On Strategy: An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

This fall has proven especially active for Greek diplomacy. Following the signing of a long-awaited security pact with France, Greece signed an amendment to its Mutual Defense and Cooperation Agreement with the U.S. The new MDCA, which solidifies U.S. military presence in Greece at a time when Washington is reducing its footprint in Europe, is open to various interpretations. Some consider the multi-year MDCA agreement, which provides for strategic upgrades to U.S. bases in Greece, like the one in Alexandroupoli, to be important for safeguarding its borders from Turkish incursion.

Moreover, references in an accompanying letter by Secretary of State Blinken regarding respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, “as well as sovereign rights and jurisdiction in accordance with the international law of the sea,” are seen as favorable with respect to Turkey’s growing expansionism. The reference to the vital role of Souda Bay and other Greek installations, “at which the United States may train or operate on the mainland or islands,” is seen by some as an affirmation of Greece’s position on its sovereign rights in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean.

Still, the MDCA has been around since 1990, and yet Turkish provocations are steadily increasing (casus belli, Imia, Mavi Vatan doctrine, and the Turkish-Libyan memorandum), while Washington plays the role of Pontius Pilate.

Furthermore, the U.S. has since then revised its policies for the worse regarding certain Greek national issues, like Skopje’s infringement of the term Macedonia.

Letters from the Secretary of State are undoubtedly diplomatically useful, but strong defense capabilities will play the critical role in a crisis, along with the willingness to use them appropriately. Interests and opportunities are constantly changing, and the political elite shaping Greece’s policies must not rely on words alone, because at the crucial moment, they may prove empty.

Aside from the positive aspects of the flourishing U.S.-Greek alliance, there are also certain blemishes. For example, the joint statement on the Third U.S.-Greece Strategic Dialogue released on October 14th includes express references to the shameful Prespa Agreement and its “full, consistent and in good faith implementation;” ergo, the passage of related memoranda by the Hellenic Parliament, as foreseen by the agreement. There is also mention of “urgently commencing accession negotiations between EU and both Albania and North Macedonia (sic).”

Just days earlier, Albanian justice officials cynically labeled the murder of Konstantinos Katsifas, an ethnic Greek, a “suicide,” while Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama is implementing various policies targeting the Greek minority in Northern Epirus. As far as Skopje’s continued irredentism and violation of even its limited obligations stemming from the one-sided Prespa Agreement, all one can do is shake his head in disbelief.

The statement by Messrs. Blinken and Dendias includes other questionable references, such as the Euro-Atlantic integration of Kosovo, the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, including processing and integrating asylum-seekers and refugees, as well as Greece’s plans to phase out lignite by 2025 (in the midst of an unprecedented – for the 21st century – energy crisis, with unforeseeable consequences).

In the midst of all this, the Biden Administration announced its formal nomination of Greek-American lawyer and businessman George Tsunis for the position of U.S. ambassador to Greece. Mr. Tsunis, who is not a professional diplomat, but rather a businessman who made his fortune as the founder, chairman, and CEO of Chartwell Hotels, appears to greatly desire an ambassadorship, considering his previous unsuccessful nomination as envoy to Norway.

A major fundraiser for the Democratic party, Mr. Tsunis was previously nominated by the Obama Administration, where he had a difficult hearing before the Senate, when, among other things, he was unable to accurately identify the head of the Norwegian state or the nature of its polity, leading him to withdraw his candidacy. This new nomination rests on the belief that his familiarity with his ancestral home will facilitate the confirmation hearing.

Considering the longstanding “behind the scenes” role played by U.S. ambassadors in Greece, which sometimes takes on the proportions of a Roman prefect, there are justifiable concerns regarding the mission that Mr. Tsunis will be called to fulfill if his appointment is confirmed. Since he is not a career diplomat, will his role be more ceremonial, meaning that a “subordinate” embassy official will be pulling the political strings? If so, will this benefit Hellenism?

There is no reason to doubt Mr. Tsunis’ love or concern for Greece. Nonetheless, the United States is sending him there to serve its interests. Unfortunately, that means that he will have to advance questionable issues like those cited above and apply the necessary pressure on the Greek Government. Why would a wealthy entrepreneur who could live a lavish life in Greece by his own means want to tread such choppy waters?

As emboldening as it is to seen Greek-Americans appointed to top diplomatic posts, there is a concern (theoretical, not personal) about a Greek-American assuming the ambassadorship to Greece. The Gospel states that “no one can serve two masters,” and the fear is that any “dirty work” assigned to the ambassador would have wider repercussions on relations between Greece and the Hellenic-American Community. Another fear is that the presence of a Greek-American as chief of the mission may act as a smokescreen, diverting attention from the officials on whom we should be keeping an eye. Until today, nobody really notices with whom an embassy’s subordinate officials meet, because all eyes are on the ambassador. This is a habit that may have to change.

It’s hard to know whether to wish Mr. Tsunis “good luck” or to “be careful for what he asks.” In any event, the ultimate hope is for relations between the Diaspora and Greece to be preserved above all else and to continue to deepen, because Hellenes of the Diaspora have traditionally always served as Greece’s finest ambassadors to the world and a notable force multiplier.

Follow me on Twitter @CTripoulas


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