PRIME Minister Andreas Papandreou's Socialist Party victory in Greece this past weekend is surely as much a personal victory for the feisty leader as for the populist left-of-center goals of his party. In winning some 46 percent of the vote -- down slightly from 48 percent in 1981 -- the Socialists, and Mr. Papandreou, are assured of four more years of government rule in that nation of 10 million people. But what that leadership will mean in terms of policy -- especially foreign and defense policy, where Greece is increasingly the ``odd party out'' in the Western alliance -- is a question not yet fully answered among Western chancelleries.
Will Mr. Papandreou fulfill earlier avowals to close down four American military bases (and a number of smaller installations) when a defense arrangement signed in 1983 expires in 1988? The Americans maintain that the treaty was not meant as a final base-closing pact. Papandreou, by contrast, has described the pact as an accord to dismantle the installations.
Will Mr. Papandreou also continue his verbal attacks on the United States, which he has equated with imperialism, as well as continue the pattern of steps his government has already taken to distance Greece from the Western alliance? Greece, for example, finds it necessary to footnote almost every NATO communiqu'e -- even while refraining from participating in joint exercises. It has taken what other Western governments believe is a permissive attitude toward terrorists based on its soil. It often faults Western behavior, while generally condoning Soviet behavior, such as the shooting down of the Korean airliner in 1983.
Still, Mr. Papandreou has toned down his anti-American rhetoric of late. In fact, the Greek election was based primarily on domestic and economic issues -- and the prime minister's own image as a forceful national leader. Despite severe economic problems -- high inflation and unemployment, for example -- Papandreou was able to position himself as a national leader of activist goals, as contrasted with his main opposition, the conservative New Democracy Party, which had offered voters a more free-market-oriented economic approach.
Whether Papandreou's more subdued tone vis-`a-vis the alliance continues now that the election is over is the great question. The prime minister has already nudged Greece into an orbit somewhat on the sidelines of the alliance, as well as within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Economically, moreover, Greece is the only major player in Western and Southern Europe with a populist left-of-center Socialist government. Other Socialist governments in Europe tend to be centrist or center-right governments. Virtually all, moreover, share a similar commitment to the Western alliance, and to their membership in NATO. It is interesting to note that the very weekend that Papandreou's Socialists were heading toward victory in Greece, Spain's Socialist prime minister, Felipe Gonz'alez, was reportedly saying that even if Spanish voters opted in favor of withdrawal from NATO next year in that nation's special referendum, Mr. Gonz'alez and his party would seek to keep Spain in the defense alliance.
Surely, the United States and the Western allies have every reason for taking all practical steps possible to privately encourage a continued Greek association with the Western community. It is true that the US could shift bases elsewhere -- such as to Turkey. But the loss of the Greek bases would be a major setback to Western unity. It would also be a severe setback for Greece, which was kept within the Western orbit after a civil war back in the late 1940s.
Is such bridge-building possible, despite all the anti-American rhetoric?
Probably. Mr. Papandreou's roots, it must be recalled, are clearly ``Western'' -- and, to an extent, American. He was an educator in the United States for many years. His family has close links to the US. But even more important, he is, by temperament, a romantic and an idealist. As he would quickly point out, for all his verbal toughness, Greece still retains all its essential Western diplomatic links. The United States, and other NATO countries, should continue to exercise restraint toward Greece while quietly reassuring that nation of its importance -- strategic and historical -- to the Western alliance.