Greek Domestic and Foreign Policy Challenges and Opportunities in 2011 and Beyond: Interview with John Sitilides
January 20, 2011
Editor’s note: With a new Congress recently sworn in in the U.S. capital, and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton setting off in early February for high-level meetings in Athens and in Ankara, issues involving Greece, Turkey and the Eastern Mediterranean are again returning to the US foreign policy agenda.
In this exclusive new interview, Balkanalysis.com Director Chris Deliso gets insights on the domestic and foreign policy issues facing Greece today from John Sitilides, a government relations and global public policy specialist with Trilogy Advisors LLC, a Washington, D.C. government affairs company.
Mr. Sitilides, who has 25 years of experience in the areas of federal strategies, political communications and international relations, also chairs the State Department’s professional development program for senior U.S. diplomats in Greece and Cyprus. In addition, he has testified before Congress on foreign policy, and delivered regional and global security analyses at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, the U.S. Joint Forces Command, the National Defense University, and related intelligence agencies. In 2003, he was appointed to the U.S. Commerce Department’s Initiative for Technology Cooperation in the Balkans.
In 2007, Mr. Sitilides received the “Greek Letters and Culture Award” from Archbishop Demetrios and the Three Hierarchs Church of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America for his contributions to the advancement of classical knowledge in modern American education, religion, and culture. Mr Sitilidis serves on the Board of Trustees of International Orthodox Christian Charities, a global humanitarian organization, as well as on the board of Leadership 100, a national Greek Orthodox endowment, and of the American Community Schools of Athens, the premier international school of Greece.
Mr. Sitilides also serves on the Board of Directors of the Wilson Council, the private sector advisory group of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where he is Chairman, Board of Advisors of the Southeast Europe Project. Sitilides previously directed the Western Policy Center, an international relations organization focused on Southeastern Europe, and was responsible for strategic planning, policy analysis, political and corporate communications, and financial management. He also sits on the Board of Directors of Biovest International, a biopharmaceutical company, and is a member of the U.S.-Qatar Business Council.
Diplomacy and Perception: Greek-US Relations
Chris Deliso: Speaking from your perspective, being in Washington, what is your assessment regarding communication issues? How well is the Greek government managing to get its major foreign policy issues understood and addressed by its U.S. counterparts?
John Sitilides: The Greek government is very capably represented by a solid Embassy team led by Amb. Vassilis Kaskarelis, and including Defense Attaché Col. Taxiarchis Sardellis and DCM Ioannis Vrailas. Their primary responsibilities are to manage political and diplomatic communications with their counterparts in the State and Defense Departments, and they do so effectively. However, the Washington foreign policy and national security establishment is far greater than just those two departments.
There is an enormous policy-making, decision-influencing and opinion-shaping apparatus that includes leading Congressional committees, and their chairs and staff members. It includes the ever-growing think-tank industry, where many foreign policy ideas are first generated and developed in dozens of institutions and organizations before being given serious consideration in government.
Broadcast, print and new media, as well as social networks, also have power in shaping public opinion and private counsel on foreign policy matters. There is the complex structure of U.S. and multinational corporate interests affecting the decision-making process. And finally there is the day-to-day “salon society” in which powerful individuals of all walks of Washington professional life, without any specific interest in U.S.-Greece relations but with broader knowledge of the convergence of interests between U.S. foreign policy and domestic priorities, interact and develop close personal relationships that can greatly affect the balance of foreign policy debates.
The effective engagement of all these various components of the Washington establishment far exceed the capacity of any single embassy – Greek or otherwise – especially for a country such as Greece with many foreign policy issues in which the U.S. has an important role to play.
In the wake of Greece’s current fiscal crisis, the role of the U.S. government, especially with a divided Congress that is not certain to support continued IMF funding of the troika package, becomes more important than at any times in decades. Yet a communication strategy limited to the government, especially a handful of departments, and key establishment media at the expense of a multitude of other critical areas of engagement, is insufficient for Greece’s needs.
CD: Is Athens clear about its diplomatic goals? Are they aware of what Greece actually seeks from DC when they meet with State Department or administration officials?
JS: The portfolio of issues that date back nearly four decades, based on the Aegean sovereignty disputes and the Cyprus problem, as well as the Macedonia name dispute, are very likely at the heart of Greece’s diplomatic goals.
Continued IMF support within the troika is a major new issue for Greece to manage in Washington, especially given the pronounced reticence of many Republican lawmakers to increase government spending for the IMF – or other agencies and programs, for that matter – when the U.S. itself faces such dire fiscal challenges.
The regional and functional issues involving NATO/EU security coordination, the possibility that Turkey may turn away from its EU accession goals, the future status of Kosovo, the emerging petroleum and natural gas networks in the Eastern Mediterranean and Blacks Seas, the spread of radical Islam, illegal migration and the threat of international terrorism, and shared concerns about Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions, long-term instability in the Middle East, Russia’s authoritarian trends, and broader European economic and demographic challenges, could well be part of the agenda when Secretary of State Clinton arrives in Greece in early February.
CD: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the typical Greek diplomat when dealing with US counterparts? Here we could include anything from body language and ways of interacting to world views and presuppositions.
JS: All diplomats use their finest skills to communicate instructions from their respective superiors, whether the U.S. State Department or the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Greek Embassy in Washington is led by skilled diplomats with well-honed communication skills. Success in diplomacy will be based far more on the intelligent crafting of foreign policy priorities in the home countries, coupled with a well-developed and professionally implemented strategic communications plan, than on body language.
CD: It is often said that Greece has one of the more powerful and high-profile diaspora lobbies in Washington. Do you agree that this is the case? And, are there any specific areas or incidents in which the lobby is helping or harming Greek interests through their lobbying in DC?
JS: Greece does not have a lobby in Washington. That would require hiring a professional lobbying firm to advise and represent Greece in managing its relations in Washington and, if desired, the broader United States public-opinion apparatus. This is the way business is successfully done in Washington.
Greece had previously hired a company to help specifically on the visa waiver issue, but that matter was resolved in spring 2010. On its major foreign policy issues, Greece currently does not have a lobby.
Nevertheless, Greece is very fortunate that many Greek Americans volunteer their scarce time and energy to help Greece in ways they believe can be most effective. There are several Greek-American organizations that are professionally staffed, but woefully under-funded, to help communicate to Washington the issues those organizations believe are important to Greece.
There are also several Greek-American business leaders who leverage their top-level fundraising support for political campaigns in support of Presidential candidates, Senators and Congressmen to communicate on issues they believe are helpful to Greece.
Still, there does not seem to be any dedicated strategy on the part of the Greek government to manage issues, policies or communications and better coordinate among these disparate organizations and individuals. There is a tremendous amount of good intention among a small number of Greek Americans, but it’s difficult to state that it is being used to the extent of its enormous potential.
The other challenge is that most Greek Americans simply do not have the time or resources in their private lives to dedicate much to this effort. They are very busy raising their families, paying their bills, saving for college, vacations and retirement, and advancing their professional careers. I recall in November 2004 when many in Greece blamed Greek Americans for the failure to prevent the Bush Administration from recognizing the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as the Republic of Macedonia.
The proper response should have been to focus on Greece’s own failure to retain professional lobbyists in Washington. They would have provided Greece with essential political intelligence about policy development, pending Executive Branch actions, and likely scenarios such as the recognition decision, to help Greece plan ahead and pro-actively prevent such a move through proper diplomatic channels.
Even in these difficult time in Greece, the cost of a lobbying contract, perhaps $1 million annually, should be viewed not as a static measure, but dynamically, with the potential to deliver returns on investment to Greece’s foreign policy and even to its economy at a value exponentially greater than the relatively modest price.
To succeed in advancing one’s agenda in Washington, to confront the sheer indifference with which many greet news or concerns about Greece or similar smaller economies, to stay on offense rather than reacting to U.S. policy decisions after they are implemented, governments require professional counsel and support for their embassies, not dependence on the sons, daughters and grandchildren of emigrants from years and decades past. Such complacency may be among the costliest strategic errors in diplomacy.
CD: Considering the efforts Greek diplomacy and diaspora may make to promote the country, how do you feel that Greece is understood by the American public in general? Is it all about the ancient legacy and tourism – Olympics, architecture and Aegean islands – or is there any deeper understanding of what the country is today, and what it values? Is there a potential role for the Orthodox Church in any of this?
JS: Most Americans had a highly favorable impression of Greece over the decades, based largely on cultural and historical considerations. American schools teach their students that ancient Greece was the cradle of democracy and Western civilization. Many Americans yearn to travel to Greece to enjoy its spectacular beauty. Most Americans have Greek-American friends or colleagues who exemplify the highest personal values and attributes of hard work, educational advancement, strong dedication to family and church, and the constant striving toward excellence in all endeavors.
The national news coverage of Greece since October 2009, when the fiscal crisis exploded, has transformed Greece’s reputation into that of a failed economic state with significant social unrest, an example of runaway government spending and reckless management of public resources that should caution American leaders on what not to do in the United States to avoid the nightmarish fate of Greece.
Greece is now thought of more negatively by opinion leaders and everyday Americans. And that will likely remain the case until Greece’s economy recovers, or until Greece develops a more effective political communications strategy.
In that context, there is little role for the Orthodox Church in all this. The Church’s focus must be on healing the souls of the faithful, sustaining its mission in the daily lives of its members, and upholding the dignity of every man, woman and child throughout the world, especially in those darkest recesses of poverty, dictatorship, and brutality. The Church should otherwise remove itself from day-to-day secular issues involving fiscal policy, Aegean and Cypriot sovereignty disputes, and related matters of geopolitical significance, and simply obey Christ, as described in Matthew 22:21: “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”
CD: Countries in the region, as everywhere in the world, have been affected by the ongoing Wikileaks saga. In regards to Greece, particularly, do you feel that there will be any interference or alterations of the usual Greek-American political relationship because of this?
JS: That will be determined by the content of any cables yet to be released. I am confident the U.S.-Greece relationship is sufficiently strong and durable to withstand issues that may arise. The more important lesson here is the ability of the United States to learn from this international embarrassment to better protect its diplomatic secrets. Wikileaks will inspire many others to seek out such documents and release them to the public.
If the U.S. and other governments can develop a coordinated framework of disincentives for such actions, beginning with severe punishment for government officials who illegally leak information to media, then we will likely see a diminution of such disclosures. If officials believe there is no price to pay for illegal activities, then we should expect many more such episodes that will embarrass not only the United States, but Greece and other leading countries around the world.
Eastern Mediterranean Affairs: The Balance of Power Today
CD: The rise of Turkey as a major player on the foreign stage has elicited both admiration and concern in various world capitals. In your estimation, can it be said that Turkey is now definitively the major power in the Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean, with Greece as a distant second? Or is this too much?
JS: Greece’s foreign policy has historically been focused largely on its immediate border regions – that is, Turkey and the Balkans. On many other issues, Greece is perceived as following an EU line shaped largely by Berlin and Paris and implemented by Brussels.
Over the past decade, Turkey’s has burst out beyond its core issues to become a major factor in regional and global issues such as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Iranian nuclear aggression, Israeli-Palestinian relations, Russian energy expansion, consolidation of Caucasus democratization, foreign direct investment in African and Latin American economies, and even worldwide Islamic leadership.
As U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Phil Gordon said in September 2010, “there’s really not a country that (the United States has) much more extensive bilateral contacts with than Turkey, because Turkey is engaged on just about every issue that we’ve mentioned here: Iran, Afghanistan, European Union, NATO, missile defense, Middle East, Israel, Iraq.”
Even where the U.S. and Turkey diverge on many of these issues, the mere fact of Turkey’s high-level involvement compels Washington to seriously consider Ankara’s position as it seeks to manage many of these difficult foreign policy and national security challenges.
Greece is simply not involved at the same level of intensity or range on these high-level issues as is Turkey.
CD: In regards to Turkey’s rise, what were the vital steps and decisions that the Turkish government has made in the past few years to develop their influence? And, in what ways was the geopolitical environment conducive to Turkish aspirations?
JS: The emergence of Turkey in international relations dates back to the transformation of the economy by Prime Minister Turgut Özal in the 1980s from statism to free-market capitalism. After the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, Turkey’s prior geo-strategic importance as the NATO partner was reconfigured to adapt to the emergence of Iraqi regional aggression as a major international security issue.
In the early 2000s, Turkey emerged from the grip of its IMF bankers with a far more dynamic growth-oriented economy that continues to expand at 7-8% annually. The political leadership of Prime Minister Erdoğan has also successfully marginalized the more militant elements of secular Kemalism while generating enormous new wealth – and therefore political power – for his Islamist constituencies in the Turkish heartland, outside of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.
Prime Minister Erdoğan, with the scholarly counsel of Foreign Minister Davutoğlu, has projected this fresh Turkish self-confidence in many high-level issues along and beyond its borders. It should come as little surprise in the years ahead if an increasingly Islamic Turkey anchors its future in more prosperous Asian and Middle Eastern economies and abandons its EU accession negotiations, especially if Europe continues to suffer under the weight of crushing government spending and public sector obligations that stunt any genuine prospect for growth and recovery.
CD: Greece’s economic crises of late forced EU fiscal intervention and in so doing diminished Greece’s stature politically, at least in the short-term. Do you see any scenarios in which Greece can more robustly assert its significance? Are there any policy shifts or areas of economic or business leverage that Athens can bring to bear in order to improve its stature abroad?
JS: The steps Greece takes to improve its own economic fortunes and implement a true growth-oriented agenda will in turn build political strength it can utilize to project influence and better achieve its diplomatic goals. The U.S. business community can help rebuild the Greek economy, but it will not do so as a matter of favor or courtesy. The business sector will more readily invest in Greece when it is reassured that the investment landscape provides for a secure return on investment.
That will involve significant regulatory reform, more accessible court enforcement of property and contractual rights, labor flexibility and the reduction of the Greek public sector from 40% down to a more sustainable level that improves Greece’s competitiveness.
Foreign business also seeks to avoid the corruption that has been endemic in Greece- ranked by Transparency International as the most corrupt economy in the European Union. If Prime Minister Papandreou succeeds in privatizing many Greek public utilities and companies, then foreign investors will take second and third looks at exceptional opportunities to inject capital, create wealth, and share in the prosperity of a reformed Greek economy.
Outside of government action, Greece’s business community has a huge role to play. Greece’s young men and women who have studied in science, engineering and technology offer a tremendous talent pool for both start-up and established companies. Greece’s tourism industry is still ripe for world-class development, especially if it continues with the great advances in golf infrastructure so important in luring multinational corporations and major business conferences and conventions to destination markets.
After all, nearly 90% of Fortune 500 CEOs play golf, described as the international sport of business. This is one of the most effective ways to build a thriving upscale tourism sector and provide greater incentives for leading business executives the world over to visit and potentially build new businesses in Greece.
As in any competitive free-market economy, the more the government gets out of the way, the more effectively the business community can generate growth, create jobs, and provide the needed tax revenues to develop the proper balance of public services and personal economic opportunity that is currently transforming once-backward countries not only in Asia, Africa and Latin America, but also in formerly Communist Europe. There is no reason Greece cannot aspire to – and share in – that newfound prosperity.
CD: Does Greece have an ability to play a serious role outside of its neighborhood? If so, in what ways? If not, what is restricting Greece from doing so?
JS: Greece absolutely has that ability – proportionately, it is already one of the world’s leading providers of peacekeeping troops, and it also boasts the world’s largest merchant marine fleet. As such, Greece can insist on a seat at the table when conflict resolution diplomacy is underway, especially where it has been successful in Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo in its immediate neighborhood, in Afghanistan, and even lesser-known conflicts such as Lebanon, Sudan, Georgia and Western Sahara.
As for its merchant marine, Greece has an overriding interest in working closely with the United States and other leading providers of security in assuring full access to international shipping lanes upon which the entire world depends for its economic well-being. Greece has taken several initiatives already in the fight against piracy, and can more assertively claim a leadership role in the global debate about how to most effectively contain the increasingly perilous threats to the world’s fleets, near Somalia but also at the Strait of Malacca, linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans and critical to world trade with the Pacific Rim economies.
The key question for Greek political leaders, therefore, is not ability. It is will, and the determination to project that will in Greece’s national interest.
CD: Speculation in the media in Skopje recently alleged that, for one reason or another, the resolution of the Macedonia “name issue” and the issue of a divided Cyprus are being considered, behind the scenes, as items to be solved at the same time- the thinking being that the Greek government cannot afford the possibility of being perceived as ‘losing’ on either issue, as it could affect their bargaining position and popular approval regarding the other. Is there any truth to this?
JS: The Macedonia name issue is bilateral and Cyprus international, though both issues do enjoy great institutional interest on the part of both NATO and the European Union.
Greece and Macedonia must come to terms on many difficult issues – not only political but also cultural, historical, and identity-based – that are important to both countries. Cyprus requires the withdrawal of Turkish troops from the country and the reunification of two political communities that have been persuaded by political and civic leaders over the decades that they cannot co-exist within a framework agreeable to both sides. Linkage of these two very complex issues will probably ensure that neither is resolved.
Separately, there is no reason for Greece to “lose” on either issue. To the degree that resolution of such issues necessarily involves compromise – unless there is intent to secure goals through war and absolute victory, which is not the case here – all parties in their respective disputes will secure several of their objectives while stepping back on others. Otherwise, there is no resolution, unless those who would accuse Greece of “losing” can provide a practical basis for sustaining maximalist positions on these and other decades-old issues.
CD: Balkanalysis.com recently reported on new efforts to drill for oil in the Sea of Thrace and elsewhere in maritime Greece. How would any major oil discovery in Greek waters affect the balance of power in the region? And would more offshore oil drilling have negative consequences for the environment and the crucial tourism industry?
JS: The quest for petroleum reserves in the Aegean is one of those decades old issues. Unless any reserves are vast enough to justify the enormous expense of the oil extraction and production supply chain, there is little likelihood of major new exploration activity in the Aegean.
The Aegean issues with Turkey transcend resource extraction. Instead, they lie at the heart of a series of profoundly important legal and technical disputes – at a level that can lead to war, as the 1996 Imia/Kardak crisis made clear – about continental shelf delimitation, but also control of exclusive economic zones, national waters and airspace, and the attendant freedom of navigation in international waters and airspace.
Even if there were to be some level of offshore drilling, Western technology has reached a very high level of overall safety. Drilling down then sideways has allowed for access to oil that would have required massive surface footprints decades ago. The radical environmental movement is hypocritical in its willingness to oppose Western oil production that is far safer and cleaner than operations in countries far less scrupulous in their oil extraction operations, thereby aggravating the polluted state of the global ecosystem.
Greek Relations with Israel, Iran and Extremist Threats
CD: One of the side effects of Turkey’s foreign policy under the AKP government has been a cooling of relations with Israel. Media have recently reported that Israel is concerned about Islamist stirrings within Turkey and is therefore reaching out to other allies in Southeastern Europe. Is this an opportunity for Greece to gain more influence? And, to what extent would improved cooperation with Israel allow Greece to play a constructive role in Balkan security? Is there anything that Greece can do for Israel in the region that Israel can’t do for itself?
JS: The strengthening of relations between Greece and Israel is a highly positive development for Greece and southeastern Europe. Israel is the only Western free-market democracy in the Middle East, with a dynamic and innovative economy, a powerful military, and significant political capital in the United States. With the discovery of the colossal Leviathan natural gas reserves, it is poised to become a major energy player in the next decade.
An undersea Israeli-Greece pipeline would allow Greece to diversify its supply sources beyond Russia and Azerbaijan. It would also strengthen Greece’ geostrategic position as an energy transit country to European markets, and generate significant transit fees for Greece.
Greece and Israel are natural allies that are just coming around to cooperating in pursuit of their common objectives: regional security, economic development, and the expansion of democratic values. In this regard, they can be expected to share intelligence, engage in strategic defense cooperation and joint military exercises, and even boost tourism. According to the Greek Tourism Ministry, Israeli tourism to Greece more than doubled in 2010.
To be sure, there will be pitfalls in the advancement of the relationship. Many Greeks will object to Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as to perceived threat exaggerations regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons energy program. There is also the “zero-sum” concern that better ties to Israel will result in worsening ties with Arab and Muslim countries. That is a false premise from the outset, evidenced clearly by good relations enjoyed by the U.S. and most European countries with Israel, its neighbors and even its enemies.
For Israel, Greece is a country of great geopolitical importance, given its political stature in NATO and the European Union, and its physical location in the heart of Southeastern Europe. Israel needs very much to break out of its diplomatic isolation, cultivate new relations in the European Union, and build a coalition that is – at the very least – sympathetic to Israel’s existential concerns about Iranian threats. But Israel should be expected to proceed with great caution here. Its leaders wonder whether Athens’ transformed perspectives are exclusive to Prime Minister Papandreou and his advisors, or whether this reflects a more structural reform of Greek foreign policy and national security.
If Israel fears that improved relations with Greece apply only to a Papandreou administration, and can be marginalized or discarded in a subsequent administration, it may be reluctant to exceed a cordial relationship. It will not risk developing strategic ties that can unravel as quickly as they did with Turkey. Establishing Greece’s long-term reliability as an Israeli partner will be a key test for Prime Minister Papandreou in the eyes of Israeli leaders.
CD: Greece has occasionally irked Israel in the past because of its relations with the Arab world and specifically its support for Palestinians. In this light, do you see that Greece’s relations with these states will undergo any changes in the case of increased cooperation with Israel?
JS: Again, I discount the “zero-sum” position here. If there are changes, it will not because of any new Greek actions, but perhaps at the initiative of Greece’s Arab and Islamic partners. There was a recent diplomatic row with Syria over its recognition of FYROM as Macedonia, but it was not seen as a warning shot at Greece over warming relations with Israel.
Given Muslim sensibilities about Israel, Greece’s policy reconfiguration will necessitate a careful calibration of what could become a strategic relationship with Israel with the continued cultivation of good relations with Middle Eastern countries, as well as Islamic countries in south Asia and northern Africa – especially those led by more radicalized regimes, such as Iran, and those implacably hostile to Israel, such as Pakistan.
CD: The issue of Iran, its alleged nuclear weapons program and its general relations with the West remains a popular issue in Washington. Is there any role that Greece has played, or could play, in greater world politics that might lead to a peaceful resolution of this issue?
JS: This is an area in which Greece has sought to play a more important role, only to be frustrated by Iranian duplicity. When Dora Bakoyannis was foreign minister in 2006, she successfully conveyed private diplomatic messages between the U.S. and Iran, meeting with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator to persuade Teheran to halt its nuclear weapons program and avert UN sanctions. The Ahmadinejad regime exploited those good intentions, as well as those of the EU-3, to gain additional time to further develop its weapons capability.
If Greece could somehow succeed in persuading Iran to shift its policy away from aggression and sponsorship of terrorism, it could achieve a heroic status on the world stage. Unfortunately, the Iranian regime seems to have absolutely no interest in such entreaties, whether from Greece or any other country – European, Arab or otherwise. Ultimately, regime change from within, technological espionage or military power may ultimately be required to dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons program before it becomes operational.
CD: German Chancellor Merkel recently pronounced that European attempts to integrate Muslim immigrants have failed; at the same time, German security officials stated with a new urgency the possibility of Islamic terrorist attacks there. One of the biggest differences between Greece and the major EU powers is that Islamist challenges to Greek culture have never been tolerated. Yet while “human rights” activists decry the lack of mosques in Athens, it is ironically the countries that have been most lenient towards extremists that are now facing a terrorist threat.
Obviously, the historic and cultural backgrounds are different: Greece was never a colonial power, and it has also a fairly recent memory of Muslim domination under the Ottomans. Still, in your opinion, is there any fundamental difference in interaction- is there a ‘Greek approach’ to the issue from which other EU countries can learn? Or does Greece share a similar threat from extremists?
JS: Greece has not yet faced an internal threat from radical Islamists, and that has been a welcome hallmark of Greek social and economic policies of the past two decades, during which the Muslim population of Greece has increased significantly. However, Greece would be misguided to be satisfied with current conditions.
As Greece’s economy worsens, economic opportunities for young male Muslim migrants will disappear, but the migrants may not. If this is the near-term demographic future for Greece, than thousands of restless, bored and frustrated migrants may be ripe for radicalization. This process requires no more than a handful of militant preachers, skilled at operating below the radar of authorities in Western countries, until the number of radicalized individuals begins to manifest itself in dangerous ways- either through increased criminality to fund such activities, or in the actual execution of terror attacks to strike out at a host country now viewed as hostile to Islam.
CD: Speaking of security issues, despite the dismantling of the leftist terrorist group November 17th, the chronic issue of anarchist groups with potentially violent aims lingers in Greece. Considering that in the past US officials were targeted by such groups, is this issue that you find US security planners discussing? If so do you find them making the correct assessment regarding the severity of the threat?
JS: Regrettably, the issue of counter-terrorism remains high on the U.S.-Greece agenda. It is not merely U.S. officials who have been targeted for decades, but also U.S. business interests and properties. The prevailing notion that bricks and mortar feel no pain and are therefore acceptable targets of violence must be rejected. It is vastly more difficult to persuade U.S. companies to invest in Greece if executives must fear constant threats against facilities, offices, and infrastructure, on top of the personal safety of their employees.
On a broader social level, the sense of impunity which many terrorists and anarchists enjoyed in years past must be brought to a decisive end. This will require strong law enforcement tools at the disposal of the government, to aggressively track down and apprehend those who would perpetrate violence against individuals, property and all of society in Greece.
Culturally, the idea that there is some abstract notion of justice to be achieved through such violence is decidedly anti-Western, placing those Greeks who are complacent in the face of violence at the margins, if not outside, of civil society.
Geopolitically, Greece’s proximity to centers of radical Islamist terror in the Middle East and northern Africa, coupled with a reputation for ineffective counter-terrorism, make it a useful transit point for terror planners and operatives en route to other European countries, or even as a potential target, with devastating impact on the country’s already troubled global reputation. These are issues of paramount interest for Greece to address, engage, confront and decisively defeat.
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