Professor Constantine Arvanitopoulos, the Constantine G. Karamanlis Chair in Hellenic and European Studies at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and former minister of Education. (Photo provided by Constantine Arvanitopoulos)
BOSTON – Professor Constantine Arvanitopoulos, who holds the Constantine G Karamanlis Chair in Hellenic and European Studies at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and former minister of Education spoke to The National Herald about the crises in Ukraine and the Aegean.
The entire interview follows:
TNH: In what state does the New Year find the United States?
Constantine Arvanitopoulos: The Biden administration is facing numerous challenges after first year in office. The resurgence of COVID-19 is, once again, disrupting the economy and our everyday life. In the economy, the disruption of supply chains, the energy crisis, and rising inflation are issues of serious concern for the new administration.
Worst of all, one year after the January 6 insurrection, politics remain polarized and divisive. With the exception of the infrastructure bill, it is almost impossible to achieve bipartisan consensus on any policy. Furthermore, structural problems, such as inequalities, racism, and identity politics, put an additional strain on the political process.
In previous periods of crisis in American history, however, such as the Great Depression, far-sighted leaders would pave the way out of the crisis, towards prosperity and security. I believe that history will repeat itself.
TNH: How is the Karamanlis Chair doing?
CA: The Constantine Karamanlis chair has been an integral part of the Fletcher School at Tufts, and the academic life of Boston, for almost twenty years.
The chair has contributed significantly to the promotion of Hellenic and European studies in the United States, while honoring the legacy and the work of a major European statesman, Constantine Karamanlis. The courses offered by the chair attract many students from around the world. At the same time, the chair has organized a series of lectures, conferences, and seminars for a wider audience. Many of those events are online and open to the general public through the site of the chair. (sites.tufts.edu/karamanlischair).
TNH: Should the United States, Europe, and the world in general worry about Putin’s games in Ukraine?
CA: Russia and the Soviet Union have always tried, throughout history, to maintain a sphere of influence, as a buffer zone, in their near abroad. That came to an end after the end of the Cold War, following the defeat and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The dual enlargement of the European Union and NATO brought Western institutions almost to the Russian border.
Putin wants to revise the status quo that was formed after the end of the Cold War. He is trying, with the use or the threat of the use of force, to restore Russian influence and dominance in Russia’s near abroad. He is trying to put an end to NATO’s enlargement and prevent Ukraine, Georgia, and Belarus from becoming members of the EU or NATO.
Putin’s Russia is also trying to regain influence in other regions, such as the Middle East and the Balkans, where the Soviet Union exercised considerable power and influence during the Cold War. Finally, Putin is attempting to weaken western democracies. Using hybrid warfare tactics, Russia is interfering in the domestic affairs of our western democracies, trying to exacerbate existing tensions and divisions and create chaos. This is a dangerous escalation that needs to be countered jointly and decisively by Europe and America.
TNH: What options does the United States have in case of a military invasion in Ukraine? Is there a danger for a more general conflict?
CA: Russia continues to threaten an invasion of Ukraine with a major military buildup near the Russian-Ukrainian border and aggressive language. The Biden administration has threatened Russia with harsh economic sanctions, in case of an invasion, but it has taken the military option off the table. European member-states of NATO, and especially Germany with its energy dependence upon Russia, seem unwilling to discuss policy options other than economic sanctions.
The fact that the West has abandoned the military option may embolden Putin to invade Ukraine.
The United States and its European allies should be prepared to take all the immediate economic, diplomatic, and other steps in case of a Russian invasion, to aid Ukraine, and shore up NATO’s defenses across its eastern flank.
TNH: Was the withdrawal from Afghanistan a mistake the way it was done?
CA: The American withdrawal from Afghanistan signaled the end of the post 9/11 period that was characterized by the war against terror. The war against terror absorbed American energy and resources, while giving time and space for the rise of revisionist major powers, such as China and Russia. The American foreign policy establishment realized that there was a need for a policy adjustment. Otherwise, America ran the risk of losing the 21st century to China. This policy change started with Obama and the ‘pivot to Asia.’ It continued with Trump’s realpolitik. And it continues under Biden, with the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the alliance of democracies to counter the autocratic and revisionist great powers, such as China and Russia.
The hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan, however, created a perception of weakness, and tarnished America’s reputation. Abandoning friends and local allies in Afghanistan raised questions of credibility and reliability. The lack of consultations, on the timing of the withdrawal, created tensions with European allies. At the end of the day, there was a rare bipartisan consensus that the withdrawal should have been better designed and executed.
TNH: How seriously should Greece take the threats and provocations of Turkey?
CA: Erdogan has transformed Turkey’s identity and has distanced it from the West. Erdogan’s Islamic Turkey, with its neo-Ottoman hegemonic aspirations, has become an unreliable ally of the West and a source of instability in the Eastern Mediterranean. Greece remains committed to a resolution of the only outstanding difference between the two countries, namely the delimitation of the continental self, in accordance with international law and the law of the sea. Greece also firmly supports a just, comprehensive, and viable settlement of the Cyprus issue according to international law, the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, and EU principles. Turkey’s constant threats and provocations, however, increase tensions and instability and are not conducive to good neighborly relations.
TNH: How do you see the political scene of Greece after Nicholas Androulakis’ rise to the leadership of KINAL?
CA: New Democracy, currently, enjoys an ideological and political dominance in Greek politics. This dominance cannot be threatened by the opposition. Our party has deep roots in Greek society. It has remained true to its political ideology and its values and has proved its commitment to Greece’s European course, both in government (2012-2015) and in opposition in 2015. In 2019, ND got a strong mandate by the Greek people to bring about change and the structural reforms that the country needed. Amidst the pandemic crisis, the ND government has remained committed to reforms and the country has made significant progress in many areas.
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