Greece: A new foreign policy

Many of the world’s most life-changing events have taken place without a bang, almost quietly. A few days ago, an experienced Greek diplomat, a German judge and a close adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sat down at the same table in a small building next to the German Chancellery in Berlin. Such a scene would have been unthinkable a few years ago, as the only mediators between Greece and Turkey since 1950 have been American. Dean Acheson, Clark Clifford, Cyrus Vance and Richard Holbrooke are some of the better-known mediators for Cyprus or over the Aegean.

Things change rapidly, however, around us and across the globe. America has retreated into its shell and the traditional foreign policy mechanisms have collapsed. A very active and capable ambassador may convey a different image to the domestic audience, but the truth cannot be hidden and, unfortunately, Erdogan knows this all too well.

Here in this neighborhood, we tend to experience the tectonic shifts on the global stage like a distant echo. But it is time to throw out the old tools we used to analyze the world. And I don’t think that we can rule anything out anymore. What I mean, for example, is that no one should be surprised to see Moscow stepping in as mediator if tensions flare up again between Greece and Turkey. It has done so on many fronts and playing such a role between two NATO members would boost its prestige. Nature hates a vacuum and the United States has left a big one that others will fill.

In the meantime, we continue to be on the lookout for strategic relationships that will act as an “insurance policy” against Ankara. We tried it with France but changed our mind, and we expected it with Israel but the relationship has never gone that far. China is still not part of our calculations because it has not shown any desire to become involved. As far as the US is concerned, I fear that we often aggrandize minor issues and interpret them to our convenience. Washington has never pretended to furnish us with “insurance policy.” We just knew that it had the emergency number we could call and it would respond if necessary.

My humble opinion is that the wisest thing to do in such a fluid setting is buy time and stay calm. Turkey’s future is unpredictable and riddled with risk. We need time to upgrade our armed forces and recover as a country. We also need time to see where the ball settles in the roulette wheel before we design our new foreign policy.

(This article was originally published by Greek newspaper Kathimerini and is reproduced by permission.)