Heather A. Conley is no stranger to Greece as she has made a point of visiting the country every year and also participated in the 2019 Delphi Forum – the last that actually took place in Delphi. A Washington veteran, she is senior vice president for Europe, Eurasia and the Arctic and director of the Europe, Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
She spoke to Kathimerini about the new chapter in U.S., Europe and NATO policy that is expected to be opened by the Biden administration, including the handling of the “big question” about Turkey’s future in the Western Alliance.
How will President Joe Biden handle Turkey?
President Biden has already signaled a shift, a new firmness in the U.S. position regarding Turkey. But right now, the Turkish government is trying to open up a new dialogue with the European Union. I think the S-400 sanctions are part of the assessment of Turkey. If it insists on decisions that work against the interests of the United States and if it is unwilling to change these decisions, then the U.S. will have to act in its own interest – which means that Turkey will also likely to be less secure because the United States and NATO would not support it militarily, politically and economically. The U.S. will continue to work very hard to re-anchor Turkey to the Euro-Atlantic community. I think the question is whether Turkey wishes to remain anchored in the Euro-Atlantic community.
Would it be wiser if the U.S. and Europe took a coordinated approach to Turkey?
The issue of Turkey is definitely a transatlantic conversation. It would be great if we can get a greater alignment on that policy. But quite frankly France and Germany are on very different sides of this equation. As for the U.S., I think what we’ve been doing without acknowledging it is that U.S. policy in particular has been making shifts and rebalancing in the region. Greece has certainly been a beneficiary of stronger U.S.-Greek relations. If you look at it from a Western perspective, the U.S. is trying to build some stabilisers around an increasingly unstable Turkish regional policy.
Would the U.S. accept or block the option of a two-state solution on Cyprus?
There’s no statement by the U.S. that is anywhere close to accepting the concept of a two-state solution. The solution remains a bicommunal federation. So, I don’t believe its position has changed in any way. Of course, things have changed in the north. The leadership change is significant and is going to make things much more difficult. And on the other side you have a coalition government in Ankara that is focusing very much on Cyprus from a nationalistic perspective. So there are two dynamics that have produced this desire for a two-state solution. We’ll see if the forthcoming UN talks bear any fruit but I don’t sense any shift in the U.S. position.
Speaking in wider NATO terms, can we expect the renewal of “transatlantic vows” by President Biden?
I think there will be a focus on restoring trust and credibility for U.S. engagement and leadership in NATO. President Trump shook the credibility and the trust of the U.S. guarantee so profoundly that there has to be a rebuild of trust. With his NATO2030 process, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is going towards the direction of making NATO a more political forum. The military role – collective defence and deterrence – will always be essential but we need to restore the centrality of NATO as a geopolitical forum. A new relationship first and foremost will be built on the issue of trade. And of course, the issue of China will play an important role.
If a reformed NATO is to be seen as an organization to contain both Russia and China, would it also present a dilemma for Europe?
Since 2014 NATO has been concentrating on enhancing deterrence and collective defence against Russian aggression. This will continue. What was started under the Trump administration, which will be carried forward by the Biden administration, is starting to recalibrate NATO and thinking about China. NATO is starting to think about a global NATO. We are starting to see a global West. The security challenges that Europe is facing are very similar to the challenges that Australia is experiencing. European members of NATO will be challenged profoundly because of China. Choices have to be made about reducing one’s economic relationship with China to ensure values and norms are respected.
Europe and the United States have been accumulating debt by printing money at unprecedented levels since the arrival of COVID-19 while at the same time China has managed to sufficiently tackle the threat. Are you worried about the geopolitical impact of the pandemic?
What I worry about right now is vaccine nationalism as well as greater authoritarianism. China certainly is looking like they’ve come through this stronger. But I think there are structural weaknesses that we’ve known for a decade that they defy economic gravity. We don’t know if that can continue or if there will be unintended effects and consequences that we’re unaware of.
Until 2016, the U.S. used to offer a stability guarantee. Different players knew that the U.S. would not tolerate excesses. Will Washington return to this role?
There is certainly a willingness to re-engage with the world. But then again, it’s sort of unfair to blame one administration for something that has been going on for the last 10-15 years. We don’t have a Richard Holbrooke who would jump in the middle of a crisis and end it. I think the Biden administration will be more rhetorically active. I think you’ll see people, processes, special envoys. But again, I don’t know how much bandwidth this administration is going to be able to devote to it. We’re not returning back to the days when the doors opened, the U.S. representative came in and everything began to shape. We have to earn our way back to the table.
Can we expect a Biden doctrine to guide the West?
It’s a little early. What I would describe as a Biden doctrine is about restoring America’s credibility, its alliance structure and its return to multilateralism. But the focus of the administration right now is internal. It’s addressing the pandemic and also the economy.
(This interview was originally published by Kathimerini newspaper and is reproduced by permission.)