Α. Greece in an environment of increasing geopolitical uncertainty.

We are living in times of great economic, political, social and geopolitical uncertainty. Every aspect of human affairs is in a state of flux or transition. Change is the only certainty.

Many factors contribute to this dynamic of change, which is gathering momentum, but whose ultimate direction and end-state remains unclear. These factors include:

  • The sudden changes of position on fundamental issues of U.S. foreign policy, which are shifting some of the basic pillars of the post-World War II international order.
  • China’s dynamic emergence, both as a global economic power, and also a global geopolitical player.
  • The stabilization of the Russian presence and influence in the wider Middle East through the Syrian crisis. This is one aspect of Moscow’s increasing desire – and ability – to intervene in regional and international developments in the wider area of its geostrategic interests.
  • The state of continuing tension and conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean and the wider Middle East.
  • Europe’s weakening and the rising concerns regarding its present and, even more so, its future.
  • The rising pressure of migratory and refugee flows on wealthier and safer regions, particularly the EU.
  • The limited but stark rifts in the EU-U.S. transatlantic relationship.
  • The economic, social and political forces that are calling into question the liberal democratic political order and the globalized economic model and are fueling the rise of extreme nationalist political movements.
  • The reversal of democratic gains and the spread of authoritarian forms of governance that can be characterized as “illiberal democracies.”
  • The constant threat of international terrorism and aggressive islamist fundamentalism, along with other forms of “hybrid” or asymmetric threats, including cyber-attacks.

Due to its geographical position, Greece has traditionally been more exposed to threats than other EU or NATO members, and these developments have had a further negative effect on Greece’s overall geopolitical environment.

Greece is rooted, geographically, historically and culturally, on the southeastern frontier of Europe and the EU and is situated on the fault line between the geopolitical tectonic plates of East and West, Europe and Islam, and the increasingly antagonistic relations between the West and Russia.

Greece’s geographic position has shaped its history and national character. It has been- and remains- a source of many dangers.

But it also offers many opportunities.

Therefore, the overarching strategic goal of the Greek foreign policy is to minimize the risks and maximize the opportunities arising from its geopolitical position. If we are to achieve this double goal, we must take advantage of the country’s significant geopolitical added value.

This belief is not the product of unfounded or intentionally inflated optimism. It is based on a positive but realistic evaluation of Greece’s geopolitical characteristics and the opportunities they afford in a region currently in significant flux.

Indeed, Greece’s geographical position is in and of itself a challenge. But we are not – and must not presume ourselves to be – bound by the constraints of geography.

We can and must see our geographical position as one of Greece’s principal comparative advantages, and not an inescapable constraint.

Advantages that render Greece a pivotal state in the Eastern Mediterranean.

In this region, Greece, as a member of the EU and NATO, increasingly stands out as the most stable, credible and in fact necessary partner and ally for the other EU and NATO member states, the U.S. and the West in general.

At the same time, Greece is a valid and serious interlocutor for other regional and global players, such as Russia, China and of course Israel and Egypt. With these last two countries in particular, our deepening and widening cooperation is steadily gaining weight and importance.

To play the role of a pivotal state effectively, and to convince others that we can carry this responsibility, we need first to develop and consolidate our own contemporary geopolitical self-awareness, and we need to do this with self-confidence and assurance, neither overestimating or underestimating our capabilities.

We need to look at Greece objectively. We need to see the bigger picture.

So, let’s look at Greece from above.

B. Greece as a pivotal state.

Since its return to democracy in 1974 and its accession to the EU in 1981, Greece has been a stable and democratic country with an economy that, despite the crisis, remains one of the most important in its wider region.

Moreover, Greece is a “status quo” country that bases its foreign policy on the need to respect international law and the post-World War II global order, harmoniously combining three separate geopolitical dimensions – the European, Balkan and Mediterranean dimensions:

The European dimension. Despite the turmoil of the last few years, the EU is here to stay. From an institutional point of view, Greece remains part of the inner core of European integration. It is part of the Eurozone and the Schengen area and actively participates in all aspects of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy. Greece’s participation in the EU is irreversible. It remains our principal strategic advantage and functions as a multiplier for our national strength and influence, as it does for all other member-states.

The Balkan dimension. Despite its ongoing economic crisis, our country retains significant influence in the Balkan peninsula. Greece’s economy remains the most important in the Balkans. It hosts over 700,000 migrant workers from the Balkans and remains one of the largest foreign investors in Albania, FYROM, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. Remittances from migrant workers and direct Greek investment have had a tremendous stabilizing effect on the Balkans over the past three decades and continue to do so. In fact, Greece has traditionally functioned as the locomotive for the European and Euro-Atlantic integration of its neighbors, and its continued support in this direction is of particular significance to them. This enhances Greece’s capability to influence developments in its immediate neighborhood.

The Mediterranean dimension. Beyond its geographical position and its significant historical and cultural footprint in the Mediterranean, Greece is, by mentality and philosophy, an island nation deeply tied to the sea.

The Greek merchant marine dominates international maritime transport of passengers, goods, petrol, natural gas, etc. Its port system has been significantly upgraded over the last few years – particularly its largest port, Piraeus.

Greece’s Mediterranean dimension is further strengthened by its unbreakable bond with Cyprus – the second independent state of Hellenism – which creates an area of geopolitical stability and continuity in the Eastern Mediterranean.

No other country in the region has a comparable three-dimensional European, Balkan and Mediterranean geopolitical character.

Moreover, Greece is an integral part of the Western world. The world of Cartesian rationalism. It is part of the inner core of the EU but is also a steadfast member of NATO and has developed strategic cooperation ties with the U.S. on many levels.

Further, while Greece is firmly and irrevocably a part of the West, as a largely Orthodox Christian country it is in a position to interact effectively with another major global player, Russia, with which Greece traditionally maintains very good, functional and mutually beneficial relations. The recent unfortunate incident that sent shock-waves through its bilateral relations with Russia should be put behind us. It needs to function not as an end but as a signal of a new beginning in Greco-Russian relations, on the basis of the cardinally important principle of mutual respect between independent and sovereign nations.

At the same time, although Greece has a strong Orthodox Christian tradition, it is also a country capable of frank discussion and smooth, mutually respectful cooperation with the Muslim world and especially with the Arab world. Greece was never a colonial power. In fact, due to the Cyprus issue, Greece was on the forefront of the decolonialization movement in the 1950’s. And this is a particularly important asset for communicating with the Near and Middle East.

Despite these privileged ties to the Arab world, we have substantially developed, widened and deepened our relations with Israel. This cooperation, which is supported by all the major political forces in Greece, is surging ahead. It is developing dynamically in scope, substance and depth. It covers many areas, from economic and people-to-people contacts, cooperation in research and technology and foreign policy, right up to “hard” issues related to defence and security.

Additionally, Greece is situated at an energy crossroads. Not only do energy routes pass through Greek territory, but Greece is itself a potential energy producer. And this is not a “romantic” assessment. Greece really can develop into a producer and exporter of energy, not only through the exploitation of the energy resources of the Greek continental shelf, but also as a producer of electricity from renewable energy sources, particularly wind and solar power.

The Greek merchant marine constitutes a force with global reach that spreads benefits to many countries beyond Greece and supports global trade by lowering transport costs. Greek shipping is Greece’s best and strongest ambassador, with enormous untapped potential that can be used not only for the country’s economic development, but also as a means of soft power and influence; as a multiplier of the country’s diplomatic and economic strength.

Greece itself is developing into an important gateway for international trade, as shown by the growing trade volume handled by Piraeus and the rest of the country’s port system. Piraeus is the first European port met by container ships, tankers and dry cargo ships coming from the Suez Canal. The Greek port system is already linked with the European road and rail network and a market of 500 million consumers, but these links can be further developed to support a much greater trade volume. In this context, the Trans European Transport Networks have particular importance for Greece.

The development of very strong economies to the East, such as China and India, and the growing trade flows between East and West are transforming Greece from a country on the fringes of international trade to a country situated in the center of some of the central international trade routes. The recent interest shown by China, the U.S. and other major players in investments in the Greek port system is by no means coincidental.

On top of all this, as Greece is situated in an unstable but crucial region, it is emerging as an important factor for regional and European security. It is a frontier country. Greece is on the front line of international migration and refugee flows. It is on the front line of a major geopolitical fault line. It has an increasingly important role in stopping threats before they breach the borders of the EU, and that is why it needs to be substantially supported by its European partners and its NATO allies.

The Greek armed forces are among the most capable and combat-ready in the region. Despite the economic crisis, Greece spends over 2% of GDP on defence. In addition to its NATO activities, Greece participates actively in all aspects of the EU’s Common Defence and Security Policy.

Greece’s stable, substantial and effective security cooperation with the U.S. is of particular importance. This is highlighted by the significant geostrategic added value of the Souda Bay naval base and of Greek territory and facilities more generally.

It should be emphasized here that it would be in the interest of both Greece and the U.S. if the agreement on the use of Souda Bay, instead of being renewed on a yearly basis, were to take on a more long-term character of at least five years’ duration. This would allow both sides to undertake more long-term planning, which would allow for more effective use of Souda Bay and increase the mutual benefits of this particular aspect of our cooperation.

Greece’s inherent geostrategic value is multiplied by our solid bonds of cooperation and alliance with Cyprus. Acting in coordination and cooperation with Cyprus, we are building an area of stability and economic development in the Eastern Mediterranean. Considering the progress already achieved, this cooperation needs to be given greater institutional depth through the creation of a High-level Strategic Cooperation Council between the two countries. Greece has already put in place similar councils with other countries, such as Israel and even Turkey, but not with Cyprus.

Cooperation with Israel is significant on many levels and is further enhanced by the tripartite cooperation between Greece, Cyprus and Israel, which could be called “the triple entente of the Democracies of the Eastern Mediterranean” or more simply “the 3Ds project”.

This tripartite mechanism could form the backbone of a wider cooperation with the participation of the moderate Arab countries of the region, such as Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan.

Of course, these efforts would be enormously facilitated by the resolution of the Palestinian issue on the basis of the two-state solution. For the moment, we need to take careful but systematic steps forward. The messages coming from Washington and Brussels are supportive of the creation of such a regional cooperation initiative.

The progress made by successive Greek and Cypriot governments in this direction is tangible. Among other things, we have seen positive steps in the realization of the Eastmed Pipeline project and the other regional energy initiatives, such as the linking of the electricity networks of Greece, Cyprus and Israel through the “EuroAsia Interconnector” underwater cable.

C. The need to exploit Greece’s geopolitical capital.

Everything we have mentioned so far constitutes the geopolitical raw materials which Greece possesses. These raw materials are considerable: Greece has valuable geopolitical capital that can be exploited in many ways to enhance security and economic development in the region and to highlight Greece’s potential long-term role.

In fact, Greece’s significant geopolitical added value has a down side; namely, the danger that Greece, as has often happened in the past, will itself become the object of geopolitical rivalries and conflicts of interest.

We do not want to have such conflicts of interest and influence in our region or our country. We want an environment conducive to constructive and mutually beneficial cooperation.

In any case, our view of the situation is crystal clear: Greece is irrevocably a Western, European country that respects its alliances and commitments. This irrevocable Western orientation affords Greece a wide range of choices and possibilities for constructive cooperation with third countries. That is what we mean when we say that Greece needs a multifaceted foreign policy with open horizons.

However, capitalization on and development of our country’s geopolitical added value will not happen automatically. Success will require systematic planning and focused efforts. In order to get results, the country needs to work with vision and focus on the internal front as well as on its foreign policy.

Success will depend on making the right strategic choices regarding the economy, strengthening the country’s institutional framework, radically improving the functioning of the administration, and introducing forward-looking social reforms. These decisions and reforms are necessary for the country to stand on its own feet again with self-confidence. Our foreign policy choices need to be fully integrated into this overall framework for national renewal in order to contribute optimally to achieving this goal.

In any case, today, in the era of globalization and growing interdependence, a strict separation of internal and external policies is impossible. The interrelation and interaction between internal and external, national and international factors is an inescapable reality.

Therefore, we need a new, comprehensive plan of action that is both realistic and visionary; that goes beyond the old ideological limitations and dividing lines and enables Greece to:

  • Take advantage of its geopolitical added value.
  • Mobilize its latent resources of soft power and influence, such as its strong cultural tradition, the Greek Diaspora and the Greek shipping industry.
  • Respond successfully to the new, increasingly acute regional challenges and to the current uncertainty regarding Europe and its future.
  • To successfully pursue its national interests while ensuring national and regional security and stability.

The need to move forward is particularly urgent because we are at a critical juncture.

For two main reasons.

First, because Greece – despite the major sacrifices on the part of its people and the unprecedented fiscal adjustment achieved over the past eight years – has yet to achieve it definitive transition from its deep economic crisis into a new era; a transition that, as things stand today, is by no means guaranteed.

This renders the choices we make in the immediate future crucial for the country. Greece needs a new government with a clear vision and a realistic plan.

Our choices will decide whether we are going to enter a phase of rapid and steady growth or remain trapped in the current situation of redistribution of an ever-diminishing economic pie.

The country urgently needs courageous and focused reforms for a strong economy and for a robust and effective administration that respects its citizens and will liberate the country’s productive forces.

This means making changes that will ensure, among other things:

  • faster and more efficient public administration,
  • a more effective justice system,
  • reform of the education sector,
  • substantial research and development in technology and industry,
  • far reaching privatization programme
  • liberalization of the energy sector and
  • creation of an environment conducive to the return of human and economic capital from abroad.

Our entering a new phase of dynamic progress and regaining our national self-confidence hinge on decisive action in these areas.

The second reason the current situation is critical is that Greece needs to make this transition to normalcy and growth in a regional and international environment of great uncertainty.

We need to focus on and guide developments in the Balkans, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. This wider area is not just our neighborhood, it is our geopolitical backyard.

The negative consequences of increasing uncertainty, tension, conflicts, immigration and refugee flows in this region have an immediate impact on Greece. They affect our economy, security and social cohesion.

Regional conflicts, migration flows, terrorist networks and the continuing instability of Syria and Iraq have combined to shape an especially problematic environment.

Turkey has a key role to play in this overheated geopolitical environment.

Turkey has always been a difficult neighbor and ally. Over the last few years, however, it has mutated into an increasingly de-westernized country. It is casting off the veneer of a rules-based, western-style democracy and is adopting an overtly authoritarian form of government. These developments have been accompanied by – and linked to – the rise of xenophobic and nationalistic forces within the country.

Turkey is increasingly diverging from the important strategic choices of NATO and the EU. Its relations with Israel have reached a historical low point. Turkey is becoming a more and more unpredictable, revisionist regional power. It is evolving into an ever more uncertain ally for NATO, and its accession to the EU is now at best a distant prospect. It engages on an almost daily basis in increasingly provocative actions against Greece and Cyprus; actions that are contrary to fundamental principles of international law and good neighborly relations.

D. Institutional change in foreign policy is necessary.

In this environment of uncertainty and multiple challenges, a number of institutional changes need to be made to the existing framework for shaping and executing Greek foreign policy. The country remains subject to stringent financial constraints, which means that all reforms need to be designed to have low budgetary cost and high practical yield.

The most basic institutional reform needed in the field of foreign policy is the adoption of a new Foreign Ministry statute that creates a stronger foundation for:

  • A fully merit-based system for the selection and promotion of the Ministry’s personnel.
  • More effective public diplomacy.
  • A revamped mechanism for cultural diplomacy, through the creation of a specialized personnel branch of Cultural Attaches, who will contribute to the effective promotion of the country and its cultural product. This will also facilitate efforts to promote Greece’s diplomatic positions and its economic goals, particularly in the tourism sector.
  • A significant upgrade of the economic diplomacy infrastructure, using know-how from third countries with extensive experience in the field, such as the Netherlands and Canada, and in consultation and cooperation with the private sector. This will also ensure synergies in the field of public and cultural diplomacy.
  • Better utilization of Greeks employed in international organizations and more effective support for future Greek candidacies in such institutions. The aim would be to enhance Greece’s international profile and footprint, securing better information and facilitating timely and focused actions that safeguard the national interest.
  • Securing continuity in our foreign policy through reinforcement of the Ministry’s policy formulation and implementation framework. Reestablishing the position of Permanent Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs should be examined in this context.

The heightened risks we are facing also necessitate reforms in the way we formulate and implement the country’s national security strategy. The main institutional reform in this regard would be to create a National Security Council.

In the current complex and demanding international reality, the Greek national security strategy needs to take into account many parameters – not just political and military ones, but also those related to the economy, energy, migration, terrorism and the illegal trafficking of weapons and drugs. This need for comprehensive analysis and planning is best served by a National Security Council that reports directly to the prime minister and is staffed by a limited number of experts in all the above fields.

Reforms are necessary for the development and strengthening of the country’s soft power. Greek culture is a very powerful asset, but there are many others as well.

The Greek Diaspora is another separate chapter. We need to mobilize it effectively and bring it closer to Greece itself. Passing legislation to allow expatriate Greeks to vote in our national elections is a necessary first step in this direction.

It goes without saying that the reinforcement of the deterrent capability of the Greek Armed Forces is a cornerstone of Greece’s foreign and security policy. Without effective and reliable Armed Forces, the Greek foreign policy is weakened, if not doomed to fail.

On the other hand, foreign policy can itself contribute to the country’s capability to enhance its deterrent power. This can be done in many ways, including:

  • Successful negotiation with the U.S. on the long-term use of the Souda Bay naval facility, in the context of enhancing our wider security and defence cooperation.
  • Agreement with Israel on cooperation in the fields of high technology and defence industry.
  • Promoting reinforcement of the EU’s Common European Defence and Security Policy and integration of the EU’s defence industrial and technological base.
  • Stepping up EU efforts to police and protect its common external borders, notably through the creation of an EU Border Police Corps.

Ε. A realistic national goal for the near future.

To conclude, I am firmly convinced that Greece can create significant geopolitical added value. It has special weight in a region crucial for the international economy and, at the end of the day, for international peace and stability.

With the right mix of policies, the country can take advantage of its comparative advantages. However, there is a necessary condition for putting this theory into practice. We have to believe in it and fight for it consistently and seriously.

But nothing can be achieved without the one fundamental factor of national strength. This is none other than securing national unity behind a clearly defined goal.

That is why we must begin at home in building an effective foreign policy.

Thus, Greece needs a new vision for the necessary reforms: We need to ensure a modern and robust public administration that can focus effectively on the most basic requirements, including security, defence, transparent and effective governance, a more effective Justice system that enhances the functioning of our democratic institutions and ensures equal opportunities for all Greek citizens.

We need a public administration that liberates the nation’s creative and productive energies, thus ensuring an environment that promotes private enterprise and innovation.

This is the path to building a new social model that requires more active participation on the part of the citizens themselves, greater solidarity and greater responsibility from all.

This is the strategic goal that we need to embrace. We need to believe in it and realize it as we head towards 2021, which is the 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution; the rebirth of the Greek nation and state. It is an anniversary which should function as a beacon for a new beginning based on an optimistic but realistic vision of Greece’s significant potential for creating added value.

We can launch this new beginning by implementing policies, at long last, that fully mobilize our potential in a way that strengthens our security and defence, our economy and our prosperity, to the benefit of peace, stability and progress in our wider region.