Greece again agrees to expand US defense cooperation

The new US-Greece agreement — actually an amendment to the U.S.-Greece Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA) — expands on the one signed in Athens two years ago by then-Secretary Mike Pompeo and is said to give the United States increased access to two bases in central Greece and one at Alexandroupolis, near the Greek-Turkish border. Nor should Russia’s more aggressive naval diplomacy, focusing for now on the waters around Syria, be written off. Washington has turned down multiple offers from the Greek side over the years to station units on Aegean islands near Turkey.   Separate and above the operations in northern Greece, the permanent US naval base at Souda Bay Crete is actually the key to the defense relationship and the US and NATO’s force projection capability across the region. And as usual, most opposition parties are working hard to dig up “problems” with the agreement, some noting that it does not provide true security guarantees against Turkey in exchange for Athens’ agreeing to an almost “indefinite presence” of US forces in Greece, which most believed had been approved in the previous agreement signed in October 2019. Defense relationship already top tier, little to improve
Because the bilateral military-to-military relationship was already outstanding for so long, it was not easy for both sides to find significant areas for improvement and the document signed October 14 should be considered as part of an updating and modernization process, not an actual functional upgrade as some in Athens are portraying it. None of these would constitute new US deployments, and most of the US presence in the region occurs on a rotational basis, such as use of Greek training facilities in the winter when US bases in northern Europe reduce operations. style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>Greece again agrees to expand US defense cooperation

By Alec Mally
Director for Global Economic Affairs at IPEDIS

Signing of Protocol of Amendment to the Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement with Greece, Washington DC, October 14, 2021

US Department of State

Bilateral military cooperation has been outstanding for years, making it difficult to find improvements

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Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias traveled to Washington October 13-14 to participate in a scheduled session of the US-Greece Strategic Dialogue, where he met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other senior US Government leaders and reviewed ongoing regional concerns. Over-inflation is normal
Again this year, the Greek side is continuing its standard practice of over-inflating the importance of new bilateral agreements with the US at every possible occasion, sometimes done to assist in the domestic ratification processes but not needed this year in view of the current government’s parliamentary majority. That otherwise routine and unexciting discussion, similar to those that Washington holds with many other countries in the “strategic dialogue” format, was dressed up this year (Round #3) with the signing of a new US-Greece defense agreement, formally amending previous bilateral arrangements, which was designed to further upgrade the outstanding defense cooperation both countries have shared for years. The amendments signed in 2019 and this week are intended to assure the US Congress that the long-term nature of the defense relationship will continue uninterrupted so that substantial funding for important base upgrades and other programs may be safely appropriated. Strategic considerations 
For the majority of the Greek population, the updated agreement that FM Dendias just signed will be seen as a vastly improved defensive link to Washington in case of trouble with Turkey, Greece’s primary potential opponent, as well as an American “vote of confidence” in Greece as a trusted ally and pole of regional stability. The ratification vote should be scheduled within the next two weeks. That is not an insignificant accomplishment but needs to seen in the context of a potential arms race with Turkey, something neither country can afford. There is some confusion over whether the latest agreement formally provides for the so-called “indefinite” US presence in Greece, as this was claimed to be the case in the 2019 MDCA amendment.  
In a separate Blinken-Dendias meeting the same day, the State Department saw fit to reveal that Blinken had thanked Dendias “for the constructive role Greece has played in supporting regional integration in the Western Balkans,” a signal to the disappointed EU accession candidates of Albania and North Macedonia that last week’s lackluster Brdo EU Summit outcome was something Washington had not forgotten. A separate letter from Secretary of State Blinken, so far unreleased, further warmed the bilateral atmosphere as it is said to include language which the Mitsotakis government is already representing as a form of US guarantee of Greece’s sovereignty over the Aegean islands and territorial waters, in accordance with the UN Law of the Sea Convention, something that Turkey aggressively disputes. Taken together with the Mitsotakis government’s recent and somewhat controversial defense agreement with France, it can be argued that PM Mitsotakis has done more to improve Greece’s alliance network and its military capabilities than any leader in recent decades. Greek media sources can only quote local government officials, not the US Pentagon, about the alleged US interest in a longer-term presence since current US strategy currently relies on short-term troop rotations instead of permanent bases.