Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A bright spot: renewable energy

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently completed its mission to Greece and published its preliminary findings on May 25. Missions are undertaken as part of regular (usually annual) consultations under Article IV of the IMF's Articles of Agreement, in the context of a request to use IMF resources (which usually means borrowing from the IMF). The report can be accessed here.

The report does not really state anything new. Greece has been largely relying on cheap debt to generate growth over the last 15 years. However, at least for the foreseeable future, the availability of reasonably priced debt will be scarce - global financiers such as commercial banks, investment banks, pension funds, sovereign wealth funds etc., have had to reign in their lending, and if they decide to lend,Greece is not high on their list. Another problem is that the very high borrowing requirements of the Greek state mean that it ‘crowds out’ the private sector – which has become increasingly reliant on debt rather than savings to finance investment (not to the same extent as Ireland or the United Kingdom).

The IMF points out that Greece needs to make the necessary reforms to its economy in order to become more productive and competitive by reducing inefficiencies in its state bureaucracies (which includes reducing public debt to fuel growth) and encourage private enterprise.

Amongst all the discouraging news there are some bright spots. Global accounting firm, Ernst and Young has just published its latest
Renewable energy country attractiveness indices” which scores countries for national renewable energy markets, renewable energy infrastructures and their suitability for individual technologies. Greece ranks 12th overall ahead of Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, Japan and Finland. Of course, Greece has a comparative advantage in solar (reflected in their high ranking in this category) and to a lesser extent wind; but recent government initiatives, have also found favour amongst investors.

Source: IMF, Ernst and Young, Antipodes

Monday, May 25, 2009

The importance of the Aegean Sea-Dardanelles

People often bemoan that Greece has no geopolitical or geo-economic tools at its disposal in which it can use to formulate an effective international political strategy when dealing with its near abroad and even further away. Perhaps they have been overly influenced by former Prime Minister, Costas Simitis’s reductionist mentality that Greece is a “small, Balkan nation”, implying it has no place playing with third, second rate or even first rate powers. Of course, this is incorrect. However, one may be correct in stating that she does not use her geopolitical tools to her advantage.

A very important geopolitical and geo-economic tool is the Aegean Sea. The importance of this seaway is neatly summarised by Dr Ioannis Mazis, Professor of Geo-Economics and Geopolitics at the Ionian University, in an article titled, “Geopolitical Analysis of the Commercial Sea Channel Dardanelles-Aegean” which was originally published in the Archives of Economic History in 1997 (shortly after the Imia crisis). Although, the article is somewhat dated and poorly translated it is also surprising how very little has changed in Greek-Turkish relations regarding the Aegean Sea over the last 10-15 years.

The article begins by explaining the importance of the Aegean Sea as a sea route and air passage between Europe and Turkey and the broader Eastern Mediterranean, and between the former Soviet Republics of Russia, Ukraine (including the shipment of oil and gas from Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan etc.) and the Mediterranean Sea. Interestingly, Mazis writes that the Aegean airspace is one of the main airways connecting Israel with the United States and Western Europe which is of major importance for the survival of Israel - with the implication that Israel would never consent to the occupation of this airspace by an unfriendly power. He concludes that the Aegean Sea is a very important space in the context of geopolitical dynamics and control and is an asset for whichever power has sovereign rights over it.

Regarding Greece's maritime borders, the present 6 nautical miles extension from land means there are strips of international waters between the Aegean islands and islets providing for a "Sea Crossing" for ships moving unheeded between the Black Sea/Dardanelles and the Mediterranean Sea. However, Greece can effectively close the Aegean Sea if she extends her maritime borders. Mazis writes:

According to estimations taken seriously by the American government, the extension of Greek territorial waters from 6 to 12 miles - which is absoulutely legitimate according to the International Sea Law - would cede 72% of the Aegean Sea to Greece and only 9% to Turkey; at the same time, the percentage of international waters would fall to some 19%, closing almost all sea passages and "transforming the Aegean Sea into a Greek lake" creating "similar stifling situations" as in the airspace , according to Turkish declarations.

Mazis also points out that control of the Aegean Sea on its own is not does not confer as much power as controlling the Aegean Sea and the Dardanelles together (the narrow straits separating the Aegean Sea from the Black Sea) which perhaps provides clues as to Turkey's long-term strategy. He writes:

An Aegean without "Straits" [Dardanelles] lacks substance. One must control the block of Aegean-Straits otherwise the control of the Aegean Sea or the Straits is meaningless.

Source: Archives of Economic History (Ioannis Mazis), Antipodes

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Greeks get a wake-up call

The Research Institute for European and American Studies (RIEAS), an independent Greek think-tank, has just published two special editorial reports which can be accessed here following the recent riots by Muslims in the Greek capital, Athens.

Beginning May 21 and continuing on May 22, around 2,000 mostly illegal Muslim immigrants (reportedly from Afghanistan and Pakistan) clashed with police in the centre of Athens. The police fired tear gas and stun grenades; 14 people were injured and 46 arrested. The riots started over the alleged defacing of a Koran by a Greek policeman following an identity check. A recent wave of illegal immigration has led to an influx of Muslims living in dilapidated parts of central Athens.

The RIEAS report titled, “Never say we didn’t tell you….” describes the gravity of the situation now facing the Greeks:

The scenes in downtown Athens on May 22 – a date already marked by those who follow events with a more sombre eye as the beginning of something extremely dangerous – were unprecedented.......Suddenly, the Greek government has been made brutally aware that the uncontrolled entry of illegal immigrants into the country, and the formation of large blocks of culturally alien populations in the middle of Greek society, carries implications that cannot, and won't be, addressed successfully by the jargon of political correctness and the demands of overarching foreign structures impervious to common sense, not to mention the iron lessons of history.

Previously, RIEAS had warned readers about the looming Islamic extremist terrorist threat in Greece and the inability of the authorities to do anything about it:

There is little evidence, if any, that Greek authorities give the requisite attention to the critical question of the possibility of illegal immigration bringing into Greece Islamic "sleeper" terrorists or, indeed, spawning locally resident disgruntled populations that could engender future terror attacks against Christian Greece. The myth [of Greek-Arab-Islam friendship] plays an important role in this complacent attitude. Yet, real threats hardly evolve along the lines of what makes one feel good and helps him avoid dark thoughts about the future.

The report continues rather pessimistically:

On May 22, we crossed a critical threshold. The Muslim riot, couched on the kind of belligerent religious rhetoric we thought, until now, it was the unenviable privilege of other European lands grappling with the challenge of hostile Islam, is a deafening warning to the government and the people of this country.

Greece has just had her wake-up call. Let's see if she rises as she must to do what it takes to contain and defeat the almost inevitable “next phase.” Our estimate, in this respect, is not optimistic.

In another articled titled, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses …” RIEAS describes the broader geopolitical and security concerns caused by the recent wave of illegal immigration and the recent riots:

With her eastern Aegean islands under threat from a swelling wave of Asian undocumented aliens arriving with the help of Turkish human traffickers – and with Turkey doing little, if anything, to honour bilateral agreements to control illegal immigration – the Greek government has finally announced it will deploy the armed forces next to shorthanded police and coast guards in trying to reduce illegal arrivals.

Illegal immigration is quickly shaping into the most critical national security threat of today, closely related, as a subsidiary part, to the long-simmering crisis whipped up by Turkey's neo-Ottoman expansionism and constant saber rattling in the Aegean. Greek governments were slow to appreciate the broader picture.

Caught in unilateral “good neighbourly relations” mentalities toward Ankara, in the absence of a more focused, cohesive, and realistic approach to Turkish belligerence, they are now watching, largely impotent, as successive waves of Asians and Africans, pushed relentlessly forward by Turkish human trafficking rings, arrive at the country's doorstep uninvited but demanding, nevertheless, their “human rights” from a country that she, herself, faces enormous economic, political, and social problems even without hundreds of thousands beating down her gates.

Source: RIEAS, Antipodes

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Antonis Samaras spells out a new vision for all

The increasingly partisan, bland and self-defeating rhetoric of Greek politicians; particularly on domestic issues, is not a primary concern of Antipodes. However, the Greek Minister of Culture, Antonis Samaras recently made a very noticeable speech at the conservative think-tank, the Constantinos Karamanlis Institute of Democracy, regarding the “Challenges and Prospects for the EU”. Excerpts from the speech were published in an article in Eleftherotypia and are translated below:
Until recently, some have identified Europe with its bureaucracy. They had even identified that Greece had to be subjugated to European-bureaucracy in order to undergo “modernization”.

”They told us, in order to become “more Europeans”, we must be “less Greeks”. Supposedly, we had to eliminate our Greek identity in order to gain “European consciousness”. Now, after the [financial] crisis, we probably recognise the opposite: We have to become more demanding of ourselves, as Greeks, to become Europeans”.

Mr Samaras said that patriotism is a precondition of social cohesion, confidence, security and peaceful cooperation with other nations and said that if we ever lose our national identity we will become a patchwork of regionalism without jointrelations, without coherent linkages, without solidarity between us.

"Those who consider national consciousness and our collective identity “κουσούρι” are wrong! A very serious mistake. And these people stand in stark contrast with the overwhelming majority of the Greek people which will not negotiate or surrender their traditions, nor their culture, nor all those things which unite us over all those enturies” Samaras said. He added: “Our freedom and Greekness are are non-negotiable goods".

As John Akritas from Hellenic Antidote wrote, “not only is it a good speech from Samaras – Dragoumian in places – it is refreshing that such an ideological speech was made. Greece needs a vision, not someone whose raison d'être is to manage the crisis from day to day – like Karamanlis”.

We would go further than Samaras and propose that for any Greek living anywhere, whether it is in Greece, Cyprus, northern Epirus, the United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Germany, Ukraine or anywhere else, to be a good citizen of your respective country means that you have to be a better Greek. This is because Hellenic culture throughout its variegated history always aspired for universality and justice; therefore, making it applicable across space and time.

Antonis Samaras is a former Member of the European Parliament for New Democracy; part of the European People's Party. He was Greek Minister for Foreign Affairs in the New Democracy government of Konstantinos Mitsotakis (1989-1992). Samaras was considered a hardliner on the "Macedonian Question" and on other "national" issues, dreaming of an "Orthodox Axis" in the Balkans. After being removed from his post in 1992 over the Macedonian Question, Samaras founded his own party, "Political Spring", located politically to the right of New Democracy. Samaras caused the government's fall from power by leaving New Democracy.

Before the 2004 general election, Samaras rejoined New Democracy. In the 2007 Greek legislative election he was elected to the Greek Parliament for Messinia, and consequently resigned from the European Parliament. In January 2009 he was appointed Minister for Culture after a government reshuffle.

Source: Eleftherotypia, Antipodes

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Relations with Russia?

The Greek newspaper, Eleftheros recently published an article titled "Russia and us" written by Apostolos Apostolopoulos which can be accessed here. The article raises a number of important questions and makes a few relevant points about carefully thinking through Greece’s stuttering relations with Russia.

Recently, there has been talk about the need for a “polygamous” foreign policy because our monogamous relationship with the United States does not deliver. The U.S. President, Barack Obama has disappointed us and some (such as international jurist Vassilis Markezinis) suggests that we re-approach Moscow as a counterbalancing measure. This sounds fine. Moreover, others more powerful than Greece have preceded us, such as Germany which has re-approached Moscow slowly and carefully but steadily. Also (we should not forget), Mr Karamanlis, following the German example, launched the gas pipeline policy; namely, the South Stream project. Previously, Mr Tsochatzopoulos, formerly the Defence Minister, purchased anti-aircraft defence systems from Russia for the first time. The two politicians (from opposing parties) have opened doors.

Neither the supply of weapons systems nor the construction of gas pipelines; such as the South Stream project; however, were a general prelude to the reorientation of our foreign policy, although they were of special importance. That is why the reactions of the United States were intense and visible. However, have we posed the question, during our warm embraces with Putin, if these reactions were considered carefully enough? The recent distancing, hesitations and retractions that have occurred in our relations with Russia, indicate there was probably insufficient consideration made of these possible reactions. It would have been useful to have considered more carefully the difficulties of re-approaching Russia.

The first question we should pose is whether the idea of re-approaching Russia suggests a general re-orientation of our foreign policy, and consequently, a distancing from the Western fold. Without clarifying this, the “question” is simply unrealistic.

The second question is what we have to offer to Russia. For example, Turkey offers services to the United States and extracts favours. What we can offer to the Russians so that we have their steady support?

The third question, and perhaps the most critical, is what the Russians want and especially what can the Russians give us? Recognising that Greece is part of the larger (and still unresolved) Eastern Question.

Inertia and unconditional obedience (to the United States) has lead to poor foreign policy but also “steps" (towards Russia) without clearly defined objectives can also be destructive. With upcoming European elections, the parties should be explaining to Greeks how they believe Greece should be maneuvering itself in the world. But with the Pavlidis issue at the centre of our political life our thinking about these issues is limited.

Source: Eleftheros (Apostolos Apostolopoulos)

Monday, May 18, 2009

The absurdity of Cypriot "inter-communal talks"

The Cypriot newspaper Simerini recently published a caustic but insightful article (written in Greek) by Lazaros Mavros titled “Neither Inter-Communal and Neither Talks”. The article which can be read in Greek here provides a somewhat Realist interpretation of the historical and ongoing inter-communal talks between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriot minority. Here is the full text translated into English:

For many years now, for almost three decades, we write and print articles containing two words inside quotation marks, “inter-communal talks”. Controversially, how much are they actually inter-communal or indeed talks?

Regarding the first term, “inter-communal”, the last few decades have proved that it has been used to mislead, as the representative of the so-called “Turkish Cypriot community” was and is, in fact, a representative, an agent and instrument of theTurkish invaders. And using the “vehicle” and strategic bridgehead of the Turkish Cypriot minority - which is entirely controlled by Ankara - the Turks have attempted to expand their control over the entire island.

The second term in quotation marks, “talks”, has shown during the last few decades what was obvious from the beginning: with a Turkish pistol to the temple, the talks were a process of imposing the objectives of the invader onto their victims, with a view towards final capitulation.

The acceptance, from the victim, of “inter-communal talks” legitimised the process; being “clothed” under the auspices of the UN, and mainly accommodated, the United States and the United Kingdom. It also exempted….the rest of the international community…..from this headache! Ultimately, neither the internal practices, operations and occasional results of the “inter-communal talks”, in whatever form, have salvaged the concept of actual negotiations and talks. Currently, abandoned to a point considered unthinkable, is the basic rule of negotiations, that “none of those discussed, proposed, negotiated, binds the parties, except if they reach a final, comprehensive agreement”!

The clear result is that henceforth, the current Greek Cypriot negotiator Mr Christofias - who considers himself bound to what the previous negotiators, the Presidents of the Republic of Cyprus, consented to during the “talks” - is completely indifferent to the fact that the sovereign people of Cyprus rejected on 24 April 2004, with a 76% vote, all the results and derivations of the so-called “inter-communal talks” that were incorporated into the “Annan Plan". And he is indifferent to the internal declarations of the Annan Plan that it will be rendered dead and buried if it is rejected......

Source: Simerini (Lazaros Mavros)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

South Stream gas pipeline gets sign off

After considerable uncertainty and conjecture over the last 12 months which Antipodes highlighted here, the basic agreement for the construction of the part of the gas pipeline South Stream which runs through Greek territory has been signed between the chief executive of Gazprom, Alexey Miller and the president of Greek company DESFA, Nicholas Mavromati and managing director Panagiotis Kanellopoulos in Sochi, Russia. Also present at the signing was Greek Minister of Development, Costis Hatzidakis.

As announced by the two companies, the agreement sets out the principles for cooperation between the parties during the pre-investment phase of the project and defines the conditions and rules regarding the construction and operating mechanisms of the consortium. The design, construction and operation of the project will be established on an equal basis between the two entities.

The consortium will also prepare a feasibility study for the pipeline. This study will include a detailed evaluation of all technical, legal, financial, environmental and economic characteristics and indicators of the project.

Source: ANA-MPA

Friday, May 15, 2009

Turkey exploiting another geopolitical tool

Turkey's methodical efforts to reap the maximum benefits from its geostrategic position continues to bear fruit. Last year Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan visited Iraq; whilst this year the Turkish President Abdullah Gul met with the Iraqi leadership in late March. Turkey is already one of Iraq's most important trading partners with Turkish firms dominating northern Iraq's (Kurdistan) economy. Furthermore, more than 20% of Iraq's exports are piped through the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

One of the key discussions during these meetings was the provision of water from Turkey to Iraq. The parties agreed for Turkey to double the flow of water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in order to increase agricultural production in Mesopotamia. According to Ioannis Theodoratou (who writes for the Defence Report), Turkey controls 52% of the Tigris and Iraq controls the rest. Also, Turkey controls 89% of the Euphrates and Syria controls 11%. Interestingly, most of the water flows from Turkey's restive south-east which is heavily dominated by Kurds. Syria and Iraq are also in discussions to increase the flow of water into Iraq.

Of course, Turkey is not missing any opportunity to use the provision of water from its territory to strengthen its bargaining position in its relations with Iraq and Syria. Theodarotou refers to this as the geopolitics of water. For example, despite relations between Turkey and Syria being poor for many years, relations have recently been improving. Apart from joint military exercises recently, which raised eyebrows across the region; notably Israel, Turkey and Syria have agreed to build a dam across the Orontis river which again flows from Turkey through Syria and then out to the Mediterranean. Syria is a relatively dry country and badly requires the construction of dams to manage water supplies. Turkish construction and engineering firms have won the very lucrative contracts to build the dam.

Source: Defence Report (Ioannis Theodoratou)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Economist versus the Republic of Cyprus

The Economist, an English-language magazine is supposedly the authoritative source for international politics, economics, business and finance. One thing is for certain is that its editorial is unashamedly biased in favour of Turkey in regards to the Cyprus issue. This should really come as no surprise as it represents the business and political interests of the Anglo-American elite which has maliciously sought to undermine Republic of Cyprus for many years. This stance was clearly in evidence during the negotiations, and after the referendum, of the Annan Plan. The election of Dimitris Christofias as the President of the Republic of Cyprus , from the Marxist-Leninist inspired AKEL, has probably helped to sharpen their knives even further. However, not because he is apparently more intransigent on national issues than his predecessor, Tassos Papadopoulos but probably because of some deep seated hatred of anything resembling the Left.

The Economist never fails to interpret facts in favour of Turkey; and ultimately, the magazine's crude neoliberal globalisation agenda. Examples can be found here and here. The Economist seems to conveniently forget that ethnic cleansing and war crimes were committed by Turkey in 1974 and condemned in countless UN resolutions. Today, Greek refugees are disallowed from returning to their homes, settlers continue to arrive from Anatolia and 35,000 Turkish troops remain stationed on the island. However, because of the Cold War, and more recently Turkey's riches of cheap labour and geostrategic position, it has never been punished neither by world governing bodies such as the United Nations, hegemonic states such as the United States nor by the media.

Last week, The Economist was at it again, bashing the Greek Cypriots with this article. For example, they claim that the Greek-Cypriots have been subverting Turkey's EU membership. According to The Economist's logic, the Greek-Cypriots are to blame for Turkey's occupation of a significant part of Cyprus - not the Turks. Fortunately
, this week they printed an excellent letter by the High Commissioner for Cyprus in London:
Cyprus and Turkey

SIR – Your article on the “elections” in the occupied part of Cyprus showed more concern for Turkey’s accession to the European Union than for negotiations over the reunification of Cyprus (“
A hawkish problem
”, April 25th). In 2005 Turkey undertook to fulfil a number of obligations. Its refusal to open to Cypriot ships and aircraft harms the normalisation of relations with Cyprus and is an obstacle to free trade and competition.

Moreover, your reference to “trade restrictions” imposed by the EU on the occupied north is unfounded when what is happening is the application of national, international and European law on trade, customs and sovereign rights of states. In 2004 Cyprus proposed measures aimed at promoting trade with the Turkish Cypriots. These were rejected outright by their leadership. The suggestion that Cyprus has tried to “subvert” Turkey’s EU membership is equally unfounded. In 2005, Cyprus decided to support the beginning of accession negotiations with Turkey, and on April 23rd, the president of Cyprus and the Greek prime minister reiterated their support for
Turkey’s membership bid, provided Turkey fulfils the obligations and requirements.

Alexandros Zenon
High commissioner for Cyprus
The Economist belongs to The Economist Group, half of which is owned by the Financial Times, a subsidiary of Pearson PLC. A group of independent shareholders, including many members of the staff and the Rothschild banking family of England, owns the rest.

Source: The Economist

Monday, May 11, 2009

Shipping shows early signs of recovery

The sharp drop in world trade which followed the credit crisis in the middle of 2007; and particularly, the decline in economic growth during the second half of 2008 amongst developed and developing economies, has sent shockwaves throughout the Greek shipping community. The demand for chartering, which is increasingly used to transport commodities such as coal, steel, cement and iron ore to the fast-growing economies of China and India, has experienced a steep decline.

Exacerbating the problem has been the oversupply of new ships which are only now coming onto the market. Some firms are already cancelling orders. But some Greek shipowners, accustomed to downturns, have taken a long term perspective. For example, Diana Shipping cancelled its dividend recently but said it was saving cash to acquire ships at low prices during the downturn.

Also, the lack of credit has made banks reluctant to lend to shipowners and provide financial guarantees to allow ships to sail. Local lenders such as Piraeus Bank have stated they are relatively comfortable with their loan exposures. However, analysts question whether foreign banks such as the Royal Bank of Scotland - which has experienced problems related to the credit crisis generally not encountered by Greek banks - has apparently over 75% of Greek shipping debt, are more nervous. The number of ships asking to idle off Piraeus has risen and Greek officials say traffic at the port has been down sharply.

Greece owns a fifth of the world's shipping fleet. At 170 million tonnes, the Greek merchant fleet is the largest in the world, ahead of Japan. After tourism, it is the second largest contributor to Greece's 240 billion euro economy, accounting for around 7% of output. Nicholas Magginas of the National Bank of Greece recently estimated the slowdown in shipping will take around 0.5% off GDP.

Although, shipping accounts for just over 1% of Greece's 4.5 million workforce, its economic influence is much higher because shipowners and shipping executives invest heavily in other sectors of the Greek economy such as banks, real estate, construction/development and tourism. Just as importantly, they provide much needed funds for educational endowments, cultural centres and social infrastructure.

More recently there has been some positive news. An important indicator of chartering prices and one of the most popular leading indicators of global economic growth, the Baltic Dry Index (BDY), has rebounded almost as rapidly as the crash that occurred from levels of 12000 to 600 in late 2008.

The BDY is a daily average of prices to ship raw materials using Dry Bulk Carriers. It represents the cost paid by an end customer to have a shipping company transport raw materials across seas on the Baltic Exchange, the global marketplace for brokering shipping contracts. Therefore, it is a good indicator of the supply and demand for commodities across the world. However, it is imperfect as prices are driven by other forces than the supply and demand of raw materials such as fleet supply, weather, bunker oil prices and port congestion.

The reason for the sharp increase in the BDY since December seems to have been caused by mainly Chinese manufacturers trying to rebuild their inventories. It is doubtful that the index will continue to increase given the global economic recession.
Some potential investors may consider investing in shipping company stocks as they usually have a high correlation to increases in the BDY; however, it is probably too late at this stage as most of them have already rebounded around 40% since December.
Source: Ship Chartering, Bespoke and Antipodes

Thursday, May 7, 2009

South Stream pipeline to go ahead despite American pressure

The South Stream gas pipeline agreement between Russia and Greece will be signed in mid-May following a telephone conversation between Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis which apparently sealed the deal. Almost simultaneously, the Russian-Bulgarian South Stream gas pipeline agreement will be signed. There were rumours the Karamanlis-Putin and Stanisev-Putin agreements would be abandoned following persistently strong American pressure. The Americans are strongly in favour of the proposed Nabucco gas pipeline which would pass through Turkey - leaving Greece out of the equation. Unfortunately, there are significant elements within the Greek and Bulgarian political establishments which take heed of American pressure. However, Dimitri Konstantakopoulos states in a recent article published in the Greek newspaper, Investor’s World (and which can be found on his blog here) that:

“there remains a long time before the gas flows and we should certainly not expect that Washington will wait passively for the completion of a project towards which it has never hidden its hostility”

The pipeline is expected to carry 30 billion cubic metres of gas annually from Russia to Bulgaria via the Black Sea. From there, 20 billion cubic metres will be channelled north and 10 billion cubic metres will be channelled south through Greece and then southern Italy. Russian company, Gazprom believes the pipeline can probably carry over 50% more.

On its strategic importance, Konstantakopoulos writes:

“the pipelines is of great strategic importance for securing energy supplies for Greece and the rest of Europe, and for Russian interests, because it bypasses Ukraine and Turkey, the two other "gates" of Russian gas exports towards southern and central Europe. Ukraine is immersed in increasingly explosive internal problems, to the extent that Washington wants to create a wedge between Europe and Russia, wholly within the context of Rumsfeld’s "New Europe". Regarding Turkey, it is simply absurd to export Russian gas through an Asiatic country. This is even more absurd for Greece considering Turkey's continued threats over the Aegean island of Agathonissi and Cyprus"
Increasingly more frequent communication between Putin and Karamanlis has been driven by alarm in Moscow at the variety of forces that have been mobilised to torpedo the South Stream project. They have also been puzzled by the contradictory signals received from various sectors of the Greek government which has raised questions in Moscow about who ultimately makes the decisions in Athens.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The United States as the New Byzantium

Edward Luttwak has published several works on military strategy, history and international relations. Since the 1980s he has also published articles on Byzantium and is the author of the forthcoming "Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire" which is due to be released by Harvard University Press later this year.

Luttwak was born into a Jewish family in Romania, raised in Italy and England. He attended the London School of Economics and Johns Hopkins University, where he received a PhD. In 2008, he became a Senior Advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). This is the same think-tank that was cited in a previous Antipodes post titled “Upgrading U.S.-Turkish relations and winning Greek-American votes” which can be accessed here. His profile at CSIS can be found here.

Luttwak has worked for a number of years as a consultant in the Deep State and military-industrial complex of the United States, including: the Office of the Secretary of Defense; the National Security Council; the US Department of State; the US Navy; US Army; US Air Force; and several NATO defense ministries. The Jewish-American magazine, Forward has published an interesting article on Luttwak and his shady dealings within these organisations which can be accessed here.

His book "Coup d'État: A Practical Handbook" is perhaps his best-known work; it has been reprinted numerous times and translated into 14 languages. "The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire from the First Century AD to the Third" remains controversial.

Luttwak has now turned his complete attention onto the Byzantine Empire. The introduction on the Harvard University Press website (which can be accessed here) states:
“The Byzantine empire so greatly outlasted its western counterpart because its rulers were able to adapt strategically to diminished circumstances, by devising new ways of coping with successive enemies. It relied less on military strength and more on persuasion—to recruit allies, dissuade threatening neighbors, and manipulate potential enemies into attacking one another instead. Even when the Byzantines fought—which they often did with great skill—they were less inclined to destroy their enemies than to contain them, for they were aware that today’s enemies could be tomorrow’s allies.”

Luttwak is so apparently enamoured with Byzantium that he espouses that the United States should emulate the Byzantine rather than the Roman Empire. The Italian newspaper, La Stampa ran an articled which stated Luttwak tries to prove basically three things (similar to the above) about Byzantium's survival:
  • It learned from its enemies whenever it could;
  • It did not pursue the former Roman strategy of annihilation of its enemies;
  • It developed a formidable political and diplomatic clout that carefully played allies and adversaries for its own ends.

Of course, people can probably learn more from reading Byzantine primary texts on strategy and tactics often written by Emperors and Generals themselves - rather than some American. Information on these texts can be found here and here.

Monday, May 4, 2009

New Turkish FM and Neo-Ottomanism

Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently announced a reshuffle to his cabinet which included the appointment of Ahmet Davutoglu as the Minister of Foreign Affairs (the previous minister, Ali Babican has been shifted to Minister of the Economy). Professor Ahmet Davutoglu is a Turkish political scientist, academic and ambassador. Previously, Davutoglu was the chief advisor to Erdogan.

Davutoglu was born in Iconium (Konya in Turkish) and graduated from İstanbul Erkek Lisesi (German International School) and the Department of Economics and Political Science of the Bogazici University, Constantinople. He holds a masters degree in Public Administration and a PhD degree in Political Science and International Relations from Bogazici University. His most important work is the book, “Strategic Depth – The International Position of Turkey” first published in 2001. This book apparently provides clues regarding his views on the future prospects of Turkish foreign policy:

Greek left wing newspaper Eleftherotypia published an article written by Ari Arbatzi (which can be accessed here) that included the following excerpts of Davutoglu's book:

“the short and medium term objectives of Turkish foreign policy in the Balkans is the strengthening of Bosnia and Albania, within a framework of stability, and the application of international law for the safety of ethnic minorities in the region. Within this legal context Turkey needs to be continuously aiming to provide guarantees that would allow intervention in cases involving Muslim minorities in the Balkans. A striking example in modern times was the intervention in Cyprus”

In regards to Greek-Turkish relations; and particularly the Aegean, Davutoglu writes:

“The area in which Turkey find itself close to war, more than any other case, are the Aegean islands, which seriously restrict Turkey’s vital space, which is due to unforgivable mistakes made by an absence of a coherent maritime strategy. The crisis in Karntak (Imia), highlighted the Greek domination, even on rocks that are close to our shores, and this is the bitter price of these accumulated errors”

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Upgrading U.S.-Turkish relations and winning Greek-American votes

Looking back over U.S. President Obama's first 100 days, Dr George Friedman, Chief Executive of well known global geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor, notes that the only substantive change in U.S foreign policy has been U.S.-Turkish relations. The full report can be accessed here. Along with the symbolic importance of President Obama's visit to Constantinople and Ankara - which included a speech in the Turkish parliament and the obligatory visit to Ataturk's mausoleum - the U.S. has significantly upgraded Turkey as a strategic partner.

The report states that the U.S. thinks that it needs Turkey to balance Iran, protect American interests in the Caucasus, provide assistance in stabilizing Iraq, can be potentially useful in Afghanistan and may serve as a diplomatic bridge to Syria. Friedman notes that the upgrading of U.S.-Turkish relations did not even appear as a minor issue in the recent U.S. election campaign. However, Friedman states that this change in policy:

"emerged after the election because of changes in the configuration of the international system. Shifts in Russian policy, the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and shifts within Turkey that allowed the country to begin its return to the international arena all came together to make this necessary"

We believe that Friedman is basing his assertion on wrong data because Russian policy has hardly changed and the U.S. knew it was withdrawing from Iraq before the election campaign. Also, the shifts within Turkey have been going on for many years. Not surprisingly, a key U.S. think-tank, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, published a report which can be accessed here, soon after President Obama's inauguration. President Obama's foreign policy is closely aligned with the recommendations contained within this report which was formulated prior to his inauguration and perhaps before his election victory. It appears that President Obama kept the upgrading of American-Turkish relations close to his chest during the election campaign; perhaps even in consultation with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, whilst simultaneously making overtures to Greek-American and Armenian-American voters.