US interested in increasing use of Greek military bases and ports as tension with Turkey lingers over a series of regional and political disputes.
“If you look at geography, and you look at current operations in Libya, and you look at current operations in Syria, you look at potential other operations in the eastern Mediterranean, the geography of Greece and the opportunities here are pretty significant,” said Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff during his recent visit in Greece.
“Greece continues to be a pillar of stability and security in the region, providing key leadership on a multitude of security challenges, to include counterterrorism and maritime security. We are very thankful to the Greek people for their strong support in hosting US military forces in locations such as Naval Support Activity Souda Bay and look forward to working with the Greek military to explore ways to expand our bilateral security cooperation” Dunford said.
The sentiment is echoed by US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, who has repeatedly stressed that defense is a key pillar of cooperation between the two countries:”Our defense and security relations are again rooted in shared values, years and years of investment but also a strong belief on the part of the US that a stable and secure Greece helps to advance US interests in wider regional stability. You know how important Souda Bay is in terms of our overall regional operations. We’ve made significant progress with Greece in recent months with, for instance, MQ-9 deployments at Larissa, the expansion and increasingly ambitious Iniochos exercises, the rotations that we got of American helicopters through Thessaloniki and Alexandroupoli. I expect this kind of operations to continue. And the important thing is that we do so with strong support and partnership with our Greek allies and our Greek military counterparts. I’m very glad about the fact that we have exceptionally strong relationships today between the Chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis and the Greek service chiefs with their American counterparts, and we will continue to invest in that.”
“The US are grateful for the support that we have received and the fact that we continued to get a green light from the Greek government, for instance with the extension for the MQ-9 presence in Larissa. It is obviously good for our security, it helps us to advance our shared NATO missions, but we think it is also good for Greece. We are committed to be good allies. Importantly, all of these deployments create opportunities for Greece as well. So when we have our Naval Special Forces at Souda Bay, that creates opportunities to exercise with the Hellenic Special Forces, helping them to develop their capacities. We have a pretty significant program of equipping also for the Hellenic Coast Guard’s Underwater Operations Unit (MYA) units to enhance the capacity of the coast guard in things such as maritime interdiction and boarding. The helicopter deployments through Alexandroupoli and Thessaloniki have been important and successful. It demonstrates the capacity and flexibility that’s inherent to our NATO relationship and NATO capacity across Europe.”
While US interest in boosting defense ties with Greece remains strong, as regards Souda Bay, which accommodates aircraft carriers and repair facilities for destroyers, its prospects for expansion are limited, so authorities are said to be considering a new base in southern Crete to host special forces.
Stregthening Greece’s defense equipment
On this matter, ambassador Pyatt stressed that: “There is the will on the American side to help Greece increase its capabilities in terms of equipment as well. A great example is the Kiowa program which comes to Greece on very generous terms. We’re still on the final congressional notification process. But if you look at the overall value of the equipment, the spares, the simulators, the Kiowa package is a generous one that will provide real capabilities, real additionality in Greek capabilities.
We continue to look at ways to expand our cooperation in areas like maritime domain awareness, anti-submarine weapons; there is an appreciation that Greece is an important maritime power in a strategically significant structure of water. Through the centuries – if you read Robert Kaplan’s “The Return to Marco Polo’s World,” part of Marco Polo’s world is those straits from the Bosphorus down to the straits around Crete – this has always been a geostrategic checkpoint and so the capacity that the Greek military has, for domain awareness, for maritime security, for boarding, all of that is critical to our shared security interests and I’m very confident that the US will continue to invest in that and look for ways that we can be supportive. Because a strong Greece is a natural partner for the US. The essence of our alliance and relationship is how we share burdens and Greece has been a strong partner in terms of demonstrating its willingness and ability to carry its load and that’s greatly appreciated.”
“Energy issues obviously loom very large in the region; and a lot of these energy issues over the future are going to be focused around the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Pipeline, prospects around Cypriot waters but also Greek waters. I think that we will continue to look to Greece as a major partner as we think about this issue and we have to figure out what are the next steps in terms of long-term aspirations for the normalization of the situation in Cyprus. I think we are certainly strongly supporting initiatives like the Greece-Israel-Cyprus trilateral and the Greece-Cyprus-Egypt trilateral. The important thing is that these architectures are not competitive, they are complementary and they have helped build a larger architecture of stability, economic opportunity and, hopefully over the long term, values.”
Finally, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell has also said to be increasingly supportive of a more pivotal role in the region for both Greece and Cyprus. According to sources, Mitchell has been of the opinion that Greece has the opportunity to “play ball” since Turkey has become a more volatile factor in the region.