Flights and overflights

Flights and overflights

In a State Department report submitted to Congress a few months back, US diplomats stated that a full list of confirmed violations of Greece’s airspace by Turkish fighter jets after January 1, 2017 was “not feasible.”

There are two aspects to this story. One has to do with the longstanding US position regarding the 4-nautical mile discrepancy between Greece’s airspace and territorial waters.

According to the report, Greece claims an airspace that extends up to 10 nautical miles and a territorial sea of up to 6 nautical miles. “Under international law, a country’s airspace coincides with its territorial sea,” the report said, adding that the US thus recognizes an airspace up to 6 nautical miles consistent with territorial sea. As a result, “Greece and the US do not share a view on the extent of Greece’s airspace,” it said.

The State Department report is incomplete and misleading because it results in one self-evident parameter being sacrificed on the altar of an acknowledged difference between the US and Greece regarding the breadth of the Greek airspace. And that parameter is recognition of Greece’s sovereignty over national territory (islands) within the 6-nautical mile area, which is constantly violated by neighboring Turkey.

The authors of the report could – and in fact ought to – have pointed out the dangerous behavior of Turkey, a US NATO ally, whose American-made F-16 fighter jets casually fly over inhabited islands that are part of the territory of Greece, another NATO ally, as well as inside the 6-mile airspace recognized by all, including the US.

Had this been the case, Athens would probably still have reacted to the US position with regard to the activity of Turkish aircraft within the 6-10-nautical mile range. However, the report would have been more understandable and consistent with Washington’s longstanding policy.

The report, which was submitted to Congress within the framework of the East Med Act, aims to provide a more comprehensive briefing of US senators and members of Congress over the developments in the Eastern Mediterranean region. The idea is that they can make better informed decisions when they are called upon to vote on relevant legislation.

Because of this significant omission, though, the report does not serve its intended purpose under the law. The State Department ought to make the necessary addition/correction as quickly as possible. It would better serve the purpose for which the Congress asked the report to be prepared.

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