TCS Daily

Greece and the Rule of Law

By Sotirios Papasotiriou - October 1, 2004 12:00 AM

Greece is still the only EU country that does not share borders with another member state. In the recent past this geographical isolation was aggravated by the Iron Curtain that ran along Greece's northern borders. But also before communism, the successor states that emerged up to the final dissolution of the Ottoman Empire have seldom had friendly relations with each other. Irredentism, the maximization of territorial claims based on historic arguments, occasionally encouraged by Great Power antagonisms, keeps relations among the Balkan countries just below the point of exploding.

The most recent explosion resulted in the dissolution of Yugoslavia, leaving the open wounds of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. The term "Balkanization" is still the most accurate way to describe the situation in the Balkans, i.e. the division into small antagonistic states, who depend on Great Power support because of their backwardness and their economic weakness.

The dissolution of the Eastern European communist bloc created an unprecedented situation in the Balkans. Great Power antagonism was eliminated, leaving the ground open for US, EU and NATO, all of which are on the same side of the equation. Not every Balkan state understood the uniqueness of the opportunity. The temptation to fall back to the traditional disputes over territory, minorities and the revival of historical greatness was big. Yugoslavia succumbed to this kind of temptation with the known results of her dissolution into the component states after two bloody wars and some murderous as well as anachronistic ethnic cleansing.

But the EU, the US and Greece, having understood the dramatic change on the geopolitical ground, have opened the road of integration into NATO and EU to willing countries. Greece's fears that more powerful allies would give priority to opening the EU's doors first to their neighbors in Europe's northeast and neglect the southeast have fortunately not materialized. Today Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia are NATO members, Slovenia is a member of the EU, and Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are candidates for full EU membership.

Greece and Turkey are NATO allies. This fact does not keep Turkey from threatening Greece with the casus belli on disputes concerning territorial waters, airspace and the continental shelf. But it does not create an obligation for the rest of the alliance to rescue Greece in case of armed aggression from Turkey. Greece's comparative military capabilities combined with her isolation in NATO limits the resort to arms only to self-defense in the stricter sense. Greece's strategy towards the conflict with Turkey is appeasement by simultaneously keeping losses at a minimum. The preferred solution for Greece is the rule of law in the form of an arbitrating decision of the international court. Turkey sees a better chance of satisfying her claims by keeping the pressure of an armed conflict on Greece.

It took a long time for Greece to understand that it is to her benefit to change strategy and become a supporter of Turkey's EU membership instead of playing the role of the convenient nay man. The result of this change is the Copenhagen accord and the creation of the Copenhagen criteria, which help create the desired rule of law framework for resolving disputes between Greece and Turkey.

Greece, after having for decades tried and failed to bring the Cyprus issue to a mutually acceptable solution under the auspices of UN (while avoiding NATO, where her position is traditionally weaker relative to Turkey), adapted the strategy of pursuing full EU membership status for the Island.

The EU membership of Cyprus, combined with Turkey's negotiated road map to accession, has been finally recognized as the best and probably the only realistically workable solution of the ailing problem. The fact that the issue came very close to a final solution earlier this spring speaks for the correctness of Greece's strategy to assist in negotiating and completing the divided island's full membership to the EU. For the Turkish Cypriots the prospect of acquiring immediately the standard of living of an EU country in combination with the prospect of motherland Turkey joining the EU some time in the future, has more than balanced out the hardcore nationalistic arguments of the opponents to EU membership. The fact that both communities on the island found common ground in accepting EU membership is an assurance that they have the willingness to one day share political power and live peacefully together within the broader institutional framework provided by the EU.

Is EU enlargement a panacea for Greece's external affairs? Of course not. However for such a small country that does not possess sufficient resources to pursue objectives in her external affairs with reasonable prospects for acceptable results, it is a better option than the traditional protection provided by the Great Powers of the past. Under the current statutes of the EU and the current state of global affairs, small members of the EU can hope for solutions based more on the rule of law and less on the rule of the mighty.

The author is managing partner of EKOME.


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