The Greece-Macedonian issue: American-Greek relations at odds

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Mon Jun 2 12:41:07 UTC 2008

American-Greek relations at odds

Dr. George Voskopoulos in American Chronicle
June 01, 2008

The US and Greece have been strategic allies ever since the end of the
Second World War. Greece became a NATO member in 1952 thus cementing
the alliance´s south-east European flank against the Warsaw Pact. In
this way the leaders of the country hoped to strengthen democracy and
assist development in the only country that practiced free market in
the region. During the Cold War years the Atlantic Alliance provided a
reliable casus foederis against non-alliance members, a fact that left
out of this collective security mecha-nism the biggest military threat
the country faced. Still Greek governments supported alliance policies
vis-à-vis neighboring countries and refrained from upsetting its
cohe-sion and its overall effectiveness in dealing with Soviet
expansion. This explains Greek subtle policy vis-à-vis non-aligned
Yugoslavia and Tito´s expansionist dreams.However, today the picture
of bilateral relations looks rather gloomy. One of the causes of the
rift is the Greece-FYROM dispute over the latter´s constitutional
name. At the end of the Cold War the issue originally appeared to be a
technicality, yet it proved to be more than that.

Under the circumstances FYROM is treated as a de facto and de jure
ally and Greece as alliance outcast. All of a sudden the US appears
willing to overlay the essentials that brought the two countries
together. They give Athens wrong signals and adopt an inconceivable
policy that affects bilateral relations. The prerequisites of turning
American-Greek relations into a meaningful strategic partnership again
are simple. Most of them apply to every single partnership built on
consensus not coercion. Even-tually going back to the basics will
assist the revitalization of this strategic partnership and trigger
the so needed by both sides understanding of the issue at hand. The
first refers to the US being able to acknowledge the vital interest of
a local part-ner who faces multidimensional hostile activities by a
neighboring state wishing to join the Atlantic Alliance. Vital
interests are defined in terms of threats, their percep-tion and
intensity and the degree they affect the survival of a country.
Eventually they may turn into non-negotiable national interests and
lead to a dead end.

In the so called "Macedonian dispute" [1] Greece has made every single
effort to meet the other side half way. It is obvious that the Greek
political elite is ready to accept a name with a geographical
definition that leaves no space for further misunderstanding. Greece
has taken a step back in its rhetoric and policy with a view to
enhancing stability in the region.

However the other side refuses to adopt a name that clearly
distinguishes it form the Greek province Macedonia. Constructivism may
be a useful, at times, approach to international relations, yet, it
runs the risk of over-extending into relativism, thus making any
claim, whether sustainable or not, appear attractive or noble.
Eventually it dramatically blurs the dividing line between facts and
beliefs, something American officials should comprehend. The semantics
of Skopje rejecting the covertly implied by the Greek government
solution enhances suspiciousness in Athens and eventually reveals the
real motives behind Macedonianism, a state ideology built on Great
Idea inspirations. These are externalized in the form of a demand, a
historical duty on the part of Slav-Macedonians and especially the
Diaspora to unite geographical Macedonia. A part of this strategy
includes "liberation" of Greek Macedonia. A less informed or
misinformed reader would probably think that there used to be a united
country dismembered by neighboring states. Yet, the truth is
different. What we know is that "the region of Macedonia, inhabited by
Slavs from the fifth century, was never able to have its own
independent state" [2]. Still even if history had proven an
unfortunate experience for our neighbors they would not be liable to
advance irredentism as a means of purging it. This would certainly
give many in the region the right to start claiming possessions of the
past. It would probably give me and another 1.200.000 Greeks forced
out of Asia Minor the right to claim our property. This is not the
case and we should all ac-knowledge certain facts of history, politics
and reality.

Second, the issue at hand is not related to race purity or historical
accuracy but security. The concept affects not only inter-state
relations but national psychology. After all, the feeling of security
bears a strong psychological aspect. This makes the in-volvement of
the Atlantic Alliance imperative on the basis of its being a
collective security mechanism. Once an ally faces hostile propaganda
and overt irredentist claims NATO should be in a position to intervene
and protect existing non prospec-tive members. It is a matter of
priorities stemming from alliance commitments not vague ideological
stances. Providing stability is what gives NATO its raison d´ être and
makes it a meaningful (or meaningless?) alliance.

Washington´s support to a revisionist state constitutes today´s
paradox with American policy in the issue. The US joins lines with
extremists in FYROM and supports the weakest but aggressive party, a
non-NATO member not a strategic ally that has defended the territorial
status quo and served the alliance´s interests ever since 1952. Greece
is the only NATO member and EU country that still faces military and
non-military threats. It is the only NATO member whose security has
been solely con-structed on the realist concept of self-help.A
substantial number of US senators have acknowledged that Greek worries
are not imaginary and do not constitute a side-effect of national
psychosis. Actually this could not have been the case since there are
tangible facts that turn FYROM into the odd man in the Balkans. It
also exposes the inability of the political establishment in Skopje to
define real enemies as illustrated by the 2001 crisis.

What is disappointing with US policy is its easiness to dismiss Greek
security considerations, at least on the practical level, since in
terms of rhetoric the State Department is more careful. What we have
seen so far is a policy of punishing a NATO ally for defending
territorial status and regional stability, a policy that means to
consistently provoke Athens through the use of the term Macedonia, a
policy of supporting all those inside and outside the country that
wish to destabilize the political system. It is fully understood that
America´s strategic priorities vary from balancing short-term needs
and long-term interests in a region prone to Russian influence. Yet,
long- term allies and their interests cannot vanish into thin air.
They have been there to sup-port what used to be the West and they
will be there in times of need. Supporting a country that has just
discovered the merits of Atlanticism (this is what I call
opportun-istic Atlanticism) gives merit to those – like me - who
suggest that NATO has lost its collective security meaning, a debate
inaugurated in the early 1990s after the demise of the Soviet Union.

US policy during the last years has been a challenge to foes and
allies since it has lost its "persuasive credibility", arbitrariness
and ability to see the obvious. It has led allies to question NATO´s
scope, its utility and above all its ability to impose norms of
in-ternational behaviour based on rigid, uncompromised principles and
values. Above all it lacks the ability to devise policies formulated
outside the current militarily and power-imposed ethos.

In 2005 T.K. Vogel and Eric A. Witte, senior fellows of the
Democratization Policy Council, commented on the gap between American
policies and rhetoric suggesting that "grand rhetoric about democracy
and freedom only resonates when it is supported by actual policy". [3]
In the same way American policies cannot bear multidimensional
semantics that can be interpreted in many contending ways. It has to
be clear at least vis-à-vis allies such as Greece. One of the greatest
challenges leaders and simple individuals have always faced is to cope
with power and how to put it in good use. Whether a university
professor or the leader of a superpower one needs internal balancing
mechanisms to reconciliate needs, values, prerogatives and
commitments. In the case of an alliance priorities should be formed on
the basis of the needs of those inside and the advertised ethical
basis of American active involvement in world politics. It takes at
least two to have least two to go to war and at least two to
form an alliance.


[1] The term "Macedonian issue" is rather inaccurate, since "the
Macedonians of to-day are not, as many in the West think, descendants
of the long vanished Macedoni-ans of Alexander the Great. They are
Slavs, who speak a language related to the Serbo-Croatian and the
Bulgarian. Together with other Slavs, they came from the
Russo-Polish-Ukrainian plains at the end of the Great Migrations, in
the sixth and seventh centuries A.D. and settled in the mountainous
Balkan land then ruled by the Byzantine emperor. All the Slav tribes
that almost fourteen hundred years ago had established in the
Byzantine provinces known of old as Macedonia in the second half of
the nineteenth century began to use the name of that province as their
own national appellation". See Stoyan Pribichevich, Macedonia, its
people and history, The Pennsylvania State University Press,
University Park, 1982, p. 2
[2] Stephane Lefebvre, "The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
(FYROM): Where to?", European Security, vol. 3, n. 4, winter 1994, p.
[3] "America should ditch its tyrant friends", International Herald
Tribune, August 15, 2005.

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