With Russia, Turkey and Greece all making the headlines, one could be forgiven for thinking the year was 1830.
Some conflicts it seems are perennial. Long before Brexit was a household name, people were talking of the possibility of Greece leaving the EU.
This seems rather unlikely unless there is a wholesale reform of the EU, transforming it from a strangulating federation into a lose confederation.
But when John Kerry appears in the EU Parliament calling for a United States of Europe, the only thing that will be reformed is the wine list at a nearby Brussels restaurant as Jean Claude Junker will have drunk it all in celebration.
However, there is a more important form of ‘Grexit’ that the Greeks ought to consider, especially since there exists an historical precedent for it. I am speaking of a Greek withdrawal from NATO.
The Duran recently reported that the mayor of Ankara, Melih Gökçek, called for Greece’s islands to be given to Turkey. It is tempting to dismiss such remarks as Gökçek’s as a case of one of mad-dog Erdogan’s keen supporters making outrageous statements to court domestic popularity rather than because they mean what they say.
But given the personal instability of Erdogan and the fact that Turkey’s eastern border is a warzone, there is a possibility that in a wild nationalist moment Turkey might look to its placid western border and extract vengeance on Greece.
Turkey and Greece ironically both joined NATO in 1952.
For Turkey it meant the ultimate end to good relations with the Soviet Union which under the leadership of Lenin and Ataturk had been very good. Subsequent decades would show that the period of good relations between the two countries prior to the Second World war was something of a historical anomaly.
For Greece joining NATO had more domestic than external factors. NATO membership demonstrated that in spite of popular support Greece’s communists were not going to be allowed to take power. Greece however left the military structure of NATO in 1974 when Cyprus was invaded and was occupied by fellow NATO member Turkey. Greece however re-joined NATO’s military structure in 1980.
In Monty Python’s The Life of Brian there is a memorable line where members of the ‘Peoples’ Front of Judea’ ask ‘what have the Romans ever done for us”? The answers are surprisingly lengthy.
However, if the people of Greece were to ask, ‘what has NATO ever done for us’, apart from acting as a club with which to intimidate local Communists, the answer is not much.
In 1974, NATO did nothing to restrain one of its members – Turkey – from invading Cyprus and I’m not sure Greece would find things very different were Turkey to invade and occupy any of Greece’s islands.
Whilst NATO ought to condemn both Erdogan and Gökçek for their provocative statements against a fellow NATO member state, NATO has remained silent.
Greece must admit that due to Turkey’s size and strategic importance NATO will always take the Turkey’s side in any dispute, no matter how increasingly absurd the Turkish position under Erdogan becomes.
One might even imagine a scenario where the powers that be in NATO encourage Greece to sell off some of its islands to Turkey in the way that President Sisi betrayed Egypt by selling Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia – another story completely ignored by the mainstream Western media.
Greece of course is not the only country to have had a NATO exit. In 1966 President de Gaulle suspended cooperation with NATO although France fully re-joined in 2009 under the staunch Atlanticist President Sarkozy.
On the whole, if Greece were to conduct a Donald Trump style cost-benefit analysis on NATO, I believe sensible people would see that Greece is paying to be part of a club that doesn’t stand up for Greek territorial integrity, even when threatened by a neighbouring NATO member state.
Greek membership of NATO has outlived its usefulness. This is not to say that Greece should turn its back on the West, even though for a while and in more ways than one the West has turned its back on Greece.
Greece would in this scenario still be a member of the EU, for better or worse. The US didn’t sanction France in 1966 when de Gaulle got fed up of NATO, and they won’t sanction Greece either.
Greece has been doubly insulted, first by Turkey’s threats and then by NATO’s silence. With friends like that, who needs enemies?