Ambassador Pyatt’s Remarks at the “Foreign Policy under Austerity” Book Panel

Ambassador Pyatt at the "Foreign Policy under Austerity” Book Panel at the Greek MFA (State Department Photo)

MFA Kranidiotis Lecture Theatre, Athens, Greece

May 29, 2017

As Delivered

It’s a great honor for to be speaking today at the Foreign Ministry with such a truly distinguished set of panelists.  I will try to keep my remarks short so I can learn from the other presentations.  I should also say, at the beginning, I think it’s appropriate that we’re meeting to talk about ‘Grand Strategy’ because, this weekend, we saw the passing of two giants in the realm of Grand Strategy.  On the American side, this weekend saw the passing of Zbigniew Brzezinski.  When I was a graduate student, and began my readings on Grand Strategy in the early 1980s, the field was virtually defined by Professor Brzezinski.  And it was a great honor for me, as I began my tenure as an Ambassador, to be able to sit down with him personally and to seek his counsel as I went out to my previous post.  So it was, really, the end of an era, I think, with his passing.

And then, of course, we woke up this morning to news on the passing of former Prime Minister Mitsotakis – somebody who was, of course, a giant of Greek politics but, also, a giant of transatlantic relations, of Greece’s role in Europe, and, most importantly for me, Greece’s relationship with the United States.  The first Greek Prime Minister in 27 years to go to the White House.  Obviously somebody who developed a close, genuine, and productive partnership with former President Bush.

So it’s a real honor to be speaking in this setting.  I particularly want to thank Professor Litsas for giving me the opportunity.  And, I should say, full disclosure at the top, that Spyros and Aris are my two favorite academics in all of Greece and so my appearance today is, as much as anything, a measure of my great respect for their work and the success that they have enjoyed in shaping the framework for thinking about Greek foreign policy and strategy.

I should emphasize that the question on the Grand Strategy of Greece falls to the people of Greece.  It’s not my place to advise or to counsel on that.  But I thought what I could do, just to set the stage for our conversation, is to lay out the way I tend to view these things.  I don’t know if we have my PowerPoint slide?  If we could bring it up it’ll make it a little easier here.  And, just to note that, when I offer this presentation, when I’ve done so in the past, I’ve sometimes been accused of plagiarizing Foreign Minister Kotzias, which I think is a reflection of the degree to which American and Greek strategic frameworks tend to converge in thinking about these issues.  While Spyros is bringing up my slide, and there’s just one, there it is, this slide is something that I developed in working with my Pentagon and State Department colleagues to help lay out my ideas for how we should think about the role that Greece plays in an extremely complicated region.  There we go!  Excellent, right on cue.

So, if you think about the U.S. view of Greece’s strategic neighborhood, you can do so in terms of a Venn diagram with three circles.  The most urgent circle, right now, of course, is the one, the green circle, which reflects the challenges of the Eastern Mediterranean, the challenge of ISIS, the war in Syria, and the instability which we are jointly invested in combatting.  And then the second circle in the Venn diagram is the red one, which reflects the challenge of the conflict in northern Africa, the problems of migration, which emerge from the region.  And then the third circle in the Venn diagram – again, this is an American perspective, these are the strategic problems American foreign policy thinkers have had in mind – reflects the challenge of a shift in Russian approach to both the militarization of the Black Sea region but, also, what my colleague Hoyt Lee in Washington talks about as the malign influence that Russia is exercising in parts of the Balkans.  Particularly since the invasion of Crimea, the question of freedom of movement in the Black Sea has become more challenging.

And this circle on this map is a reminder that Greece is immediately affected by those developments in the larger Mediterranean region.  What’s useful to me about this Venn diagram is that it also reminds us that there’s only one country where all three of these circles come together – that’s Greece.  That’s why this relationship is so important with the United States, why we are interested in the development of Greece’s Grand Strategy.

Now, as I read Spyros’ chapter in the book, the opening chapter, one of the points that he makes quite clearly there is that there is a direct linkage between Greece’s ability to serve its role as a pillar of stability, an anchor of stability, in this very complicated region, and the health of the Greek economy.  That is one of the major reasons why the United States, for seven years of economic crisis, has been such a champion of helping Greece to emerge from this series of economic crises.  That’s the reason that I will be travelling to New York and Washington next month with your Economy Minister, Minister Papadimitriou, and representatives from the Chamber of Commerce and from the Stock Exchange to develop opportunities for growing trade and investment ties between our countries.

But I think it’s well understood that, from an American foreign policy standpoint, that we have a strategic interest in Greece’s return to economic health and prosperity.  So these issues are connected and the book’s chapters do a good job of drawing those connections.

On the question of Greece as a pillar of stability, and here, I think, I will wind up my remarks, I just note that we are coming up now on a very important 70th anniversary next Monday, a week from today – the 70thanniversary of the speech that Secretary of State George Marshall delivered at the Harvard Commencement, which first introduced the concept of the Marshall Plan.  We are also celebrating, next week, the 70thanniversary of the creation of the American Office of Defense Cooperation.  This was actually the first place in Europe, after the war, where the United States began its systematic program of defense cooperation – recognizing our interest in building capacity, which we continue to do to this day, strengthening our NATO Alliance by developing stronger ability, familiarity, and capacity on the part of the Greek armed forces.

So, I think there’s a lot of history that’s been written about the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine, the decisions that were made in the United States at that time.  But it’s also interesting, as I look back on the history of that period, to be reminded that, in 1946, the mood of the American people was not in favor of engagement in Europe.  The mood of the American people was to return home – the collective fatigue of the war, the sense that Europe had taken a great toll in blood and treasure on Americans.

And it was only as we got into the winter of 1946 and the spring of ‘47 that American policy makers realized that, without decisive American measures to help Europe get back on its feet economically, all that we fought for, through the Second World War and the war to defeat fascism, could be defeated, could be lost.  So I think, I would imagine, I certainly hope that, in developing the arguments for our substantial assistance program to Greece of those days, that President Truman and Secretary of State Marshall had the foresight to recognize that Greece would become one of the United States’ most stalwart allies.

But, the geography hasn’t changed.  And the point remains crucial that Greece’s strategic importance rests, significantly, on its role as the vanguard of Europe – the place where Europe, the continent of European values, rule of law, democracy, meets the challenges of Eurasia.  And so, from that perspective, I think it is reasonable to assume that there will be certain enduring principles that will characterize American foreign policy.  Just like in 1946-1947, the debates will go back and forth but, ultimately, I’m very confident that we will remain committed, as we have been over the past 70 years, to a strong alliance with Greece and a Greece which can be a strong defender of our shared democratic values.  Thank you.

Question:  I would like to address my question to His Excellency, the Ambassador.  And the question is what is your comment regarding the Chancellor’s statement yesterday that the Europeans cannot rely on anyone else, except from themselves?  Thank you.

Ambassador:  I’ll be very brief on that.  First to note that I saw comments this morning from the Chancellery, reemphasizing the centrality of transatlantic relations.  And I think this is something that Mr. Venizelos’ remarks got at as well.  An enduring principle of the past seven decades, 70 years, which is a long time in foreign policy, has been that Europe and the United States are at our best when we are working together.  We have values in common, our economies are completely interwoven, our societies are interwoven.  And I am confident that that is still going to be the case.  I think there was a lot of Twitter-level analysis yesterday afternoon, but I think, as the more sophisticated analysis takes hold, people will gravitate back to that principle of transatlantic solidarity.  And I know that the Chancellery in Germany seems to have already done so.

Question:  I had a question for Professor Tziampiris, actually.  You mentioned that Greece might be proving wrong during the course of the crisis the classic clash of civilizations.  I agree with what you say; however, what we are experiencing is conflicting attitudes both in Greece and in Europe regarding Muslims, regarding refugees.  There is a variation, very distinguished variation in public attitudes regarding this issue.  How would you, what would be your comment on that?

Ambassador:  I guess the only point I would make on this score is that, having now spent a lot of time talking to communities that have hosted refugees coming from the Arab world and beyond in Asia, there are very few states in Europe that can boast of the level of generosity that Greece has displayed, especially over the past two years of crisis.  Obviously there is a task for the state to continue to build an attitude of tolerance and inclusion.  And I think, from that standpoint, the Greek government has taken some commendable steps.  But, more important than that, I think is the generosity of spirit that the Greek people have demonstrated, the communities that have been impacted by this flow of people – without really asking whether they are Muslims, or Christians, or something else.

Question:  Thank you for this great presentation and your remarks on the issues of foreign policy, especially in connection to Greece and the face that we are facing right now.  We have mentioned the great position of Greece in terms of having some advantages.  I was wondering, being a door for the refugees and for migrants to Europe, I was also wondering whether the refugee issue is a question of foreign policy and whether it should be addressed as a question of foreign policy?  We have seen that, in many political campaigns, different parties are using the foreigners issue or the refugees issue as a basic element for their campaigns.  So, if it’s that important for a government, is it also important for the foreign policy of the government?  Do we deal with it like this?  So if we try to have some advantages negotiating on this?  Or should we just respect what the legislation of each country says about dealing with refugees and foreigners?  Thank you.

Ambassador:  Thank you.  It comes back to what they say about real estate in New York: location, location, location.  You know, I think, when we think about foreign policy theory, and this is why I always enjoy sitting next to Mr. Venizelos because he bridges the worlds of theory and reality in practice, but I think if one looks at foreign policy, despite all of the changes that globalization has brought, a principal determinant around the world is still geography.  It has certainly played a decisive role in the foreign policy of my country for at least the past hundred years – our isolation, across the oceans, protected us from much of the trauma of the First World War.  It has been both a source of our strength but also something that has compelled us, ultimately, to become engaged.

And I think, in the same sense, if you go back to my Venn diagram, thinking about Greece’s foreign policy, you have to start with the geography and what that drives.  Of course, the refugee piece is one element of that because of the refugee crisis that has descended on Europe.  Another, which I didn’t talk about today, as I’ve spoken about it on other occasions, is energy.  And, again, Mr. Venizelos covered this at some length.  So, I think, if you want to draw an analytic framework for Greek foreign policy in the decades ahead, certainly the role of Greece as a European energy hub looms increasingly large.

So, again, I think there’s probably a whole book that can be written about that.  Maybe, Aris, after you’re done with your Eastern Mediterranean work, you can do the geopolitics or the geography of Greek foreign policy.  I know I certainly would look forward to reading it.