Perspectives from a Practitioner
Stratos Efthymiou’s prior roles as the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Athens and as diplomat at the Greek Embassies in Ankara and Moscow have solidified his comprehensive perspective on international affairs and Greece’s role within it. With those credentials under his belt, Efthymiou explained that Greek foreign policy is marked by its unique geography. Situated, as it is, at the crossroads of a volatile part of the world, confronted with energy geopolitics in the Eastern Mediterranean and an insecure environment ranging from the Black Sea to the wider Middle East and North Africa region. In this unstable neighborhood, and despite suffering from a prolonged economic crisis, Greece has strived to be a reliable partner and anchor for stability.
Earlier this month, Consul General Efthymiou was on campus to provide the Greek government’s perspective and to discuss current foreign policy and international relations issues as they relate to Greece, with interested Fletcher students as part of long-standing dialogue fostered between The Fletcher School and the Greek government. The Constantine G. Karamanlis Chair in Hellenic and European Studies, an endowment that brings a leading Greek academic to teach at the school for a period of two years, is one example of how Greek perspectives are highlighted in the classroom. The current Karamanlis Chair, Constantine Arvanitopoulos, served as Greece’s minister of education, religious affairs, civilization, and sports from 2012 to 2014, was a president of the European Council for six months in 2014 and was also previously a member of the Greek Parliament. Additionally, under the patronage of the Andreas A. David Foundation, each year members of the Greek Foreign Service come to study at The Fletcher School, sharing their unique insights with their peers and classmates, keeping their education current and bringing the latest in international relations theory and practice back to their work in the Greek Foreign Service.
On this occasion, the Consul General addressed a number of issues with a small roundtable of interested Fletcher students. Top of mind was the issue of stability in the region given the ongoing Syrian civil war and the resulting knock-on effects. Greece’s exposure to the Syrian crisis became especially clear when thousands of migrants recently streamed towards the Greek borders, Efthymiou told the group.
“Turkey is using innocent people for political gain,” Efthymiou stated, saying that Turkey had stopped honoring its agreement on immigration with the EU and was now moving people to the border. From the Greek perspective, Turkey’s aggressive behavior does not stand in isolation, he argued, as can be discerned from the fact that the country has a difficult relationship with all of its neighbors.
The difficult bilateral relationship with Turkey also factors into larger European dynamics, the Consul General pointed out. When, on a recent visit to Greece, the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, declared that “this is not only a Greek border, it is also a European border,” the statement rang hollow to many Greeks, Efthymiou told the group. This, he said, is because when Greece was confronted with waves of refugee in the past, the European Union failed to reallocate asylum seekers or to provide effective support to secure the border.
Against this backdrop, Efthymiou noted that the U.S. has become more supportive of Greece in what he called a “spring of U.S. – Greek relations.”
“The United States can sometimes see Greece more clearly from the other side of the Atlantic, compared to European countries,” Efthymiou said.
The relationship has specifically blossomed vis-à-vis defense cooperation, with ongoing discussions occurring between Greece and the U.S. regarding upgrading Greece’s F15 squadrons.
Cooperation is also intensifying in the economic realm, Efthymiou offered. Referencing burgeoning areas of note for the U.S.-Greek relationship, the Consul General looked first to the field of energy, where Greece is aiming to reduce reliance on Russian gas and is building terminals for American liquified natural gas. Additionally, he mentioned that certain large American firms from within the pharmaceutical and financial sectors have signaled their interest increasing their footprint in the Greek economy moving forward.
Efthymiou’s candor in illuminating the decisive challenges facing Europe served as a stark reminder of the importance of having skilled diplomats on the front lines of an ever-changing and turbulent world. And when it comes to issues of migration, energy geopolitics, and a shifting transatlantic alliance, there’s no better place than The Fletcher School to prepare to face these challenges.