5.10.16

Admiral Jim Stavridis: "The rest of Europe and the United States need to stand with Greece during this difficult period for several key reasons"

I grew up as a baseball player, and given my modest size, it was always clear that I would end up playing in the infield. I had relatively quick hands, and I gravitated toward third base, which has been called “the hot corner” in the baseball world. It was a spot on the field that was pivotal to how defensive games came out, a place where a player had to be nimble and quick, and where mistakes could have big costs. A third baseman stands closer to the hitter than any other player on the field, and has to react instantly to a hit being cracked his way. “Big doors swing on small hinges,” my high school coach used to say about playing third base.

It seems to me now that the relatively small nation of Greece occupies that “hot corner in Europe.” A nation of just under 10 million - with perhaps 4 million Greek-Americans here in the United States, by the way - Greece sits astride the most dangerous corner of Europe. It has become a gateway for hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants, most of them passing through toward destinations deeper in Europe. But unfortunately for Greece, the rest of Europe is increasingly resistant to taking in this mobile population, leaving ongoing financial stress on the already severely battered Greek economy. All of this is occurring during a period of real stress in Greece in terms of political upheaval, dissatisfaction on the part of the electorate, and the difficulties faced by the Greeks in maintaining the terms of the agreement from the last tranche of the bailout. The rest of Europe and the United States need to stand with Greece during this difficult period for several key reasons.

First and foremost, Greece - perhaps more than any other country - represents the confluence of values in the trans-Atlantic community. These values are fundamental to our societies and cultures: democracy, liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of education and assembly. They came to us from ancient Greece, passed through the Age of Enlightenment in Western Europe, and washed up on our shores as the principles of the American Revolution. To walk away from a nation that represents the core of those values would be an abiding mistake.

Second, geography continues to matter, and Greece’s position - on the figurative hot corner of Europe - means that without stability there, there will be an open gateway for migrant and refugee populations fleeing the violence in the Levant, the larger Arab world, and northern Africa. As a geographic location, Greece offers the best bases in the NATO Alliance from which to operate in the trouble spots of the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Our military-to-military relations with Greece are exceptionally good and provide us true strategic advantage both unilaterally for the USA and via the NATO Alliance.

A third crucial element that argues for supporting Greece is the excellence and professionalism of the Greek military. It is a relatively large and very technologically advanced force, with fine capabilities at sea, in the air, and via its land army. Greek soldiers, sailors, and airmen have participated in every NATO operation over the past decade: Afghanistan, the Balkans, Libya, and piracy, to name a few. Ensuring Greece’s economic viability will ensure those troops and capabilities are available for future operations as well.

Fourth, Greece has a unique and positive position in the Balkans and elsewhere via its influence in the Orthodox world. Greeks are well established regionally, and have useful connections in most of the Balkan countries (despite some disputes, including, for example over the name of Macedonia). The Greeks also have a relatively good set of relationships with fellow orthodox nation Russia, and are leaders in the broader global Orthodox community, providing a bridge to a variety of nations and communities around the world.

Lastly, while Greece has an economy under considerable strain today, it also has highly educated, innovative, and enterprising work force with the ability to reach into Europe and the United States to find capital, attract dealmakers, and revitalize the economy. The tourism and shipping sectors remain strong, and both services and tech are growing. There will be real and valuable market opportunities in Greece over the coming years.

Let me close with a story from the history of Ancient Greece. Thermopylae in ancient Greece was a tiny mountain pass bordering the sea. It was there that a small coalition Greek Army, led by the Spartan King Leonidas, slowed the advance of a vast Persian invasion force many centuries ago, essentially buying time for the Greeks to organize an effective defense. All of the Spartans died in the process of defending their country. They lived by a code that was filled with honor and courage and above all a culture of caring for your comrade. On the monument there are carved the words: "Go Tell the Spartans, Stranger Passing By, That here, faithful to our laws, We lie". That Spartan culture of sacrifice and honor, of courage and commitment, is a fundamental part of the Greek Way. It reflects the values, enterprise, and determination of the people of Greece. They deserve our help and support, and - like the ancient Greeks before them - they will stand with and for us as well. The Greeks are truly playing “the hot corner” for Europe and they deserve our support - which is fundamentally in our interest to provide.

https://twitter.com/stavridisj

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University, leading up to “Greece’s Turn: A Litmus Test for Europe,” an upcoming conference that will examine the fundamentals, strengths and vulnerabilities of Greece from the perspectives of politics, business, investment and the economy, society and international relations while exploring the implications for the future of the Eurozone.

This series will address some of these challenges in advance of the conference. For more information about Greece’s Turn, visit here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/greeces-turn-litmus-test-for-europe-registration-27466534143

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/admiral-jim-stavridis-ret/the-hot-corner_b_12234188.html

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