- American Foreign Policy towards the Colonels’ Greece: Uncertain Allies and the 1967 Coup d’État by Neovi M. Karakatsanis and Jonathan Swarts
Over the past few decades there have been numerous opportunities for political scientists, political historians, and other scholars to memorialize in conferences, edited volumes, monographs, and doctoral theses both the demise of democracy in Greece in April 1967 and its restoration in July 1974. One such occasion came, for instance, last year, 2017, which marked fifty years since the military coup of 21 April. The increased interest in the period when the Colonels’ oppressive regime ruled Greece has been enhanced by the frequent release of new documentation and has produced an abundance of works, ranging in perspective from international relations, regional affairs, the Cyprus issue, human rights violations, ideological controversies, resistance movements, and youth movements to, more recently, memory studies.
American Foreign Policy towards the Colonels’ Greece: Uncertain Allies and the 1967 Coup d’État by Neovi Karakatsanis and Jonathan Swarts is one of the latest additions to the growing literature. It benefits from the recent declassification of US State Department documents and seeks to investigate the role the United States played in setting up, and then helping, the regime survive in power for seven full years. Greek public opinion has generally blamed the US government for being behind the Colonels’ seizing power in 1967 and has assumed that the Greek Colonels had been nothing but Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) puppets.
Tellingly, the book cover displays a photograph of the US embassy in Athens, a Walter Gropius building that celebrates modern architectural style. The building still remains a target of Greek anti-American sentiments—sentiments that feed on these deeply held assumptions—and marks the destination of anti-American political demonstrations in Athens. Interestingly, however, the authors challenge long-held perceptions of Greek-US tensions. They choose to deal with the origins and longevity of the military regime as an open question, examine available evidence for convincing proof of US support for the Colonels, and discover the ambiguities of US policies toward the dictators and the power strategies devised by the protagonists of the Greek military coup.
Without precluding the possibility that, in the future, new declassified archival material such as CIA papers or other intelligence sources might provide documentation that substantiates the view that the Greek dictatorship was indeed of US making, the authors argue that currently available material suggests a more nuanced reality, [End Page 105] in which the Greek political forces and the military group that took over the country in April 1967 “exercised a great deal of agency and exerted a significant degree of influence over the US, often forcing policy makers in Washington to concede to its demands.”
The book is a detailed account based on a close examination of, primarily, State Department documents. The department viewed the Colonels as a faction of conspirators who shared their anticommunism and allegiance to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization with the US government, but whose autocratic regime became—and remained—a source of embarrassment for the US administration. The authors provide interesting details of members of the Greek political establishment sounding out the US embassy in Athens several months before April 1967 about the likelihood of US support in favor of a coup that would, as they argued, forestall a leftist takeover of the country. The State Department and the US embassy did not share the alarmist views of their right-wing interlocutors, advised against a constitutional transgression, and were caught unaware when it finally did occur. Indeed, before the Richard Nixon administration, particularly when US foreign policy came under the influence of Henry Kissinger’s pragmatist approach, the official US line vis-à-vis the Colonels was merely to accept the junta regime as a fait accompli and offer military aid and support when this became unavoidable. Throughout their time in power, thanks to their firm hold on the country, the Colonels were in a position...