This week Greece announced that it was close to resuming talks with Turkey to resolve their long-disputed maritime boundaries. This news came after Ankara responded to Athens’ concerns by revoking an oil and gas investigation vessel from disputed Mediterranean waters this month. The two countries have a long history of conflict surrounding the maritime border zones which concern the ownership and rights of certain continental shelves. As a result, disagreements have erupted over jurisdiction and energy exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean – an area that is believed to be rich in natural gas.
In August, tensions between the countries heightened when Ankara sent its seismic survey vessel, the Oruc Reis to search for potential oil and gas sediments in a disputed area of the sea. Multiple states and organizations including the United States and the European Union condemned the move and criticized the activity. According to Reuters, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed a deep concern with Turkey’s actions and urged the establishment of a diplomatic solution to take place as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the European Union threatened to implement sanctions if Turkey continued to disrespect international law.
By September, Ankara had heeded calls to reverse the decision and returned its vessels to shore. This move has been welcomed and applauded as a step in the right direction. EU foreign ministers discussed the progress on Monday and agreed that it was a positive sign. After a meeting with the EU, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias expressed a desire to make sure that Turkey continues to strive harder to respect universal agreements.
The last time Greece and Turkey held diplomatic discussions over their maritime rights was in 2016. In light of this, the intent to resume talks as soon as this week is a significant sign of progress. Turkey’s presidential spokesman has agreed that there are hopes of talks resuming but has expressed the view that the threats of sanctions are not helpful. Members of the European Union have disagreed on how to best handle the conflict. Should the organization establish a more hard-line or cooperative approach? Later this month, leaders of the EU are expected to meet and discuss the situation even further.
The dispute between Greece and Turkey runs a lot deeper than it seems. It is embroiled in a complex history between the two nations that date back to the 1830s when Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire. Since then the two countries have fought against each other in several wars including the Greco-Turkish War, the First Balkan War as well as World War I. In 1952, both countries joined NATO and entered into a partnership of mutual cooperation. However, this partnership did little to smooth over the conflicts between the two countries. Conflicts persisted over the following years over Cyprus and other border disputes. History has demonstrated that issues between Turkey and Greece are not easily resolved. If anything, the current dispute over maritime borders has the potential of escalating even further. In September both countries mobilized their navies and warplanes in order to establish resistance against each other.
Most alarmingly, Turkey’s foreign policy has become alarmingly militarized and more and more unpredictable. The increase of military mobilization has attracted international attention and created a number of reactions. According to The Guardian, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, stated that Turkey can no longer be perceived as a partner in the Mediterranean and offered military support to Greece. He stated that “We have to create Pax Mediterranea because we see an imperial regional power coming back with some fantasies of its own history, and I am referring essentially to Turkey.” Macron represents the opinion of those inside the EU that opposes Turkey’s progressively military foreign policy. In light of recent events, it appears that strong opposition to Turkey as a partner of the EU is emerging.
On the other hand, Germany has long been a mediator for both countries regarding border disputes. The country believes that EU members should be careful in their threats towards the Turkish government. Instead, the country has suggested an increased customs union between the EU and Turkey in order to appease the ongoing conflict. Despite the fact that the suggestion made by Germany is not appreciated by Greece, it is argued that both rewards and punishments are needed in order to convince Turkey to modify its strategies in the Mediterranean.
The European Union will play a significant role as a negotiator between the two countries. Although Turkey’s decision to withdraw its vessel from disputed waters was a step in the right direction, the EU still considers sanctions necessary in case Turkey continues with its aggressive foreign policy. However, the possibility of implementing severe sanctions would hurt the Turkish baking sector that is already struggling. Impacting this financial sector should be avoided until absolutely necessary, as it could have detrimental effects on the country’s welfare system and its social programs.
As the conflict has deepened, it has come closer to spiralling out of control. By offering military support to Greece, countries like France have dangerously added fuel to the fire. However, Turkey’s move towards militarism has been no better; it has exacerbated existing extensions and could lead to an armed conflict in the region. Violent measures should not be implemented, as it is the last thing the conflict needs. Turkey is disrespecting international law and performing alarming actions that cannot be tolerated. The more that countries continue to provoke each other, the more dangerous the situation becomes.
In order to solve the dispute between Greece and Turkey, diplomatic discussions between the two countries need to take place. While both countries have agreed to resume maritime talks, it is important that they are organized in a constructive way. In an interview given to the New York Times, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany Heiko Maas said that “it is clear that such talks can only take place and be successful in a constructive environment, and for that, all destructive activities must be ended,” adding that “Fire is being played with and any small spark could lead to catastrophe,” warning both governments against continuing military aggravation. Therefore, a discussion in a calm environment must take place where both parts can argue for their cause in order to cooperate and come up with a mutual decision. Along with this, the Turkish government should change its strategy to a more cooperative solution that considers the rules of international law.
In an effort to create a long-term solution for the ongoing dispute, a settlement that works for both parties must be considered. For now, the borders in the eastern Mediterranean remain unresolved. Both sides disagree on how to interpret the law of the sea, leading them to publish contradictory maps of the extent of their continental shelf and economic exclusion zones. In their discussions, it is vital that these issues are addressed and a new map is agreed upon. The region should be divided between the countries involved and solicit assistance from the EU.
However, in order for the crisis to be solved, the EU has to be impartial and take both countries’ needs into consideration. Turkey fears that Greece will receive greater support, making the process subjective. Nonetheless, it is important that Turkey’s controversial actions are not overlooked. The EU must be firm about its intolerance towards aggressive military foreign policy and the act of disrespecting international law. It appears that the best solution to this conflict is to establish Turkey as a partner to the EU by giving them benefits such as an increased customs union. By agreeing to a partnership, Turkey and the EU will be tied in an interdependent relationship. Increased cooperation will enhance the dependence between all parts and strengthen the inclination to respect mutual decisions. It will then be in Turkey’s best interest to comply with set rules.
Finally, both Turkey and Greece should be open to demobilizing their navies as they resume their talks over the disputed maritime zones. All parties must be united and work towards a peaceful long term solution, which includes cancelling the threats of severe sanctions on Turkey. The immediate focus is to succeed in establishing a diplomatic talk for both countries to strive towards a settlement of the energy exploration rights in the Mediterranean.
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