Ce­ment­ing a long-term deal with Greece

Souda Bay gives the U.S. a sin­gu­lary valu­able port in the East­ern Mediter­ranean

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By John Si­tilides John Si­tilides, prin­ci­pal at Tril­ogy Ad­vi­sors LLC, spe­cial­izes in fed­eral reg­u­la­tory af­fairs and global risk anal­y­sis.

Since World War II, the Mediter­ranean Sea has been the home to the U.S. Sixth Fleet, whose mis­sion is to con­duct “the full range of Mar­itime Op­er­a­tions and Theater Se­cu­rity Co­op­er­a­tion mis­sions … to ad­vance se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity in Europe and Africa.” It was an es­sen­tially un­con­tested naval force through the mid2000s, op­er­at­ing with near im­punity from the Strait of Gi­bral­tar to Is­rael, from the Black Sea to the Suez Canal. Today, Rus­sia and China are op­er­at­ing within the East­ern Mediter­ranean re­gion with grow­ing am­bi­tion and de­ter­mi­na­tion to chal­lenge Amer­ica’s his­toric naval pos­ture and ex­ten­sive power pro­jec­tion reach.

Rus­sia re­cently signed a 49-year lease with Syria, to build up its once-mod­est fa­cil­ity at Tar­tus into a naval base that can han­dle Rus­sia’s largest nu­clear-pow­ered bat­tle cruis­ers, and pos­si­bly even nu­clear sub­marines.

Along with a long-term air base lease, Rus­sia is build­ing an un­prece­dented pow­er­ful mil­i­tary com­plex in Syria, mak­ing it pos­si­ble for the first time for Rus­sian land-based air­craft and naval forces to pa­trol the east­ern Mediter­ranean with­out re­quir­ing sup­port from distant home ports.

It is also the first time in 70 years that such a base com­plex ex­ists in the Mediter­ranean be­yond the con­trol of the United States or its al­lies, adding the threat of so­phis­ti­cated Area Ac­cess Area De­nial sys­tems, which can thwart the free flow of U.S. and al­lied naval and com­mer­cial ves­sels.

Cou­pled with Rus­sia’s naval fa­cil­ity mod­ern­iza­tion plans in the an­nexed re­gion of Crimea and its es­ca­lated diplo­matic me­di­a­tion be­tween the U.N.-backed Libyan gov­ern­ment and its mil­i­tary ri­vals in east­ern Libya, Moscow is po­si­tioned to sig­nif­i­cantly in­flu­ence events in the Mediter­ranean, and the ad­join­ing Aegean and Black Seas, for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

Sim­i­larly, China now looks to the Mediter­ranean Sea as the western end of its mul­ti­tril­lion-dol­lar “One Belt, One Road” in­fra­struc­ture strat­egy, link­ing the Chi­nese econ­omy with Euro­pean and Mid­dle East­ern mar­kets through Cen­tral Asian land routes and In­dian Ocean sea routes, including through the Suez Canal choke­point, through which 80,000 ves­sels car­ried 1.5 mil­lion tons of ship­ping and en­ergy re­sources in March 2017 alone.

Two years ago, Rus­sia and China con­ducted their first-ever joint Mediter­ranean naval ex­er­cise, with nine ships en­gaged in anti-sub­ma­rine war­fare and live-fire ac­tiv­i­ties as they un­der­took four days of cargo trans­fer, re­plen­ish­ment and es­cort­ing mis­sions.

Fur­ther dan­gers em­anate from Ira­nian prox­ies in Damascus, Beirut and Gaza, pro­vid­ing the rad­i­cal Shi­ite state spon­sor of ter­ror with crit­i­cal re­gional bases for ma­lig­nant be­hav­ior. Is­lamic State re­tains a foothold along Libya’s east­ern coast, the tar­get of Egyp­tian bom­bard­ment after the most re­cent ter­ror at­tack against Cop­tic Chris­tians.

Amid the geopo­lit­i­cal chaos of the East­ern Mediter­ranean re­gion is a sin­gle bedrock plat­form from which the United States and its NATO al­lies most ef­fec­tively project mil­i­tary power in ev­ery di­rec­tion: the U.S. Navy Strate­gic For­ward Op­er­at­ing Base lo­cated in Souda Bay, on the Greek is­land of Crete.

Just 785 miles from Syria, 570 miles from Suez and 200 miles from east­ern Libya, NSA Souda Bay rou­tinely func­tions as a Naval Op­er­at­ing Base, Naval Air Sta­tion and Naval Weapons Sta­tion, en­abling U.S. Sixth Fleet and NATO coun­tert­er­ror­ism and anti-bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­fense pa­trols, re­con­nais­sance mis­sions and air-re­fu­el­ing sup­port for multi­na­tional op­er­a­tions such as “Odyssey Light­ing” to de­feat Is­lamic State in Libya. Souda Bay of­fers the largest deep-wa­ter port in the en­tire Mediter­ranean Sea, the only one be­tween Nor­folk and the In­dian Ocean that can ac­com­mo­date a nu­clear car­rier pier-side to an air­field fa­cil­ity, al­low­ing the Navy fleet to dock and carry out re­pairs, main­te­nance and re­sup­ply. That strate­gic lo­ca­tion, re­in­forced by De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis when he wel­comed Greece’s De­fense Min­is­ter Pana­gi­o­tis Kam­menos to the Pen­tagon in March, makes Souda Bay a vi­tal front­line sta­tion for Euro­pean, African, Cen­tral, South­ern and Trans­porta­tion uni­fied com­mands.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion looks fa­vor­ably upon Greece’s stead­fast NATO com­mit­ment to de­fense spend­ing ex­ceed­ing 2 per­cent of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, which it has main­tained for more than 30 years — even in the face of the crip­pling eco­nomic de­pres­sion of the past eight years.

The U.S. use of the Greek fa­cil­i­ties is gov­erned prin­ci­pally by the Mu­tual Co­op­er­a­tion De­fense Agree­ment (MDCA), first signed in 1990. Since 1998, the MCDA is re­newed an­nu­ally. The United States would ben­e­fit sig­nif­i­cantly from a longer-term re­newal agree­ment with Greece, es­pe­cially from a longer hori­zon, up to 10 years, for Souda Bay in­fra­struc­ture re­pairs, up­grades and ex­pan­sions that would en­hance the Amer­i­can and al­lied strate­gic pos­ture in the re­gion.

But Wash­ing­ton and Athens both need long-term as­sur­ances when it comes to bas­ing, to en­sure more ef­fec­tive mil­i­tary bud­getary and op­er­a­tional plan­ning.

Greece is also lim­it­ing the ac­cess it of­fers to U.S. mil­i­tary plan­ners if the mu­tual de­fense co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment is re­newed only an­nu­ally, rather than on a long-term ba­sis. The East­ern Mediter­ranean and Aegean Seas are of supreme im­por­tance to U.S. in­ter­ests in South­east­ern Europe, the Mid­dle East, North­ern Africa and the Black Sea. We now face in­creased re­gional se­cu­rity chal­lenges led by the surg­ing in­flu­ences of Rus­sia, China and Iran.

Wash­ing­ton and Athens should be­gin ne­go­ti­at­ing an up­dated, longer-term de­fense agree­ment that fos­ters even stronger bi­lat­eral mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary re­la­tions, strength­ens the in­ter­op­er­abil­ity of Greek forces for NATO, and — most im­por­tantly — bol­sters re­gional se­cu­rity for U.S. and al­lied in­ter­ests, uti­liz­ing the ex­cep­tional naval fa­cil­ity at Souda Bay.

Such a pol­icy would de­liver to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion a more im­me­di­ate and op­er­a­tionally ef­fec­tive strate­gic U.S. naval ad­van­tage in this in­creas­ingly dan­ger­ous cor­ner of the globe.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY HUNTER

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