Today, as the world grapples with Covid-19, and with Europe and the United Kingdom moving towards a great adjustment after Brexit, it can be a point of frustration to remember that there are so many other serious issues deserving our increasingly tested attention. The current threats Greece is facing from Turkey’s illegal incursions in the Aegean Sea are no exception. As a leading NATO power in Europe with key interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, such as Akrotiri and Dhekelia, the United Kingdom needs to play a greater role in de-escalating the situation.
The United Kingdom and Greece remain close allies, but it is a relationship all too often characterized by the dispute over the Parthenon Marbles, which distorts the true and very meaningful way we support each other. An example of overwhelming importance is our joint membership of NATO, as well as deep historical ties. Through the most successful military alliance in the world, the United Kingdom and Greece are committed to guaranteeing each other’s security and freedom. In today’s world, which seems increasingly suspended between the West and the East, and in many other ways, having such intimate mutual commitment is incredibly valuable and precious. Greece and the United Kingdom are both liberal societies and parliamentary democracies. We share many values from individual liberties, such as freedom of religion and expression, to a common lineage of history, philosophy and law from the ancient world.
For this reason and for the purpose of supporting peace, the United Kingdom needs to step forward and play a bigger role in de-escalating the situation caused by Turkey unilaterally undermining the territorial integrity of Greece. The world has no shortage of international territorial disputes: There are presently over 160 such disputes across the world, but the vast majority of them are being conducted peacefully through dialogue, although often with some diplomatic tension. The same cannot be said for Turkey’s recent decision to illegally send a research vessel into Greek waters with the support of its navy. The use of military assets by a NATO member in an attempt to undermine the territorial integrity of another is a clear breach of Article 1 of the North Atlantic Treaty. This situation therefore constitutes a very real threat to the unity of the alliance and threatens, to whatever degree, peace and stability in this important region.
When looking at the history of Europe in recent centuries, it is sometimes easy to overlook the significant role Turkey has played in Europe’s politics, economy and development. Although often taking a contrary position to Europe and the West on many issues, Turkey is broadly meant to be a NATO ally. However, over the past decades it has become increasingly authoritarian, less secular, outwardly aggressive and for whatever reason is pursuing an isolated role in the geopolitical landscapes of Europe, the Middle East and Russia. While the geographic position of Turkey and its proximity to a great many issues may mean this is to some extent unavoidable, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s deliberate actions to undermine its supposed allies are not. These actions, such as the weaponization of refugees, are often at the expense of human welfare and of meaningful long-term cooperation between Turkey and the rest of Europe.
The stark reality is that this deteriorating relationship cannot go unaddressed forever. Erdogan is damaging the vitally important cooperation between Turkey and the other liberal and democratic nations of the world and we must do all we can to convince its leaders and the Turkish people that this new direction will not reward them with a stronger economy nor the ability to influence the world for the better. There is no doubt that Turkey will always be an important regional power and the West cannot afford to lose its cooperation, but there are lines that when crossed slide Turkey further towards becoming a pariah state with whom we cannot share the same key ambitions and goals.
Clearly, this is undesirable and we in the United Kingdom and Greece must do all we can to cooperate and show the Turkish people a fair and achievable path towards friendship. This must begin with Turkey not unilaterally undermining her neighbor’s territorial integrity; not supporting and funding extremist Islamist groups across Europe; nor using refugees as geopolitical bargaining chips. Moreover, we must do all we can to point out and propose new ways of cooperation to bridge the divide. Turkey should be a true friend and ally of the democratic and liberal nations of the world and we must encourage it to cooperate with the whole of Europe in good faith – this cooperation must then be returned in kind, to benefit Turkey and all its neighbors in the region.
Andrew Rosindell is the member of Parliament for the Romford constituency in Greater London.