President Joe Biden welcomes Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to the Oval Office today, but this is no ordinary visit. The Biden-Mitsotakis meeting showcases Greece’s increased role as one of Washington’s closest allies, with US-Greek cooperation advancing US foreign policy goals in Southern Europe, the Middle East and in North Africa.
The historic visit will be highlighted by Mitsotakis’ speech to a joint session of Congress at the invitation of Speaker Nancy Pelosi – a rare honor reserved for top international leaders – and the first ever delivered to Congress by a prime minister. Greek. The timing of Mitsotakis’ visit comes at a critical time, as Europe’s biggest conflict since World War II rages in Ukraine. Mitsotakis restored Greece’s Atlanticist image, voting to sanction Russia, sending arms to Ukraine at considerable domestic political cost and expelling Russian diplomats suspected of spying.
Greece is a small country in terms of territory and population, but its outsized impact on global history, culture, and civilization has shaped the values that define America’s constitutional republic. Thus, the joint session also celebrates the bicentenary of Greece’s 1821 declaration of independence from the Ottoman Empire and the shared Western ideals of freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.
Indeed, US-Greek diplomatic relations have never been better. Athens last week ratified the mutual defense cooperation agreement between the United States and Greece, extending the current agreement for five years and strengthening and expanding the American military presence in Greece within the framework of the strategic dialogue launched by President Donald Trump and sued by President Biden. The northern Greek port of Alexandroupolis, near the entrance to the Dardanelles Strait in the Black Sea, plays an important role in America’s forward defense footprint. The port is now a U.S. and NATO defense hub, receiving the largest U.S. military cargo in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve, to deter and defend against regional aggression and augment NATO’s air, land and naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Regions. Alexandroupolis is also becoming a key energy hub in Europe, with a new liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility set to extend the gas supply network for Europe and reduce dependence on Russian energy.
Greece’s increased defense and energy roles allow Athens to defend the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean, as well as cooperate with NATO allies Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania to coerce Russian naval and air forces in the Black Sea. Greece is a strong advocate of European Union membership for Western Balkan countries, in order to boost the regional economy, advance democratic reforms and counter the malign influence of Russia, in particular in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Montenegro.
The United States benefits greatly from Greece’s network of strategic alliances beyond the borders of Europe. Despite the White House’s lack of support for the EastMed gas pipeline project, the 3+1 mechanism of Cyprus, Greece, Israel – the three most democratic states in the eastern Mediterranean – with the United States, represents a framework for cooperation in trade, technology, energy security, counter-terrorism and interconnectivity in an extremely volatile region.
Greece is also strengthening its ties with the Persian Gulf, hosting a Saudi Air Force exercise in Crete and a diplomatic gathering called “Forum Philia”, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). ) as well as Egypt and Cyprus. . In 2021, Greece deployed a Patriot battery with 130 soldiers for operations in Saudi Arabia and entered into a military cooperation agreement with the United Arab Emirates.
Two major hurdles – the unresolved Cyprus issue and challenges to Turkey’s Greek sovereignty in the Aegean Sea – present perilous dilemmas for the region. While the war in Ukraine highlights US and NATO efforts to keep Turkey on the Western side, heightened Turkish-Greek tensions are counterproductive for the security alliance. Ankara is seeking to mend fences in its immediate periphery, along with Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Israel, but has stepped up direct overflights of the Greek islands in recent weeks. Greece and Turkey have a long and troubled history and nearly came to blows over maritime disputes in the Aegean Sea in 2020, as they almost did in 1976, 1987 and 1996. These sovereignty disputes are not the only ones to help solve Washington. Greece’s main NATO allies, such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom, also play an important role in resolving conflicts in southern Europe.
The Ukraine crisis clearly highlights the importance of maintaining stability, security and cooperation on NATO’s southern flank. Prime Minister Mitsotakis’ visit provides an opportunity to elevate these regional and functional issues to Biden, the US Congress and the American public. Washington can prudently use its much-needed influence to bolster this key alliance and calm regional tensions where NATO solidarity is of utmost importance and where its seams are stretched the most.
Dr. Jake Sotiriadis is Director of the Center for Futures Intelligence at the National Intelligence University and an Air Force Intelligence Officer
John Sitilides is a geopolitical strategist at Trilogy Advisors and a diplomacy consultant to the Department of State under contract with the US government.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the official positions of the US government.