Greece's return to the NATO command structure in the Eastern Mediterranean will strengthen the West's defensive position along the arc from the Bosporus to the Indian OCean.
Within that arc lie the two main crisis areas in the Middle East: the war-stricken Persian Gulf and the still explosive line of confrontation between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
One move northeastward from these crisis areas lies the frontier of the Soviet Union in Central Asia -- which Soviet tanks crossed into Afghanistan last December to bring Soviet power southward across the Hindu Kush to the Khyber Pass.
It is sober awareness of all this that at last has brought Greece and Turkey to an acceptable compromise that opens the door to full resumption of milit ary cooperation between the two under the NATO umbrella.
At the other end of the Middle East crisis area, at the approaches to the Persian Gulf and in the Indian Ocean, the United States has been moving cautiously during the past summer to improve its capability to deploy forces rapidly in an emergency. It has negotiated agreements with Oman, Somalia, and Kenya for the use of facilities on their territories.
The US also has been developing the base available to it on the British-owned island of Diego Garcia, far out in the Indian Ocean. These arrangements are all outside the formal NATO structure, which does not reach into the Indian Ocean.
But as long as NATO remained hobbled in the Eastern Mediterranean because of Greece' refusal to rejoin NATO's military command structure (from which it withdrew in 1974), the entire defensive position of the US and its allies was vulnerable at the northwestern end of the crisis area.
Greece's negative stance threatened the effectiveness of the alliance along a sweep that reached from Cyprus around Asia Minor, across to Crete, and up through the Aegean to the Bosporus, The Bosporus, of course, is the Soviet Union's maritime gateway from its Black Sea naval bases out to the Mediterranean and the oceans beyond.
the situation was threatening to worsen because Greek Prime Minster George Rallis had been obliged by internal politics to raise the possibility of closing US bases on Greek territory if his country were not offered terms making it possible for Greece to return to the NATO military structure by the end of the year.
As it is, leftist Greek opposition leader Andreas Papandreou -- whom Mr. Rallis has to face in an election next year -- already is accusing Mr. Rallis of having in effect "sold out" to the US and Turkey by agreeing to return to NATO.
The original Greek withdrawal from the NATO military command was in protest against Turkey's military action in Cyprus in 1974 and against the condoning of it (as Greeks saw it) by the US.
The Turks, for their part, see their action in Cyprus as having been authorized under the treaty of 1959 establishing an independent Cyprus, which made Turkey, Greece, and Britain guarantors of that independence. Turkey argues that the Greek colonels then in power in Athens were behind the 1974 coup in Cyprus that had as its aim Enosis or union with Greece -- and Enosos was expressly precluded in the 1959 treaty.
The US and its NATO allies have long been trying to get Greece back into the NATO structure, but the stumbling block until last month's coup in Turkey was Turkey's vetoing of the terms needed to persuade the Greeks to return. (Turkey had this right as a NATO member.) Greece insisted that it could come back only if the NATO command lines in the Aegean between itself and Turkey remained as they had been in 1974.
Turkey demurred on grounds that this would prejudice in Greece's favor resolution of the dispute that has developed since 1974 between the two countries over sovereignty in the Aegean -- and more particularly over rival claims to the continental shelf at those points where some Greek islands are close inshore to mainland Turkey.
Although official details of the weekend agreement bringing Greece back into NATO have yet to be given, the basis for it reportedly is acceptance by both Greece and Turkey that resumption of military cooperation is without prejudice to political resolution of their differences over rights in the Aegean.
The man responsible for securing the agreement is NATO's Supreme Commander in Europe, US Gen. Bernard Rogers. He was given virtual carte blanche by Washington, without having to consult on every detail with either the White House or the State Department, to work out with Greece and Turkey whatever was mutually acceptable to them to get Greece back into the NATO structure. This helped isolate the issue from US domestic politics in a presidential election year.
There were three other factors contributing to General Rogers's success:
1. The cool courage of Greek Prime Minister Rallis in separating i nthe negotiations the issue of NATO from that of Cyprus (a linkage that Greek opposition leader Papandreou is already trying to restore.)
2. The Greek government's awareness that the European Community did not want Greece to bring with it the baggage of its difficulties with NATO when Greece joins the Community next year.
3. The levelheadedness and strategic priorities of the Turkish military leaders who came to power in Turkey in last month's coup -- a coup that ended for the moment the open brawling of Turkey's political parties in which both NATO and Cyprus were convenient footballs.