How Greece can function as a Middle Power

Ω Prof. Kostas Grivas
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How Greece can function as a Middle Power, Costas Grivas

This author has repeatedly referred to the need for an ethnocentric strategy and an autonomous geopolitical role for Greece in the emerging international system, away from dependencies, identities and all kinds of "belonging". The usual reaction to such views is ridicule, since "small", "insignificant" and "bankrupt" Greece can not - in the current perception - but be a ancillary country of a Great Power.

In this article we will attempt to extend the view of a nationally independent, non-aligned and self-luminous geopolitical function. We will examine, in very general terms, how Greece can function as a Middle Power in the current complex international system. The prevailing perception of the form of the current international system is that it is becoming multipolar.

But this term expresses a more complex situation than is usually understood. Among other things, today it seems that we are in the phase of crystallization of the second generation of the modern multipolar international system. The first generation arose from the practical deconstruction of the fantasy of a unipolar world, supposedly controlled by the USA.

China's meteoric rise, India's less dramatic but also significant rise, and Russia's rebirth, combined with the US entrapment in the chimerical and self-destructive "War on Terror," led to the oblivion of the dream of American hegemony. This structure was followed by the evolution of many medium-sized countries, which are the second generation of the multipolar system, into ambitious autonomous actors.

Some of these countries are Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. These countries do not, of course, have the size of the USA, Russia or India. But by exploiting the gaps between the major powers, they too can play an important role in the international distribution of power. In football terms, we could say that they also play in the Premier League of the international system. Today they may be trailing, but they have ambitions for the future. Thus, the new forces raise the concerns of the "old guard" that sees its privileges threatened.

Secondary multipolarity

As a result of this competition, a secondary multipolarity is gradually emerging. This is the grid of medium forces, which emerge as such, precisely thanks to the interaction of the larger forces of the multipolar system. It would be a misleading analogy if we called it the Second League. Because, unlike the football categories, the Middle Powers exist as such, when they function as a regulatory-controlling factor of a greater power in the multipolar world.

Basic conditions for a country to function as a Middle Power are that it must be in a critical subsystem of the international system, not have the ambitions and capabilities of a Great Power and in the same subsystem there must be a Great Power of the multipolar international system. From the existence of this Great Power, the Middle Power derives much of its value.

In particular, one of the roles of the Middle Power is to influence the basic geopolitical functions of the neighboring Great Power, either through competition and conflict or through cooperation. But the key element that a Medium Power must have in order to function as such is to not be identified with any Great Power. Because then it is neither medium, nor small, nor anything. It is part of another Force and has no autonomous role.

The rise of China

In 2018, Oxford University Press published a collective volume entitled Will China’s Rise be Peaceful ?. The project examines a number of aspects of the impact that China's rise to the international system has and what frictions it may cause. The project is scientifically curated by Asle Toje, director of research at the Nobel Institute in Oslo, Norway.

This work, therefore, includes the work of a Japanese university professor, Yoshihide Soeya, who believes that in order to manage the challenge of the new mighty China, Japan should adopt a Middle Power strategy. He argues, therefore, that it is not the size or power that forms a Middle Power, but its capacity to intervene. It arises primarily from its ability to pursue a multifaceted policy, and this in turn is based on the refusal to fully identify with a Great Power.

"The concept of the Middle Power is not about the size of a state or its national power ... First of all, a Middle Power strategy is characterized by a lack of unilateral action," writes Yoshihide Soeya (The Rise of China in Asia. Japan at the Nexus, in Will China's Rise to be Peaceful? Security, Stability, and Legitimacy, ed. Asle Toje, Oxford University Press, New York, 2018). A Middle Power, then, must have an autonomous role and geopolitical function. And this is not something that only ιτ seeks. The Great Powers, with which it maintains an allied relationship, also want it.

For example, a fully "Americanized" Japan would intimidate Russia and act as a convergence factor between Russia and China, something that Washington (naturally) wants to avoid. On the contrary, an autonomous and self-luminous Japan, which is playing its own game, could achieve the right mix of relations with Beijing to act as a shock absorber in Sino-US relations and to reach out to Russia in order to weaken the Moscow-Beijing axis.

A regulatory power and ambitious power

Greece could play exactly the same role. Of course, Greece is not Japan. On the other hand, however, it will not act as a regulator of China, but of Turkey. At first glance, Greece has all the prerequisites to function as a Middle Power. It is located in perhaps the most critical region of the international system, has no ambitions of becoming a great power and is facing a rising Turkey.

None of the strongest international and local actors wants to see Turkey become too strong. So, first of all, a strong Greece, which will be a factor in curbing Turkish influence and power, is a perspective that is part of the realistic readings of the current international system.

However, in order for Greece to play this role and to have the geopolitical benefits that will result from it, it must function not as a component of another power, but as an autonomous and self-luminous actor. If necessary Greece should also seem "disobedient" to the whims of the West. For example, it must be able to decisively strengthen its relations with Moscow, not only if it deems it appropriate for its own national interests, but also to act as an important factor in shaping Western grand strategy.

This is because an enhanced Athens-Moscow relationship, given the competitive Greece-Turkey relationship, functions as a potential factor in weakening Moscow-Ankara relations. Obviously, this is a positive element for American policy. The same can happen with Greece's relations with Iran, China and a number of other countries.

So, national independence and based on this, its claim, of being a Middle Power in today's complex multipolar world, is not a dream. Not only will it strengthen Greece's position in the international system, but it may also turn it into a very important element of Western geopolitical architecture. In fact, it would constitute a more important element than what the domestic elites aspire to achieve through their slavish identification with the Western factor and through their choice not to operate according to purely national criteria.

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