Marios P. Efthymiopoulos is the CEO and Founder of the Greece-based international think tank Strategy International. Dr. Efthymiopoulos held multiple positions as a visiting scholar, researcher, lecturer, and analyst in the United States, Italy, Greece, and Cyprus. He has written extensively on NATO, Transatlantic relations, Greek foreign policy, the Eastern Mediterranean, cyber-security, and international security; at the same time he has contributed to TV and radio discussions and debates in the US, Greece, and Europe. Among many other scholarly publications, Dr. Efthymiopoulos has published two books in Greek with Sakkoulas Publications: “NATO in the 21st Century: The Need for a New Strategic Doctrine and the Expansion of NATO-Russia relations” (2008); and “Strategic Security and Transatlantic Relations” (2012). He is currently also co-editing a book on Cyber-Security due to be published in 2013 by Springer publications. In this interview with The Globalized World Post he talked with Zenonas Tziarras, editor of the magazine, about international affairs and security with specific regard to the recent bombings in Boston, the geopolitics of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, as well as North Korea. The discussion revolved around policy-related subjects while the issues raised bear great significance for the current and future state of regional and international affairs.
Zenonas Tziarras (Z.T.): On April 15 we witnessed the explosions of the Boston Marathon in the USA. It is now known that they were acts of terrorism. What do you think this development entails for the American homeland security as well as for the American foreign policy doctrine?
Marios Efthymiopoulos (M.E.):
It seems almost 20+ days later that the Boston attacks were just a single portion of what is yet to come. Suicide bombings especially from non-US Passport holders are not frequent inside the US but they are rather something seen in conflict zones such as Chechnya and Dagestan. As such, I presume that this is not a homeland security affair but rather a matter of other security services such as the FBI and CIA that will eventually find the whereabouts of the training sources and/or preparedness. Inside the USA, what can be found, and this maybe the job of Homeland security, are the tools that were needed to build a bomb, to trace the money and so on. Who sold them and why. Who trained them on the tactics of urban bombing and how did they know where there was a possible security breach.
What is the right thing to say however is that at this level it seems that the US administration has done plenty of work, and swiftly brought the major actors into custody showing that the changes of administration and tactics made all these years work, providing a positive outcome to their citizens, as these sort of attacks cannot be all anticipated but surely can be positively dealt with within the first 48 hours and that was the case when they caught the perpetrators.
Z.T.: Would you say that these terrorist attacks were in any way connected to the current events in the Middle East – e.g. the Syrian crisis?
No. Not at all. They were rather outcomes of long-term conflicts and extreme Islamism that is on the rise in conflict zones and areas. It is a slightly complicated case where one can find something of extreme nature; but, as far as your question is concerned I believe that the bombing is certainly not related to Syria. Syria is a complicated and much delicate affair where we are yet to see changes in the next months to come and in the hope that any action does not spill-over in other surrounding areas, as peace in the Middle-East is a delicate story.
Z.T.: I would like to focus a little bit more on this region and ask how you assess the reconciliation process between Turkey and Israel. What do you see coming out of it?
My answer is twofold:
In the short-term, a possible cooperation for an invasion in Syria from both sides will render both states successful operationally. At the same time they share a common threat, for different reasons however, and that is Iran. Turkey is not fearful of Iran, on the contrary, yet it is not keen in seeing Iran at a prestigious negotiating level in discussions with either the US or Israel; that, and a possible solution, would be surely troublesome for Ankara. As such, Turkey makes sure to have good relations with Iran, showing the western World that it can mediate between the West and Iran.
Israel wants Iran out as it jeopardizes its sovereignty. Iran’s population demographics are increasing faster than those of Israel although Israel has reached more than 8 million since its establishment 62 years ago. Due to the past Iran-Iraq war, Iran has more young than elderly population. And this is not to be taken lightly. If you combine Iran’s threats and the possibility of even holding nuclear weaponry in their hands, this makes Israel feel naturally insecure.
Now in the long-term, I believe that Israel and Turkey will hold an important alliance between then but not a long-term strategic alliance as the strategic interests of Israel are suddenly now turned into Cyprus and Greece as well. This said, if there is a methodology for long-term strategic alliance construction, as I also proposed in a previous article, in order form a stable and long-term alliance between Greece-Turkey and Israel then many regional issues can and will be eventually resolved.
What is not to be discussed or negotiated however are the rights of the exclusive economic maritime zones, namely of Cyprus and Greece. These zones, if benefited by Turkey’s short-term goals, Turkey will lose the momentum of a long-term alliance which would be possibly stronger and better for its own international purposes. Taking this argument to the negative extreme, this may also render Turkey without stable allies that would not hesitate to try and cut off relations with Turkey; in this case such countries could be Israel or even Greece for that matter. On the other hand an alliance of the three would be of benefit and of mutual interest to all parties not the least because of the potential cooperation in the energy sector and the resolution of all regional standing issues and conflicts. On this note I would also like to refer to the case of Cyprus and the need to withdraw the Turkish occupation forces and settlers off the Island of Cyprus. Turkey should give back to the Cyprus Republic all of its territories thus making itself a strong capable and certainly robust and attractive actor to all countries. At the same time that would lead to the establishment of good relations between Turkey and Cyprus, without having the obstacle of the UN condemnation about the Turkish invasion burdening their relations.
Z.T.: As you already noted, the issue of Turkish-Israeli relations is also very much related to the international relations of Cyprus and Greece. Provided that Cyprus and Greece have been cooperating very closely with Israel lately, how does Israel’s apology to Turkey shift the strategic balances in the Eastern Mediterranean?
Hopefully as I also stated at our Annual conference (March 9, 2013), the Thessaloniki Summit of 2013 in Greece, Greece should not seek to have alliances based on the disintegration of relations of others as such relations could be restored. Two weeks after that statement of mine Israel apologized to Turkey and the two countries entered a period of rapprochement. Greece, Israel and Cyprus have strategic interests at the levels of energy, defense, education, innovation and tourism among others. That said, I do not see anything wrong with Turkey cooperating with these countries as well.
As I see it there are two different levels of cooperation as stated above. As such there is no shift in strategic balance in the Eastern Mediterranean. What in the contrary I would like to see is a strategic alliance between Greece Turkey and Israel as well as the resolution of the Cyprus issue and the invasion of Turkey; adding Cyprus to this alliance while developing good relations between Turkey and Cyprus would render, as you understand, the area much more stable. Such a development would also allow for some optimism for long-lasting solutions to other conflicts such as the Syrian one. (Editor’s note: See more of Marios Efthymiopoulos’ insights about the Eastern Mediterranean, Greece, and international affairs in his new series of foresight articles)
Z.T: Since we are talking about the Eastern Mediterranean, I cannot but ask about the situation in Cyprus as well. The small island-country has moved to the epicenter of global economic developments over the past two months. Some argue that the imposed levy and austerity measures will only make things worse. What do you think the political and economic implications of Troika’s policies will be? Do you see Cyprus recovering from this crisis?
Cyprus cannot but recover from the Crisis. As a) most of the funds are allocated by the European counterparts, tot the IMF. The IMF will provide up to a billion. b) The repayment is due in 10 years. But that time Cyprus will have exploited its natural resources. c) Cyprus is a country but it is also an island. Not dense in population and as such effective in control and production. I believe that Cypriots will support actions that will satisfy their strong needs and reasons for alliances that will be fiscally beneficial to the payment of its loan but also boost its industry and productivity.
What has happened, however, is that the period of fiscal booming through the banking system, and the investment and reallocation of funds (a tax heaven), which started under the former President George Vassileiou, is now over. Cyprus will be more oriented towards western actions, rules and norms, towards a more centralized EU government with one single banking and taxation system, rather than balanced relations between the West and non-EU countries such as Russia. However it could be mutually beneficial for all parties if it only used its geo-strategic location and tactical role in the exploitation of natural resources in order to re-position the island’s geopolitical posture. But again this is a matter of tactics and policies that are developing. They are surely not negative. Such new attempts have been made publically known by the newly elected President who is keen in making this policy changes acknowledged. I believe that he may succeed. However there is a cost attached to it for the island as an entity rather than for the EU, and it might be greater than anticipated. (Editor’s note: see also Marios Efthymiopoulos’ most recent co-authored chapter titled “Security through Economic Development and the Strengthening of Institutional Capacity: From the Era of Transition to an Era of Opportunity in South East Europe”).
Z.T.: For my last question I would like your opinion about the developments with North Korea. How do you see the American, and Western more generally, stance? Do you believe that North Korea is indeed a global security threat that should be dealt with, or does the tactical aspect of its capabilities point to unsubstantiated fears?
North Korea is a security threat. I doubt that it is a global one though as no country shares the very same threats. However a possible chemical or nuclear North Korea is another issue. The environmental destruction and, as you know well, the pollution of the air that we all breath is an issue that will lead states to think a lot and surely act.
In this case I believe that North Korea is more dangerous than a nuclear Iran as North Korea is extreme in its claims and its willingness to fight. The US orientation and projections are of counter-operations based on the American interests in the Pacific. At the same time it seems that the US can be possibly targeted. This in turn provides a lot of reasons why there should be a US presence and be ready to counter possible threats from North Korea. And rightfully so.