If Greece had nukes, they would be bailed out by now

Thomas Straubhaar, a top economist from Germany, attacked U.S. credit agencies after they lowered Greece’s credit rating to junk status, down there with the Pakistans of this world. In fact, in the spirit of Greek street protesters, Straubhaar called for the "violent overthrow" of the credit rating companies like Moody’s or Standard & Poor’s, arguing that ...

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

Thomas Straubhaar, a top economist from Germany, attacked U.S. credit agencies after they lowered Greece's credit rating to junk status, down there with the Pakistans of this world. In fact, in the spirit of Greek street protesters, Straubhaar called for the "violent overthrow" of the credit rating companies like Moody's or Standard & Poor's, arguing that these companies actually undermine stability in markets.

Come on, Thomas, don't shoot the messenger. The problem isn't the credit rating agencies -- although one does wonder if they don't have itchy trigger fingers after having been late with their warnings during the 2008-2009 phase of the current protracted economic crisis.

The problem isn't the Greek finance ministry. The problem isn't the Greek legislature. The problem isn't the Europeans who are being dragged kicking and screaming toward helping Greece. The problem isn't even Goldman Sachs and the other banks who lent Greece more money than they could afford and even helped them hide a bunch of the financings off the books.

Thomas Straubhaar, a top economist from Germany, attacked U.S. credit agencies after they lowered Greece’s credit rating to junk status, down there with the Pakistans of this world. In fact, in the spirit of Greek street protesters, Straubhaar called for the "violent overthrow" of the credit rating companies like Moody’s or Standard & Poor’s, arguing that these companies actually undermine stability in markets.

Come on, Thomas, don’t shoot the messenger. The problem isn’t the credit rating agencies — although one does wonder if they don’t have itchy trigger fingers after having been late with their warnings during the 2008-2009 phase of the current protracted economic crisis.

The problem isn’t the Greek finance ministry. The problem isn’t the Greek legislature. The problem isn’t the Europeans who are being dragged kicking and screaming toward helping Greece. The problem isn’t even Goldman Sachs and the other banks who lent Greece more money than they could afford and even helped them hide a bunch of the financings off the books.

Nope, the problem is Greek nuclear scientists and radical terror groups affiliated with the Greek intelligence services — or rather, the lack thereof.

Because if Greece had nuclear weapons and crazed terrorists hiding in every luxury housing development, you can bet we wouldn’t be going through this long drawn-out process of figuring out whether the country was going to default or not.

We know this because of Pakistan. Pakistan is an absolute financial basket case. It is in many respects in as bad a shape as Greece — and in some it is even much worse off. But do you hear anyone talking about Pakistan’s financial problems? Heck no.

Of course, talking about Pakistan’s financial problems is like talking about whether Anthony Weiner’s socks match. It’s not exactly the first issue that comes to mind. Having said that, the reason we are not sweating the meltdown of Pakistan’s financial markets is that there is no way the United States or the world would let it happen. Because a financial collapse could trigger the kind of unrest that would put Pakistani nukes at risk, and that’s just not tolerable. So the United States pumps billions into Pakistan knowing full well that it is this aid that helps keep the ship of state afloat. (And, money being fungible, if it also pays for expanding Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal … well, apparently we’re willing to look the other way. Again.)

Once again, one of the main messages of modern international affairs comes through loud and clear: Nukes pay. From Pyongyang to Tehran, enterprising leaders know that the easiest way to boost your country’s profile, gain political leverage, and win cash and prizes is to toss a little enriched uranium in the old Cuisinart, let the satellites take a few snaps, and start rattling your radioactive saber.

The problem with Greece is that if the economy collapsed, if the government collapsed, if the country descended into chaos, no one is worried that a nuclear catastrophe would follow. An ouzo-induced hangover maybe — which can be a pretty horrific thing — but it’s the specter of a mushroom cloud that really is the attention grabber.

Admittedly, if Greece goes down and takes a few big French banks with it (as the ratings agencies warned this week) and markets get jittery and the firewall around Spain gives way and then a bunch more French and maybe German banks fail and a new global banking crisis and maybe a depression ensues — well, that would be bad. And would produce instability in many corners of the world, including, possibly, in Pakistan. And if the downturn is bad enough it might force the U.S. and others to give less the next time Club Nuke comes to extort. So, well, yeah, that would be worse.

But, that’s all speculation. What we know for sure is this: If there were a centrifuge or a hundred under the Parthenon, the Greek government would right now be sitting on piles of cash and not squirming, knowing that their fate depends on the famously warm hearts and generosity of the German people (among others).

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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