Negotiations Fail. Then What?
As mentioned before, there is little chance that bilateral negotiations between Greece and Turkey regarding the Aegean will yield any results. This is most likely why the Greek PM’s response to Turkish PM Erdogan is claimed to make reference to the International Court of Justice in The Hague as an ultimate recourse. Here comes that slippery slope again.
People hear “International Court of Justice” and believe the title, they think justice is a product of this Court. First of all, the road to get to the ICJ is a long one. Countries have to first agree on what they disagree on. This means that Greece would have to first officially agree that there is a host of Greek sovereign issues up for discussion. It would also mean that Greece would have to agree that the ICJ has the competence to judge over such issues. In practice the ICJ tends to “split the difference”. However, since Greece and Turkey would not only go to the ICJ regarding their respective Exclusive Economic Zones there is a real danger that this “split the difference” approach would put Greece in a disadvantageous position.
The only way to counter this situation would be for Greece to reciprocate and make her own demands, like putting a claim on the Anatolian Coast. After all, Greeks have historically inhabited that coast for longer than Turks have. Obviously Turkey would never agree to have the ICJ rule on Turkey’s sovereignty of the Anatolian Coast. So why should Greece agree to have the ICJ rule on Greece’s sovereignty of Aegean islands? After all, possession is nine tenths of the law, is it not?
The most likely outcome of bundling the Aegean issues and taking them to the ICJ would likely end in failure. The two countries will not be able to agree on which terms to go to the ICJ. And even if they do the ICJ will likely find that it is not competent to rule in many of these. So then why is it so dangerous to go to the ICJ in the first place? The answer is very simple: political momentum. With political momentum we mean that a long road will have been travelled by Greece and Turkey in a quest to “solve” their bilateral issues.
Once the entire procedure becomes stuck at the ICJ if it finds itself not competent to judge on all the issues all the parties with an interest in Greece and Turkey (i.e. the NATO allies and EU members) will continue to push for a resolution. This is when the real trouble will start for Greece. Having exhausted the ICJ as a real recourse the real pressure will be on Greece to accept some other form of mediation, either through an “honest broker” like good old Uncle Sam or under the auspices of NATO. Greece will be pressured to accept a form of mediation that does not have any foundation in International Law and will look at the strategic value of both countries. This is where Greece will lose out to Turkey and we run the danger of the “mediator” trying to make or keep Turkey happy.
It is difficult to comprehend the strategy currently being employed by the Greek PM. It is all the more difficult as the letter the Greek PM sent to his Turkish counterpart has not been fully published. Prime Minister Papandreou is, by Greek standards, a young and energetic statesman with an international upbringing. As such he is sometimes seen as someone who believes he can bring renewal in various issues. Hopefully he and his advisors will carefully (re)consider any serious departure from a long standing policy towards Turkey and will resist the Greek political system’s favourite pastime of appeasement towards Turkey.