OPINION

The essence of a ludicrous rift

The rift between Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou and Foreign Minister George Papandreou over the handling of Greek-Turkish relations is lacking in any seriousness as, during his stint as national economy minister, Papantoniou sought to exploit the apparent rapprochement between Athens and Ankara in order to justify cuts in defense spending. In spite of this ludicrous aspect, the rift between the two men is revealing of the fact that the Greek government has been tackling Turkey’s expansionism as if it were part of some academic exercise. Greece is concerned over the course of this Muslim state toward Europeanization, it has been following the development of actual or apparent conflicts within the Turkish political and military elites and is still unable to classify its eastern neighbor as either a friend or foe. Though such an exercise may be of academic interest, in no way can it comprise a government’s policy toward a neighboring state when the two countries are divided by so many serious and unresolved disputes. Turkey’s claim to have European orientation provides no guarantees for Greece since the fact that both states were NATO members did not prevent Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974, the continued occupation of the northern part of the island, nor Turkish expression of claims on the Aegean Sea, even though it has undoubtedly headed off an all-out war between Athens and Ankara. But though the government may have been thrown into confusion, the same thing cannot be said for the leaders of the armed forces who encounter on a daily basis Turkey’s effort to consolidate its military might on the Aegean Sea. And if Papantoniou has shown a major shift in his policy toward Ankara, this is because he has formed a personal view of Turkish behavior, partly based on briefings by the air force. There is no doubt that in the post-1974 period, the armed forces have been the object of severe criticism from the political parties on the left side of the political spectrum. But it must be said that despite their attempts to assert political control upon the military, the first PASOK governments based their policy toward Turkey and NATO on the country’s military establishment and, more specifically, on the views of the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Nikos Kouris. Shortly after Simitis came to power as prime minister, he had to deal with the traumatic experience of the Imia crisis. The premier’s relationship with the military has been awkward ever since. Therefore, it is not paradoxical that the military has strong reservations over the success of the Greek-Turkish rapprochement given that, at military level, Ankara’s stance has remained unchanged. Papantoniou may not be the most reliable voice of these concerns but his positions are based on unquestionable facts. Theories concerning Turkey’s transformation as a result of its Europeanization, on the other hand, are only of theoretical value. The Greek government was right to lift the obstacles to Ankara’s European accession as this was the only way to refer the Turkish dispute to the European Union. This, however, does not make Turkey a friendly country, at least not as long as Turkey continues its occupation of northern Cyprus.