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Thessaloniki, Greece – September 11, 2018. A man fishing on the city waterfront with the USS Mount Whitney in the background – Giannis Papanikos

Relations between Greece and the United States – historically strong, but not always rosy – are strengthening economically and strategically, as evidenced by the renewal of a mutual defense pact, in the face of Turkey’s threatening role of Erdogan

On the way to Thessaloniki airport in the Greek region of Macedonia, in a once thriving part of the city that has gradually withered into a semi-abandoned industrial area following the economic crisis that has hit Greece since 2008, we can see promising new traces of life. Passing past what was once the thriving Biamyl corn factory, now an urban ghost, all-new buildings catch your eye: sights that emerged during the lockdown, silently but confidently.

Over the past few months, large American companies have invested millions of dollars in northern Greece, creating hundreds of jobs and rejuvenating a neglected area of ​​Pylaia that is slowly turning into a Silicon Valley of the Balkans. Some of these American giants are Pfizer, Cisco and Deloitte, which offer permanent contracts with salaries well above the average for northern Greece.

US investments – many hope – could help reverse the massive brain drain across the region and support Greece’s vision of Thessaloniki emerging as “a new Istanbul”: a promising business center and key diplomatic player for South East Europe and beyond.

U.S. support for Greece is the result of a reinvigorated strategic partnership between the two countries, starting with defense and expanding into key areas, such as law enforcement, anti terrorism, energy, economy, commerce, culture, climate and people-to-people contacts. Greece and the United States have embarked on a new era of strategic dialogue as part of the renewal of the Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA), signed Thursday, October 14, in Washington, by the head of the department of State Anthony Blinken and his Greek counterpart, Nikos. Dendias.

What is MDCA?

The MDCA is a mechanism in place since 1990, allowing American forces to train and operate on Greek territory. The renewal of this strategic cooperation strengthens and deepens an existing partnership by adding new sites of interest.

Despite recent positive developments between Greece and the United States, it wasn’t always all champagne and icing. Bilateral relations between the two countries have seen ups and downs in recent decades: heated public debates over American bases on Greek territory and Greece’s dependence on the United States for questions of security had repeatedly led to the emergence of waves of anti-Americanism among the Greek people. , also sabotaging parallel efforts to deepen Hellenic-American friendship by strengthening cultural and historical ties, usually with the support of the Greek diaspora. In fact, the change in defense relations was defined under Syriza, led by former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Today, the initiatives launched under the Syriza regime are further expanded by the center-right and openly pro-American New Democracy Party, led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

What are the implications of a renewed MDCA?

The United States already has several military bases in Greece; the amendment could allow the bilateral defense agreement to remain in force indefinitely.

First, by providing for a five-year framework for the presence of the American armed forces in Greece, but which is intended to be indefinite, the MDCA is now brought into conformity with the NATO standard. This prolongs the validity and viability of the MDCA; in other words, it makes it compatible with other bilateral defense cooperation agreements among NATO Allies, but also sustainable enough to pursue its broader, long-term goals for security and stability. in the eastern Mediterranean and beyond.

Secondly, the MDCA foresees the possibility for the American armed forces to develop further in places of interest, like in Alexandroupolis, Litochoro, Stefanovikeio, Larissa, and of course in Souda Bay, Crete, which has always been a site of great geopolitical importance within the MDCA. The four sites that the United States will continue to build under the MDCA are sites that had, in fact, been identified by Syriza. This time, however, the amendment sees the dynamics of a ‘new Souda’ in the city of Alexandroupolis due to its key geographical position in the Greater Thrace and beyond: potentially an alternative route to the Bosphorus Strait towards the Black Sea, Alexandroupolis becomes even more important in the pursuit of the strategic objectives of the United States and, therefore, of NATO.

US strategic plans for the entire region

The most likely scenario is that the infrastructure around the city of Alexandroupolis will be used as the main staging point for US forces, from which they can conduct operational activities in Eastern Europe. Another potential project, which could be supported by NATO funding, is the extension of the Hellenic Armed Forces fuel pipeline (which currently connects Elefsina to Kavala) to Alexandroupolis, so that US forces can refuel. , and from there connect with Bulgaria.

The ambitious plans planned within the MDCA must be seen as the means for the United States to break its silence and reaffirm its interest in the region. Moreover, the move signifies a reinvestment in NATO after a controversial and stressful period during which the United States appeared to be withdrawing from Euro-Atlantic relations. As NATO struggled to cope with a myriad of challenges around the world, the United States, under the Trump administration, also faced serious crises in its relationship with NATO allies. The dramatic developments in Afghanistan have been a blow, further affecting the cohesion of an already fragile alliance. Statements made by Secretary Blinken and the rest of the US government team in the context of signing the MDCA send a clear message that the US remains committed to “fixing NATO”. Apparently the way to do it is through Athens.

The renewed MDCA comes nearly a month after Greece established a new defense pact with France that provides for the two countries to help each other in the event of an external threat. It was in the first week of October that the Hellenic Parliament ratified a mutual defense pact with France, marking a turning point, as it is the first time that two NATO members have pledged to support each other against a possible attack from within the alliance.

Senior Greek and American officials stressed that the American-Greek agreement and the Franco-Greek agreement are complementary. This decision follows on from Greece’s investments in its defense capabilities, as Greece has also recently signed agreements with the United Arab Emirates.

Stakeholders involved in both the Washington-Athens and Paris-Athens defense pacts firmly assert that these developments have nothing to do with Ankara. Everything shows, however, that Greece is sheltered from external threats, counting on the help of friends whose relations with Turkey deteriorated under Erdoğan’s administration.

By devoting a larger share of its GDP to defense than any NATO member – except the United States – and by taking on more important collective defense tasks, Greece sees itself as a factor. key to stability in the region. One thing is certain: we are entering a new era of geopolitical dynamics in the region, where strong partnerships will define who will thrive and who will have to change tactics to integrate.

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