A week ago, Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) co-sponsored legislation named the U.S.-Greece Defense and Interparliamentary Act of 2021, a bill that would provide American support for the modernization of the Greek Armed Forces. This legislation should serve as a foundation document, similar to the 1948 Truman Doctrine aiding Greece and Turkey, that would underpin President Biden’s declared intention of creating an “Alliance of Democracy.” The legislation comes with a rather initial small price tag (it provides $1 million for training Greek officers) but has huge symbolic importance. The Menendez and Rubio Act explicitly confirms support for democracy in a troubled region, the Eastern Mediterranean, against “malign” threats.
In addition to the allocation of funds for training, the Act prioritizes Greek access to the F35 stealth fighter (should Greece choose to procure it), re-authorizes Greek participation in ERIP an existing grant program to replace old Warsaw Pact military equipment in the Greek inventory. The Act also expresses a non-binding ‘Sense of Congress’ that the U.S. Government provide direct loans for Greece to purchase U.S. military equipment – a provision that could make the current U.S. effort to sell warships to the Hellenic Navy more competitive. Moreover, the Act sends a signal that Greece has an ally, a deterrent against Turkish aggression, but gives Greece the opportunity to deter aggression on its own without need to call in the U.S. cavalry.
President Biden has broken dramatically with his predecessor’s love affair with authoritarians and dictators and hostility towards our democratic allies. The New York Times reported that President Biden began his first overseas trip by telling American troops in Britain that the future of the world depends on restoring the longstanding alliances with European democracies. He promised to stand against Russian President Putin’s aggressive moves in the Ukraine and elsewhere. Biden noted that we are in an existential battle between democracy and autocracy. Democracy has indeed receded in recent decades from the euphoric conviction at the end of the Cold War that the triumph of democracy and liberal capitalism was inevitable. China has become a great power, challenging the United States, and peddling a theory that its authoritarian system beats liberal democracy hands down. Arab youth demonstrated for democracy; they were crushed between the blood-soaked grindstones of dictators and jihadists. India, the world’s largest democracy, has begun to backslide towards sectarian dictatorship. Even in Europe authoritarian leaders in Hungary and Poland have embraced the tactic of winning elections and then fixing it so they cannot lose again. Nor should we ignore the current attempts in the United States by the losers of the 2020 elections to suppress votes and ensure permanent minoritarian rule.
A policy to defend democracy wherever possible unfortunately plays into the hands of the neo-isolationists in the United States, a term embracing the political spectrum from the ultra-conservative Koch brothers to the hyper-liberal Quincy Institute. They see every American commitment for the defense of democracy as an open invitation to the ‘forever’ wars they blame on American hubris and the profit-seeking military industrial complex. The last administration set the stage for these groups by undermining allied confidence that the United States would participate in any sort of collective defense. The Koch brothers and Quincy cheered the decision to deliver the Afghan democracy, albeit weak and flawed, into the tender mercies of the Taliban, a brutal and bloody movement dedicated to forcing the country and especially its women into the Dark Ages. This sort of thinking at the end of World War I opened the door to the carnage of World War II.
Extending the protection of the Menendez-Rubio legislation to small democracies threatened by predatory authoritarian neighbors weakens the isolationist argument. It gives the United States an opportunity to defend a democracy without deploying U.S. troops at the first smell of war. Helping the Ukraine build the capacity to give Putin a bloody nose and raising doubts as to the certainty of an easy victory is the very definition of deterrence. If Putin is deterred, we can keep American troops at home. Helping the Hellenic Navy, the Navy of a democratic ally whose interests align closely with ours, acquire a fleet of high-quality warships reduces the need for a permanent large scale U.S. Navy presence in the region. There is a cost saving as well; maintenance and manning of Hellenic Navy ships come at a fraction of the cost of United States keeping navy vessels in the region.
In fact, we can make the Menendez-Rubio legislation more effective by reaching back into World War II and resurrecting the extremely effective program known as Lend-Lease. Lend Lease allowed us to transfer military equipment to our allies who often bore the brunt of the fighting. The aphorism that we won World War II with “American factories and Russian blood” may sound macabre but describes a fact. We should also note that a Lend-Lease program ensures that American-made military equipment will become the standard in the democratic world, to the benefit of American exports. The initial cost of such a program may appear high but in the long run it is much cheaper than maintaining a military force configured to deploy everywhere immediately as is currently the case. Finally, such policies will lessen the likelihood that the United States will become engaged in ‘small wars’ that have done so much to sap the will of the American people and inflated defense budgets. Combining Biden’s Alliance for Democracy, the Menendez-Rubio legislation and a new Lend Lease make Democracies become, in their own interest, force multipliers for the United States.