By Fu Xiaotao
The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Greece on October 5 and signed the revised defense cooperation agreement with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, vowing to lift bilateral defense cooperation to a new level. As conflict between the US and Turkey deepens, the closer military cooperation between the US and Greece is quite interesting.
By signing this agreement, both Washington and Athens got what they wanted.
On one hand, the US can strengthen its alliance with Greece and reinforce military base construction and military presence in Athens. For instance, it can expand the base of its Sixth Fleet on Crete and build drone base and helicopter training facilities in central Greece. It may also build a new navy and air force base in Alexandropolis to facilitate its assistance to NATO allies Bulgaria and Romania. An analyst with a Greek defense website said Alexandropolis is a strategic asset for its proximity to the Balkan Peninsula, from where the US troops can support military operations on the peninsula more quickly.
On the other hand, Greece will obtain more military investment and security guarantee from the US through the closer defense relation, and could take the initiative in the current dispute with Turkey by leveraging the US forces. Both joining NATO in 1952 at the same time, Greece and Turkey are supposedly on the same boat with the US as its allies, but actually disputes between the two countries have never stopped due to the Cyprus issue, disputes over island sovereignty, and other historical issues. Recently Turkey carried out oil and gas prospecting in sea areas where Cyprus claimed to have sovereignty, which added fuel to its tension with Greece and led to EU’s sanction against it.
Not only is Turkey at odds with Greece in recent years, but it has been up against the US as well. This year it infuriated the White House by buying the S-400 air defense missile system from Russia despite its opposition. Turkey did this out of mistrust in the US, which has such a complicated alliance system that is comprised of so many multilateral and bilateral agreements and pacts that Washington, to ensure its own interests and hegemony, sometimes would make bets on both sides, only to find itself hands-tied on certain issues and losing the trust of its allies. In recent years, the US has stirred up a war in Syria and, to overthrow the Assad regime, supported the Kurdish armed forces that Turkey regarded as a deadly enemy. This explains why Turkey, a US ally, has parted ways with it.
With the Black Sea in the north, the Mediterranean Sea in the south and the Aegean Sea in the west, Turkey is a crossroad connecting the European and Asian continents, bordering with several countries such as Syria, Iraq and Iran. Commanding such an important geographical position and geo-strategic significance, Turkey was originally a key fulcrum of NATO and America in the Middle East with more American than Greek troops stationed there. But now the US chose to intensify military base construction in Greece perhaps out of the worry that as its relation with Turkey worsens, its military base in Turkey may be affected, so it has to have a backup plan in place.
But it won’t be so easy for the US to have its way. It hoped to strengthen the relation with Greece by signing the updated defense cooperation agreement, but on the very day of Pompeo’s arrival in Greece, large amounts of protesters gathered in front of the US embassy shouting anti-America and anti-NATO slogans and having conflicts with the police. The protest organizer claimed that signing the updated agreement will only make the Greek people more insecure and embroil Greece more deeply into the overseas disputes and military operations. Moreover, according to contents of the North Atlantic Treaty, armed attack of a single member would be considered the attack of all members and other members are obligated to provide assistance. As long as Turkey is a NATO member, any attack of it launched by the US, regardless of the reason, will cause an internal strife within the alliance as that will also be considered an attack on the US itself.
The plan to deter Turkey through the US-Greece military cooperation is likely to backfire. Pompeo’s statement in Greece already told Turkey that illegal drilling is unacceptable and that the US is taking sides with Greece, which aggravates the already tense US-Turkey relation. If their row isn’t properly handled, Istanbul may be forced to continue moving toward Russia until it finally pulls back from NATO. If that happened, it would be the first time that a NATO member decided to quit after the organization was formed, and presage the organization’s turn from consistent expansion to decline. How the future situation will unroll is to be seen.
(The author is from the National Defense University)