Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears willing to sacrifice a lot on the altar of his own personal ambitions and in the context of a public opinion trained over the past few years in nationalist maximalism. He may not realize it, but the head-on collision he appears to be courting will damage his country’s relations with the West and its economy.
A hostage of his own voracious neo-Ottoman vision, Erdogan slights friends and allies, threatens Greece and Cyprus, and compromises mediation efforts by other powers like the current holder of the European Union presidency, Germany, which has demonstrated its desire to maintain good relations with Turkey. His threats and insults have crossed every line – he recently described Greece as a “fake bully” – and can no longer be ignored, even if they are directed at a domestic audience. Not only by the countries at the receiving end, but also by other key regional players like Israel and Egypt, or big powers like the United States and France, the latter of which has also been a target of his lately.
Greece fully understands that you cannot expect others to fight your fight. However, it is equally obvious that the effective use of defense alliances with, among others, the US and France – confirmed by recent joint military exercises – and the tripartite partnerships forged by Greece and Cyprus with Israel and Egypt, respectively, give us added diplomatic and geopolitical value.
Concerns are mounting, both in France, which foresees playing a bigger role in the Eastern Mediterranean (especially in light of Brexit), and in Germany, which is the key decision-making center of the European Union, with all that entails in terms of the influence it exerts over our region, including Turkey.
At the same time, as has been repeatedly stressed, the Hellenic Armed Forces remain strong, and certain specific units especially are capable of inflicting significant damage. This does not mean that Greece is aggressive or unaware of its limits and risks. Greece has never sought conflict, under any leadership. It says so again and again – and not because it is afraid, but because it is aware of the cost.
For his part Erdogan acts aggressively. And he will pay a price if he continues to ignore certain realities. Common sense suggests that a military confrontation between two members of NATO will be destructive to both sides, on multiple levels, and should be avoided at any cost.
In private conversations, high-ranking American (in the present administration but also among Joe Biden’s circles) and European officials have repeatedly voiced concerns that if Turkey drifts too far away from the West, it risks becoming another Pakistan or even Iran. Their concerns are not unfounded. That said, a policy of “appeasement” is not the way to prevent such a development.
In response to Wednesday’s attacks by Erdogan, the Turkish president should know that Greece is both worthy of its Byzantine heritage, and has the courage to stand up to him. It simply also has the coolness, rationality and intelligence to understand the dangers of a full-on confrontation and the damage it will cause to both sides.