ATHENS – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was the featured guest on February 12 for the first Webinar of the Council for International Relations – Greece, an organization founded by 60 leading academics specializing in International relations, economics, institutions, and politics.
The panelists included academics Athanasios Platias and Aristotle Tziampiris of the University of Piraeus, Spiros Litsas of Greece’s University of Macedonia, and Chrysostomos Nikias of USC.
Nikias noted that he welcomed Mitsotakis “at the start of a symbolic year… 200 years after the start of the Greek Revolution.” He began the discussion by noting that after Mitsotakis came to power in 2019 economic development accelerated, but has paused due to the pandemic, and tension with Turkey has risen.
The discussion was also placed in the context of the election of President Joe Biden and the ensuing expectations
The discussion’s moderator, Katerina Sokou, Kathimerini’s correspondent in Washington, DC, declared it is the first time a Greek Prime Minister publicly discussed his country’s grand strategy with distinguished academics – with the added bonus that communications technology brought a large audience of 2000+ viewers.
Sokou began by saying Grand Strategy is broader than foreign policy, constituting “a vision of what the state of a country should in the future. Strategy’s mission is to connect a country’s higher aims with the tools of power that each county has at its disposal, including its Soft Power,” the tools of persuasion. She then asked Mitsotakis about his vision for Greece.
The Prime Minister placed the discussion into historical perspective with a rhetorical question apropos of the Bicentennial. “If what was at stake in the first 100 years after the establishment of the Greek state was ethnic completion” or reunification, and the mission of the next 100 years was the economic development of the nation, “what is at stake during the next 100 years?”
He continued, “I would say it is a Greece with self-confidence, giving extra emphasis to economic prosperity, for the benefit of all citizens.”
His national security vision sees, “a nation with a strong regional position, that is a credible ally, and combines Hard Power with economic dynamism, so that it can make investments in its Grand Strategy, which to me is nothing more than a country’s credibility and its ability to pursue an active policy in possibly non-traditional ways.”
Credibility being crucial, he noted Greece’s progress after confronting COVID-19 more effectively than richer states, giving her an opportunity to radically change its international image, thereby “strengthening its ability to attract investments and talent and to make use of its comparative advantages.”
Platias prefaced his question by noting that a country pursues Grand Strategy by properly analyzing the international environment and the opportunities and risks that come with it, and then delimits and prioritizes its goals. He said a country’s leadership “must combine these goals by all available means,” and agreed about the importance of image management – “essentially what we call “reputational security.”
That said, Platias presented the emerging monumental rivalry between the United States and China as a classic Grand Strategy challenge and asked how Greece should position itself.
After pointing out that the new conflict is very different from the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Cold War that shaped the current world, Mitsotakis emphasized that Greece “geopolitically and in terms of cultural values exists firmly in the Sphere of West,” noting Greece’s membership in NATO and the EU, and adding that it is governed according to the principles of capitalism and liberal democracy, “determining the basic orientation of the country.”
But he believes the question applies more to Europe than Greece, explaining that “as a third pole, we should have our own distinct strategy, which obviously brings us closer to the United States on many issues of geopolitical priorities, but one cannot ignore the fact that there are very strong economic relations with China.”
Mitsotakis then distinguished “between classic economic-trade relations – where we have made some important strides, agreements for investment and how our agricultural products will enter the Chinese market – and those aspects of our relations that relate to hard power security issues.”
Vigilance is needed, he said, but added that Europe must also invest more within Europe to secure strategic autonomy,” in the economic realm.
That Greece is literally at the crossroads of three continents and abuts the Middle East, gives it “flexibility in this emerging landscape, but without ever questioning… our basic orientation,” he affirmed.
Dr. Tziampiris highlighted another comparative advantage of Greece, its large and global Diaspora that includes energetic students from Greece as well as dynamic Hellenes and Greek community organizations. He asked “how does the Diaspora relate to Greece’s Soft Power, its Grand Strategy? What initiatives are you preparing?”
Mitsotakis responded by declaring that “our Diaspora is a very important pillar of Soft Power … in the past our country has never had a coherent Diaspora strategy, which we intend to rectify.”
He emphasized the importance of bringing back the ‘brain drain’ portion of Hellenes abroad, and said his government is undertaking reforms – especially regarding foreign direct investment that will generate jobs – that will prompt them to return, bringing with them valuable skills and experience.
Litsas added the term ‘Smart Power’ to the mix, in the context of taking advantage of Greece’s important role in the alliance system of the West. Mitsotakis said, “being ‘smart’ about foreign policy” includes recognizing that action speaks louder than words, and noted that Greece’s reliance on international law in its disputes with Turkey requires deeds, such as the agreements it has undertaken with Italy and Egypt, which “send a clear message that regional differences can be resolved when there are good neighborly relations and respect for international law.”
He added “Smart Power is stepping outside our… leadership presence in the Balkans and building new alliances with important countries in the region,” and beyond, in places like Africa and India. It also means placing Greece among Europe’s leaders in environmental matters.
When Platias focused on the Hard Power considerations of facing aggressive revisionist states like Turkey, Mitsotakis first highlighted the value of strengthening a country’s alliances. He noted that Greece succeeded – finally – in persuading the EU that “the differences between Greece and Turkey are also European concerns,” adding, “we are taking advantage of our participation in the big European family to strengthen the perception that our positions are justified.”
He then turned to the ultimate foundation of both soft and hard power: the national economy: “Without a strong economy we would be too weak to be able to project power.”
On the economic front he emphasized that Greece has progressed so much that it is borrowing at historically low interest rates, while Turkey cannot.
Mitsotakis then returned to national credibility. Progress is also indicated, he said, by the fact that Greece “has a serious and credible reform government… that is in a position to discuss the problems of others, not only our own… If we want our allies to listen to us, we must show that we also care about their concerns” and general international issues.
The discussion concluded on a core hard power issue: deterrence. “After 10 years of being unable to invest in the armed forces,” Greece is moving forward strengthening them, Mitsotakis said, emphasizing that the key “element of a nation’s self-confidence is the ability to defend its rights.”
The event can be seen at cfir.gr/en.