The Greece-Europe Drama: A Role for the U.S.
FEBRUARY 24, 2015
To the Editor:
Re “Greece’s Anti-Austerity Revolution Falls to Cold Eurozone Realities” (news analysis, Feb. 22):
As a former United States ambassador to Greece, I have followed with interest the saga after last month’s election and the subsequent economic negotiations. Greeks have reached their limit, with the last two governments each having done as much as it possibly could, before collapsing under the weight of the economic depression and dislocation in the country.
The agreement reached on Friday, whether it lasts two days or the planned four months, will not change the underlying fundamental difference between the Greek voters, who demand an end to harsh budget and tax policies, and German and other European voters, who are tired of footing the bill for a bailout.
While Friday’s deal keeps Greece’s place in the eurozone for the short term, an ultimate Greek exit remains a possibility. The United States should be concerned that Europe’s leaders think that they can weather a Greek exit. This is a false sense of security. Spurning Greece would push it to a more radical and nationalistic stance — with potential implications for a broad range of European Union issues.
For now, Greece is playing nice on political and security issues to avoid upsetting the economic negotiations. That would likely end in the case of a Greek exit. And as a member of both the European Union and NATO, Greece could become a real obstacle to crafting a united American-E.U. approach to a host of international challenges, including Ukraine, Iran, Syria and Afghanistan, and create problems for cooperation on counterterrorism, trade and commercial issues more generally.
Given the significant political consequences of a Greek exit, the United States needs to take a more active role in pressing Europe to be more flexible in reducing Greece’s debt burden and supporting a renewed focus on economic growth. If we don’t, we are likely to pay in many other ways for years to come.
The writer is president of Lutheran World Relief and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Published in New York Times