A pair of F16 block 52Ms fighters of the Greek airforce fly over Ancient Olympia in Western Peloponnese in a file photo. ‘The purchase of many military systems and the maintenance of a costly army has failed to persuade Turkey that it is in its interest to reach an honorable and, most important, reasonable compromise,’ the author says.
It is not enough that we vaguely seek a peaceful settlement of Greek-Turkish disputes; we also must have a concrete strategy as to how to get there. For example, there is a major difference of opinion about what constitutes a Greek-Turkish dispute. Athens says that the only issue dividing the two countries is the delineation of their continental shelves. Ankara, on the other hand, has raised a wide range of issues in the hope that in the end it will gain more than it is entitled to. Will we risk going to court and having Turkey pull out anything it likes from its mixed bag of claims?
This was the key problem with Greece’s strategy at the Helsinki summit in 1999 (which led to abandoning the idea of a judicial settlement in 2004). We must not repeat the same mistake. Maintaining moderate rhetoric and avoiding outlining our rights as determined by international law do not comprise a real strategy either. We’re always a step behind Turkey, which maintains the initiative. It became painfully evident in recent days that the failure to submit coordinates determining the boundaries of the Greek Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea did not result in a more self-restrained Turkey, but instead a more uncontrolled one. Now we are obligated to submit our coordinates in order to protect the minimum – i.e. to determine the areas that we deem to be part of the Greek continental shelf. These are the areas where we will not accept a violation of our sovereign rights by Turkish exploratory vessels. We need to finally accept that countries like France, Spain, Croatia and Lebanon (to speak only of countries bordering the Mediterranean) knew better than us when they submitted the coordinates of their maritime boundaries despite there being no delimitation with neighboring states. That said, Lebanon is faced with the militarily powerful Israel.
Turning to the strategy that Greece must follow, a key question that needs to be answered is whether Turkey really wants to reach a fair and bona fide solution to Greek-Tukrish disputes. There are two schools of thought on this. One claims that Turkey is raising all these issues within the context of its negotiating strategy and the two sides could, by means of dialogue, find solutions on the basis of mutual compromises. According to the proponents of this idea, Turkey’s decision to sign the illegal maritime boundaries pact with Libya (a pact that runs contrary to geography and reason) was prompted by Ankara’s annoyance at the trilateral cooperation schemes forged between Greece, Cyprus and Israel as well as between Greece, Cyprus and Egypt. Turkey, they say, felt isolated and (being Turkey) reacted with an illegal action.
The other school of thought says that Turkey is an aggressive state which will continue to pursue the overturning of existing treaties, even if the two sides manage to find solutions on isolated points. For this reason, they say, Greece must enhance its deterrence capacity. Doing so would render the cost of a military attack bigger than the gain for Turkey. This is the only way, they say, that Turkey can be convinced to reach an honorary compromise with Greece. The champions of this school of thought have made themselves heard in recent days.
The purchase of many military systems and the maintenance of a costly army has failed to persuade Turkey that it is in its interest to reach an honorable and, most important, reasonable compromise. If a war between Greece and Turkey has been avoided since 1974, it was thanks to Greece’s deterrence capacity as well as compliance.
Contrary to both schools of thought, we need to adopt a strategy that will force Turkey into accepting (a) a peaceful settlement (b) on the basis of international law (most probably before the International Court) and c) the delimitation of maritime zones in which we exercise our sovereign rights in the Aegean and now also in the Eastern Mediterranean. Finally, (d) Turkey’s refusal to take recourse to international justice must come with a cost for the country.
The two greatest achievements of Greek foreign policy in the post-1974 period have been the country’s accession to the EEC in 1981 and Cyprus’ EU membership in 2004. Neither was handed to us on a plate. Speaking on the latter accomplishment, former foreign minister Theodoros Pangalos said that “the policy which led Cyprus to the waiting room of Europe was not based on the show of good manners and a will for compromise.” Correspondingly, the strategy of reaching a peaceful resolution of Greek-Turkish differences cannot be based on our refraining from exercising our rights.
P.S. There have been disparaging comments regarding the deterrence capacity of Greece’s military force. In 1974, the eastern Aegean islands were defenseless and the D Army Corps in Thrace did not exist. The islands and Thrace were fully fortified within two years. This is not 1974.
Angelos Syrigos is a New Democracy MP and associate professor of international law and foreign policy at Athens’ Panteion University.