Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Reason Greece Could Lose the Aegean Dispute - Part II

Part II

If it is indeed true that Greece has accepted to start talks with Turkey on the various issues Turkey raises then Greece is de facto accepting that Turkey has a point to begin with. This is in itself a radical departure from a policy which all Greek governments have followed for decades. Accepting to negotiate about a ridiculous claim will be presented by Turkey as there being grounds to indeed talk about the claim. This will inevitably put Greece in a difficult political position as Greece will be unwilling to “give” in the negotiation. Unless the Greek government commits treason the negotiations between the two sides are doomed to fail. The reason is simple. The stakes in the discussions all have to do with Greek sovereign issues. Greek islands, Greek airspace, Greek territorial waters. The only thing that can be labelled as a bilateral issue is that of the division of the Continental Shelf between the two countries. However, International Law does not favour the Turkish position on this issue.

For years there has been speculation about the existence of oil under the Aegean seabed. There have been several studies done into possible oil fields but any real conclusive results have never been made public. Also, the two countries have committed to not explore for oil outside of their territorial waters. This essentially blocks only Greece from exercising her legitimate rights as the majority of the Aegean would legally fall within the Greek Continental Shelf, or more correctly in Greece’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The geographic situation is such that the delimitation of Exclusive Economic Zones between the two countries would overwhelmingly favour Greece. The only way Greece would agree to a delimitation favouring Turkey would be as a result of the threat of violence from Turkey of treachery from within Greece. The second is very farfetched and the first is something that so far Greece has not been swayed by.

Turkey’s Strategic Option against Greece

Turkey has several reasons for wanting to control the Aegean besides oil. The main reason has to do with Turkey’s strategic fear of encirclement. For decades this fear has been pounded into the Turkish psyche, combined with the position that Turkey needs room to breathe (Lebensraum anyone?). As a result Turkey vehemently opposes Greece’s right to expand her territorial waters to 12 nautical miles with the threat of war. The argument against the Greek expansion is that it would turn the Aegean into a Greek lake. The argument that Greek territorial waters expansion would turn the Aegean into a Greek lake is a silly one. Greece owns over 95% of the islands in the Aegean so it is only natural that the majority of the sea itself would be Greek. There are sufficient safeguards in place in International Law to protect Turkish (legitimate) interests. We will not go into the territorial waters debate here but into the strategic implication of the current situation.

Ultimately Turkey knows that there is only one way to control the Aegean. That way is by controlling the Aegean islands. The fact that Greece currently only claims 6 nautical miles in terms of territorial waters means that Turkey can hold military exercises around Greek islands as many islands are not “connected” by Greek waters but instead interrupted by strips of international waters. This happens routinely. Each year several Turkish exercises are held which are blatantly meant to prepare the Turkish armed forces to invade Greek islands. Turkish vessels will be loaded with armour and marines and sail around Greek islands. At the same time the Turkish Air Force will attempt to blockade these islands from the air while Turkey’s politicians demand that Greece disarms its islands. The threat is so obvious that most other countries would most likely react with military action in a similar situation. Imagine Russian troops in the height of the cold war practising invasion exercises right outside US territorial waters off the Louisiana Coast in the Gulf of Mexico. The results would be deadly. There are some things that are simply not done, especially by so called allies, unless of course you’re Turkey.

The situation described above keeps Turkey’s offensive option against Greece open. Since controlling the Aegean means that you need to control the islands that is exactly what Turkey is preparing for. And this is a policy pursued on several levels by Turkey. For example, for decades Turkey has been trying to get operational control of half the Aegean airspace for NATO purposes. If Turkey would become successful in this the practical result would be that Greek military aircraft flying over Greek islands in the eastern Aegean could be labelled as hostile by Turkey for NATO purposes and Turkey could deploy NATO assets to intercept Greek aircraft flying over Greek sovereign territory. Although this sounds ridiculous not one of Greece’s NATO partners has spoken out against this policy. Instead NATO sticks its head in the sand pursuing a policy of keeping an equal distance between Greece and Turkey.

To be continued


  1. At some point Greece will lose some of the islands. Europe will protest, but then look the other way. They will not shed their own blood for Greece. Remember how the French and Britain left Greece to their own Megaloidea demise back in 1920s?

  2. Turkey has stated again and again that it does not have any claims on the islands. All what Turkey wants is half of the Agean sea-bed (minus the 6 miles around the greek islands within what would be its half)
    Considering Turkey with its population of 80 million and the history of its 450 years of presence in Greece and on the islands and the transition of the islands from turkish control to first italian and then british control and ultimately to Greek control which was not in all cases lawful, expecting Turkey to accept the whole of Agean to become a Greek sea is not realistic.

  3. Dear Anonymous,

    I think you need to do some research on the Turkish government's position regarding the Aegean islands. The Imia crisis proves that the Turkish government does indeed claim Greek islands and Turkish officials have questioned the sovereignty of hundreds of islands in the Aegean. With regards to the 450 years of Turkish presence, what is this meant to mean? Greeks have had thousands of years of presence on the Anatolian coast. Should this be the basis for any claim against Turkey?

  4. Dear Anonymous,

    What an incredibly facile comment. Your logic being that 450 years of imposed muslim slavery and occupation of a land thousands of years old entitles you to any parts convenient to your foreign policy is incredible. By that logic Greece should therefore lay claim to the entire aegean coast of Turkey and then some. Indeed by your logic perhaps the British should claim parts of India back or other parts of the Empire. You can't even see the irony in your own statement...Turkey doesn't have any claims on the islands "it just wants half". Half of the islands that have been Greek before your forebearers even settled in Turkey. The turks settled in your country around the 11 century so does this imply that the descendants of the Assyrians and Hittites should claim half of Turkey now? If Greece had the balls that Israel does you wouldn't dare play the the games you do in the Aegean or you'd get more than a bloody nose. Israel takes shit from no one but Greece just takes it up the ass. Don't worry eventually Greece will give you the islands under the name of peace in exchange for some token revenue (oil or trade) that a minority of rich greeks stand to gain. So for now why don't you just humour them?

  5. There is no logic in any of this. Things are simple, greece is in a sticky economic situation while turkey is doing quite well. When you consider the future it is looking likely that greece will go bust while turkey flurishes financially. For that reason alone i think greece should now claim the 12 nautical miles and invite turkey to do what it has to do. That will present the greek state with an opportunity to empty its arsenal on its neighbour if the turks decide to attack and therefore reverse turkey's economic fortunes to the same level as the greek level. What the outcome is going to be at the end of it is unknown to anyone however i think we should not have to put up with a country that respects nothing else but their own self expansion. Enough is enough. Now is the time. Declare the 12 miles and return them back to the 17th century. Greece is already there( economically)

  6. Greece has an international legal right to extend to 12 miles and will soon do so!The turks have no recourse but to accept and follow international law.The turks are not European and should not be accepted into the EU.The fact remains that Asia Minor was not settled by turks during the Golden Age of The Greek civilization!Erdogan and his people will soon realise that the Europeans along with the Russians and the U.S. have the turks on a leash.The turks should not pull on the leash to hard as it will be yanked back.Israel is now also a turk enemy and the list continues to grow. THE DAYS OF THE ottoman ARE OVER!!

  7. Once the EU has a common defense force, the 12 miles will be declared, oil exploration will begin within Greece's EEZ, and the whole issue of Turkey's megalomania will be mute.