strategy / στρατηγική

Share |

Over the years, analyses over the success of our community to influence U.S. foreign policy have focused on relationships with certain candidates or elected officials, the amount of money raised by the community, or campaign promises.

While all of those factors play a role in shaping policy, there has never been a concerted effort to properly define the “context” in which U.S. policy towards Greece and Cyprus should be viewed. As a result, foreign policy elites consider Greece and Cyprus as issues peripheral to U.S. interests, while Turkey plays a more central role in protecting such interests.

That context is changing. In an August column on Foreign Policy’s website, Aaron David Miller (a Middle East envoy under President Clinton) detailed the U.S.’ core interests in the Middle East:

Stopping an attack on the continental United States with conventional or unconventional weapons - Energy security - Supporting Israel - Stopping Iran from getting the bomb.With any knowledge of the region, one can immediately identify what critical roles Greece and Cyprus can and do play in realizing these core interests. Combine that with the regional uncertainty brought on by the Arab Spring, Turkey becoming unreliable on these core interests, and the U.S.’s shift in focus and resources to East Asia, Greece and Cyprus potentially play a more important role vis-à-vis U.S. policy than at any time since the Truman Doctrine.Let’s consider each interest in turn.

Stopping an attack on the continental United States with conventional or unconventional weapons: The United States is surrounded by friendly borders and oceans. Few countries have the capability to strike the continental United States. Thus, weapons proliferation on the high seas is a leading threat for the country.

Post-September 11, the U.S. government prioritized the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) – which provides for the interdiction of WMD related material on the high seas. Greece plays a leading role in the PSI, and Cyprus signed on over a decade ago. Without the contributions of the merchant marines of Greece (the world’s largest) and Cyprus (top ten in the world, third largest in Europe), a significant hole would be cut in the net cast by the PSI, and U.S. national security would be endangered.

Energy security: In the short term, the U.S.’s main concern here is with the supply of oil. A medium to long term energy strategy will focus on all sources of energy and the energy independence of key U.S. allies. The recent natural gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean are critical for Western energy security. These deposits are located primarily in the territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of Israel, Cyprus and Greece and they present an opportunity to have the first western, democratically controlled major energy source in the region. Lessening Europe’s reliance on Russian, Central Asian or Middle Eastern gas supplies would give greater leverage to U.S. foreign policy in the region and beyond.

Supporting Israel: The recent regional upheaval has been particularly challenging for Israel. Regime change in Egypt, instability throughout the Arab world, and Turkey’s hostility and aggressiveness has left Israel without any friendly borders (and without any friends) in the Middle East.

Israel’s lifeline to the West is now found in the Mediterranean. This was first made apparent when Greece took decisive action to stop Flotilla II from challenging Israel. More recently, both Greece and Cyprus have apprehended terrorists who were targeting Israeli targets.

The connection between Greece, Cyprus and Israel (through their territorial waters) is not merely a theoretical connection. When Egypt threatened to cut off natural gas supplies to Israel, it concluded an agreement with Greece and Cyprus to bring power from Europe to Israel under the territorial waters of Greece and Cyprus. Such cooperation, combined with collaboration on natural gas exploration, gives the U.S. greater incentive to back the claims of Greece and Cyprus with regard to their EEZ’s (which happen to be consistent with the International Law of the Sea, which the U.S. supports).

Stopping Iran from getting the bomb: For many, in the United States, Israel and Europe, this has become a top of the agenda item. Military action to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb has in part been forestalled by a strict sanctions regime. These sanctions would not have worked had Greece – at a time when it could not afford further economic sacrifice – not joined its Western allies in stopping purchases of oil from Iran.

Democracy, rule of law, human rights – even Miller acknowledges that these interests are “peripheral” for the U.S.’s regional strategy right now. Yet these are the interests that the community emphasizes most in D.C. This January, a minimum of 162 freshman and sophomores will occupy the House of Representatives, up to a dozen new Senators will be sworn in, and perhaps a new President. It is also the time for us to explain that what we are advocating for is central to U.S. interests.

Endy Zemenides is the Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), a national advocacy organization for the Greek American community. To learn more about HALC, visit

web stats tracker