A necessary agreement
From the signing of the Turkey-Libya agreement on maritime boundaries, it was clear that there had to be a response from the Greek side. The fact is that the above memorandum is completely illegal. International maritime law suggests that for there to be an agreement on maritime boundaries between nations they must have either adjacent or opposite coastlines. In the case of Turkey and Libya, their coastlines are 620 kilometers apart, while those of Greece and Libya are less than 300 km apart. This agreement is not only illegal, but it also goes contrary to geography and common sense. However, it still is an international treaty, something which the Turks have been touting since its signing. This claim presented an obstacle which needed to be overcome.
The best option was through Egypt. The possible outcomes were two, either a demarcation agreement or a recourse to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) if an agreement was not reached. Discussions concerning maritime boundaries between Egypt and Greece had begun in 2005 but had led nowhere. Egypt had proven extremely tough regarding maritime demarcation. Moreover, it had no intention of getting embroiled in the Greek-Turkish dispute. Their position was simple: Solve your issues with Turkey and then tell us with whom we should sign. After many years of fruitless discussions, the best solution would be to bring it up to the ICJ; however, that required the agreement of Egypt, which was not considered a given. The most important factor was deemed to be time. Turkey could implement its agreement with Libya at any time. In contrast, ICJ arbitration would have taken at least four or five years.
Those were the conditions amid which the agreement with Egypt was struck. The key benefit is that now we have an international treaty that overlaps the claimed areas of the Turkey-Libya agreement. This introduces an international disagreement on maritime boundaries which, technically, limits Turkey’s room for maneuver. It also allows for diplomatic pressures to be applied. [We shall see shortly how Turkey will react to the developments.] The reaction following the navigational telex issued by Turkey on July 21 is a guide for our actions.
The key pieces of criticism toward the agreement are two. The first has to do with the use of partial demarcation and the second with the limited influence of some islands in boundary extensions. Due to the importance of challenging the Turkey-Libya deal, some of our past negotiating positions had to be adjusted. This mainly concerns partial demarcation. It was paramount that there should be a contention against the boundaries set by the Turkey-Libya agreement which extended Turkey’s claims from the Aegean island of Kastellorizo to southeast of Crete. Partial demarcation is accepted practice in International Law with many examples (see Peru-Chile in 1954, Australia-Indonesia in 1971, Nigeria-Equatorial Guinea in 2000 and Nicaragua-Honduras in 1992). After all, the ICJ itself awarded partial demarcation in the 1982 case regarding a dispute on boundaries in the Gulf of Maine between the US and Canada. Furthermore, it is notable that we were able to persuade the Egyptians to extend the line east of the island of Karpathos. They held that east of the island is where Turkish claims might arise and have, up to now, always stuck to considering Karpathos as the easternmost bound which could be agreed.
As for the influence of certain islands regarding the demarcation, there is as yet no official information. As such, any informed comment cannot be made. Thus, the principle that in international relations what you want does not apply but rather what can be achieved under the current circumstances, remains true.
Finally, it must be noted that the agreement with Egypt is a positive development in dealing with the Turkey-Libya treaty. The agreement puts us in a stronger position, which, coupled with diplomacy, our alliances, and the deterrent measure which our armed forces pose, help us balance the tensions in the region. However, it does not solve the issue of demarcations in the Eastern Mediterranean nor our dispute with Turkey. A solution can only be reached by settling all the maritime boundaries in the area. Given that there cannot be an agreed demarcation due to the contests of Turkey, the only solution is resorting to the ICJ. The following chapters of this long-fraught story will be played out in the coming month, through the Turkish response to the Greece-Egypt agreement and the sanctions which will be discussed in the European Union at the end of August.
Angelos Syrigos is a New Democracy MP and associate professor of international law and foreign policy at Athens’ Panteion University.