Interview with dr. Ioannis P. SOTIROPOULOS
Vasile SIMILEANU: Geopolitics, as a science, was challenged after the World War II. After 1989, it became part of the new world order.
Please tell us about your activities in the field of geopolitics!
How do you define geopolitics?
Ioannis P. SOTIROPOULOS: Geopolitics is interwoven with sovereign states’ activity after the Second World War. Likewise, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact holds a critical share in international relations in the Post-Cold War Era. In the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (NKUA) it has dia-chronically been part of the discipline of International Law and Politics’ curriculum. Nonetheless, in the last 20 years, an attempt was made for the science of geopolitics to be more precise and focused as a separate discipline. Hence, in 2010, Geopolitics officially emerged as a distinct course in the Department of Turkish Studies and Modern Asian Studies. Furthermore, a brand new Postgraduate Programme of Study has also emerged in the same Department entitled “Geopolitical Analysis, Geostrategic Synthesis, Defense and International Security Studies”, in which Geopolitics lies at the very heart of an advanced multidisciplinary Programme.
According to Professor Ioannis Th. Mazis, founder of the aforementioned Postgraduate Programme of Studies, the geopolitical analysis of a geographical system characterized by an uneven distribution of power is “…the geographical method that studies, describes and predicts the attitudes and the consequences ensuing from relations between the opposing and distinct political practices for the redistribution of power as well as their ideological metaphysics, within the framework of the geogra-phical complexes where these practices apply”, while one could couple this with Yves Lacoste’s opinion that “geography is a form of strategic and political knowledge, central to the military strategy and the exercise of political power”, having, finally, the complete scientific and real nature of Geopolitics.
V.S.: Geopolitics has become of impact in all analyses of political, military, social, economic, cultural and diplomatic developments. Do you think that the classical theories of the geopolitical schools are still relevant?
Ioannis P. SOTIROPOULOS: It is beyond any doubt that Geopolitics, as well as Geostrategy are extremely critical factors in explaining, evaluating and also co-creating the reality, respectively. A traditional Geopolitical theory that is still relevant is that of Nicholas J. Spykman’s “Rimland”, which can be the base of any Geopolitical Analysis for analysts or the springboard of any Geostrategic Synthesis for geostategists. The Anglo-Saxon Professor based on Sir Halford Mackinder’s theory of “Heartland”, stepped one step beyond proclaiming that “Who controls the Rimland rules Eurasia; Who rules Eurasia controls the destinies of the world.”. There is a permanent war between the Naval and Continental powers of any Era, in which the first attempt to block the latter from the “warm waters”, diachronically. In my opinion, only the acceleration of ice melting in the Arctic Ocean could apparently shake the primary nature of this geopolitical theory.
V.S.: At university level, please tell us how geopolitics is reflected in the university curriculum (undergraduate courses, masters, doctorates)!
What research institutes, NGOs and other formats are developed for geopolitical studies?
Ioannis P. SOTIROPOULOS: The courses directly related to geopolitics and geostrategy at undergraduate and postgraduate level, are the following: Systemic geopolitical analysis, Geopolitics in Conflict Analysis, Geopolitics of the Middle East and South East Mediterranean, Geopolitics of the Arctic Circle, Geopolitics of Central Asia, Balkan Geopolitics, History of Greek Geopolitics, Ottoman Empire and Turkey Geopolitics, Armaments and contemporary weapon technologies, International law and Geopolitics, Cartography, International diplomacy and strategy, Greek foreign policy, Space geopolitics-satellite systems.
There is an official Institute in the Department of Turkish Studies and Modern Asian Studies of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, titled Laboratory of Geo-cultural Analysis of Greater Middle East and Turkey.
The laboratory of Geo-cultural Analysis of Greater Middle East and Turkey founded in the Department of Turkish Studies and Modern Asian Studies, at the School of Economics and Political Science of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. It was established for educational and research purposes; primarily on the subject of economic Geography and Geopolitics and particularly on Geo-cultural analysis, International Relations, Diplomatic History and Intercultural Studies between Greece and the countries of the Greater Middle East. Briefly, it seeks:
1. To cover in undergraduate and postgraduate level the teaching and research needs of the Department of Turkish and Modern Asian Studies of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, as well as other departments, in subjects falling within the scope of the laboratory’s activities and concerning educational and research needs in the field of Economic Geography and Geopolitics (and in particular it’s subfields on Geo-cultural Analysis, Defense and International Security), as well as International Relations, Diplomatic History and Intercultural Studies between Greece and the Broader Middle East countries (i.e. forms, structures and operation of the Islamic movement in the Middle East, etc.).
2. To co-operate with research centers and academic institutions in Greece and abroad, if the scientific objectives coincide and complement each other with those of the laboratory.
3. To provide services to individuals, as provided for in the Presidential Decree 159/1984 “Conditions for the provision of services by university laboratories to individuals and organizations of all kinds” (A 53).
So far, there is not any other centre of research and scientific development re-garding the regions of The Greater Middle East as well as Turkey, which are regions of utmost concern for Greece. The Department of Turkish Studies and Modern Asian Studies is a competent department, in the largest and the most important University of Greece, the University of Athens.
The laboratory covers a significant research gap in the academic sector, as well as a gap in the scientific dialogue – with the countries of the geographical complex of the Greater Middle East and also, neighboring Turkey, offering clear services, not only in the Greek academic area but also in the wider political and socio-cultural dialogue.
V.S.: Do you think that there is a need for a better visibility of this geographical science in research environments worldwide? Through what forms and means?
Ioannis P. SOTIROPOULOS: The long-tested tactic of developing new courses for the undergraduate curriculum within the social sciences and law disciplines, as well as new Postgraduate Programmes with Geopolitics as its dominant multidiscipli-nary core, are in practice the best way to serve the Mother Science of Geography via Geopolitics. This way, new opportunities open for further research, either in Ph.D. level or private research. A different approach would result Geography and Geopolitics to be isolated within the narrow boundaries of their epistemology. The ultimate mean in use in the current research environment is the system of Big-data bank of information. Thus, geography must extent its presence in this collect-share system of information promoting its visibility.
V.S.: Should geopoliticians and their theories be made more popular in the media and social media? What about in relations with partner structures in other countries?
Who do you work with to promote geopolitics?
Should an international organization be set up to promote the interests of this science?
Ioannis P. SOTIROPOULOS: First of all, we must admit that apart from the education industry, there is a clear need nowadays for a genuine evaluation of international issues through the Geopolitics’ prism of reality. The analysts, researchers or scholars related with the science of Geopolitics must step up for the promotion of Geopolitics within the mass media system, domestically and globally, within governments’ structure and even in the private sector assessing the risk analysis work for people and industries throughout the globe. My experience in the related fields has to do with cooperation with Community Managers, who undertake the responsibility to promote geopolitical programmes in the social media and advise for more efficient work in the field. The establishment of an official organization focusing on Geopolitics, would definitely be beneficial, as there are numerous domestic organizations in every state that can contribute to the success of such an international venture.
V.S.: In the new global constructions, determined by geo-strategic actions, how do you perceive geopolitical pressures on your state?
How should state actors react to pressures from non-state actors?
Is there collaboration between geopoliticians and business?
Ioannis P. SOTIROPOULOS: The most important geopolitical pressure on Greece reflects to the mass and illegal immigration, which is being used as a tool by external powers to bend social cohesion and the smooth functioning of the Greek society and state, respectively. Hundreds thousands of migrants to illegally enter the Greek / European territory by crossing the Greek-Turkish main land borders in the area of River Evros and sea borders in the Aegean Sea, which was organized and assisted by the Turkish Authorities, reminded in the most thunderous manner the colossal phenomenon of illegal inflow of migrants and refugees (with the status of asylum seeker), towards the European Union (EU), from places where conditions of economic hardship and war are prevailing. The core of the problem was initially identified in North Africa (Maghreb) and the Middle East (ME), but there is also illegal inflow from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia, and other sub-Saharian states, where Sunnism is the predominant version of Islam.
This alarming peripheral trend, is considered extremely important in shaping the current, as well as the short and long-term future of the European security envi-ronment, as the inflow of migrants is increasing exponentially, and despite the rational assumption that there is no central factor organizing and promoting the entire issue, this phenomenon constitutes a hybrid threat.
On a macro-scale, mass immigration, especially the illegal, has shown, over the year the high degree of social vulnerability of the Greek society and also the European society. It consists a peaceful hybrid threat; it covers terrorists within the group of migrants, it changes the population composition in favor of the migrants and refugees (with the status of asylum seeker), leading to social transformation and into a non-European society, where the newcomers (Muslims, Asians and Africans) would be the majority, and consequently, it alters the state structures changing the historical character of the European states and societies. Even more, asymmetry means and methods generated, and in combination with potential military actions (orthodox or unorthodox, state vs. state or guerrilla warfare and internal conflicts among certain factions of population) consist a real hybrid threat for Europe. This threat is heavily enhanced by the illegal migration. Any sovereign state, with a certain level of power and available means wishing to turbulent Europe and its strategic allies, can try to manipulate the silent, asymmetric force of the illegal migrants, especially in the form of mass migration, in order to puzzle or hinder European orderly functioning. No matter the degree of social integration of the new citizens of the European states, (which takes time), there is always the huge possibility, over a length of time, of the prevailing of the cultural values (religious, nationalistic, tribal, etc.), of the newcomers, vis-à-vis the common European cultural values.
It becomes apparent that the most of the EU, including Greek state, state-actors have demonstrated a prolonged political immaturity and short-sightness, at best, without regard for its physical and cultural survival, via a suicidal crescendo of choices with “humanitarian” façade and questionable nature. In no way, can, the support and preservation of the volatile economic growth, balance the undermining of the future of Europe, the historic engine of the modern global scientific and cultural achievements of human life.
All European states, including Greece, must evaluate a series of arisen questions: To what extent is the hybrid weapon of moving large masses of populations, with common cultural factor that of Sunni Islam, from the east and the south towards Europe, in a position to inevitably affect and jeopardize European security on all levels? And with what ways? Are there any proper countermeasures to narrow the enormous range of vulnerability?
V.S.: What are the geopolitical and geo-strategic challenges of impact and how are they reflected in the strategies promoted by your state?
Ioannis P. SOTIROPOULOS: The main geopolitical challenge of Greece in the inter-national arena remains the Turkish revisionism in Eastern Mediterranean, Aegean Sea and Balkan Geopolitical System, which reflects to Turkey’s “Blue Motherland” (MaviVatan). Ankara perceives all these geographical area, as its “natural extension”, in which must enjoy geopolitical supremacy over all the involved sovereign states.
As its basic trend Athens has opted to steadily react with composure, calmness and determination adopting a policy that aligns with the international legitimacy and international law, which, inter alia, defines absolute Greek sovereignty over the Aegean islands and fortifies Greek interests in the Eastern Mediterranean and Balkan peripheries.
Moreover, in the last 15 years, Athens has taken the advantage of the fact that Turkey has deviated from NATO and the EU policy weights catalytically, being the only member state of the Western Alliance, in our days that did not apply any economic sanctions against Moscow, and maintains intact, if not deepen, its political-diplomatic and economic relations with Russia, which, inter allia (see S-400 [C- 400 Триумф] missile system issue), directly questions Ankara’s loyalty to the Western Alliance and the Western Community. Historically, during the 20th century, Greece has always had clear military advantage, since it made sure that it was superior in terms of aeronautical forces, both in terms of their weaponry quality and operationally, over revisionist Turkey. With the advent of the ten-year economic crisis 2010-2020, the performance gap between Greece and Turkey narrowed so that for some analysts they are considered equivalent in the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean. For this reason, Greece, in order to ensure its territorial sovereignty and its sovereign rights in the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean, also carried out an active policy both in the military and in the political field. In the military field, the spearhead is the purchase of a new squadron (24) of 4,5th generation aircrafts, Rafale F3R air superiority from the French Dassault, and 3+1 Belharra frigates, FDI Class from the French shipyards of the Naval Group of Lorean, while at the same time, Athens and Paris signed a very important defense agreement of mutual military assistance. It also signed for the upgrade of 86 4th generation F-16s to the 4+++ generation F-16 Viper, the best version of these aircrafts. In addition, it has sent a letter of request for 1+1 squadron of F-35s (5th generation) from the US, which view the case extremely positively, especially after the establishment of its new military base in Alexandropole in northern Greece near the strategic exit of the Dardanelles Straits. Finally, Greece has been operating in the waters of the Aegean Sea and the southeast Mediterranean for over 15 years now, 4 of the latest generation, best world class U-214 submarines. In the summer of 2023 it has started to enrich its capacity with an additional stock of new 533 mm torpedoes, (DM2A4 Seehecht / SeaHake mod 4) for those from Germany. In conclusion, we can say that Greece is at least one step ahead of Turkey in the aeronautical sector, with a dynamic tendency to move even further.
In the international sector of politics, Greece and Cyprus were quick to take advantage of the rift in the relations between Turkey and Israel in 2010. This was favorably received by Jerusalem who was any way in search of a strategic partner to cover the gap left by Ankara. An indication of this newfound cooperation was the historic first conventions of the Supreme Council of Ministers for Cooperation between the Governments of Greece and Israel on 8 and 9 October 2013, where several legal agreements between the two countries were signed for cooperation in various sectors (e.g. security, tourism, cultural, energy etc.). The convention was followed by the Greek Israeli Business Forum for the cooperation of business circles from both countries. In the same vein, Major General Giora Eiland, former head of the National Security Council of Israel, stated on 30 November, 2014 in relation to the deepening of the Greek-Israeli relations on the defense level:. “We decided to have military attaché in Athens, something that only happens in 15 cities worldwide. This shows the depth of cooperation that exists now. We conduct common aviation and naval exercises in Greece, the Israeli defense industry supplies the Greek armed forces, the cooperation in the field of security and exchange of information is deepening, for the common fight against terrorism. Relationships that based on mutual economic benefits, as well as energy, have their own dynamics. Of course, if the Turkish-Israeli relations continue to deteriorate, there is another reason for closer cooperation between Greece and Israel.”.
At the same time, Athens, promoted the military-energy-political close collaboration with Cairo. On 8 November 2014, Greece, Egypt and Cyprus signed an agreement being “… cognizant of the immense challenges to the stability, security and prosperity of the Eastern Mediterranean and of the need for a concerted and collective response …” They even issued a joint communiqué on the respect of sovereignty of states’ rights: “…Turkey to cease all seismic survey operations underway within the maritime zones of Cyprus and refrain from similar activity in the future. … we emphasize the universal character of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and decide to proceed expeditiously with our negotiations on the delimitation of our maritime zones, where it is not yet done.”. This Tripartite agreement solidified the historic commitment of the three states for the future developments in the Eastern Medi-terranean: “We commit to mobilize all our capabilities in order to effectively promote our common interests and values. In this framework, we have established the tripartite consultation mechanism, which met today at the highest political level with a view to working towards unleashing the full potential of our region to the benefit of the peoples of our three countries and of the whole region”. Not long after the Declaration signing, on 25 November 2014, Major General Mahmoud Ibrahim Mahmoud Hegazy, the Chief of Staff of the Egyptian National Defense signed a Memorandum of Military Cooperation with his Greek Counterpart, General Michael Kostarakos, during his visit in Athens. Strongly promoting the joint EEZs delimitation with Cyprus and Greece, Egypt has committed, as a result of this Agreement, to provide military support if need arises in order to defend the Cypriot neo-reserves. The statement of the Egyptian Ambas-sadress in Nicosia, Dr. Heba Salah Eldin El Marassi, on 18 August 2015 in Cyprus News Agency (CNA) is indicative of Cairo’s intentions: “All three countries Greece, Cyprus and Egypt took a significant step to deepen their cooperation, which provides protection to their sea area from any violations … There are areas of cooperation for addressing mutual threats and challenges which affect us together.”. It is notable that within the context of the existing military cooperation dozens of joint aeronautical exercises are conducted, with the epicenter located south of Crete at the boundaries of the two adjacent EEZs. Over the years, the two tripartite have been strengthened significantly, constituting the only security and stability formula for the South-East Mediterranean region, while the realization of the East-Med Pipeline in such a difficult geostrategic competition of the Western Community with Russia, seems closer since when.
It therefore becomes clear that Ankara’s revisionist policy in the geographical region that concerns Greece, Cyprus, Near East and part of the Classical Middle East, has bogged down due to the military and political vigilance of Athens, Nicosia, Jerusalem and Cairo, which constitute the stable political pillar of politico-military alliances with the aim of a safe south-eastern Mediterranean and the progress and well-being of its peoples. This has been noticed and is gradually being assimilated by the governments of the EU countries, and US, which now draw up policies and take diplomatic positions taking into account all of the above.
V.S.: What impact do geopolitical theories have on the decisions of your country’s leaders?
Ioannis P. SOTIROPOULOS: After the Second World War, Greece opted to join NATO in 1952. This happened due to country’s internal social, economic, political and cultural functions as well as its severe geopolitical importance, being in the middle of the 3 continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa and employing the largest commercial fleet in the world, in tonnage. Above all, Greece was part of the Rimland of Nicholas, J. Spykman geopolitical theory and thus it was almost impossible to avoid its international fate. Since then, Greece was also able to join the European Union, and all the European and Peripheral international organizations. It is easy to understand why Greek leaders have decided to follow this path. Finally, as I have described and analyzed in the previous question, geopolitical analysis also has a heavy impact on the Greek leaders in their decision making regarding the Greek-Turkish bi-pole, always opting for the national interest of the country.
V.S.: Do you consider it appropriate to collaborate with the Romanian GeoPolitica Magazine on these approaches?
We would be honored to publish your analyses in the magazine’s pages!
Ioannis P. SOTIROPOULOS: It would be extremely positive, if I could publish in the prestigious journal of Romanian GeoPolitica. Especially in topics of my expertise.
V.S.: New technological changes have led to the emergence of new geopolitical theories such as GeoIntelligence: the geopolitics of information, which we promoted in Romania in 2014, Geopolitics of Artificial Intelligence: the fifth dimension of geopolitics (2019) and Exopolitics: the geopolitics of outer space as the sixth geopolitical dimension (2021), theories that have been presented in the pages of GeoPolitica Magazine.
How do you assess these theories?
In the environment of an academic in your country are there such concerns?
Ioannis P. SOTIROPOULOS: It is essential for geopolitics to be updated and moder-nized, keeping at the same time its scientific nature and global architecture in asses-sing human necessities diachronically. Thus, the geopolitical analysis, corresponds to all the 4 pylons of human activities: The pylon of Security / Defense, Politics, Economy, Culture / Information. As reality is a living notion, geopolitics must predict / follow the course of events with a scientific way than can be useful for people and states. Every venture towards this goal must be cultivated and reinforced.
V.S.: Please specify the impact of geopolitics on your state’s international relations, military strategy, economy, energy resources and security!
Ioannis P. SOTIROPOULOS: As far as the energy resources are concerned, Greece has adopted a dual strategy. A clear programme of transition to renewable energy sources with the usage of the most developed technologies on the field. Simulta-neously, Greece commits itself in an active way to utilize all the new reserves of energy mixture that exist both in its mainland sovereign territory as well as and in its sea sovereign territory and its Exclusive Economic Zone. In this effort it cooperates seamlessly with Cyprus, Israel and Egypt, in Eastern Mediterranean and Italy in the Ionian and Adriatic Sea.
I have already answer much of the other aspects of the question. Please, see my answers above.
Dr. Ioannis P. SOTIROPOULOS is a Senior Research Fellow and Director of the Sector of the Geopolitics of the Cold War in the Department of Turkish Studies and Modern Asian Studies in the School of Economic and Political Science of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. He is the Director of Studies in the Postgraduate Study Programme “Geopolitical Analysis, Geostrategic Synthesis, Defence and International Security Studies”, and he also lectures on Geopolitics and Geostrategy of the Continental (Eurasian) Power, Geopolitics of Central Asia, and the Arctic Zone in the same programme. Ioannis P. SOTIROPOULOS is member of the Scientific Committee “European Committee of Geopolitics for National Issues” of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, (AHEPA) and Founding Member of the Hellenic Institute for Geopolitics and National Security, (ELIGEA).
As an expert, he participates, representing Greece, in the par excellence centre, “The European Center of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats-Hybrid CoE, Institute for the Research and Strategic Analysis in the Hybrid COE”, of the European Union, while systematically dealing with the cultural pillar of Hybrid Threats. His research interests are reflected in his wide range of scholarly publications in Systemic Geopolitical Analysis, the Geopolitics and Geostrategy of Eurasia, Soviet and Russian Foreign Policy, the Security of the South-eastern Mediterranean, the Energy Security of the European Union, and the Geopolitics and Geostrategy of the Central Asia and the Arctic Circle. SOTIROPOULOS is the author of the scientific monograph: The International Relations Parameter as Fundamental Reason for the Soviet Defeat in Afghanistan, Scientific Library, Scientific Series: Political and Defense Issues, Defense Analyses Institute, (DAI), Athens, 2006. Being senior member of the research team, he has also significantly contributed in the scientific monograph, Geopolitics and Geostrategies of the Syrian Crisis, Leimon, Athens, 2015. His latest scientific monograph, based on recently declassified sources, is entitled: The Soviet Intervention in Afghanistan. The Geopolitical Analysis of the Causes, Leimon, Athens, 2021.