU policy in the Mediterranean on the basis of its traditionally good relations with Arab countries and its recently, if belatedly, improved relations with Israel. Greece has played a minor role in the Middle East peace process by hosting meetings between Israelis and Palestinians, and it stands ready to offer its services in the event of a U.S. peace initiative in the region.

Relations with Turkey will continue to remain a top priority for Greek foreign and security policy well into the 21st century. The short-term prospects for a Camp David-type process between Greece and Turkey are poor. Problems in EU-Turkish relations could have a negative impact on Greek-Turkish relations.

Furthermore, problems of cohesion and stability in Turkey's coalition government, and within domestic politics in general, may necessitate diminished expectations of progress in Ankara's EU accession efforts. Of all EU countries, Greece is the most supportive of these efforts.

In addition, Greek-Turkish rapprochement should be pursued with careful, well-planned steps involving civil society, private citizens, non-governmental organizations, and the business community in both Greece and Turkey.

It is almost certain that Cyprus will be included in the group of new members during the EU's next enlargement phase. The decision will be made in December 2002 or June 2003. If the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities joined the EU together, the benefits for Turkey would be significant. Turkey would boost its relationship with the EU, enhance its international prestige as a producer, not consumer, of security, strengthen its détente process with Greece, expose the lie that the EU is a Christian club, and, in a very symbolic development, render Turkish an official EU language.

In the 1980s, the perception of many Western governments and foreign analysts was that reactionary policies, unreliability, and unpredictability were the dominant characteristics of the Greek security policy.

As the 21st century dawns, there is no doubt that the Greek security policy is more pragmatic, reliable, rational, and multidimensional, with emphasis on multilateral diplomacy.

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant