The idea of Greece selling some islands to alleviate its debt problem was quickly dismissed when it was proposed last year, before any serious analysis or public debate could occur. Yet on reflection, the idea of transferring a small bit of Greek territory to another country by sale or lease might actually have merit.

The aim would be to shore up Greece’s finances and let it reform its debts less abruptly and painfully, cushioning the shock for its economy and reducing prospects for social unrest. Rather than diminishing Greece as a nation, selling or leasing territory could actually boost its geopolitical strength and influence.

The sale of territorial assets is nothing new. It simply hasn’t been done lately, but it remains an acceptable practice under international law. Examples are scattered throughout the history of nations that are alive and flourishing today – perhaps in part because they did this at a critical moment: Russia sold Alaska. Mexico sold part of its north. Denmark sold its Caribbean islands. Spain sold the Carolines. And France sold Louisiana – twice (first to Spain, which returned it, then to the United States). The motivations varied, but some sellers had an urgent need for money, as France did when it ceded Louisiana the second time.

Territorial leases, by contrast, still occur, and recent cases show the value of territory soaring to heights that can readily diminish a lessor’s financial woes. Last year, Russia renewed the lease on a naval port at Sevastopol, Ukraine, for €30 billion in financial concessions over 25 years. That’s more than 10 times the previous rent.

Nations are never static. Their populations and economies grow and shrink. So do the dimensions of their territory, through war, sale, lease, grants of independence and even forces of nature. Some nations cease existing, and new ones get created. And the process is still going strong. Many countries around today didn’t exist 25 years ago. South Sudan didn’t even exist 25 months ago.

As for Greece, it has a large stock of islands in the Aegean Sea. Hundreds of them are uninhabited, and some of these may be sold or leased without directly impacting the Greek population.

Many of the islands have strategic value. Tensions with Turkey over their maritime border show (albeit awkwardly) that there’s a market for them. And Turkey may not be the only one. China might desire a Mediterranean foothold. Israel, having fallen out with Turkey, might want stronger ties with Greece through a physical presence. Even non-state actors could get involved. Or billionaires who want to start their own countries.

Holding on to a given island must be weighed against the strategic benefits that Greece might gain from ceding control, such as increased clout. Even just hinting at a sale or lease might be enough to strengthen Greece’s hand in its international dealings: the prospect of a Chinese outpost in the Mediterranean would surely spur Europe into faster and bolder aid.

Selling or leasing territory can also put an outpost of a strong economy into the midst of a weaker one and provide long-term benefits to it. A reluctant China was pushed into leasing Hong Kong to Great Britain – but could its economic power today be as strong as it is without having done that? And would Panama be as dynamic without the canal the U.S. left behind at the end of its lease?