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