A Paradigm Shift
In its review of John Julius Norwich’s “The Middles Sea: A History of the Mediterranean” the Los Angeles Times lauded the historian’s book as “A sweeping saga of human turmoil. . .”
Turmoil. There is perhaps no better word to describe the Mediterranean basin even today. Just go around the rim of the sea. The southern end has captured newspaper headlines that operate under the maxim of “if it bleeds, it leads.” Since 2011, the Mediterranean has been home to the Arab uprisings, the worst civil war of this generation (Syria), and states or territories controlled by terrorist groups – Islamic State, Hezbollah, Hamas. Turmoil might be a generous classification.
There is not really any more tranquility on the north end of the sea. Economic crises and a rise in nationalism have put the whole European project into question. To watch countries devastated by Nazis and fascists just decades ago welcome them back into the political mainstream is astonishing. The rise of nationalism is abetted by yet another crisis that links north and south, the migration crisis. Although the Mediterranean has for its entire history been a great connector of people and civilizations, we are in the midst of perhaps the largest migration across the sea in history.
To the east, Turkey – once a paragon of stability and a great hope for many in the West – has gone authoritarian, neo-Ottoman, and from “zero problems with neighbors” to zero neighbors without which they have problems. Turkey’s attempts to establish regional hegemony in the region has backfired, with balancing coalitions formed against it and flashpoints becoming more dangerous by the day.
The two longest standing issues before the UN Security Council – the Israeli/Palestinian dispute and the Cyprus problem – have Eastern Mediterranean as a home. So does the worst peace time economic crisis since Great Depression – Greece 25% GDP fall.
It is in the context that Senators Bob Menendez and Marco Rubio introduced the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act. This piece of legislation – soon to have a counterpart in the House of Representatives courtesy of Congressmen Ted Deutch, Gus Bilirakis and David Cicilline – brings the shift that has been occurring in U.S. foreign policy in the region over the past few years out into public. There is a paradigm shift in U.S. policy in the Eastern Mediterranean and Greece and Cyprus are the epicenter of it.
The Act provides tools for a comprehensive U.S. strategy in the region, covering energy cooperation, security matters, and countering malign influences in the area. The Act’s provisions will:
- Lifts the arms embargo on Cyprus.
- Make the United States a more active participant in energy diplomacy in the region.
- Increase IMET (International Military Educational Training) program funding and reintroduce Foreign Military Assistance for Greece.
- Echo recently introduced restrictions on F35 transfers to Turkey and monitor Turkey’s use of American weapons against U.S. allies and strategic partners.
- Monitor Russia΄s activity in the area.
Some analysts in Greece have questioned whether this legislation is “solely” a Congressional initiative. Others in Cyprus greeted this momentous act lukewarmly, lamenting the decades long lack of a meeting between the President of the Republic of Cyprus and the President of the United States. Both points betray a lack of understanding on how policy is made in the U.S. and how it is presently shifting. Furthermore, it reemphasizes the obsession in Athens and Nicosia with photo-op diplomacy – a strategy that for too long relegated Greece and Cyprus to diplomatic backwater status.
The Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act is an exclamation point – one that emphatically marks an end to a beginning and simultaneously launches a new beginning. Think about what came before the Act:
(a) a series of trilateral summits between Eastern Mediterranean countries; (b) the formation of the Congressional Hellenic Israel Alliance Caucus; (c) Vice President Biden’s visit to Cyprus; (d) multiple statements of support for Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone from both Congress and the Administration; (e) the intervention of the Obama Administration during the height of the Greek economic crisis; (f) Congressional legislation forcing the Administration to reconsider the arms embargo on Cyprus; (g) the appointment of Geoffrey Pyatt as Ambassador of Greece; (h) Congressional hearings on energy in the Eastern Mediterranean; (i) President Obama’s trip to Greece; (j) Prime Minister Tsipras’ trip to the White House; (k) the F16 upgrade deal with Greece; (l) Congressional legislation substantially increasing IMET funding to Greece; (m) Congressional legislation restricting the transfer of F35s to Turkey; (n) former Assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchell’s declaration of intent to formulate an Eastern Mediterranean Strategy; (o) the launch of the Strategic Dialogue between the U.S. and Greece; (p) think tank projects – at CSIS, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the German Marshall Fund – focusing on the Eastern Mediterranean/Greece/Cyprus.
I could go all the way to z, but the point is that the shift in U.S. policy is happening at a deeper level than most notice. If one thinks that previous Menendez legislation on the Cyprus Arms Embargo, or letters to Secretary Kerry on Cyprus’ EEZ haven’t affected (or at least accelerated) Administration policy, they are foolish. The present Act invited multiple comments from the think tank community – all of which noted a tilt towards Greece and Cyprus over Turkey. These same analysts will be noting this shift in their writings, which will reinforce the shift.
Thanks to the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act, Greece, Cyprus, and the Greek-American community are all at the U.S. policymaking table in a big way. This Act can institutionalize the shift in policy that have already occurred and establish a launch pad for even better and more prosperous relations between the U.S., Greece and Cyprus. The next steps should be even more intriguing.