Greece, Ukraine, wag the dog – a reply to Kaplan’s “The Greek Crisis Is About More Than Money”

Robert D. Kaplan provides a refreshing overview of the geopolitical context of Greece’s financial crisis (WSJ, June 30; July 2 p. 16). His analysis is accurate but some points are missing.

Greece is known as ‘the’ philosophical and cultural base of Europe. But Greece hasn’t completely arrived in today’s Europe. Its domestic political structure relates to paternalism rather than to modern style of European politics. Economic differences to most EU’s countries were obvious long before the current financial crisis. Greece is part of the Orthodox church and therefore has a historical orientation towards Russia. These ties are still active as the visit of Greece’s PM in Moscow and other initiatives suggest.

Despite (and because) of those differences, Greece was integrated in Western economic and military alliances (NATO 1952, EEC 1980, Eurozone 2000). The integration followed the logic to contain the Soviet Union’s influence in Europe and was a significant part of NATO’s security architecture in times of Cold War. – The West’s incentive to integrate Greece was most of all to make sure that Greece will not play in Russia’s team. The country’s geopolitical importance lies in its geographic centrality and access to the Mediterranean region.

If Greece loosens ties with the Western alliances, it’s is free to reactivate and to intensify historical ties with Russia, respectively to balance between the poles. Due to the strategic importance of Greece, this would mean a crack in NATO’s security architecture which still relates to the constellations of Cold War. That’s the situation as Robert D. Kaplan describes it in a recent article. (see also Stahel, July 4)

Kaplan concludes that USA will ‘convince’ EU with soft pressure to keep Greece in Eurozone (and EU) in order to maintain NATO’s security architecture and the containment of Russia’s influence in Europe in the long run. In a nutshell: geopolitics overrules economy, first things first. Kaplan’s analysis is an accurate starting point for an analysis, but figures and fields of the chessboard have their inherent logic, innovate, change colors or shapes over time and sometimes act beyond any rules. In short: it’s more complex.

Europe’s domestic realities are determined by the leading role of Germany and France as initiators and veto players. While the two top players have their differences, they have managed to shape EU’s policy in the past. While doing this, Germany balanced between Russian Federation (RF) and USA, France farmed its post-colonial heritage and UK’s geographic location reflects the political balancing between USA and EU.

In its core, the outcome of Europe’s politics is determined by this equilibrium (or gridlock), it enabled the project of European integration (rather in the form of a swarm than with characteristics of an organization). The complexity of these processes made it hard for outsiders to make sense out of European politics. Nevertheless it worked well – until now.

The current financial crisis in Greece threatens to unbalance this dynamic equilibrium. Eastern European newcomers to EU show little understanding to pay for Greece’s hardship, Germany’s domestic opposition mobilizes successfully against the political establishment, praising Grexit as the ‘best solution for all involved’. Parallel to this, the German public is increasingly skeptical towards the confrontation between NATO and RF, calling for more moderate approaches in dealing with the RF. This contradicts the position of Eastern European newcomers to EU (RF’s neighbors) who ask for a ‘more decisive’ course towards RF. The fear of Eastern Europe’s countries that Ukraine is the first domino to fall in a long row of countries to follow must be taken serious – despite (or because of) RF’s assurance of its peaceful intentions.

Despite the redundancy of complex systems, the European mixture of interests and lack of alternatives which hold the swarm together in the past, seems to reach a critical point. It’s likely that the USA will be successful in convincing Eastern European governments to reduce their opposition of paying for Greece’s debts. Eastern European countries rely on American protection since US’ military power is considered as sole deterrence against an increasingly imperialistic Russian foreign policy. The critical question is whether this geopolitical dependencies can be explained to the Eastern European population. If not, there is the risk of radical political shifts in the medium range, conjuncted with changes of orientations from West to the East. A pragmatic solution might result in military support for the Eastern Europe, economic support for the South while the North maintains access to markets.

The differing (and overlapping) interests also culminate over the issue of finding a common policy over the conflict in Ukraine – arming Ukraine and RF’s neighbors or not; tearing down the remaining bridges to RF or not. On one hand it’s harder for a disintegrating EU to come to a common policy towards RF. The inability to act would result in leaving the pitch to NATO, respectively the White House and generals in the Pentagon. This is not in the strategic interest of Germany and France in the long run.

On the other hand, the increasing confrontation with the Russian Federation is an opportunity for EU to unite since fear is the primacy of mobilization (rally around the flag). The crucial question is if geopolitical and economical issues can be linked among EU’s members in order to come to a applicable consensus. The polarization of opinions over Ukraine and Greece speaks against this, the high degree of pragmatism of the past speaks for it. The main indicators for capturing this processes are the trust of the European population in their governments and the weighting between geopolitical and economic perspectives.

Events in Greece and Ukraine are shaped by the same geopolitical context. The other reality is that both countries are independent nations with their own inherent dynamics. Therefore their impact on the ‘Great Game’ will become significant the closer we reach a geopolitical tipping point. The overall future outcome can lead in every direction. – Not speaking of ‘military accidents’ that can create their own unstoppable momentums. Processes within the geopolitical system have a high degree of redundancy which might be able to explain 99% of events, but the remaining 1% determine the course of the system.


At latest when national puppets start cutting their strings and entangle their geopolitical masters, it is about time for RF and USA meet at the green table, accompanied by China and EU. Neither geography nor the dichotomous nature of life can be changed. It’s an illusion that conflicts can be solved, they need to be managed – which is the function of politics. Dysfunctional governments must overthrown – which is the responsibility of citizens. Therefore it’s about time think about interests and to act as one.


Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim.
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics