Middle Power Statesmanship for the New Millennium: Greece in the 21st Century
James A. Mitchell, PhD, Professor, Department of Political Science, California State University, Northridge, USA.
*Prologue to George Voskopoulos, Greek Foreign Policy, from the 20th to the 21rst Century, Papazisis, Athens, 2005 (book in Greek)
World Order in the 21st Century
- David Singer, back in 1961, alerted analysts of world politics to a phenomenon that he characterized as the “levels-of-analysis” problem. Singer noted that it is rare that events in world affairs run the course envisioned by attendant policy makers. More often, both opportunities and obstacles are presented by variables at each level of analysis. For the purposes of this short discussion, they will be divided into subsystemic and systemic categories. Subsystemic variables are those that have typically been contemplated by those wishing to explain the behavior of states.
Numbering among those variables are all the sort of phenomena that constitute a nation: the nature and motivations of its leaders; its political and economic systems; the extent to which dissent and cohesion exists; along with a plethora of others. An in-depth analysis of the subsytemic considerations that inform Greek foreign affairs exceed the parameters of this introductory discussion. They will be addressed in detail elsewhere in the text on a systemic and bilateral relations framework.
The systemic environment concerns the configuration of the salient external system in which the state operates, which can be regional, global, or both. The greatest distinction will be whether or not the systemic structure falls within the spectrum of the idealist ethos of cooperation, or the realist orientations of power politics and balance-of-power. It is within the bounds of the systemic and subsystemic parameters that actors are able to exercise free will.
Great powers, contemporarily and conventionally referred to as superpowers, are considerably freer from systemic expectations than middle, small, or microstates. Under most circumstances, imperatives internal to the state will have greater salience for the great power than those of the external variety. States, other than the great powers, will have their behavior greater circumscribed by the imperatives presented by the configuration of the system surrounding them. The power gap between superpowers and lesser power constitutes the reality of the world system and provide a realist image of the international political arena in which Political Realism still constitutes a defining and crucial factor of state international behaviour.
For the nations of the world that can be categorized as “middle powers”, the end of the cold war was the best of times and the worst of times, to paraphrase an off-cited, but compellingly appropriate account. On the one hand, the demise of the bipolar balance of power dividing East and West, was meant to provide a welcome relief from the bloc pressure to choose a side and conduct a foreign policy hewing as closely as possible to its vision. On the other hand, the diminution of enmity in the central balance of power appeared to also hold forth the prospect of marginalizing nations, middle and small alike. They would no longer be regarded as indispensable superpower allies and their priorities would not be constituent, focal axes of the strategy of a superpower.
The “new world order” of the post-cold war period, thus, provided both challenges and opportunities to foreign policy-makers pinpointing the limitations imposed on them by the external environment. It would be simplistic to suggest that middle power statesmanship was wholly determined by the configuration of the international system during the cold war. The bipolar “balance-of-terror”, though, did loom large over any significant decisions.
In the days and weeks that followed the tumultuous events of 9/11/2001, an imbalance of terror appeared to emerge, opened by the assault made upon the United States by agents of al-Quaida. The American president, George W. Bush, would endeavor to regain ground on the terrorists by declaring the American commitment to waging a global struggle against them. The “war on terror” would fundamentally transform the configuration of the global system leading to a paradigmatic shift from the post-cold war new world order to a post-9/11 “new” new world order.
This fight against terrorism system would mark a return of the global order of another variant on the theme of bipolarity putting the terrorist against those who would support them. The post 9/11 environment would, again, thrust upon states, middle and small alike, pressure to put aside whatever other foreign policy priorities they might have set for themselves to cast their lot on one side or the other of the terror divide. This limits dramatically and in essence their margins of exercising a truly autonomous foreign policy.
Greece as a Middle Power
The Hellenic Republic (Greece) is among the world’s nations that can be accurately categorized as a middle power. Middle power is “a term used in the field of international relations to describe states that are not superpowers or great powers, but still have some influence internationally”. While analysts of world politics have yet to devise a firm, unassailable, definition as to what constitutes a middle power, Greek’s national attributes meet most of the standard criteria.
With a population of over 11, 000, 000 it falls squarely within the range of what is conventionally regarded as the middle power rubric. With a per capita GDP of $19, 954, Greece ranks 26th in the world, according to the Human Development Report and 28th according to the 2004 Foreign Policy Globalisation Index, while it’s ranking on the Human Development Index was 24th.  Along virtually every measurable indicator of elements of national power, Greece, finds itself in the middle power group.
Middle power international behavior has been characterized as “middle powermanship”. Middlepowermanship has been described as “the tendency to pursue multilateral solutions to international problems, the tendency to embrace compromise positions in international disputes, and the tendency to embrace notions of ‘good international citizenship’ to guide…diplomacy”.
As a middle power in the post-cold war world, Greece’s strategic priorities have revolved around regional concerns from which security priorities and worries stem. This framework of prioritizing relates to the peculiarities of the local security regime, or rather the long non-existence of a local security framework that will accommodate security its worries.
Greek Foreign Affairs Priorities
While systemic considerations regarding relations with the United States are always lurking somewhere in the background of Greek foreign policy concerns, its greatest immediate concern regards relations with its European partners and their acknowledgement of the systemic deficiencies of Greece’s near abroad. Since Greece began its accession to European Union (EU) in 1981, preparing itself for a successful economic transition has been the priority, along with the quest to establish a stable security regime.
Greece’s effort to realign its economy has resulted in its sufficiently reducing its budget deficits and rates of inflation to enable it to join the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) on 1 January 2001 along with 10 other EU nations. It adopted the euro as its common currency in January 2002. Relaxed fiscal policies after 2002, along with a rise in expenditures in the run-up to the 2004 Athens Olympic Summer games resulted in a rise in the nations budget deficit to 5.3% of GDP in 2004. Greece has pledged to cut that deficit in half by the end of 2005, illustrative of the nations commitment to meeting EU fiscal objectives.
Greece has also forged a diplomatic course that closely aligns it with its EU partners despite the fact that Cyprus continues to be a major concern for Greece and the rest EU. Also occupying a place high on the Greek foreign policy agenda are Greek-Turkish relations, particularly regarding the accession of the latter to full EU membership and the expected gains from Turkey’s europeanization.
Greek posture toward the Middle East region, which up until now has been decidedly pro-Palestinian, has created a bit of a fissure between its posture and that of certain EU member states and circles in the US. This policy has been built on the long ties of the country with the Arab world, a policy adopted by Greek parties across the political spectrum.
Despite improvement in intra-Balkan relations, Greece continues to be preoccupied with the situation in the region. The dissolution of the Yugoslav federation in the 1990s presented an array of challenges for Greek foreign policy and exposed the countries inability for long term strategic planning. The ones that had the greatest urgency concerned the treatment of Serbs in the former Yugoslavia, with whom Greece shares many historic, cultural, and religious ties. Those challenges were, for the most part, abated with the cessation of hostilities in the region in the wake of the downturn of the conflict in Kosovo and the ultimate denouement of former President Slobodan Milosevic.
Concerns over FYROM and Albania continue to vex Greek policy makers and affect the Balkan parametre of the country’s foreign policy. In 1995 the United Nations and United States were successful in brokering an interim agreement that at least, temporarily, has reduced tension between Greece and FYROM over the constitutional name issue.
Greece agreed to recognize the country as FYROM in an effort to provide in the future a mutually acceptable solution that does not question the territorial status quo. On the level of Greek-Albanian relations Athens continues to be greatly concerned about the treatment of ethnic Greeks in Albania and, conversely, beset by an influx of immigrants from the neighbouring country. The official number of Albanian immigrants to Greece currently ranges from about 600,000 – 800,000. Adding to the disquiet accompanying the flood of Albanian immigrants is the perception, either real or imagined, of the disproportionate percentage of their population responsible for crime in Greece. The undercurrent of tensions attendant to these issues continue to a lesser degree but Greek society has shown that it is ready to accept a controllable immigration influx based on the real needs of the country’s economy.
The United States
As recently as October 5, 2005, President George W. Bush of the United States affirmed what he characterized as the close strategic partnership between his country and Greece. The occasion of that affirmation was the credential presentation of the new Greek Ambassador to Washington, Alexandros Mallias. While some reservations were expressed regarding the ongoing difficulties in the Cyprus issue, and continuing confusion over the FYROM name issue, an emphasis was placed on the “strategic bonds between the two allies”. These bon mots notwithstanding, Greek-American relations have gone through a rough pact in the post-9/11 systemic environment.
There is little question regarding the ongoing areas of convergence between Greece and the United States. Approximately 1.1 million people of Greek ancestry are citizens of the United States. The Greek-American population is organized and socially and economically active. The two countries share a mutual commitment to the tenets of democracy and capitalism. Greece and the United States were indispensable allies during both World War II and the Cold War. While the end of the cold war resulted in a diminution in the security threats the two nations shared, their relationship continued to flourish based upon shared economic and political visions. Trade and investment has been the engine propelling Greek-American relations. As a result, the volume of Greek-American trade has doubled since the 1980s, while direct and indirect American investment in Greece has the level $2.3 billion.
Areas of divergence between Greece and the United States involve the continuing aforementioned differences over the Balkans, concern about, Cyprus and Turkey, and the Macedonian question. The war against terrorism and the invasion of Iraq have had both a palliative and divisive impact on Greece-American relations. Greece was sold by the United States on the immediacy of the threat post by the post-9/11 threat of global terror. Despite divergence, Greece was one of 17 nations, which contributed troops to Operation Enduring Freedom and the International Security Assistance force in Afghanistan.
Greece has not been similarly disposed toward supporting the war in Iraq. Like many of its EU partners, Greece has not been convinced that the Iraq action is essential to winning the war against terrorism and this was operationally expressed by its non-military involvement in the war despite the wishes of Washington. The impasse between the two nations over the matter, while troubling, has not done damage that cannot be undone, as indicated by the remarks of President Bush on the occasion of Ambassador Mallias’ installation and the pivotal role Greece plays in south-eastern Europe.
However, it multiplies the number of issues on which the two countries do not see eye to eye and sets the country as a hurdle to American grand strategy in the wider Middle East area at a time Albania, Bulgaria and Romania showed willingness to support American foreign policy in Iraq. Greece has been acknowledged as fundamental parameter of incorporating the south-east European countries in the euro-atlantic axis and a crucial factor in bringing stability to a region that constitutes its near abroad and a zone of vital economic interests.
This is an opportunity the country has to explore and turn into a coordinator and peace broker in the turbulent region. Of course Greek strategy will also be defined by the intrusive policies of non-Balkan actors and their acknowledging the security issues that form Greece’s security agenda.
 See “The Levels-of-Analysis Problem in International Relations”, World Politics 14, October 1961
 See “A New’ New World Order? World Affairs in an Era of Terror, Sfera Politicii 100, 2002.
 See “Middle Powers”, Wikipedia.answers.com.
 See Background Notes: Greece, U. S. Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, August 2005
 See Country Sheet: Greece, Human Development Report, 2004.
 See Holbraad, Carsten, Middle Powers in International Politics, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1982.
 See Background Notes, op.cit.
 See “Ambassador Alexandros Mallias Presented His Credentials to President G.W. Bush”, Athens News Agency, October 5, 2005.
 See “Greek Immigration to America”, US Census Statistics, US Census Bureau 2005.
 See Background Notes, op. cit.