Endy Zemenides, executive director at the Hellenic American Leadership Council, spoke to participants in a January 8 Middle East Forum webinar (video) about Turkey's rapidly diminishing reliability as an American ally and Greece's growing reliability as an American ally.
Greece and Turkey occupied a similar place in U.S. strategic thinking after the end of World War II, as barriers protecting the southeastern flank of Europe from communism and Soviet influence, and were welcomed into NATO. However, while Greece's alliance with the U.S. has strengthened in recent years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has increasingly taken actions that threaten U.S. interests in the region. These include prioritizing fighting the Kurds rather than Islamic State in Syria, undermining American sanctions on Iran, opposition to Israel, sponsorship of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and acquiring the S-400 defense system from Russia. The latter led the Trump administration to impose CAATSA (Countering America's Adversaries through Sanctions Act) sanctions on Ankara last year. Meanwhile, Erdoğan's growing authoritarianism has become a greater and greater affront to American values. Erdoğan's Turkey, which was characterized as "neither friend nor foe" in the title of a 2018 Council on Foreign Relations report, has now become "more foe than friend," said Zemenides.
Greece, in contrast, has "proven its political stability and ...loyalty to the United States." Its pro-American orientation is not subject to the whims of a particular leader, but is a matter of consensus across the political spectrum. Even the Coalition of the Radical Left – Progressive Alliance (SYRIZA) led "the most pro-American government in Greek history" from 2015 to 2019.
In the realm of security, Greece hosts the southernmost NATO base at Souda Bay on Crete and is a critical barrier to Russian naval power in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Greece's "hard assets" also include infrastructure for providing Europe with alternatives to energy dependence on Russia. This includes the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) bringing natural gas to Europe from Azerbaijan; the Euro-Asia Interconnector, "the longest submerged power line in the world" running from Greece to Cyprus to Israel currently under construction; the planned EastMed pipeline that will transport off-shore gas supplies in the Levantine Basin into Europe; and liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities in Greece.
Greece has "proven its political stability and ...loyalty to the United States."
Greece's role in building the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum is an important contribution to regional stability. What began as a trilateral partnership between Greece, Cyprus and Israel has expanded to include Egypt and Jordan. Turkey, invited to participate, instead chose to be the spoiler, flouting forum rules to encroach upon the natural gas and energy resources in Greece's and Cyprus' territorial waters and advance its hegemonic ambitions. In response, the U.S. passed a landmark piece of legislation. In December 2019, Congress passed the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act, which mandated that the Eastern Mediterranean strategy be built upon three regional democracies: Greece, Israel, and Cyprus.
Greek-Turkish tensions have deep historical roots, and in the modern era have been inflamed by Turkey's invasion and occupation of northern Cyprus in 1974. But Greece does not want tensions with Turkey, said Zemenides, quoting Greece's Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis: "There is a win-win-win situation, but there is not a situation where Turkey gets to come here and say, 'What's yours is mine and what's mine is mine'."
"The U.S. has to tell Turkey ... 'You need to change, not the others'."
Zemenides said that Greece's contributions as an American ally merit U.S. military assistance and the provision of advanced F-35 fighter jets. But he emphasized that "this is not about siding with ... Greece, Cyprus, and Israel versus Turkey. This is about ... something positive happening ... all these countries coming together." All of these countries are eager to cooperate with Ankara, "but the U.S. has to tell Turkey ... 'The train is going to leave the station without you, and we're going to be on the train too. You need to change, not the others.'"
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.