How Should the European Union Respond to Rising Greece-Turkey Tensions?

Yves here. While you were busy with…fill in the blank….coping with Covid, the Democratic/Republican convention theater, US protests, watching the Brexit paint dry….the never-very-friendly relationship between Greece and Turkey has been getting worse.

By Michael Leigh, Academic Director of the Masters in European Public Policy programme at Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna, Italy and a senior adviser on public policy and government affairs at Covington, Brussels. Originally published at Bruegel

The European Union is seeking to mediate in a naval confrontation on its doorstep, in the Eastern Mediterranean, which involves NATO partners Greece and Turkey, as well as EU member Cyprus. EU foreign ministers are discussing the issue and, without de-escalation, sanctions against Turkey could be implemented. But so far, the two most powerful EU nations have adopted a ‘good cop, bad cop’ approach that conveys different and confusing messages – and has not prevented escalation. Chancellor Angela Merkel, with the added authority of holding the EU’s six-month revolving presidency, has launched a German initiative to prevent escalation, reduce tensions and overcome longstanding conflicts. But French President Emmanuel Macron, while not eschewing mediation, has opted for a show of force, sending French naval vessels into disputed waters to counter the presence of Turkish warships.

Deep-Rooted Dispute

The dispute is ostensibly over ownership of offshore gas deposits and the delimitation of 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs).

Turkey has sent exploration vessels and warships into waters claimed by Greece and Cyprus and begun drilling for gas. Despite its 1,600 kilometre Mediterranean coastline, Turkey is the only Eastern Mediterranean state without internationally recognised rights to offshore resources in the area because nearby Greek islands and Cyprus have secured the right to generate EEZs under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Turkey is one of fifteen UN members that is not a party to UNCLOS, and Ankara insists that Turkey’s continental shelf gives it ownership rights that take priority over the UNCLOS-backed claims of Cyprus and Greece.

But the dispute also reflects deep-rooted rivalries. Greece and Turkey are at loggerheads over the division of Cyprus and rival maritime claims in the Aegean. Ankara asserts the right of ‘the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus’, recognized only by Turkey, to a share of offshore gas resources. The government of the Republic of Cyprus accepts in principle the rights of Turkish Cypriots to a stake in the country’s energy resources, but this commitment has yet to be tested as Cyprus is still seeking investors to fund the infrastructure to bring deep-water Cypriot gas to market.

Differences over offshore gas have also been exacerbated by the Libya conflict, with Greece and Turkey supporting opposing sides. Turkey concluded a delimitation agreement with Libya in 2019, which sweeps aside Cypriot and Greek claims. Greece responded in August by inking a partial maritime delimitation agreement with Egypt which is incompatible with Turkish claims. Greek and Turkish vessels collided at sea in mid-August and there is a risk of further clashes. In January, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority set up the Eastern Mediterranean Energy Forum, which Ankara views as threatening Turkish interests.

Mixed Messages

The EU has called for the sovereign rights of its members Cyprus and Greece to be respected. But the different approaches taken by France and Germany could undermine the EU’s mediation effort. Ms Merkel wants the union to act with its trademark soft power to reduce tensions. She also wishes to preserve cooperation with Turkey on migration and is sensitive to feelings among the population of Turkish origin in Germany.

Mr Macron considers that a display of ‘hard power’ will deter Mr Erdogan from military threats. His accusation that President Erdogan is pursuing an “expansionist policy, mixing nationalism and Islamism, which is incompatible with European interests and is a factor for destabilisation”was not calculated to draw Turkey’s president into talks. In addition, France, Greece, Cyprus and Italy have launched a joint aeronautical exercise south of Cyprus, while Greece has undertaken air force exercises with the United Arab Emirates in Crete.

Greek government sources, meanwhile, have questioned whether Turkey is a fitting negotiating partner. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in late August that Greece would extend its territorial waters from six to twelve miles in the Ionian Sea, bordering Albania and Italy, and that, in future, a similar step could be taken in other areas. Turkish leaders have reminded Greece that in 1995 the Turkish Grand National Assembly declared that if Greece unilaterally extended its territorial waters it would be a casus belli for Ankara.

The EU’s main interest in the Eastern Mediterranean is conflict prevention rather than energy security. While the dispatch of French naval vessels to the eastern Mediterranean, joint air force exercises and the implicit threat of sanctions may concentrate minds in Ankara, they are more likely to play into Mr. Erdogan’s anti-EU narrative. In any event, Mr Erdogan knows there is unlikely to be a consensus in the EU for economically significant sanctions. A tough line on Turkey’s maritime rights, dubbed its ‘Blue Homeland’, is widely shared by political parties in Turkey.

Turkey is also an important partner for the EU on trade, counter-terrorism and migration. The 2016 joint initiative to stem illegal migration through Turkey to the EU is the most palpable example of such cooperation. The EU is vocal in calling for the respect of the rule-of-law in Turkey but, at the same time, needs to engage with Ankara in areas of mutual interest.

Energy Prospects

The gas discovered so far off Cyprus and Israel is of considerable value to the countries themselves, but insignificant in terms of international energy markets. The attractive notion of a pipeline from the region to Europe, agreed in principle by the governments of Cyprus, Greece and Israel, faces technical and financial obstacles and will not be happen unless considerable additional quantities are discovered. Meanwhile, Cyprus has ordered a floating regasification and storage plant to enable it to import liquified natural gas, while its own gas remains stranded because of lacking infrastructure. Greece has made no commercially significant offshore gas discoveries to date.

Turkey’s recent discovery of large gas deposits in the Black Sea may be a game changer. The Black Sea discoveries, of still undetermined extent, could curb Turkey’s eagerness to gain access to Eastern Mediterranean gas and give it a stake in regional energy markets as a supplier. This could open a window for negotiations with Greece, by shifting attention in Ankara to more promising energy prospects for Turkey. But mediation will only stand a chance if there are convincing incentives for both parties. For example, the EU could double down on its rejection of any resort to force by Turkey and, at the same time, press for Turkish participation in the Eastern Mediterranean Energy Forum. Chancellor Merkel’s preference for mediation, in liaison with the High Representative, could lead ultimately to bilateral negotiations between Turkey and Greece and compromises on their conflicting claims.

Economic Implications

The EU has economic as well as geopolitical interests at stake in relation to energy exploration and production in the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean. Mr. Erdogan expects that gas from the Black Sea could come on stream by 2023, though 2025 seems more realistic. Black Sea gas from Turkey could be exported to Europe, through the Southern Gas Corridor, especially to Balkan countries, which currently depend on Russian gas. Italy, too, could receive gas from the Black Sea, as the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), the last link in the southern corridor, is due to become operational by the end of the year.

Major energy companies, including Italy’s ENI and its French partner TOTAL, have been prevented from exploring for gas in disputed areas by the presence of naval vessels. De-escalation and negotiations would enable them to resume exploration. New discoveries would help Cyprus attract investors to build the pipelines required to bring its gas to market.

A revival of tourism, if the Eastern Mediterranean is no longer perceived as a conflict zone, would contribute to the recoveries of Cyprus, Greece and Turkey from the coronavirus-induced downturn. Conflict-resolution would bring reputational gains to Turkey, where the business climate suffers from weaknesses in the rule of law. This would raise the country’s ratings and improve conditions for European investment and banking in Turkey.

Greece and Turkey both profess a willingness to engage in negotiations, albeit on different terms. If Chancellor Merkel and High Representative Borrell succeed in bringing this about though mediation, there will be gains for all concerned.

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  1. psilo

    Close all borders with Turkey, immediately expell all non citizen Turks, ban all Turkish products in the EU, and sanction Turkey to highest level, then respond to any Turkish crossing into Greek waters and airspace with warfare. Let’s see Erdogan squeal like a pig.

    1. Matthew G. Saroff

      I don’t think that your suggestion would work, see Clive’s response, but Erdogan is a clear and present danger to stability in the region, not because he’s a despot, but because he is fixated on restoring the Ottoman Empire in some form, so whatever is done should be clearly done in a way calculated to contain Turkey, and to make Erdogan appear weak to his citizens.

      1. Tom Bradford

        Erdogan is a clear and present danger to stability in the region, not because he’s a despot, but because he is fixated on restoring the Ottoman Empire in some form

        If true it should be noted that the Ottoman empire at its height included the Balkans and Greece, which might explain Greek sensibilities. It also included what is now Israel, hence Jerusalem, which might explain US sensibilities. It also included Austria to the gates of Vienna, which I would have thought might tickle German sensibilities,

  2. Alex morfesis

    10-25-50-72-90 plan…all disputed areas…first 25 km off Turkish borders…turkey gets 90% and Greece gets 10 %…next 25km both parties split the revenues…beyond that the Greeks keep 90% and turkey gets 10%…yes…of everything….not that either side would agree to such a simple formula…that would be no fun….

    Or the parties can wrestle for the next 25 years, at which time the end of the carbon era will be in full swing…and Lambert will be happy since it will remain underground…

    As the article mentions of the size of the unknown reserves/deposits…are the parties fighting realistically over a rather small potential…

    Or just another cheap excuse to keep their citizens from focusing on each other’s economic foibles…betting on no war manifesting itself, even if someone on one side takes a cheap shot and causes a few deaths…

    neither side has the citizenry support to have any form of protracted engagement…just beer muscles….

  3. Thomas P

    Back in 2004 there was a referendum for reunification of Cyprus. The Turkish side agreed, the Greek said no. This leaves the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in a vacuum. They are not internationally recognized as a separate country and they were denied the chance to merge with the recognzized Greek Cypriot state. EU is also blocked from acting by a consistent Greek Cyrpiot veto.

    1. Petrakis

      A reunification agreement has to be approved by the people of both communities to be viable. Are you suggesting that the democratic will,(expressed through a referendum) of the Greek Cypriots (or the Turkish Cypriots) counts for nothing because of the wider geopolitical imperatives of larger states? None of this changes the fact that Turkey has been occupying Cyprus for nigh on half a century, in contravention of international law, after its stated aim of intervening to re-establish constitutional order. Perhaps the Greek Cypriots should just roll over and accept Turkish expansionism to make people like you happy. Do you live in Cyprus Thomas?

      1. Thomas P

        Do you have any suggestion for what the Turkish side should do after the Greek side refused to accept the UN-mediated plan for reunification?

        1. The Rev Kev

          Under Obama and Hillary a few years ago, major pressure was put on the Greek Cypriots to accept a unification settlement that would have favoured Turkey and legitimized what they had taken. I suspect that some deal had been made between Washington, Brussels and Ankara but it fell through when the Greek Cypriots saw what that deal entailed and they refused to sign. A UN-mediated plan for reunification sounds good but unless you have buy in from the people that actually live there, then such a deal will go nowhere.

          1. Thomas P

            The referendum was held 2004 while George W Bush was President in USA. While it is true that a deal will go nowhere unless both sides agree, don’t you think the international isolation of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is a bit unfair since they tried to end the “occupation” by accepting a UN plan for unification? What more can they do? Are you sure it’s not the Greek side that has unrealistic expectatons?

            1. The Rev Kev

              I think that you and I have different ideas as to what an ‘occupation’ means. When you see tens of thousands of men in green clothing landing on an island along with tanks, artillery, etc. and pushing out 150,000 people from their ancestral homes and moving in themselves as well as bringing in 120,000 people from their home country, well yes, that is an occupation. What can they do? How about getting their military out of the occupied part and leaving just the police? That would make a great start.

              The UN also has a plan for Syria where Jihadist groups, through their representatives, would get to take over the government and the present government would step away. Do you think that the Syrians should accept that plan too? Some UN plans are better than others.


              1. Thomas P

                I hope you read the part about the Greek coup before the Turkish invasion. It was not entirely unjustified and there had been a low level conflict going on since 1960.

                I agree that having recent immigrants vote to legitimize a military conquest is problematic, but it worked for Israel, which is called democratic, it worked for the annexation of Hawaii etc. In this case it didn’t even matter since the Turkish side voted for reunification. It was the Greek side that opposed it.

                Since you mentioned the expulsion of Greek Cypriots it might be worth to point out that 60,000 Turk Cypriots were also expelled the other direction.

                1. The Rev Kev

                  The Greek side voted against it because it was so lopsided towards the Turks and that was because the big powers wanted to please the Turks for their own reasons. And Israel democratic? Must be a new usage of the word ‘democratic’ which I was previously unaware of. As I said previously, Turkey is an expansionary power that has illegal bases in Iraq and is trying to seize part of Syria for itself. Occupying half of Cyprus is merely part of a pattern of conquest. Erdogan has signed aboard a Turkish vision of seizing the northern half of both Syria and Iraq and wanting to occupy distant parts of the Mediterranean is part of this vision.

            2. drumlin woodchuckles

              What if the plan was just a kangaroo plan designed to “shut everybody up and move on”?

          2. vidimi

            there was a really excellent article linked to here on NC on the issue a while back. It may have been John Pilger who wrote it. Regardless, it was a real eye-opener for me and showed that the proposed deal was a turkish trojan horse the greeks were right to reject.

        2. lyman alpha blob

          I’m not familiar with this plan, but if the Greeks who have wanted Cyprus back from the Turks for decades refused the deal, my guess is it wasn’t favorable to the Greeks and wasn’t really giving back the territory occupied by Turkey.

          Kind of like those deals Israel keeps coming up with for the Palestinians where the deal hinges on Palestinians acknowledging that they have no rights and that Israel is innately superior in every way.

          If I’m wrong about that assumption, I;m happy to be corrected.

  4. Diego M

    If there should be a war, so be it.

    Sometimes you have to go to war and defend your legitimate interests.

    Cyprus, a full EU member, has been occupied by Turkish invaders for decades.

    This is not about invading a Third-World country 10,000 km away.

    This is defending OUR OWN land.

    Let there be war.

    1. Anon II, First of the Name


      You may want to think this through a bit:

      1. How will the other countries align? Where does Russia stand, for example, and do they stay out of this?
      2. What happens during a war?
      3. What happens after a war?
      4. Are the long term consequences from a war really better than a negotiated solution? (Including to, say NATO)?
      5. Are you even sure that Europe would “win” such a war? If so, on what do you base this assumption?

      1. Diego M

        Turkey doesn’t have any allies.

        The EU has a larger economy than the US, China and Russia, as well as world-class military technology (including nuclear weapons, modern fighters, ballistic missiles and space technology) and the ability to ramp up its production.

        There is no reason why the EU wouldn’t have the most powerful Army and Navy if it so desired.

        During a war, the EU cripples the Turkish economy until it gives up and surrenders.

        Invasions and naval blockades are part of this.

        Please notice that European nations have a longer history of warfare than some “new” nations can even grasp. We relied on our US ally for the last half a century but that relationship is obsolete now.

        You elected Trump. You chose that outcome. We are just adapting accordingly.

        1. Anon II, First of the Name

          Turkey may or may not have allies; however, many countries have geopolitical interests in the country, and they are not going to give them up. Ukraine and Belarus didn’t have all that many firm allies either
          Your war “strategy” looks a lot like the 2003 US war strategy for Iraq: “We walk in and we cripple Iraq until the country surrenders”

          That’s great, but it doesn’t really cut it in the real world.

          Re: the US:

          (1) I didn’t elect Trump president of the United States any more than you elected Xi to head China.
          (2)Yes, the US will withdraw from the world, and Europe will adapt accordingly. It will likely adapt by going to war with itself yet again. Your mentality–“Why de-escalate? We can just fight and win a war against a bunch of non-Europeans” is only a very small reason why Europe will go to war. Rather, Europe is geographically and politically doomed to war with itself unless a bigger country comes in, protects the continent’s defense interests, and also de facto subsidizes all of their economies. Rather than criticize the US for withdrawing from assuming such a crappy role, perhaps you should be grateful that the country was willing to assume such a burden for almost a century

          It is a little bizarre to see everybody criticize the US for getting involved in the world and also for watching the country be criticized when it withdraws from the world.

          Just my thoughts–I have no dog in this hunt.

          1. Diego M

            Of course wars have cost. Of course a war with Turkey can spiral out of control. Of course you can have hundreds of thousands of European victims.

            My point wasn’t that it would be a cost-free war.

            Only Americans believe in cost-free wars.

            My point is that it is high time Europe has a defense strategy and sets a precedent by defending *its own* land and sea in a war.

            Which is a huge difference vs. the 2003 Iraq invasion.

        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          I like the way you think!

          The countries of EUrope aLONE and ONLY could form their OWN alliance. They ( you) could call it NEATO, for North East Atlantic Treaty Organization. NEATO!

      2. Diego M

        You think current-day Europe is Europe in 1914.

        I think current-day Europe is Germany in 1870.

        Turkey, which has no allies, cannot sustain a long-term war against Europe, not even against a minority EU coalition of the willing.

        I don’t think there are any doubts regarding EU technological, logistical & manufacturing capabilities.

        1. Anon II, First of the Name

          Oh–I forgot the last one:

          A bunch of potential belligerents thinking that this will be a short, cost-free war — check

      3. lyman alpha blob

        I suspect Russia would stay right out of this mess.

        If they didn’t though, they would likely align with Greece as both countries are Orthodox Christian.

        This is something the US didn’t take to take into account aback in the 90s when fomenting wars in Serbia (also Orthodox). I remember Turkish and Greek planes buzzing each other back then and thinking WWIII might be starting if cooler heads didn’t prevail. And Russia has become quite a bit stronger today than they were in the 90s.

      4. Charles 2

        Precise questions. Very good for having a productive discussion. Let’s have a go :
        1) Pretty much every country except Qatar, Iran and Russia align with the EU/“Semitic league”(Israel has been admitted to the Arab club apparently…). So let’s look at it in turn :
        – Russia : Doesn’t spend too much time eating popcorn on the couch, takes over everything that isn’t bolted to NATO, I.e. Belarus, the whole of Ukraine, Moldavia, Georgia, Armenia. If things are really going south for Turkey, grab some Turkish land in the Black Sea. That is a lot to digest, and a coordinate action of the EU against Turkey would indicate that Article 42.6 of the Lisbon Treaty is serious after all, so I predict hands off the EU who has been so understanding in letting back Soviet republics under the fold…
        – Iran : any serious fireworks implies igniting Kurdistan. Kurds have been PITA for the Turks for decades. Kurds with close air support will pin the Turkish land Army to the East of the country, and would close the links with Iran. Same thing with China.
        – Qatar : these UAE/Saudi Arabia invasion plans would be dusted off the shelves. An invaded Qatar would be a good landing place for Palestinians by the way.
        Of course, the US can enter into the fray as usual and slap everyone down to calm, but this whole crisis arose because the US didn’t do that in the first place. And the US didn’t do that in the first place because it is laser focused on East Asia, not unjustifiably so I would say.
        2) planes down, ships sunk, Turkish and Greek infrastructure hits, Turkish industrial capacity (especially defense sector) hit and land fight in Cyprus, some Aegean islands and Lybia. Male refugees from Syria and Kurdistan arriving in Greece and Bulgaria flown directly to Syria and Kurdistan to fight Turkey (It is young male refugees who create mess) Female refugees in EU camps and children refugees in EU sponsored schools. The fact that they are safe and sound is good motivator for the male refugees-to-conscripts to fight well and on the right side.
        3) EU wins : Turkey has no navy left in the Med, and is not allowed to have one for a long time. Turkey looses 15 million inhabitants to an independent Kurdistan. Possibly Turkey is split between a 20 million people Straits western Turkey admitted in the EU and an impoverished and boxed up Anatolia under Russian and Arab influence. EU has a centralised Army and starts to exists geopolitically.
        Turkey wins : EU looses Chunk of Bulgaria, Cyprus and Greece, Syria looses a good chunk of its territory, Turkey makes a move to reunite with Azerbaijan if Russians don’t stand in the way. EU has to go full Atlantic and dance in full synchrony to whatever tune the US sings, pretty much like UK post Brexit.
        Note that in both cases EU gets united and thus less at chance to see individual countries going at each other’s throat, and Western Turkey is doing quite well after its infrastructure is repaired
        4) A negotiated solution is preferable only when the prospect of war is durably removed from the perspective. Munich and Molotov-Ribbentrop pacts were negotiated solution but had bad Long term consequences.
        5) in terms of military victory, 80%. Basic assumption : strategic depth, as EU ships and planes are built and repaired one thousand miles (at least) from the action, whereas Turkish factories and shipyards are located in western Turkey.
        In terms of political victory, I would say 95% because the EU would be made to coalesce into a unique political entity in the process (For instance, a full banking union would be proclaimed a short while after the beginning of the hostilities). Military victory or defeat only affects the respective proportion of Northern and Southern European in the EU bureaucracy, the magnitude of US influence and relative GDP per capita of European Regions. For the average European, a unified Europe that doesn’t go at war with itself for the foreseeable future is the Prize with a capital “P”. Ironically, Turkey may be offering it.

          1. Charles 2

            True, but this East Med business can turn out to be even more important politically than geopolitically. Banging hard on political Islam in Europe (closing Mosques, rounding up suspects – to be expelled eventually – like the US did with the Japanese American,etc…) is super ugly but brings back a lot of votes that were lost to the extreme right in France and Germany.
            On the French side, considering France’s demographic, reining on political Islam as a separatist movement Within the country is considered as essential by Macron. Presenting it as Turkish Muslim Brotherhood Political Islam vs Arab Morocco/Egypt/UAE style apolitical Islam makes it easier because there are many more Muslims of Arabic origin rather than Turkish origin in France.
            In Germany, plain Turkish bashing under the guise of homeland security will carry most of the AfD to the CDU (Ugly I told you…). Remember that there are many Turks in Germany, but amazingly few Turkish voting citizens because of citizenship laws. From Merkel standpoint, it brings back the heir that she designated, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer who is the current Defense Minister, back into the spotlight. AKK had to resign from CDU leadership because she disapproved of a local Alliance with the extreme right and couldn’t assert her authority. 6 months every day in the news explaining how she deals forcefully with the Turks and she is in the Chancellery launch pad again.
            With Macron Re-elected and AKK elected, knowing that the two of them are quite aligned politically speaking, Merkel “retires” as the Deng Xiao Ping of Europe, steering it to Federalism behind the scene, or not so much behind the scene if Europe decides it needs a leader for its federal defense effort. “Chairwoman of the EU military Commission” sounds a good title to me ;-) …

  5. PlutoniumKun

    The Gods of Geology sometimes seem to have a perverse sense of humour, putting oil and gas in the locations most guaranteed to create conflict. The band of gas bearing rocks stretching under the Eastern Mediterranean seem designed to stoke war. The only good news is that very low gas prices and the probably over-optimistic early surveys mean that few of the wells will be commercial. Offshore gas almost always needs pipelines to be viable, a combination of expensive off-shore rigs with LNG production isn’t likely to be viable. But putting in pipelines in the Eastern Med means everyone has to co-operate.

    NATO is in a bind of course as it was never designed for conflict between its own members. But Turkey is semi-detached now, so it would seem likely that European nations would back Greece in a conflict. Erdogan can be a wild card, and it would not be uncharacteristic of him to grossly overplay his hand, but I don’t think it’s in anyones interest, including Russia or China, for a war to break out in that part of the world.

    1. Bill Smith

      “perverse sense of humour, putting oil and gas in the locations most guaranteed to create conflict”

      Nah, the gods put it there in the build up to Pax Romana. You know, about 4,004 BC when the earth was created.

      I hope the Black Sea stuff is big enough to divert Erdogan.

    2. Ignacio

      This is more or less what I was thinking. Nothing is more difficult than the geopolitics of natural gas which depend very much on political stability. It is not very wise for Erdogan to try to initiate exploring without clear legal terms that will make impossible any supply agreement. Such agreements are long term and need solid legal terms to be signed. I deem these as amongst the most complicated to be completed requiring long term compromises at both sides of the table.

      Clearly Erdogan is here playing risky business and I don’t see any powerful company agreeing even to explore so Turkey would have to cover all the exploratory, pipeline, liquefaction expenses and rely only on their own market to finance this.

  6. Anon II, First of the Name

    Europe itself is geographically configured to more or less constantly be at war unless some outside power (e.g. US since WWII) intervenes and expends a ton of resources to keep those idiots from lunging at each others’ throats. In this case, geology just happens to make for a nice excuse to rouse things up.

    A stable continent would see much of the Mediterranean under the control of one or two countries and a few countries covering the North. Had Julius Caesar never gone north, all would have likely been well (in the long term).

    Needless to say, that ain’t happening anytime soon, and so war will again break out across the continent sooner or later. However, I find it highly unlikely that a group of countries that are unwilling to forgive Greece her debts will actually blow apart a security alliance and risk their citizens’ lives for Greece instead. That is just highly unlikely.

    1. Charles 2

      Had French then German imperialistic elites been less full of themselves and forgot to poke Russia in the eye to focus on the Med, all would have likely “been well” as well. This time France and Germany have the benefit of hindsight, so we could hope that third time is a charm : Unite peacefully rather than aggressively and leave Russia alone.

      Regarding your last point, Greek and Cypriot debt are actually an incentive for Northerners to back them up. Southerners are bankrupt, but the recovery rate will be increased if they can put their hands on hydrocarbon deposits. I would venture that for every euro of gas extracted, at least half of it ends up in Northerners pockets. To paraphrase Keynes, when someone owes you billions, then that someone’s assets become your problem.

  7. Polar Socialist

    I don’t think it’s in anyones interest, including Russia or China, for a war to break out in that part of the world.

    Of course it depends how one defines that part of the world but, IMHO, there are already a couple of wars going on already.

    That said, a new one is definitely worth avoiding.

    NATO apparently is even more useless than usually since without any clear USA policy goal it lacks direction and will to act. NATO’s way of preventing wars is based on conventional MAD, not finesse or diplomacy.

    EU, on the other hand, have a lot of cards to play. There’s pushing for federal government of Cyprus thus cutting it off from Turkey (and maybe even UK, as a bonus!). There’s France having seconds thoughts about Hatay province and wanting to “make things right by Syria”. There’s ending sanctions and weapons embargo on Syria, and helping reconstruction there (which would, as a bonus, build understanding with Russia and anger Washington). And finally there’s renegotiating/terminating the customs union with Turkey.

    With all this on the table, I think parties could find a compromise. At least a temporary one.

    I still think EU should engage in Syria’s reconstruction, and thus remove the “flood of refugees” -threat from Turkey’s playbook while simultaneously gaining some influence in Syria and moving towards rapprochement with Russia. What’s not to like?

  8. The Rev Kev

    It is not only a Greece-Turkey tension here at work. Turkey under Erdogan is undertaking an expansionary move on its neighbours. They are trying to incorporate chunks of Syria into Turkey itself, they have illegal bases in Iraq which they use to freely attack targets in Iraq itself without even bothering to ask Baghdad first. And now they are claiming a large chunk of the Mediterranean for itself using a weak government in Libya to give them cover. But this zone that they claim runs right over the top of Greek territorial waters.

    I would not be counting on Merkel to negotiate a settlement. She is terrified at the thought of Turkey rounding up a coupla hundred thousand refugees and pushing them towards Europe. Proof of this is when France had a serious dispute with Turkish warships a few weeks ago when they targeted a French warship and NATO – aka the EU – refused to back them up. In a huff at this gutless act, the French withdrew from the NATO naval force securing the Libyan coastline – but France did send warplanes to a base closer to the scene of the action.

    Luckily Turkey has alienated about every country that has dealings with it and its economy is in all sorts of trouble. War is never a good idea as once on starts, you can never tell how it will play out. But stiff sanctions should be on the table for a start. If nobody draws a line for Turkey, this will only encourage more such disputes as Erdogan will perceive a lack of action as weakness and thus an invitation to keep on advancing. It may even end up in an invasion of Iraq and/or Syria and if that happens, then kitty bar the door-

  9. Andrew Thomas

    I have been privileged to be in the Aegean Sea on more than one occasion. The beauty of it has to be personally experienced to be fully appreciated. It is especially appalling that any government, Greek or Turk, would take actions for “economic development” that would create the risk of turning it into the chemical sewer that exists in so many other formerly pristine places. Especially in an area with wind and sunshine in the amounts one sees in the eastern Aegean. This is madness.

  10. Charles 2

    I don’t think it is about East Med offshore gas resources, which, as PlutoniumKum points out, are quite expensive to extract and transport and are more likely to be consumed by MENA countries. The real issue is to remove any possibility that Turkey resumes its role of indispensable go-between of Europe-Asia commerce, be it oil and gas from the Gulf or other stuff from Asia, and wether it is a question of transit fee or mere availability.

    The French, and increasingly the Germans and Italians, see that the US is less and less keen to provide a security and free passage guarantee, in part because it has its hands full in the Pacific and Indian Ocean with China, in part because it is getting tired to play global seas and Middle East cop. Therefore, it means guaranteeing Suez and the Red Sea (hence friendly relationship with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, whatever atrocities they may commit), and neutralizing/overwhelming all competing navies and air forces of the Mediterranean (essentially Turkey !) which is what Greek islands and Cyprus are about. When meeting Merkel in the South of France this summer, Macron didn’t describe the Mediterranean as « Mare Nostrum » for nothing. He meant just that, and it is fully incompatible with « Mavi Vatan » !

    Note that just leaving East Med to Turkey and going around Africa is a riskier alternative than it seems :
    A) the US Navy could be as absent around Africa than from the Mediterranean, securing only its own shipping and leaving the rest to privateers. Convoys are hard…
    B) a dominant Turkey in East Med could very well incorporate Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula in a replay of the Ottoman Empire with a mix of military power, proximity based competitive advantage for commerce, and Muslim Brotherhood ideological and political power.
    In that case, Turkey would have its hand on Europe’s Jugular, at least as long as Europe economy has not decarbonized.

    The strategy is not to destroy Turkey, as a land war in a mountainous country with 80 million people would be a disaster, but pin it down with Naval and Air power to be solely a land power in the Anatolian Peninsula, with limited geopolitical reach. This is also a good fit with EU capabilities and risk appetite : Deflation, unlimited euro based borrowing ability and idle industrial capacity, especially in the aeronautical and naval sector, make the conflict relatively easy to sustain, with human losses limited to professional soldiers.

    There is a risk that a boxed Turkey becomes a spearhead for Iran and China, but this is where hands off relationship with Russia (buy their gas and oil, let them do their thing in Belarus, Eastern Ukraine and Caucasus), Kurds and a new alliance between Arabs and Israeli have a role to play. By the way, Saudi Army just entered North-East Syria this week…

    Many pieces on the chessboard, many ways to be wrong and get burnt, but pretending that the game doesn’t exist is not the best way to win it, as Turkey is dead set on playing.

  11. David

    If you wanted to find the epitome of a pointless and gratuitous grudge match between two allegedly civilised states, you’d choose Greece and Turkey. Their childish squabbling has poisoned the atmosphere in NATO for generations, although, pre-Erdogan, the Turks generally acquitted themselves diplomatically rather better, and probably had more sympathy. That’s not necessarily the case now.
    Representative anecdote.In the late 1980s, the mandate for an ambitious (and ultimately successful) conventional arms control treaty was being negotiated, and NATO was making proposals for the geographical area of application. The Greeks piped up and demanded that the port of Mersin be included- this was where the Turkish invasion of Cyprus was launched from in 1974. This was partly to have notice of Turkish troop movements, but mostly to spite the Turks, who were having none of it. The British (inevitably) found an elegant solution, but only after NATO had been paralysed. The Turks, meanwhile, to spite the Greeks, not only recognised the independent post-Yugoslav republic of Macedonia by that name (to annoy the Greeks) but insisted that every NATO document contained a footnote to that effect. That’s the mentality we’re dealing with.
    Turkey is not in the EU, but is is in NATO, and such is the overlap that a lot of countries are going to be in a very difficult situation. Some countries (like France) are very worried about Erdogan’s links with the Muslim Brotherhood, who are the ultimate ideological force behind AQ and ISIS, and those who carried out attacks in Europe since 2015. Erdogan has already sent jihadist fighters to Syria. Maybe the Sahel will be next.

    1. DJG

      David: I have no solution to all of the jockeying described in the post. It is unhealthy and has been going on for years. Somehow, in my mind, this latest adventure by Erdogan seems to link to turning Ayia Sofia back into a mosque, something Turkish secularists (and Greeks) have opposed for years. Erdogan is not a deep thinker–but he is good at taking advantage of opportunities.

      I just finished Roderick Beaton’s book, Greece: A Biography, which covers modern Greece and its independence and expansion–so from about 1800 on. I was taken aback by how sad and disastrous the history of Greece and the Megali Idea have been. Massacres as Missalonghi, expulsion of the Greek-speaking Muslim Cretans, population exchanges of the most wrenching kinds, the burning down of Smyrna in the early 1920s.

      And as you write, the endless mutual antagonisms over symbolism. What could be more symbolic than imaginary watery economic zones…

      What sent my eyeballs rolling in my head, considering how fraught the situation is in divided Cyprus, was Beaton’s account of how in 1958, when the British were prepared to give Cyprus its independence, the British, Greeks, and Turks met (somehow without consulting the Cypriots) to decided the fate of Cyprus.

      At the time, the Turks had little interest in Cyprus and were not opposed to union with Greece.

      Many, maybe most, Cypriots were in favor of unification with Greece.

      But none of the big boys–the British, Turkish, and Greek emissaries–could be bothered to consult the independence movement in Cyprus. So they ran up against the ethnarch, Makarios, a formidable man.

      Problem un-solved.

    2. vlade

      Yup. I wrote my comment before reading yours, but yes, it’s a dumb conflict over symbols. But that is what the wars are as often as not – dumb conflicts over symbols.

  12. Jeff N

    During the Greek fiscal crisis, I asked a Greek person why they wanted to remain in the Euro currency when it was so painful for them, they told me that the EU was supposed to protect Greece from Turkey.

  13. vlade

    Erdogan is a problem now, but the Greek-Turkey problems way predate Erdogan. IIRC, Greece has the largest army in the EU in terms of population, and it was close to shooting war with Turkey for ages (which is really just a continuation of about 600 years of trouble between the two).

    That’s not to say Erdogan is not a problem – he is, for a number of reasons. But the Greeko-Turkey problems would not magically go away even of Erdogan disappeared overnight.

    1. lyman alpha blob

      Not sure what Erdogan thinks he’s going to prove by alienating pretty much everyone, but as you said the problem predates him by a lot. Even 600 years is just a start – one could argue it’s more like 3,000.

      And the Greeks would tell you it was the Trojans (today’s Turks) who started that war too.

    2. Charles 2

      Not so Long ago, when Bulgaria and Hungary were in the Warsaw Pact, Greece and Turkey were the “Southern Front” of NATO. So both had to field hefty land armies to not be swept away by the Soviet Union. It is also why the US slapped hard every time its attack dogs were making a fuss in this geographic area.
      Soviet Union is gone, and Greece/Cyprus are now the South Eastern Front of the EU because Turkey could not be brought in (it would have required of letting go of Kurdistan, which the Turks didn’t want). Complaining that they have a disproportionate military is as ridiculous as complaining that Hawaï and Guam have a disproportionate military.
      In passing, even more ridiculous is countries at the middle of the EU insisting that Greece funds Europe’s defense with only local taxes.

  14. HH

    Ever since 1945 nations have realized that nuclear weapons are too destructive to use. Unfortunately for war lovers, conventional weapons have advanced to the point that they too are too destructive to use (against a well-matched adversary). A war between Turkey and (Greece+France+Italy) would see dozens of planes and ships destroyed on both sides in the first week. The politicians and generals know this, and that is why they will back down, just as the US/Iran, Pakistan/India, and China/India confrontations were de-escalated in the last year. War doesn’t work any more.

    1. Charles 2

      I don’t share your optimism. Only land wars with massive troop deployments are unpopular. On the other hand, Air and Sea wars, with a sprinkle of amphibious operation on islands make a good show for electoral purposes. Defeat of one side is not the end of the loosing country (think Falklands war).
      From the point of view of European Federalists and the point of view of Turkish Imperialists, dozens of planes and ships going down is a small price to pay for eventual dominance in the area. Actually even a mildly lost war is a positive for European Federalists if it leads by reaction to a fully integrated EU army.
      An “aggravating” factor is that human losses would be relatively small : EU and Turkey airforces annihilating each other would kill at most a few hundred pilots and sunk ships crews would by and large survive because waters of east Med are not the Northern Atlantic in winter and prisoners can be good bargaining chips.

  15. JeffK

    I’m surprised that there is no mention of Russia’s potential role in this conflict in the article. With the Nord-Stream 2 pipeline temporarily shut down by US sanctions, and pipeline from Baku to Crimea in development (if not complete), it seems to me Russia has competing interests in: (a) delivery of oil to the European market, and (b), keeping their shipping (naval/military) access to the Mediterranean and Atlantic open, or at least uncomplicated.

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