Maritime and air limits are products, not producers, of sovereignty. Both Greece and Turkey claim 6 nautical miles of sea limits, an international norm. Turkey has threatened Greece with war if it extends its limits to 12 nautical miles.
Irrespective of the Turkish position, Greece wisely refrains from a 12-mile limit – the additional responsibilities (for example, rights of innocent passage, navigational and safety obligations) are incommensurate with possible benefits.
As for air space, Greece uniquely claims 10 nautical miles; no other state has territorial sea and air limits that differ and no other state recognizes the 10-mile limit.
Whatever symbolic, psychological or political value the 10-mile limit may have for Greece, it has questionable military importance.
Both Greece and Turkey have F-16s – maximum speed 1,350 miles per hour. Both have beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles with a range of nearly 100 miles and a speed close to 3,000 miles per hour – meaning the time it takes them to travel 4 miles is less than 5 seconds.
Pilots may like close-in dogfight maneuvers to tests their skills, though this can have tragic consequences.
Air-to-air warfighting doctrine calls for identifying, targeting and shooting from maximum effective distance using beyond-visual-range capabilities. If there were actual combat, the 4-mile difference would be immaterial.
Turkey’s air space challenges (which Greece must necessarily intercept) risk dangerous confrontations, reduce trust, and make discussions of other bilateral issues more difficult if not impossible.
Using drones has added a destabilizing element as neither side has established protocols for such flights.
Ankara can take less aggressive measures and still retain its legal challenge: type of aircraft (propeller, jet, drone); type, if any, of armaments; number of aircraft and their frequency, flight path, direction, speed; and not crossing into 6 nautical miles or overflying any island.
Ultimately, Turkey must decide whether confrontational tactics yield the results it wants and advance its objectives.
They now generate friction and resistance. This might be emotionally satisfying in the short run to hardliners but is unsound strategically.
* Alexander Karagiannis is a former US diplomat.