Turkish nationalist rhetoric should ‘raise alarm’, says former UK ambassador

Turkish nationalist rhetoric should ‘raise alarm’, says former UK ambassador

The long-running disputes between Greece and Turkey and Athens’ aspirations on how to resolve them were presented in a commentary by former UK ambassador to Greece and Chair of the Anglo-Hellenic League, John Kittmer.

In a commentary titled “Tension in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean: What Does Greece Want?” and published on Wednesday on the website of the UK think-tank RUSI, Kittmer explains that Greece’s position “is straightforward and, since the return of democracy in 1974, consistent.”

He goes on to explain how Athens wants stability in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean and places a big emphasis on international legal order.

“Greeks have reacted with alarm to the nationalist rhetoric emanating from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his circles: crudely revanchist comments by Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay are but the latest examples. To take Erdogan’s statements at face value, the Lausanne Treaty itself is now in doubt. This should raise a general alarm, beyond Greek shores,” he says.

Presenting the current stalemate in the eastern Mediteranean, he says that Greece wants a negotiation with Turkey, but one in which both sides have previously agreed to allow the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to arbitrate in the event that negotiations reach an impasse.

As he explains:

“Arbitration is surely going to be necessary: although Greece has compromised in its partial delimitation of the EEZ border with Egypt, it is hard to imagine Greek or Turkish politicians making the necessary compromises for a deal between them.

The court’s jurisprudence suggests that it will determine the issue in a way that gives neither side everything it wants. Given Turkey’s rejection of ICJ jurisdiction, a prior agreement to go to arbitration is essential (the ICJ’s disavowal of competence in Greece’s 1976 case proves the point).

Furthermore, though some in NATO find this surprising, Greece does not want negotiations to begin while Turkish threats continue – whether in the form of Ankara’s increasingly abusive rhetoric or its attempts to create alternative facts at sea, by sending its survey ship, Oruç Reis, and accompanying frigates to probe in waters claimed by Turkey.”

“The important point is not that Brussels should endorse every square mile of EEZ claimed by Greece, but that it should unfailingly support Greece’s determination to sort things out under norms and processes of international law,” he explains.

“Now that Turkish accession to the EU has become a pipe dream, forward-thinking voices in Athens advocate a new strategic relationship between the EU and Turkey – one which is not simply defined by northern European mercantile interests. Migration and security both need to feature. An active realignment of Greek positions with those of President Macron will continue. So far, Ankara has not stepped back, though the return to port of Oruç Reis may be a good sign. With the US election pending, time may be on Greece’s side,” he concludes.

The rest of the commentary can be found on the website of RUSI.