A Summit of low expectations – but then what?

By Antonis D. Papagiannidis

Today’s NATO Summit in Brussels, coming close after the G-7 in Cornwall, will be part of the post-Trump American reversion to multilateralism, with the Alliance looking for a new, secure footing and for a measure of renewed mutual trust among its own members The talk over a new “Cornwall consensus”, to take the place of the venerable Washington Consensus, after the agreement over a minimum global tax for companies or for a all-encompassing world-wide inoculation campaign is gaining ground in (hesitantly) post-pandemic media interest; academics are sharpening once more their pencils or rather hitting their keyboards; the chattering classes are adopting new stereotypes, none more well-known than the fight for democracy and against authoritarianism.

Such is the setting in which the drama of the bilateral meeting between Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will play out – coming close at the step of the meeting of the latter with US President Joe Biden (A meaningful meeting of Biden with Mitsotakis will have to wait for a later occasion, notwithstanding the newly-asserted US-Greek “strategic relationship”).

In Greece, all eyes will be focused on the scheduled Erdogan-Mitsotakis meeting on the sidelines of the Summit and on the antics expected to play out some hours after the Biden-Erdogan meeting and their own performance in the lime-light of international media. The real work has already taken place in a triangular setting, involving the State Department (along with US Embassies in Athens and Ankara), Erdogan’s “éminence grise” Ibrahin Kalin and Mitsotakis chief diplomatic  advisor Eleni Sourani. Sourani and Kalin are expected to be the only ones joining in the two leaders’ tête-à-tête, expected to allow for what in diplomatic parlance is called “a frank exchange of views”. (Meaning agreeing over disagreements, while keeping heads cool).

In the run-up to the Summit, US Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken asserted the interest of the Biden Administration for a Turkey “anchored to the West” – but agreed in Senate hearings with Senator Bob Menendez (chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee) that Turkey infringed international law in the Eastern Mediterranean with “deeply problematic” actions.

Everybody seems to agree that expectations are better kept low – but this is little comfort in a situation where Turkish regional revisionism keeps evolving: while packing bags for Brussels, President Erdogan made it clear that seismic surveys – if not outright drilling efforts – would resume in the Eastern Mediterranean; also, with Geneva UN-sponsored talks over the Cyprus issue pending, the re-opening of the Varosha beachfront and the sealed-off Famagusta area goes on notwithstanding Security Council Resolutions to the contrary.

In a different field of contention, the fate of the (Russian) S400 missile system acquired, tested and all but activated by Turkey may be used as the ultimate bargaining chip. Will the U.S. accept a solution whereby Ankara would declare in writing, with assurances of inspection and all that, that the missile system will be kept in some sort of suspended state? Could then the argument be used that Greece hosts on its own soil a number of S300 missiles it acquired and (more or less) mothballed to help defuse an unpleasant situation in which Cyprus found itself two decades ago?

So, keeping expectations low is good and useful advice. All the more so, since multilateralism can always bring about unexpected twists and turns. To give just an example: in their luggage brought across the Atlantic, the Americans saw it fit to include not only resolute support to “opening EU accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania without delay”, but also a Presidential Order providing for sanctions against those “destabilizing the situation” in the Western Balkans, in any way. The latter are supposed to include all and sundry undermining the Dayton Accords (1995) , the Ochrid Agreement (2001) as well as the Prespa Agreement (2018).

“ A word to the wise” , as to the unexpected effects of multilateralist views over matters.