IN DEPTH – Volume 17 Issue 5 – September 2020
Executive Director at the Institute of International Relations, Panteion University
TURKEY, THE WEST AND THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN – A GREEK PERSPECTIVE
It is evident that Turkey wants to dictate the terms of the game. It is seeking geopolitical breathing room beyond its own borders, since it feels that it is suffocating. The Turkish president wants to extend Ankara’s influence to a geographical range that resembles that of the Ottoman Empire.
Through constant threats, through constant presence in the region in the form of overflights, violations of airspace, air and naval exercises, and recently through seismic survey vessels and floating drill platforms in the framework of an energy program it has launched – in all these ways, it is trying to force Greece to come to the negotiating table and push Greek Cypriots to accept Ankara’s conditions. In other words, through coercive diplomacy and creating ‘grey areas’ through its power, it is trying to gradually wear down and strain the Greek side to make us – in future negotiations – more open to Turkish sensitivities and, at the same time, it is attempting to keep us from exercising our sovereign rights in areas of Turkish interest, in the hope of weakening these rights over time. Turkey also wants to make everyone aware that it is the dominant power in the wider region and that no one can/should question it.
What’s more, Turkey now violates international legality as a matter of conviction. It disputes the theory and practice of international treaties and conventions – first and foremost, the Treaty of Lausanne. It defies institutional processes and supranational organizations, emphasizing interpersonal relationships and transactional diplomacy. It pointedly disregards international law, fabricating its own admixture of interpretations and case-law to produce a result that is tailored to its own ends and that lends a legal veneer (however thin) to its actions.
We also detect a continuous belligerent talk from Turkey against the West, the EU and the US, with the sole exception of president Trump, whom Erdogan considers as a friend. Furthermore, what is worrisome is Erdogan’s inclination to make comparisons between Islam and other religions, with the former always prevailing morally, as well as his strong view that the West is dishonest and corrupted but also its superiority is declining.
In its neighborhood, Turkey has penetrated Syria, established positions in Iraq on the pretext of countering Kurdish terrorists, is heavily involved in the Libyan war – systematically breaching the UN arms embargo – and has secured a base in Somalia. At the same time, it is using Muslim populations at various points on the globe to extend its influence. It is doing this by claiming the role of protector of Sunnis, trying to win over and become a rallying point for these Muslims. This has gained Turkey a Muslim audience, but drawn the ire of the leaderships of many Muslim and Arab states.
Greece’s top priority since late November 2019 has been to counter the Turkey-Libya agreement, and it succeeded. It did this through the Greek-Egyptian agreement, which – as the sole legal delimitation agreement in the given section of the Mediterranean – first, creates a legal dispute with the Turkey-Libya agreement, as both agreements overlap one another, and, second, it cancels out part of the Blue Homeland, which is now at the core of Turkish foreign policy.
Greece’s goal is twofold, first having strengthened its deterrent force, of course, given that Turkey is heavily armed and aggressive. It is indicating that Turkey’s military expenditure has risen since 2010 by almost 80%.
On the one hand, Greece wants a dialogue with Turkey within a predefined framework and with a commitment to go to the international court if we cannot settle our differences bilaterally. In fact, ideally, we would like to see a new rapprochement between the EU and Turkey, obviously in the context of a special relationship, with specific commitments and terms that include good neighbourly relations with Greece and Cyprus. Thus, EU-Turkey and Greece-Turkey dialogues could proceed in tandem, as well as in parallel with a new fresh start in the Cyprus issue. Of course – and I think this should be the second axis of our policy – for this to happen, Turkey needs to be given incentives and a way out of its current stalemate, so as not to further alienate the pro-European camp within Turkey. The update of both the Customs Union and the joint declaration of March 2016 regarding the migration issue, followed with the necessary increase in European funding. These can serve as a “carrot” towards Ankara. But the latter’s assertive policies need to be contained through the use of “stick”, which is not supposed to punish Turkey and its people, but rather to set a framework of rules and pave the way for concrete dialogue based on the provisions of the international law. Erdogan gains confidence every time he sees either the EU or the US show their surprising level of tolerance for Turkey’s moves (in Syria, for example). This makes the message unclear and the Turkish leadership takes advantage of this.