Thursday, February 11, 2010

NATO Framework for Solution in the Aegean

Eleftherotypia newspaper reported yesterday on a report by the RAND Corporation regarding the Aegean.

More pressure is expected to be exercised towards Greece as Washington steps up its efforts to solve Greek-Turkish differences over the Aegean. The reason being, as stated in the semi-official report, that wider US geopolitical interests are threatened by unwanted complications between Greece and Turkey.

The relevant suggestions are made in a report by the RAND Corporation and financed by the US Pentagon. The report highlights the increasing strategic importance of Turkey for US interests in the Balkans, the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Persian Gulf and states that in all these areas the cooperation of Turkey is of vital importance for attaining US goals.

The report goes on to state that in a period that NATO is facing challenges to its coherence and its mission to Afghanistan and in the post Soviet areas the last thing the United States need is a crisis in the Aegean and essentially the report looks for ways to improve American-Turkish relations.

This by definition means that Washington will have to satisfy Turkish demands in order to secure Turkish cooperation and this thread runs through the entire report, which further covers behind the scenes pressure, as opposed to public pressure, on Europe to accept Turkey in its midst.

As a result it becomes clear that the proposed increase in US intervention in matters of the Aegean will mainly focus on satisfying Turkish interests and that the pressure will be directed towards Athens.

The solution of Greek-Turkish differences in the Aegean in combination with US/NATO interests implies that a solution will likely fall under a NATO framework, something which according to information by the newspaper has already been strongly suggested to Athens by the US/NATO political leadership.

It has been reported that during his presence in Athens for the regular assembly of the High Level Consultative Committee the American Undersecretary of Defence Alexander Vershbow “handled” Aegean issues as bilateral issues between Greece and Turkey and suggested a NATO solution.

According to Mr. Vershbow, it would be desirable for the good of the Alliance to find a solution under a NATO outline which will minimize problems, so that NATO can function properly and with that in mind to put military exercises in the Aegean in a NATO framework.

Such a move would place the solution of Aegean differences under a NATO cover and as a result the Alliance would de facto become a moderator in the dispute.

An official with knowledge of the situation noted that the US side approaches the Aegean dispute in a simplistic way with suggestions of “sort it out between yourselves”. Apparently US officials are surprised to hear the Greek position that these issues, although between Greece and Turkey, are not bilateral issues because the national positions are governed by treaties which function erga omnes and have a universal and not bilateral validity.

As a result the American view of a bilateral solution cannot be accepted as this would in practice mean that Greece would have to give up much more than Turkey, especially in the framework of a NATO solution which primarily would serve US and NATO interests.

According to information the newspaper has, Washington and General Secretary of NATO Rasmussen have coordinated their efforts so that in concert they are suggesting a roadmap for solving Greek-Turkish issues in the Aegean.

The RAND report states that despite the fact that Greek-Turkish relations have improved since 1999, the Aegean differences continue to destroy relations between the two countries and constitute a threat to stability in the eastern Mediterranean.

The report further notes that until these differences are solved there is a danger that an incident (such as that in 2006) could escalate into an armed conflict, as nearly happened with the Imia/Kardak crisis in February of 96.

In this climate the Unites States should intensify their efforts to make Greece and Turkey solve their differences in the Aegean and it is noted that the number of airspace violations and incidents have increased dangerously in the last years (the report includes figures on the interception of Turkish aircraft which it sets at 161 times in the first six months of 2009 as well as Greek complaints about the over flight of Greek islands by Turkish fighters).

An American official with a long standing involvement in these issues notes that Turkey, through its tactics, is trying to force Greece into a dialogue under NATO auspices as Turkey will be favoured in such a dialogue due to its importance to the US and NATO.

It should also be noted that some months ago circles in Washington strongly denied that Washington lodged a complaint with Turkey regarding its over flights of inhabited Greek islands and rushed to assure Turkish authorities that US Assistant Secretary of State Phil Gordon had never made statements to that effect in another effort to not upset Turkey.

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