Greece has long been at the very center of the world’s civilization. The land of Aristotle, classical literature and democracy, may now be an economic minnow: a peripheral European country buckling under a financial crisis, but geopolitically, it still punches way above its weight.
That is something European Union leaders will undoubtedly have at the back of their minds this week when they make a decision on its euro zone membership.
The country accounts for just 2 percent of the euro zone economy, but it also shores up the south-eastern flank of the European Union. It is the one stable anchor in the volatile Western Balkans region, where Russia is seeking to increase its influence. It also inches out into a Mediterranean that is increasingly fraught with problems and risks, from a mass movement of desperate refugees fleeing conflicts in Syria and elsewhere, to the threats of terror attacks via the failed state of Libya.
If Athens is cut adrift from the euro zone this Sunday at the final make-or-break summit, a bruised, isolated and disillusioned Greece would be of major concern not just for Europe but for its NATO allies, including the United States.
On Tuesday night, after the inconclusive E.U. summit of leaders in Brussels, Donald Tusk, the European Council president, took pains to highlight these risks.
“Our inability to find agreement may lead to the bankruptcy of Greece and the insolvency of its banking system. And for sure, it will be most painful for the Greek people,” he said at a late-night press conference.
“I have no doubt that this will affect all Europe also in the geopolitical sense. If someone has any illusion that it will not be so, they are naive.”
The leaders should have not just the economic but also the geopolitical risks in mind when they ultimately decide if Greece can access a third bailout or be the first country forced to leave the common currency, argues Ian Lesser, security and foreign policy expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.