OPINION

Crisis provocation mechanism

Every littoral nation has the right under international law to extend its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) up to 200 nautical miles from its coast. Some 140 countries have already established an EEZ and Turkey has delimited its own EEZ in the Black Sea applying the «median line» principle, effectively adopting the rule. Based on the same principle, and given the fact that every inhabited island has the right to delimit its own EEZ, Kastelorizo in the southeastern Aegean ensures that there would be contact between any Greek EEZ to be delimited and that of Cyprus, and this would significantly limit any Turkish EEZ in the eastern Mediterranean. Athens has avoided delineating its EEZ in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean because it does not want to irk Ankara. But now that Cyprus is trying to exploit the resources within the EEZ it has delimited, Turkey is doing its utmost to thwart Nicosia. At the same time it is attempting a fait accompli to usurp Greece’s EEZ in the eastern Mediterranean, by virtue of its decision to conduct explorations south of Kastelorizo. The decision was taken in July 2008 and the first attempt was made by a Norwegian vessel last November. After protests from Athens, the vessel departed, but now, the official publication of that decision may presage a second round of exploration. Violations of air space create a negative precedent, but not a fait accompli. The same, however, cannot be said about exploration on the continental shelf. In such a case, demarches do not suffice. Athens must prevent any exploration or lose a sovereign right. For this reason alone, such types of exploration are an effective mechanism for provoking a crisis, one repeatedly tried by Ankara since 1970. In this sense, the publication of Ankara’s decision in Turkey’s government gazette may prove to be a much greater provocation than air-space violations. Nevertheless, Athens has no reason to make this a military matter. Before it gets to such a point, it has plenty of political arrows in its quiver.