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Speech of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias, at the Moscow State University of International Relations, (13.06.2018)
“Greece - A stable partner in an unstable region”
It is wonderful to be in beautiful Moscow at this time. I am very honoured to be invited here to the State University of International Relations (MGIMO), and to receive an honorary doctorate. This is a twofold pleasure: first, in my capacity as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and also as a professor of International Relations and Foreign Policy at the University of Piraeus. The University of Piraeus has a very special, friendly cooperation with your University.
I thank you warmly for your interest in Greece and its foreign policy. And I thank you for this opportunity to present the main points of Greek foreign policy, as this is manifested today in our wider region, in the midst of major international developments.
A. The first thing one has to bear in mind in foreign policy is geopolitics. Our region, the Balkans, the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa, is changing:
Greece is at the centre of a triangle; a triangle of instability, as I often says. In one corner is Ukraine, which is in a deep crisis. On the bottom left is Libya, where a brutal civil war has been fought. And in the bottom right-hand corner, as we look at the map, lie Iraq and Syria, with their wars. These three regions are going through very serious crises, though of different degrees and substance. These crises – and various other parameters – put the stability of the wider region at risk.
As in a balancing act, the stable parts of the system have to try to maintain the balance in this triangle. Otherwise – if they fail to act – they will be dragged into this instability and the whole system will collapse.
B. A second element we need to bear in mind is that, over the past decade, Greece has gone through one of the most profound economic crises in the world; a crisis that has lasted longer than that of North Korea (1990-1997) and has had worse repercussions – given, of course, that we started from a much ‘better place’.
In this context, foreign policy must be directly linked to the economic issue; that is, how foreign policy can not only avoid creating difficulties in economic policy, but also how it can help the country emerge from the economic crisis. In other words, the question was, how could Greece – in the throes of an economic crisis and, due to that crisis, with reduced diplomatic capital – shape a foreign policy of peace, become a ‘strong link’ in the chain of stability and security in its immediate region and in Europe as a whole.
C. A third element we bear in mind while formulating and promoting foreign policy is the major changes taking place in our world – my favourite subject, but we don’t have time to go into it here. I am referring to the fourth industrial revolution, the second machine age. The tectonic geopolitical changes, with the centre of the world shifting from the Atlantic ‘pond’ to that of the Pacific, and from the West to Southeast Asia.
D. In order to better describe and analyse Greek foreign policy in this framework, allow me to present it in codified form, based on the twelve principles of our foreign policy. Principles that are linked, support and are promoted through sixteen initiatives and nine international formations that we have created during the three and a half years we have been in office.
This is not some maximalist model, but you will see that these principles, on the one hand, maintain their own independence, while also constituting, as intrinsic components, a solid framework of strategic thinking:
The first principle is that one must exercise a proactive and not a passive foreign policy. Proactive foreign policy means that you take initiatives and do not just expect your problems to somehow be solved while you remain in a state of inertia. Or, that you can put off dealing with your foreign policy issues indefinitely. What we experienced in Greece – before our government came to power – was a longstanding expectation that, at some point, our pending issues would resolve themselves, and thus we needed to stay in a state of inaction. Regarding the name problem we have with fYROM, we would argue, characteristically: “What is going to happen with Skopje? We do not need to do anything. They will deal with the difficulties at some point, and then the solution to the name issue will come. What is going to happen with Albania, with which we have had problems for 70 or 100 years now? We will wait, and at some point the problems will be resolved or Albania will be forced to abandon its positions.
This is a policy of expectations and wishful thinking. It is a policy that, at bottom, conceals an egocentric and antagonistic view of international relations, in which a neighbour’s weakness is not dealt with as a more general problem of stability in the region, but as an opportunity to impose your will, to achieve ‘victory’ on bilateral issues. As a view, it is as unrealistic as some people’s expectation that Greece would cede its national rights and back down from its longstanding positions in foreign policy due to the economic crisis.
Therefore a policy of this kind is a passive policy that simply waits for something to be done outside or by third parties so that Greece and its foreign policy can be ‘delivered from’ one problem or another. In contrast, what we did and continue to do is promote a proactive foreign policy. Taking initiatives and making moves. For example, when we came to power, and despite our having to deal with a very negative personality in the head of the fYROM government, Mr. Gruevski, we created 21 confidence-building measures (CBMs), which included cooperation between universities, a new natural gas pipeline, new railway lines, etc. This policy’s initial purpose was to build confidence/trust between the two sides, so that steps toward resolving the name issue could follow. I believe, or rather hope, that we will succeed in the end.
The CBMs created trust. In our neighbouring country, during the controversy over the name, the sense was created that we were against their very existence as a state. That Greece, like other states, wanted their country to break up. I am the first Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs to have visited fYROM, and in a press conference, after four hours of consultations and in front of 400 journalists – all of the key players were there – I told them that we see their country as ‘God’s gift’, but that they had the wrong ‘Godfather’. In this way, I wanted to make the distinction and say: “We are pleased that you exist, but the problem is your name. However, this does not mean that we have other problems with you.” I have the feeling that, after years, this was the first time they started to reconsider things. It was as if the ice had broken and they started to see us a little differently.
Through this proactive foreign policy, we succeeded – with Albania, for example – in resolving decades-old problems. Very, very soon, I believe, we will complete the negotiations on a package of ten issues. This package includes the delimitation of borders and maritime zones, and so on.
Here, one has to try to understand why we continued to have problems with these two countries. Once could claim that they are “strange countries, Balkan countries, or that they have eccentric Ministers of Foreign Affairs.” But that is not the case. The issue is that these problems with these countries were not created and resolved during the Cold War, as happened in other cases, like the Oder–Neisse line between Poland and German. On the contrary, these problems appeared after the end of the Cold War: fYROM was part of Yugoslavia, so there was no issue of recognizing it as a state. Albania was under the isolationist regime of Enver Hoxha, so there was no chance of negotiating the various issues with it.
So our thinking was, and is, to resolve these issues by taking initiatives. Because, you know, when diplomacy remains indifferent, problems are not resolved in peacetime. These problems are usually resolved through war – cold or ‘hot’ – and at a much higher cost.
In this context we took a very interesting initiative: we created a special Conference on the Protection of Religious and Cultural Pluralism in the Middle East. There, we had the good fortune, as the only European country, to bring together, in Athens, all of the leading figures of the Churches and cultural communities of the Middle East; some 400 leading figures. In October of last year, we organized the Conference in collaboration with Austria and the UAE. When we launch an initiative, we want to do it in a proactive way and try to extend it by organizing it with other countries. We are not egocentric.
Our second principle, which sounds obvious but, in our region, is not, is the creation of a positive, not negative, agenda. For example, the Rhodes Conference. Among the Arabs, this Conference is referred to as ‘The spirit of Rhodes’, which, by the way, is a very beautiful island, and I know that many Russians visit it and the Dodecanese, especially in the summer months. Eight countries from Southeast Europe, 14 Arab countries, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council participate in this Conference. We do not talk about the wars I mentioned earlier, nor do we discuss tensions or the Palestinian problem. If you were in our region, you would find that all Conferences discuss only this issue. We tried to create a positive agenda. For example, last year, in Cairo, we jointly organized a film festival, and a meeting of the youth of the region took place in Cyprus. We are trying to exert influence in our region through positive synergy, our positive cooperation.
I got the idea for this initiative when I was in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. During my visit to an excellent new museum, to my great surprise – though I am an educated person – I found that all of the exhibits were 4,000 to 6,000 years old, and many of them were from Greece. At that time, so many years ago, there existed in our region an inconceivably large network of cooperation on the economic and scientific levels; cooperation that no longer exists today. We believe that this cooperation must be rebuilt; for example the old transport routes should be reopened, cooperation should be established between universities. We created a university network, but we have not yet secured adequate funding to make it bigger.
The fundamental aim of the ‘Spirit of Rhodes’ is to build a security and stability community, possibly along the lines in which the OSCE evolved after Helsinki. This year we may conclude on a common document on joint disarmament, security and stability, so that next year we can try to reach the end of the first phase. And building a positive agenda helps in this direction, because through this agenda we better understand the advantages of cooperation and thus the need for us to secure and safeguard the things that unify us and bring our peoples closer together. In other words, in contrast with other conferences that talk exclusively about wars and tensions, and that hope –sometimes against hope– to find solutions to complex problems, we first lay, through the positive agenda, a foundation of trust, mutual understanding and respect, significantly increasing the probability of a broader understanding on issues of security and a positive agenda.
Just as an indication, I’ll mention two other initiatives in this positive agenda: One is the cross-border cooperation between us and our three northern neighbours: Bulgaria, fYROM and Albania. This cooperation on all issues works very well on everything from small matters, such as fire-fighting – because wildfires know no borders; one might say they are ‘supporters of globalization’ – to issues of security, energy cooperation, etc. Another similar initiative is Euromed. Euromed concerns the seven EU member states of the European south: Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Cyprus and Greece. Smaller countries as well as larger ones (including the 2nd, 3rd and 4th largest EU member states), which raise within the EU – with adequate intensity – the social issues that have more or less been lost in intra-EU dialogue, along with cohesion issues.
Our third principle is a proposal regarding the relationship between foreign policy and history. In other words, in conjunction with the two previous principles, we add something specific: a formula for the future.
There is an old, interesting saying of Churchill’s, which is a little funny and a little sad, because the British had got very involved in our region: “The Balkans produce more history than they can consume.” He meant, in other words, that the Balkans have a hard time managing even their own history. I came up with another phrase that can be used on a general level and contains positive elements: “History must be a school, not a prison.” To a significant degree, until the time of our government, the Balkans, Southeast Europe, were a ‘prison’ of prejudices and stereotypes, and not a land of peaceful self-awareness and cooperation. It is based on this that we organized the cooperation and all of the various platforms with Albania and Skopje. I believe that, in this way, we succeeded in dealing with all of the problems of the past.
The fourth principle is to learn from our experience. In other words, that our proposal does concern the future, but at the same time it draws lessons from the past, from our experience, from our mistakes. You are well aware that a scientist or politician must learn from his experiences. In ‘Politische Kybernetik’, a book from the 1960s, the Czech Karl Wolfgang Deutsch, who, in America, had a close friendship with Hannah Arendt, said that “a person needs to be creatively adaptive.”
Deutsch provided a very good definition of dogmatism: “Dogmatism is not one view or another, which may be wrong. Dogmatism is not being in a position to learn and be renewed.” In other words, dogmatism means not being able to learn and move ahead. In our study, we concluded that, following the collapse of the governments in the Balkans, Greece reacted too arrogantly. We created a network of banks and investments, but, I would say, with an element of arrogance. The 1990s were, of course, an era of excessive arrogance, of unrestrained economic liberalism that followed the collapse of communism; economic liberalism with the mistaken view that the economy dictates and determines everything.
What did our government learn from this? Greece is a very small country on the global map. It is not easy to overcome that. In Europe we are a medium-sized country. But in the Balkans we are a very important country, both institutionally and in terms of our productive capabilities. We are still the largest economy in the region, in spite of the crisis. But this cannot lead us to deal with the other countries arrogantly. My view is that when one is larger, more powerful and has good institutions, one also has bigger responsibilities. That, given the fact that we bear greater responsibility, we are obliged to make compromises. Because one’s ability to make compromises is an indication of strength, not weakness. That we are the first who should start to compromise. That we must lead in this culture of compromise and consensus among the states. And this is not easy for the region or its history, because the word ‘compromise’ unfortunately still has a negative connotation in the subconscious of the region’s peoples. We are trying to overcome this prejudice.
The fifth principle is to exercise a future-oriented policy, and thus not look constantly to the past. Because only then is our proposal of practical value, and not just of academic interest. As you know, we have a very long history of thousands of years. Sometimes we tend to cling to this history and think of how important we are due to history. This may nurture our self-esteem, but this is a misguided self-esteem. It is not the kind that helps one get better. Rather, it makes you complacent, passive and lazy, and at the same time you boast, becoming obnoxious. That is why one must look to the future, because only then can one face life with courage.
For example, a big question arises: If the EU enlarges further, it will include the 6 states of the Western Balkans or, more accurately, the 5+1 states (of the Western Balkans). If the EU admits these 6 states and, possibly, another 2 or three from its eastern neighbourhood, it will have over 35 members. And what we are trying to explain to all of the candidate countries that want to join the EU as soon as possible is that, in a Union of 35 or 40 members, the smaller states, by definition, will not be able to play a major role. Greece, too, is among the small member states, but the other states of the Western Balkans are even smaller. They have populations of 600,000, 1 million, 1.2 million. Consequently, only if there is collaboration and collective representation and defence of interests, only if we create networks and build synergies in the region – and this has to start happening today if we are to ensure our future coexistence in the EU or anywhere else – only then will all of our voices in the Balkans be heard in the Union or any other configuration that arises from these 40 countries.
Very briefly, I will focus on three parts of our region’s history from 1989 on. The first part is the 1990s, when, following the collapse of the communist regimes, Greece and other countries, such as Austria and Italy – and later Germany and France – made investments and tried to create networks, ties between the various states. The approach was to create a common present. But then came the Thessaloniki decisions, in 2003-2004, which moved in the direction of enabling these countries to join the EU – Romania and Bulgaria are already members – and there was competition between the region’s states for accession to the EU. The internal ties between the states of the Balkans were lost, and everyone focused on the effort to become candidate countries, first, and then join the EU. The economic and social ties that had been built between the Balkan states in the 1990s slackened. What we have to do today is develop a future-oriented strategy that leads to convergence: This means that, of course, these countries can join the EU, but at the same time they should also rebuild the relations amongst themselves, so that they can be stronger even within the EU.
Based on this strategic choice, on the level of Balkan countries, apart from the Cross-border Cooperation I already mentioned, we have developed a cooperation scheme among the region’s EU member states – Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece – because we have common interests in the context of the policy on Southeast Europe. There is also a special configuration that includes Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia, designed to help Serbia -and perhaps, in the future, Montenegro- prepare to join the EU.
The sixth principle is that one must have a strategic plan. In other words, a plan for how one sees one’s position in space and time, and one’s relations with others, shaping alliances with mid-/long-term targets over time.
An example that illustrates this principle is that we have shaped six cooperation schemes that are part of the multicultural and multidimensional foreign policy we are exercising. Greece and Cyprus, two EU member states, have special and separate trilateral cooperation schemes with Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and Armenia. These cooperation schemes have two dimensions: collaboration from the level of Presidents or Prime Ministers to the level of Ministry Directorates. Moreover, this is horizontal cooperation in which all of the Ministries participate. The biggest cooperation is with Egypt, followed by that with Israel. The newest cooperation scheme is with Armenia.
The seventh principle is how one deals with certain difficult contradictions. The most difficult system of contradictions for our country’s foreign policy is Turkey.
Turkey is a system of contradictions. That is how we interpret it. And the interpretation part is very important because it mitigates the sense of the incomprehensible, which is inherent in a contradiction, facilitating subsequent action and handling of the contradiction. Turkey has ‘traditional’ contradictions as well as new ones. The new ones are more political in nature, while the older ones have to do with the matter of their nation. They have 17 or 18 million Kurds, and about 5 million of these Kurds live in Istanbul, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. They have contradictions in their social and economic stratification. In Istanbul and Izmir they have parts of their economy that are very dynamic and integrated into the global capitalist system; large and modern structures. And at the same time they have structures, especially in Anatolia, that are reminiscent of feudalism; non-democratic structures.
But they also have contradictions of a political nature. They have a situation similar to that of the U.S., where the Democrats are stronger on the coasts, and the Republicans are stronger in the hinterland. In Turkey, too, you have the coastal regions and the hinterland. On the Turkish coast, which looks to the west, the Aegean, and to the south, over 60% of voters in the recent referendum voted against the Erdogan system. This was also the case in the large cities – even in Ankara, but also in Istanbul and Antalya, where the majority of Turkey’s intellectuals and middle class reside. These people have a more western orientation. In contrast, the people in the hinterland are oriented towards a model in which Turkey leads the region, and this was clearly reflected in the different ways these two groups voted.
The newest, and perhaps biggest, contradiction is that the Turkish leadership is wavering between arrogance and self-confidence. They managed to avert the coup, they invaded Iraq and Syria, they belong to the G20, the 20 most important economies in the world. All of this bolsters Turkey’s self-confidence, but sometimes it also makes Turkey arrogant – and this is something we have experienced first-hand. But sometimes the Turkish leadership is seized with insecurity, perhaps due to the deplorable coup that was attempted in the summer of 2016. It is an insecurity linked with fear. And this mixture of self-confidence with arrogance, insecurity and fear makes the Turkish system – at least as we interpret and experience it – exceedingly restless. Like a pendulum swinging from one side to the other, but unperiodically, restlessly.
Turkey is also a revisionist power. It does not want to honour international treaties. It wants to revise them. For example, Turkey’s invasion of Syria violated the Treaty of Lausanne and circumvented International Law. This restlessness, together with the revisionism and the domestic authoritarianism led by Erdoğan – whom I regard as an important figure – is causing a number of problems in our region.
We always try to reduce tensions, but this is a difficult art, and you have to have a talent for it. In other words, the ability to follow a policy for reducing tensions without creating the impression that you are weak, that you are backing down out of fear. It is like the stance you take when you comes face to face with a formidable entity: You can neither run nor irritate it further, because if you do either of these, it will attack; in the first case, out of a sense of superiority, and in the second out of fear. Instead, you have to show composure and resolve, because this is the only way to gain your opponent’s respect. And you must not back down from your principles and values. We have a different outlook on the value of life and of warfare. This is a policy of responsibility.
And that brings us to the eighth principle that governs or guides our policy: Greek foreign policy acts within the framework of International Law. We believe that International Law is the tool with which one handles international conflicts, interests, contradictions. And the Cyprus problem is a very characteristic example of this. Last summer, and throughout last year, we negotiated a great deal on the Cyprus issue. A major twelve-day round of negotiations took place in Crans-Montana, in Switzerland, during which we negotiated day and night. An important question was raised there: what is the core of the Cyprus problem? Is it the conflicting interests of the two communities, the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots? It is that too, in part. That is why I always argue that the Turkish Cypriots should be given the maximum possible rights. Moreover, the interest of the three smaller communities – the Armenians, Maronites and Latins – need to be protected, because most people overlook the rights of these communities. And the Greek Cypriot side must be given the maximum possible sense of security.
But the question remains: what is the fundamental issue of the Cyprus problem? In my opinion, it is the following: the issue of security, the problem of the illegal occupation of the northern portion of Cyprus. The northern part of Cyprus is the most militarized region in Europe. Until last year, 44,000 military personnel were stationed there for 92,000 Turkish Cypriots and a total population of 200,000. The ratio is one soldier to every two Turkish Cypriots, or one soldier to every family if one counts the settlers.
On the Cyprus problem, we are in favour of a solution whereby: Cyprus must become a normal state, a member of the EU and the UN. It must fully enjoy all the rights of a normal state, without third-party ‘rights’ of intervention.
A very important current example for our policy is Iran. We believe that international agreements -once they have been concluded, and provided no one violates them- should be respected. On this point we disagree with the powers that believe they should withdraw from the agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme. We do not believe this is the way to ensure greater stability. We believe that the way to ensure greater stability is through the implementation of international agreements.
The ninth principle is that our policy needs security structures, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean space. Because we have the Cyprus problem, we have the issue of the islands located south of Turkey; islands which some people are flirting with, asking, “Why should these remain Greek?” In other words, the strong deterrent force the country has -unlike other countries in the region- and that ensures that Turkey will think very carefully before doing something that will cost it dearly.
The tenth principle is, to upgrade the role of our ‘small’ state. But how can we do this on the international stage? We need to do it through the EU, if possible. But how can we do this? What is great in this small country? Culture. And this is something every Russian learns in school.
In this context we took an initiative. If we had taken this initiative alone, it may not have been so successful. This initiative is the GC10, the Ancient Civilizations Forum; a forum for nations that gave birth to and established great civilizations. These cultures continue to resonate today in people’s day-to-day lives, in institutions, and in the way a state functions. So we created a group of states comprising China, India, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Bolivia and Greece. Other states have asked to participate, as this is a group of states with very great ancient civilizations. We will see how this initiative proceeds. For the time being, we hold the Presidency of the Forum, which will be passed on to Bolivia in September.
The eleventh – and penultimate – principle is to endeavour, in the context of this multidimensional policy, to maintain the best possible relations with all sides, to the degree they make this feasible as well. This does not mean we want to be liked by everyone and at any price, but that we treat everyone with respect, and that whatever we don’t understand, whatever is different about them, we do not reject but treat with interest and respect. And this is because our long history has taught us that we must not rupture our ties with other countries, as we are sometimes asked to do. This happens mainly – and perhaps this is an issue we can discuss in greater detail afterwards – with countries like Egypt and Iran, with which we have had relations for 6 or 7 or 8 thousand years now. Younger countries find it difficult to understand that these thousands of years have perhaps passed into our upbringing or our education, making us inclined to take a calmer/milder approach to other countries with very long histories. We also see the benefits of working to build new friendships with states we had no significant relations with in the past, like Colombia, South Korea, Singapore and others.
We are living in a world that is changing very rapidly. That is in a transitional phase. In this world we need to learn to better understand one another. And to do this we need multiple new forms of diplomacy, beyond the hard-core diplomacy of the past. There is citizen diplomacy, cultural diplomacy, city diplomacy, and so on. And in these sectors, Greece and Russia have a great deal to say to each other. We share many common origins/influences, traditions, symbols. Many elements of Russian culture are foundations of European culture as a whole and, by extension, Greek culture. Russian ballet, Russian poetry, like that of Pushkin, and Russian music, folk and classical, our songs from the anti-fascist struggle, religious traditions and the profound faith in people’s emotional world. All of these things bring us closer together, regardless of and beyond the difficulties created by our time.
The final, twelfth point is that a country like ours must be a country oriented towards peace. It cannot exercise an aggressive foreign policy or be oriented towards war. It must show other capabilities and another dynamic. Greece must appear as a negotiator, as an honest broker -as we are in relation to the Middle East and the conflicts in the Balkans, in which we do not participate- and as a country that consults. We all need to talk more, to think more. Not to rush when it isn’t necessary.
E. I attempted, in the context of the subject of today’s discussion, to present the twelve principles that govern the exercising of Greek foreign policy as a factor for stability. In recent years, we have taken and created 16 initiatives and cooperation schemes -successfully, I would say. We have managed to function, in an unstable region, as a pillar of stability and peace, social justice, equal relations between states -relations based on international law- respect for cultural pluralism, understanding and dialogue for dealing with all problems. And naturally -though we may have done this 20 years ago- we do not want to appear to wag our fingers and tell third countries what to do. We appear as a country that knows how to mediate, to find solutions to conflicting interests -and this is something we do, and that we are proud of, even when these efforts are not always made public. What counts in diplomacy is success, and not the promotion of an image in the news media. This is perhaps the small difference between what we do and other human activities.
Thank you for coming and thank you for your patience.