By Sputnik News
With Greece tottering on the brink of leaving the Eurozone, experts of all stripes have been debating Grexit’s security implications, including Athens’ relationship with NATO. While naysayers argue that the geopolitics behind Grexit “are actually pretty boring,” others warn that the implications for the bloc could be far more serious.
Over the past couple of weeks, US and European media have been busy pondering the implications of the Grexit for European security, particularly as it relates to the NATO alliance. Following an initial outburst of panic and alarm about NATO standing to lose its Mediterranean outpost to Moscow before being flooded by immigrants, NATO Secretary General Jeans Stoltenberg urged for calm, noting that the Greeks “have not linked the problems within the European Union and the euro with their strong commitment to NATO,” and adding that Athens will remain “a close partner.”
Influential US news and geopolitical analysis publication Foreign Policy echoed Stoltenberg’s tone, brushing off security fears with a recent headline reading “The Geopolitics of a Grexit Are Actually Pretty Boring.” The piece, written by former European Council on Foreign Relations Senior Policy Fellow Dimitar Bechev, argues that “those fretting that a Greek departure from the Eurozone will unleash a flood of migrants and send Athens into the arms of a waiting Putin should calm down,” noting that “none of this is going to happen.”
Bechev states out that the “alarmist” arguments over Greece have turned the country, a “peripheral member of the West that accounts for a mere 3 percent of the eurozone’s GDP, into a pivotal country.”
Moreover, dismissing arguments about the country’s ‘dangerous’ “flirtation with Russia,” Bechev posits that in actuality, the “Russian gambit,” aimed at providing the Syriza-led coalition with “some space to maneuver” in relation to Brussels and Berlin, has “failed to pay off.”
As far as Greece’s geopolitical importance is concerned, Bechev notes that geopolitical considerations have not really given the country “much mileage in the debt talks,” adding that “even if Athens wanted to foment trouble –and there are few signs that it does –it has little power to actually do so.”
Ultimately, according to the analyst, Greece is and will remain unlikely to rock the boat on any of Europe’s major security and foreign affairs issues, from anti-Russian sanctions, to the US-EU trade pact, to immigration controls.
Trojan Horse, or Weakest Link?
But Bechev’s calm and level-headed analysis is contradicted by other experts, no less dispassionate and rational than he is, including fellow FP contributor and former NATO commander James Stavridis, who noted in a piece preceding Bechev’s that even if the “angry, disaffected and battered nation” remains a NATO member, it could nonetheless become an obstructive one. This, in Stavridis’s view, would be a very serious problem for what is ostensibly a consensus-driven organization.
According to the former Navy commander, this obstructionism could come to a head when it comes time for the organization to make decisions against perceived threats, including Russia. It could also lead to thorny issues over the use of Greek bases in the Mediterranean, or Athens’ participation in NATO military missions.
Politico Europe echoes Stavridis’s analysis, noting in a recent article that with NATO “rely[ing] on unanimous approval from all 28 members for all major decisions, Greece, especially one shored up with economic reprieve from Russia, could prove to be a major headache for future Alliance maneuvers” to counter Moscow. Furthermore, the publication notes that “NATO’s unanimity clause applies not only to deploying military forces, but also to essential day-to-day functions of the Alliance such as arms sales and major political decisions such as invoking Article 4 or 5 of the Washington Treaty to consult and defend fellow allies.”
Challenging Bechev’s argument that Greece could not put a crimp in NATO’s plans ‘even if it wanted to’, numerous analysts have cited Athens’ history of obstructing NATO decisions when necessary, from the country’s outright withdrawal from the organization’s military command structure in the 1970s, following Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus, to its condemnation of NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign of Yugoslavia, to recent efforts to block NATO-EU cooperation over the Turkey-Cyprus dispute.
Moreover, even if Stoltenberg is correct, and an Athens left to its economic fate continues to be NATO’s “close partner,” its impoverished status would likely leave it NATO’s weakest link. As recently noted by The Guardian’s John Hooper, while Greece is presently one of the few NATO members which abides by the requirement to spend at least 2 percent of its GDP on defense, the country’s economic collapse would not only cripple the country’s participation in NATO missions; it would also signal the weakening of the organization’s south-eastern flank, while sparking fears of a Russia looking to take military advantage of the situation.
Economic Ripple Effects
Even if the naysayers are correct, and Moscow shows that it does not have the political will or the financial wherewithal to attempt to pry Greece from NATO’s warm embrace, analysts note that the Greek crisis has had, and is likely to continue to have, a knock-on economic effect on European economies.
In a recent op-ed for Indian Express, University of Cambridge lecturer and Greek Public Policy Forum member Nikitas Konstantinidis argued that “the chain set off by Grexit” could be “even more painful than events following the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy” in 2008. As a result, Politico Europe notes that if the recession-treading members of the EU were to face further economic shocks resulting from Grexit, this will not “augur well for NATO militaries,” shifting “NATO members’ focus further away from defense spending.”
Security Issues Surrounding the Migrant Crisis
With Greece turning into one of the main points of entry for tens of thousands of African and Middle Eastern refugees fleeing war and instability across the Mediterranean, analysts warn that Grexit is likely to have a negative impact on this pressing issue as well. And While Bechev’s argument that Greece is unlikely to “use migration controls as a weapon in a guerilla war against Europe” stands to reason, this does not mean that economic collapse and the ensuing political and social fallout will have a positive impact on the country’s ability to control the flood of immigrants.
As Politico Europe points out, the worsened economic situation following Grexit will severely “undercut badly needed funding for Greece’s ability to track refugees and retain border security” which in turn “poses a very real danger to NATO members’ security, especially as reports begin to filter in of Islamic State fighters slipping into Europe in the wave of refugees.
Ultimately, while some analysts now attempt to downplay Greece’s importance in the political, economic and security geography of Europe, others, including Konstantinidis, maintain that the country remains “a core member of some of the world’s largest regional blocs.” Therefore, “the ramifications of a potential Grexit” are likely to be highly “disproportionate to the country’s economic size and geopolitical clout.”
As far as transatlantic security is concerned, the danger posed by the Grexit is not confined to the questions it raises over Greece’s NATO membership, or the security ripple effects caused by the Greek economy’s collapse. Grexit’s danger lies in the fact that it serves as a symbol of the reversal of transatlantic institutions’ fortunes in their attempts to build and maintain a hegemonic political, economic and military order in Europe.
The statements, views, and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of EMerging Equity.