In the midst of bitter bailout negotiations between Greece and Europe, warnings proliferated of a possible Greek Fifth Column. The European Union and even NATO would collapse should Athens turn toward Russia. It is one of the stranger paranoid fantasies driving U.S. foreign policy.
For five years Athens has been arguing with its European neighbors over debts and reform. The issue doesn’t much concern the U.S. A European economic crisis would be bad for America, but Grexit is not likely to set off such a cataclysm.
Nevertheless, some analysts speculated that Athens might fall out of the European Union and NATO as well as the Eurozone, resulting in geopolitical catastrophe. Thus, the U.S. should insist that Europe pay off Greece. Despite an apparent bailout agreement, another crisis seems inevitable, in which case the specter of a Greek Trojan Horse likely will reemerge.
This fear betrays an overactive imagination. “You do not want Europe to have to deal with a Greece that is a member of NATO but which all of a sudden hates the West and is cozying up to Russia,” warned Sebastian Mallaby of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Worse, Athens might leave the transatlantic alliance. Warned Robert D. Kaplan of the Center for a New American Security: “Europe will be increasingly vulnerable to Russian aggression if its links to Greece are substantially loosened.”
It sounds like the Cold War redux.
In fact, this all appears to be a grand bluff. To start, Russia poses little threat to Europe. President Vladimir Putin is an unpleasant authoritarian, but he is no Hitler or Stalin. While Moscow has ignored human rights and international law, so far Moscow’s aggressive interventions have reflected traditional Russian security concerns. Nothing suggests that Putin has lost his mind and hopes to rule over territory filled with Europeans.
Some worry about America’s access to naval and air bases. They are useful, not vital. After all, the Med is essentially a NATO lake and the Libya intervention was folly.
Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev raised another issue, complaining that “Russia uses every opportunity to divide and weaken the European Union.” Beyond a couple of friendly meetings, however, little has come from the supposed Athens-Moscow axis.
“There is fundamental value to Europe in having Greece as part of its orbit,” argued Stavridis, but the reverse also is true. Irrespective of the debt negotiations and Eurozone membership, Greece will continue to have much at stake with Europe.
Despite past anti-American feeling, Greece has remained with the West. Moreover, the Tsipras government has not obstructed continuation of sanctions against Russia. In fact, Athens has consistently affirmed its participation in Europe.
Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, head of Syriza’s small coalition partner threatened: “If Europe leaves us in the crisis, we will flood it with immigrants, and it will be even worse for Berlin if in that wave of millions of economic immigrants there will be some jihadists.” However, the Syriza government would not want to open its border to terrorists.
Athens has criticized sanctions against Russia. But Greece is not alone in taking this position. Obviously the penalties have failed to reverse Russian policy in Ukraine. Best would be to use possible sanctions repeal to negotiate an admittedly imperfect compromise deal. Such an approach would be entirely consistent with Greece remaining part of the West.
The Greek saga is far from over. The paranoid panic that Greece’s economic problems could destroy Europe’s and America’s geopolitical standing should generate a mix of scorn and laughter.
As I point out in Forbes online, “Washington should calm down, leaving the Greeks and other Europeans alone to solve their problems. Greece subsidized or not, in the Eurozone or out, really isn’t America’s business.”