It is not a good idea to rely on others to initiate conflicts

I trust it has not escaped the attention of observers of Turkish foreign policy that the current Greek government is pursuing an active policy of mobilizing neighbors, friends, and allies against Turkey to isolate it in the region by limiting its access to the sea, rendering it militarily weaker by both increasing its military capabilities and ensuring the support of other powers including the US, the EU, and its members. From one perspective; that is, if Turkey presents a powerful security threat to Greece, it may be argued that this is a particularly appropriate time to build an anti-Turkish coalition to neutralize the threat that Greece alleges that it faces. Turkey’s rather poor democratic performance, as well as its disregard of human rights and the rule of law, have led it to drift away from the EU. Its negotiations for membership have come to a stop. The list of points of disagreement between the EU and Turkey is steadily growing. Turkey’s economy is in tatters; it does not appear that it will register any improvement in the foreseeable future. In the domain of defense, the country has acquired two batteries of Russian-built S-400 missiles, ignoring American and NATO concerns that they are being rendered operational would constitute a security liability and present difficulties in being integrated into the joint defense system. Turkey has also been “evicted” from the F-35 project that will constitute the backbone of NATO’s future air capabilities. And finally, the country is threatening to use force in enforcing its allegedly “illegal” claims to oil and gas exploration zones in the Eastern Mediterranean.

But then, there is another perspective that counters the arguments of the Greek government saying that Turkey is a major security threat and that Turkey’s weak moment is the right time to meet the challenge it presents. Those who subscribe to this perspective point out that Turkey has not challenged the territorial integrity of Greece since its founding. The contestation over territorial waters, the continental shelf, and exclusive economic zones can best be addressed by patiently pursuing a combination of negotiation and adjudication that considers the peculiarities of the Aegean Sea. Trying to pressure Turkey into concessions by enhancing Greece’s military potential by forming anti-Turkish alliances, driving Turkey out of NATO, or by terminating its ties with the EU might reduce its ties to the Western security community but would not necessarily lead to concessions or enhanced Greek security. Furthermore, it might remove the valuable weight of alliance partnership which has constituted a powerful force, in the past, in restraining both sides from actual fighting even when their relations had come under significant duress. Finally, trying to take advantage of Turkey’s difficulties to accommodate concerns of the current Greek government might only help invite a strong Turkish reaction at some future date that might be difficult to contain.

Which perspective is more credible? Is the effort to neutralize the alleged “Turkish threat” likely to be so successful that Greece would be liberated from it for the foreseeable future or is it likely to lead to developments that will expose Greece to even more security risks? I am inclined to think that while there are many points of argument and disagreement between the two countries, there is no indication that Turkey is planning to use force to get its way in disagreements with Greece. The exception seems to be the contested Exclusive Economic Zones in the Eastern Mediterranean. Even there, the danger is reduced by the fact that attempts at exploration have included American, French, UAE, and even Qatari companies. The Greek response to Turkish claims has so far been to organize a regional anti-Turkish front. Such efforts have not deterred the Turkish navy from driving away exploration vessels from the contested areas. In the meantime, whether there is sufficient gas to justify extensive exploration is being increasingly questioned. A few years later, we may view the whole conflict as much ado about very little.

Greece may feel that it has the backing of the EU and increasingly the US in its problematical relationship with Turkey. While it is true that the EU feels obliged to side with its member in its external dealings with a neighbor, the extent to which it will support a member whose actions invite an outbreak of armed conflict with its neighbors is open to speculation. Similarly, whether the US will have any interest in allowing itself to be dragged into a regional conflict by a small country is highly questionable. Even France, which fancies itself to be major military power in Europe, may be reluctant to engage in armed conflict with the Turks to ingratiate themselves with their new ally. History tells us that it is not a good idea to rely on others to initiate conflicts with neighbors, particularly if they are bigger. There is no reason to think that Greece will constitute an exception to the rule.

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