Greek-Turkish relations are in a particularly sensitive phase right now, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become unpredictable and the country is becoming increasingly destabilized. Every front is open, and Turkey appears to be flirting with civil strife and chaos. The risk that this domestic crisis will spill over across the Aegean and into Cyprus is not at all negligible.
The Greek defense system has thankfully learned a lot from the 1996 Imia crisis, which nearly brought the two neighbors to war, and it has since had to deal with many similar scenarios. The biggest lesson was the need to prevent the escalation of any event – this is exactly what didn’t happen with Imia and prompted the crisis. Ever since, officials have known to avoid faux pas and exaggerations at every incident between the two countries and we are lucky to have people with a lot of experience and sound judgment in the key national security posts today.
Nevertheless, the danger of a sudden escalation is present and is being cultivated by many journalists, certain politicians and the usual touts of extreme nationalism. The media were responsible for a very big part of the Imia crisis, but all too often appear to keep falling into the same trap of hyperbole. In these days of rapid information and extreme populism, Greek-Turkish relations are the perfect fodder for the scaremongers and gutter press. Sensationalist headlines obviously sell better than sober headlines that reflect the reality of the situation. The Turkish media are playing the same game, giving more momentum to the vicious cycle.
This risk of serious escalation is the kind of situation that arises when you have a weak political leadership which can be swept up in the hype and give in to pressures that could make the situation deteriorate. It is very important for politicians who have a say in such matters to close their eyes and ears to everyone but the professionals whose job it is to handle situations like this and who do it well. Greece’s history is full of tragic failures that arose from foreign policy officials being influenced by irresponsible chatter and hyped-up headlines.