Geopolitics and strategy drive Greece-US relations

A new era has unfolded in Greece-United States relations that are based on common democratic values and shared interests. The bilateral relationship is strategic, multifaceted and is bound to expand in the years to come. The promotion of a solid defense cooperation and the support of a secure East Mediterranean constitute major pillars of the relationship affirming the strong commitment of the two countries to the region.  

The 3+1 partnership between Greece, Israel, Cyprus, and the United States falls within the Eastern Mediterranean context. This multilateral partnership has been sealed by the East Mediterranean Security and Partnership Act of 2019, known as East Med Act, that was signed into law by the American President and foresees cooperation on maritime security, energy initiatives, the establishment of the United States-Eastern Mediterranean Energy Center and the rejection of interference by other countries in Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone and Greece’s airspace.

As it is explicitly highlighted in the East Med Act, the United States government supports the deepening of energy security cooperation among Greece, Cyprus and Israel, and encourages the private sector to make investments in energy infrastructure across the East Mediterranean including the establishment of liquified natural gas terminals.

Upgrade of Strategic Dialogue

In the strictly bilateral context, Greece and the United States have enhanced engagement through the bilateral Strategic Dialogue inaugurated in 2018 that includes all major pillars of the Greek-American partnership with most prevailing energy, investment, defense, people-to-people contacts, and education.

The third round of the Strategic Dialogue was conducted in October 2021 and hailed important new American investments in the technology and digital sectors of Greece after the signing of the Greece-United States Science and Technology agreement and the removal of Greece from the USTR 301 Watch List. On the economic side, it is noteworthy that American Congress has expanded the mandate of the International Development Finance Corporation to facilitate investment by American companies in Greece.  Large new investments by American companies like Microsoft, Pfizer, Cisco expand the scope of Greek-American cooperation.

The 3rd round of the Strategic Dialogue also underscored the significance of the peaceful settlement of differences and the respect of international law as the guiding principles to good neighborly relations. A revised Greece-United States Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA) was signed on the sidelines of the Strategic Dialogue, and it is conceded as the bedrock of the bilateral defense cooperation. The revised MDCA reflects the long-term, deepening and expanding aspects of the strategic defense partnership and Greece’s geostrategic importance to regional stability and peace. It is upon this basis that the MDCA contains a mutual defense clause that affirms both countries’ firm determination to mutually safeguard and protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each other against actions threatening to peace including an armed attack or a threat of use of force against either country.

A Defense Shield for Greece

The specific provision can be interpreted as a clear message to Ankara that Washington will stand by Athens in confronting Turkey’s aggressive acts in the Aegean and the East Mediterranean Seas and in confronting the threat of war with Greece, if the latter were to exercise its right under international law and extend its territorial waters from six to twelve nautical miles.

The agreement also allows American forces to train in additional locations throughout Greece and provides the proper context for the United States to invest defensively in Greece at a time when Washington withdraws from other parts of the region. What one can see in the amended agreement is the transformation of Alexandroupolis located in the broader region of Thrace into a new Souda-like facility as it allows the stationing and movement of American forces and the cementing of an emerging axis toward Bulgaria. Bulgaria has notably become highly valuable for Washington’s and NATO’s strategic planning as an alternative route to the Straits of Bosphorus given the importance of the Black Sea.

The infrastructure around Alexandroupolis will allow the stationing of American forces and speaks itself for the region’s strategic importance. For example, an energy pipeline that currently runs from Elefsina, northwest of Athens to Kavala in northern Greece, is scheduled to extend to Alexandroupolis and from there to Bulgaria with NATO funding so that American forces can refuel. Also important is the railway connection of the Port of Alexandroupolis with Bulgaria. Overall, the upgraded Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement secures Greek national interests and creates a defense shield for Greece.

Greek Acquisition of F-35s

Greece has become, a real positive example to the region, and a country which has demonstrated its commitment to investing in its cooperative relationship with the United States. The critical role that Greece plays as a source and provider of solutions in the East Mediterranean is acknowledged by American congress in consecutive bipartisan legislative activity. The US-Greece Defense and Interparliamentary Act of 2021 co-sponsored by Democratic Senator Robert Menendez and Republican Senator Marco Rubio bolsters the Greece-United States relationship.

The Act is incorporated in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2022 thus ensuring that its provisions are satisfied. Notably, the Act specifies that Washington should continue to deepen strong partnerships with the Greek military, especially in co-development and co-production opportunities with the Greek Navy. It also recognizes that the naval partnership with Greece at Souda Bay and Alexandroupolis is mutually beneficial to the national security of the United States and Greece. In addition, the Act foresees the delivery of excess defense articles to Greece on the same priority basis given to other countries in accordance with the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 during fiscal years 2022 through 2026.

The Act makes concrete reference to the sale of the fifth generation F–35 Joint Strike Fighter jets to Greece especially those F–35 aircrafts produced for but never delivered to Turkey because of Ankara’s exclusion from the program due to its purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system. The acquisition of F-35 Joint Strike fighter jets by Greece in conjunction with the upgrade of the F-16s of the Hellenic Airforce and the Greek acquisition of French Rafale fighter aircrafts, will undoubtedly increase Greek defense capabilities thus practically shielding Greece against military actions, especially in the Aegean and the East Mediterranean Seas.

It is with no doubt that in response to growing challenges and opportunities in the East Mediterranean, Greece and the United States have deepened their bilateral relationship and increased multilateral engagement with Cyprus and Israel. As the region’s geopolitical ground continues to be shifting rapidly, this is a path they will continue to pursue for the safeguarding of their national security and with an eye on their shared commitment to peace and stability.

Antonia Dimou
Antonia Dimou
Antonia Dimou is Head of the Middle East Unit at the Institute for Security and Defense Analyses, Greece; and, an Associate at the Center for Middle East Development, University of California, Los Angeles