Dialogue without terms, rules, positions or allies?

Dialogue without terms, rules, positions or allies?

Turkey’s clear (and, for the leery, expected) return to an aggressive stance shatters the dangerous illusions harbored by many who seize every ostensible opportunity to call for immediate dialogue, emitting dangerous messages of anxious desperation without any sense of what is (alas) the harsh reality. Faced with the genie of “Greater Turkey” now out of the bottle and the “package deal” being prepared, there is no room for the two main parties in Athens to continue disagreeing, arguing and not getting prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. What Greece needs right now is a new strategy with well-studied alternative scenarios and, at the very least, an understanding that any dialogue with a rival who is growing strong will not end well without terms, rules, positions and allies.

Without terms

In the past 50 years of rivalry with an ever-threatening Turkey, Greece has always set certain terms before entering into talks. Even when these terms were not met in their entirety, they lent the process dignity. The terms today are being conveyed with a problematic lack of clarity and vary depending on who is conveying them and where, giving an image of anything but a cohesive strategy.

Without rules

References to international law, the law of the sea or “calm waters” do not constitute a clear framework for dialogue. As for the process, we have over the years tried every possible way to reach some kind of understanding with Turkey: the judicial route of recourse to The Hague, international mediation and political talks. The Hague is the preferred choice of politicians who choose to ignore its increasingly dangerous consequences and prefer to shift the onus of national responsibilities to foreign judges. In the toughest of times (like the crises in Imia in 1996 and with the Oruc Reis in 2020) we sought third-party mediation to achieve a policy of “equal distance” with our allies and partners toward the aggressor and the injured party.

Even when it comes to political dialogue, throughout the years we have tried everything (even if it is usually done in a hasty manner). Talks have been held at every level (from experts to heads of state) and on a wide matter of subjects: from economic cooperation, confidence building exercises, and exploratory talks. The latter, which many are in a hurry to be dragged back to, have ceded to Ankara the ability to project any expansionist illogical argument and at the same time to deposit it with the United Nations along with various letters, forcing us into an international discourse over its revisionist claims. Ankara’s spectacular change, that now calls upon Greece to “solve all our differences” at The Hague (another leftover of the general lack of a plan) will create international difficulties for our diplomatic efforts.

Without positions

Even within NATO that is lately fighting against revisionism, we lacked a smart international campaign to highlight the common points between Putin and Erdogan

Despite my decades of experience in international negotiations, I could not find any cases of a country entering a conversation on territorial delimitation without publicly announcing on a map how it defines the geographical confines of the maritime zones it claims. Nor do I understand the exclusive, and apprehensive, obsession with the limited benefits of 12 nautical miles in comparison to the many more of an exclusive economic zone, which is a maritime territory that extends across an area four times larger than our area. Unable to decide, for a while we (unofficially) hid behind the Seville Map that was carried out on behalf of the EU. However, after the crisis of 2020, we officially denounced it with a letter to the United Nations as a private document, raising – along with other developments – a troubling question over a possible abandonment of any claim of maritime rights east of Rhodes.

Without allies

Our country unfortunately never utilized its membership of the European Union with a comprehensive plan. Indicatively, for 40 years we only really used our veto power (during the tenure of Andreas Papandreou) over Chad and Korean Air Lines Flight 007, but never Turkey. Even within NATO, which has lately been fighting against revisionism, we lacked the smart international campaign to highlight the common points between Putin and Erdogan. After all, despite our heralded older and newer allies, Ankara’s aggression continues to grow. Finally, questions are raised by the phrasing of our preference (including from official sources) for direct dialogue with Turkey, “without third-party mediators,” “like two good neighbors,” just as Erdogan has demanded for the last two years.

The talks which we will be pushed to enter once more under the threat of military action and pressure from third-party mediators, are looming. The USA is actively looking for energy agreements, and more, in the Eastern Mediterranean, and cannot wait for the slow and dead-end processes of The Hague. Even if they usually prefer pressuring Greece or Cyprus (since, with or without Erdogan, the “return of the prodigal” is more important), maybe the inevitable tight economic situation facing the next Turkish leadership, compounded by the possibility of domestic instability (as a result of the persistent questioning of the electoral result), will make Ankara more malleable to concessions.

Thus, given the above, instead of a passive and obsessive persistence with any form of talks as a panacea, what is required is smart positions and initiatives to strengthen our hand, supportable by our partners and allies, and usable by our interlocutors. When, despite the much-advertised strong deterrence of Greece, Turkish expansionism and aggression continue to expand instead of shrinking, it is obvious that its immediate reinforcement is necessary with substantial (and if possible with a wide consensus) preparation, away from prevaricating and hasty moves made simply for communication victories.

Ahead of the combined pressure of international mediation and dialogue with the goal of a “package solution” in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, we must ensure that any potential agreement or even partial normalization with Turkey will actually reinforce and not detract from Hellenism’s position and security in relation to the current situation.

Giannis Valinakis is a professor, president of the Jean Monnet European Center of Excellence at the University of Athens and a former deputy foreign minister.

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