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Europe

Is Greece a security risk for NATO?

Greece staying in the eurozone is not just an economic question, some experts say. It is also a geopolitical concern. They argue that a Greek exit could have negative effects for NATO. But is that really the case?

The endless discussions about the future of Greece took an unexpected turn in Germany recently, and it had nothing to do with if, or when, the country would leave the eurozone. Instead, politicians focused on the potential security risk to the European Union, if Greece were to abandon the currency.

They presented a nightmare scenario in which economic instability leads to political volatility and regional unrest. Coupled with the growing influx of Syrian refugees, a possible attack by Israel on Iran, or increasing conflicts in Afghanistan, the belief is that the danger would hardly stop at the Greek EU border.

Greece, the breakwater

"If we do not realize that Greece acts as the breakwater for all sorts of problems that are threatening Europe, we will not be able to control the situation," said the Greek Interior Minister Evripidis Stylianidis. "Therefore, Greece must remain economically and polictically stable. Otherwise, I fear that we will have to deal with the propagandists of Islamic fundamentalism, organized crime and even terrorism."

DW - Montage aus: Four Mirage 2000-5s prepare for landing at Tanagra Air Force base, north of Athens, Greece on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009. Greece and Turkey remain at odds over air-and-sea boundaries in the Aegean. Greek officials say the ongoing dispute has stalled efforts to improve relations between the NATO allies and longstanding regional rivals. (AP Photo/Dimitri Messinis)

Due to its econoomic crisis, Greece may not be able to meet its NATO obligations

This view was shared by a number of German politicians, especially those from the ranks of the Christian Democrats - though not security officials, but experts on the budget and integration. This suggests that they want to support Chancellor Angela Merkel, who wants to keep Greece in the eurozone.

The majority of the German population, however, is not so convinced by that notion. Could the European security angle change their views on the matter?

Greece should not be left to the Russians

The security argument did not stay confined to the refugee issue, however, with some politicians digging deep into the remnants of Cold War ideology. In their view, an overly indebted Greece, frustrated by Europe, could draw closer to Russia. The financial powerhouse would likely not just engage Greece economically; Russia is urgently looking for a new strategic naval base in the Mediterranean, now that the Syrian port of Tartus has become unstable. A weakened Greece would be the ideal candidate to fill that void.

Security expert, Constanze Stelzenmüller, however, has called this geopolitical argument "hysterical." Of course, the senior translantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin sees the potential for problems should waves of Syrian refugees reach Greece and thus the EU. But she argues that this is not a problem that cannot be resolved.

Constanze Stelzenmüller Leiterin des Berliner Büros des German Marshall Fund Constanze Stelzenmüller.

Security expert does not see a Greek eurozone exit as an unsolvable problem

On another issue - potential gas and oil deposits in the eastern Mediterranean - Stelzenmüller notes that obviously this will pique the interest of Russia and China and alter the geostrategic position of Greece, but that is no reason "to get nervous." Instead, "it should be viewed as an opportunity" for Greece, she says. After all, she added, Germany, which gets a substantial portion of its natural gas from Russia, has not become political dependent on Moscow.

But what happens if Greece does exit the eurozone? Could Athens, feeling it had been left in the lurch by Europe, consider leaving NATO? "No," says Stelzenmüller, she could not imagine that happening, even though an exit would would make the economc crisis in Greece worse, whihc, in turn, would have repercussions for NATO.

"Among other things, that would mean that Greec would have difficulty meeting its defense obligations within the framework of NATO. We're not talking about new arms purchases, but even those one has under these circumstances would be extremely hard to maintain or modernize, where necessary," Stelzenmüller warns. However, she thinks these problems can be kept in check and "are not the end of the world."

Turkey is an improtant strategic partner

Die türkische Staatsflagge (l) weht neben der EU-Fahne in Istanbul (Archivfoto vom 07.10.2005). Unter dem Eindruck neuerlicher Spannungen im deutsch-türkischen Verhältnis kommt Kanzlerin Merkel am Montag (29.03.2010) in Ankara mit Ministerpräsident Erdogan zusammen. Auf dem Programm steht eine Reihe brisanter Themen. Dazu gehören die schleppenden Beitrittsverhandlungen zwischen der Europäischen Union und dem NATO-Partner Türkei, die Lage in der Region mit Blick auf den Iran und Israel sowie der schwierige Versöhnungsprozess der Türkei mit Armenien. Foto: Matthias Schrader dpa (zu dpa 4011 vom 28.03.2010) +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Turkey is a more crucial partner for NATO and the EU, security experts say

Another security expert, Christian Mölling from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, agrees, and views a Greek exit from the eurozone as mainly an economic problem. The financial consequences for the whole of the EU would be much worse than the possible geopolitical shifts, he argues, adding that the country in the region that is key to the security of NATO and the EU is Turkey.

"Turkey demonstrated this during the Arab Spring and is now demonstrating it with Syria. Militarily, Turkey is an enormously potent partner in the region. But, it is not an easy partner because it is growing stronger and more confident," he says.

We would be well advised to use this strength and confidence for us by engaging Turkey, at least militarily, as an equal, Mölling stressed. "Why should we support a partner, like Greece, when, at the moment, we cannot expect much from it?"

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