Turkey’s outrageous claims in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Eastern Aegean clearly demonstrate that Greece’s increasingly threatening neighbor aims to impose, by any means, a radical revision of the regional status quo. Notwithstanding the important diplomatic support from the European Union – in particular certain European partners – which criticized the Turkey-Libya maritime boundaries accord as invalid, Ankara is actively pursuing a plan for a regime change across our seas.
In order to prevent even more adverse developments, we need a new strategy which will be sober as well as proactive. The core of this strategy must be to safeguard all rights stemming from the international law of the sea. Such defense would not be based on vague references and theoretical arguments, but on finally carving out our own map that will illustrate precisely our rights and claims. This is the only basis on which a productive dialogue with Turkey can be held. The current situation leaves no room for this.
Comparing the alternative strategies that a European, stabilizing force such as Greece can choose from, that of a military escalation vis-a-vis a bellicose neighbor is not the optimal one. To be sure, in the event of a Turkish attack, the response would no doubt be merited. Ankara fosters illusions of illusion of power and impunity and it no longer seems to want to drag Greece to negotiations (after all, the two countries have been in talks for decades). What it wants, rather, is to draw Greece into constant unilateral concessions or even an open conflict.
It is systematically preparing the international community so it can deftly put the blame for the first strike on Greece and portray itself as acting in defense. By showing derogatory contempt toward Greece, Turkey shatters the nerves of every Greek citizen and military officer, anticipating that one wrong move which it will then seek to exploit. It is convinced that the power balance has deteriorated from Greece’s point of view – also in the wake of the 10-year financial crisis – and regardless of Athens’ declarations, it deems it will have the final say on whether military conflict will be averted or not.
After all, its experience from Cyprus, Syria and so on have led Turkey to believe that what is at stake in war is treaties, territories and islands; that there are no longer recognized borders and international law; and that new boundaries and faits accomplis are forged in the bold victor’s favor. Furthermore, Turkey is pursuing, by military means if necessary, a Lebensraum so it can escape the purportedly tight contours of the Lausanne Treaty.
Faced with this unprecedented aggressiveness, we need a new strategy: We need fresh ideas and corresponding preparation in many areas. Acting in national solidarity, we will first encounter Turkey in a sober manner, mobilizing all diplomatic resources. We must make sure not to pave Turkey’s path with our own mistakes. However, if history is any guide, these will not be enough to deter an aggressive Turkey. Greece’s we-have-no-claims strategy has proven ineffectual, but also dangerous.
Rights which are not officially certified or exercised inevitably lose their clout. The threat of force may make us make small concessions which, over time, pose the risk of resulting in a strategic defeat. This is what Ankara has pursued for decades: With our stance in 1987 we were led to accept that the entire Aegean outside our territorial waters was a contested area. With the Imia crisis, the theory of “gray zones” was firmly entrenched, and recently the even worse Blue Homeland theory was built upon it.
Turkey’s illegal actions have regrettably not been canceled out and international support has not sufficed to overturn them. International condemnations and sanctions, timid as they may be, should not be discarded altogether. The lack of appropriate EU mechanisms, national interests, the introvert, weak leaderships in the West, and Turkey’s growing distance from Europe all create additional problems. All that does not presage automatic and active solidarity and we must not deceive ourselves with false hopes. If these reactions never worked, can Greece’s positions stay the same?
Greece has certainly had its successes at times. Our membership of the EU (then still known as the European Economic Community) and similarly Cyprus’ accession without the compromise that would have been the paralyzing Annan Plan were both historic accomplishments. Furthermore, Nicosia has managed to reach EEZ delineation agreements with most of its neighbors.
The Greek effort to pull Ankara onto the path and the prerequisites of European good-neighborly relations secured “calm waters” and time for delimitations with Libya, Egypt and Albania and other national and European initiatives. In the context of these collective efforts, as deputy foreign minister, I insisted on the national significance of delineating our maritime boundaries, always in the knowledge that such ventures are no walk in the park and require persistence and ingenuity. Positive developments lie ahead as far as these matters are concerned.
However, in light of recent developments and the outrageous Blue Homeland map that Turkey actively seeks to materialize, it’s now time for a new strategy: Greece must finally present a map depicting its own rights and claims. Because, despite the well-known adage, our country should be claiming its rights, every right, every sea or air zone that until today has not been made use of even though it is stipulated in the Law of the Sea. These claims must become a national position.
A position which will first secure European and international diplomatic support in order to preempt possible military aggression from Turkey. A position which will, at the right moment, be put on the table during credible talks amid international backing and guarantees and with possible subsidiary recourse to the International Court of Justice or other international tribunals on technical sub-issues. The map will depict the rights which have been adopted by most states around the world, of course including the Greek EEZ, which will be progressively delimited with each of our neighbors on the basis of the median line, giving every Greek island or islet full effect.
In the face of new developments and Turkey’s systematic claims, a country that is heir to Odysseus and a member of the EU must, on the basis of cross-party understanding, finally mobilize common sense with a smart strategy that will put aside the justified anger that we all feel (an anger that plays into the hands of senseless pseudo-patriotism). Our national duty is to responsibly prepare this new, ambitious and pragmatic strategy with the proper international backing so as to put a block on Turkish opportunism and claim our lawful rights and interests during the talks that will sooner or later take place.
Professor Yiannis Valinakis is former Greek deputy foreign minister.