A mid-summer showdown in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey was temporarily averted after Greece threatened decisive action against a planned Turkish seismic survey set to take place in Greece’s continental shelf. This latest provocation comes on the heels of Turkey’s conversion of the Aghia Sophia into a mosque, and is to be followed by a similar exploratory encroachment in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
This unsanctioned exploratory activity is designed to usurp Greece’s rightful (yet still not delineated) EEZ. The Greek island of Kastellorizo and its associated islets like Strongyli is of chief importance, because it extends Greece’s EEZ to border with Cyprus’ hydrocarbon-rich EEZ. Greece and Cyprus can partner with Israel and Egypt, forming an important energy hub for Europe. Turkey’s recent arbitrary delineation of its EEZ with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj serves as a de facto contestation of Greece’s legal rights. Even though these rights are supported by the Law of the Sea, that’s never deterred Turkey before.
This latest round of provocations may in fact be a ploy by the Turkish Government to force Greece into dangerous across-the-board negotiations, from which it is virtually guaranteed to come out on the losing end. The Greek Government has for decades contended that its only open issue with Turkey is the continental shelf. Discussing other issues, such as the status of islands, islets, the demilitarization of the Aegean, decreased territorial waters and air space in the Aegean, revenue-sharing in Greece and Cyprus’ EEZ, the arbitrary categorization of Greece’s Muslim minority as Turkish, and a host of other topics would be diplomatic suicide.
Turkey will surely leverage its existing obligations and duties arising from international law and human rights (status of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, reopening of the Halki Theological School, the remaining few hundreds of native Romioi – ethnic Greeks – in Turkey that were not killed or forced to leave following decades of genocide, pogroms, and systematic targeting by the state) in exchange for concessions regarding the aforementioned issues.
The European Union’s support of Greece and Cyprus against continual provocations from Turkey has been underwhelming to say the least. Even the staunchest pro-EU supporter would have to admit that the hope that Greek and Cypriot membership into the EU would pit Turkey against the full force of the bloc’s diplomatic, financial, and military might in defense of their national – and by extension European – interests was a grand misconception. Fragmentation within the EU and individual economic interests of key member states definitively dispelled any notion of a decisive and coordinated response from Brussels. Moreover, the EU’s willingness to sacrifice the Greek economy (and to a lesser extent the Cypriot) on the sinful altar of their almighty banks would make anyone wary of the prospect of Brussels (AKA German)-brokered negotiations between Greece and Turkey.
Let’s not forget that German agents, including Deutsche Bank and military men like Liman von Sanders, played a key role in helping to fund and organize the genocide that virtually wiped out Turkey’s sizeable indigenous Christian populace. Even in the present day, unlike the other nations of the Mediterranean Basin, major world powers, and even Algeria and the Congo, Greece was conspicuously excluded from the Libya peace talks organized in Berlin at the beginning of the year, even though Greece’s EEZ is being violated by the Erdogan-Sarraj deal and Greece agreed to be designated as the port of first disembarkation for Libyan migrants fleeing the civil war.
Even on the other side of the Atlantic, although there are real concerns about President Trump’s ties to Turkey, there’s no guarantee that a change in the White House will generate better results. Church bells in Cyprus may have been ringing following news of Jimmy Carter’s election, but it was that very same administration that lifted the arms embargo against Turkey – perhaps the Greek-American lobby’s greatest accomplishment – and gradually allowed Turkey to become a regional power.
All signs point to a renewed showdown in the fall between Greece and Turkey, assuming Greece doesn’t capitulate to its demands at the negotiating table. And even if it did, history is rife with examples of Turkish disregard for treaties – a concept that our lobby has not succeeded in impressing upon the U.S. and NATO bureaucracy. Recently, a billion-dollar arms deal between Greece and France for state-of-the-art Belharra frigates capable of striking Turkish targets far inland all the way from the Ionian Sea was reportedly nixed by German and U.S. intervention. It was rumored that French military assistance during an attack was part of the deal.
Despite its troubles, Greece has a formidable military capable of causing extensive damage to Turkey if provoked. However, no post-Andreas Papandreou politician has been successful in convincing Greece’s allies and enemies alike that there will be no hesitation in deploying it if necessary, and it’s virtually impossible to deter an attack on empty words alone.
If it’s true that Greece cannot rely on its allies in the event of attack, then it must at least make them part of the solution by spurring true competition to upgrade its defense arsenal in the name of maximum deterrence, and ensure that some of the production takes places domestically to support the economy and increase its technological knowhow. It must also explore the formation of a league of Mediterranean nations intent on reigning-in Turkey. Assuming von Clausewitz is correct and war is merely a continuation of politics with other means, then Greece must rectify failed policies and make plain its resolve to punish any Turkish incursion decisively.
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