National Strategy Forum Review
By Endy Zemenides
Did Winston Churchill anticipate Greece’s role in the battle to keep Iran from going nuclear? As part of the negotiations that led to the Yalta Agreement, Churchill met with Stalin in the Kremlin on October 9, 1944. Churchill immediately opened the session with this:
Let us settle about our affairs in the Balkans. Your armies are in Rumania and Bulgaria. We have interests, missions, and agents there. Don't let us get at crosspurposes in small ways. So far as Britain and Russia are concerned, how would it do for you to have ninety per cent predominance in Rumania, for us to have ninety per cent of the say in Greece, and go ﬁfty-ﬁfty about Yugoslavia?
Almost all present press coverage on Greece concerns itself with the country’s economic crisis and whether it ever belonged in the euro, yet given all the emphasis placed on Iran’s nuclear ambitions in the national security debate, maybe one should ask: what if Stalin didn’t accept this deal?
One of the great strategic successes of the United States during the Cold War was establishing effective control of the Mediterranean. With the exception of Syria—which was hemmed in by Israel and Turkey—the Soviets had no outpost in the Mediterranean. Yet today, the Mediterranean has become a zone of instability – an Arab Spring morphing into an Islamic winter on the southern edge of the sea, a Syria falling apart, an unreliable Turkey and Israel feeling threatened in the eastern Mediterranean, and the future of the euro and global markets hanging in the balance. If the shift to Asia in U.S. foreign policy also means abandoning a strategic approach to this region, and lunging from crisis to crisis or outsourcing our policy to
what we hope are allies, within a decade we may be asking “who lost the Mediterranean?”
A strategic approach to the region has to acknowledge and utilize Greece’s advantages (geography, the world’s largest merchant marine, potential energy resources), and this brings us back to Iran. Two of the more effective tools that have been utilized against Iran are: (1) measures to prevent the proliferation of dual use technology; and (2) severe energy sanctions. Without Greece, neither tool works. After September 11, the U.S. government prioritized the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) – which provides for the interdiction of WMD related material on the high seas. Greece, which is the home of the world’s largest merchant marine, Summer 2012 Volume 21, Issue 3 plays a leading role in the PSI.
Without the contributions of Greece’s merchant marines, a signiﬁcant hole would be cut in the net cast by the PSI, and more WMD material could be accessed by Iran via the high seas.
Much praise has also been directed to the European Union’s decision to ban Iranian oil imports (thus depriving Tehran of 1/5 of its oil revenue). The continuation of this ban has real consequences for the Iranian regime, which depends on oil revenues for more than half of its budget. Yet these sanctions would not have been possible if Greece – at a time when it really has no leeway for further economic sacriﬁce – joined the ban (and in fact cut off imports months ahead of the deadline). For the past few years, Greece received the majority of its imports from Iran, because it was giving Athens the most favorable terms. As Ilan Berman has commented elsewhere, special effort has to be made to honor this economic sacriﬁce by Athens and to make
sure it can be sustained, in order that no cracks appear in Europe’s consensus on Iran.
Winston Churchill showed great prescience in securing inﬂuence in Greece as part of a greater strategy for stability in the Mediterranean. Today, successive governments in Athens and indeed the Greek people themselves – like the ancient Greeks before them – stand on the front lines of a new Persian threat to the West. It is time to shift our national debate from using Greece’s economic crisis as a punchline to a serious analysis of the national security implications of ensuring that we continue to have a reliable ally in Athens.
Endy Zemenides is the Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council, and a member of the National Strategy Forum Review Editorial Board.