Diplomacy and strength in the Greco-Turkish crisis

If the recent Greco-Turkish crisis has taught us anything, it is that we have not yet achieved a common national line on how to manage our relations with Turkey.

The prevailing opinion is that relations with our neighbours will normalise following negotiations and/or a referral to the International Court of Justice. Truly, when it comes to conflict, there is hardly a variety of choices when it comes to solutions. Negotiations and dialogue remain the main tools utilised by states to resolve any differences they may have.

An opposing view suggests that the differences between Greece and Turkey are so fundamental (mainly concerning unilateral expansionist Turkish ambitions) that no Greek government has been able to bridge this gap using diplomacy and negotiations.

Reality seems to support this point of view, but no state can gain the support and solidarity of the international community if it shows an unwillingness to pursue diplomatic means to resolve regional tension. This holds particularly true for Greece, whose position is strongly supported by international law.

Most Greek governments have chosen diplomacy to avoid an escalation in the region. However, the facts have shown that holding talks is not enough to avoid a crisis. Turkey does not wish to have exploratory talks just for the sake of it and neither can Greece acquiesce to Turkish demands.

In this way, Greece’s relations with Turkey swing from diplomacy to crisis and crisis to diplomacy. This is because diplomacy is no substitute for the root of the problem, a constant probing of the relative power between the two. Diplomacy and power are two sides of the same coin. If we do not acquire the necessary strength and we do not enforce our “red lines”, we will never escape the cycle of crises with or without diplomacy.

In the current flare-up, the exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey offer some respite for as long as a convergence exists between the two. However, the Cesme research vessel’s recent foray reveals that Ankara is still keen on piling on the pressure. Turkey hopes to normalise its relations with the West, and in particular the United States, to avoid the imposition of sanctions. The relative calm is temporary, and its durability will be determined by further developments.

There are fundamental differences with Turkey. The fact that we have been unable to resolve them so far means that we are compelled to counter Turkish claims, which manifest themselves and create tensions in the region, both with diplomacy as well as resistance and deterrence.

To ensure the success of this policy, Greece must be flexible in its diplomacy in some areas while at the same time unbending as far as its red lines are concerned. This diplomacy should be complemented by an increase in our defensive capabilities and the forming of alliances with other regional powers. This is our reality, and we must live with it.

This means that the government’s combination of exploratory talks with its interest in addressing the vitally important issue of improving our defensive capabilities is a positive development.

A few further notes:

The government sought to have sanctions imposed on Turkey by the European Union. This endeavour was a minefield from its inception and implementing it while exploratory talks are ongoing is impossible.

A more realistic goal would be to focus on our diplomatic efforts on Turkish standpoints, like the casus belli and the “grey zones”. Let us create a motion that any efforts to improve EU-Turkey relations is contingent on Ankara abandoning these two positions. Additionally, it is also important to end the memorandum between Turkey and Libya on maritime zones as part of this improvement in the European Union’s relations with Turkey.

The power to veto in European Union institutions was created to be used, otherwise it would not exist. Obviously, this is a privilege that must not be abused but it is an option that should not be rejected as something inherently anti-European.

Greece won the war of public relations with an outward-looking foreign policy, a product of the work done by Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias. This relative calm, even it is temporary, allows us to set specific strategic goals and form alliances to increase our defensive capabilities.

The current geostrategic situation created a number of opportunities and paved the way for an alliance with France. It would be a huge mistake to ignore this opportunity.

When we allow our fate to rest with middlemen it is crucial to create a strict framework. Especially if we are not convinced by their guarantees of impartiality.

A timely factor of our national security is our military might. Greece does not arm itself to advance expansionist claims against Turkey. We face a defensive issue. This means that our military procurements must focus on solutions that will address this problem.

Modern technology, especially that characterised by smart solutions and a relatively low cost, offers us the chance to forge a powerful deterrent by enacting a “massive retaliation” policy.

This choice requires a fundamental, structural reorganisation of Greece’s armed forces and a thorough evaluation of the weapon systems that best serve our goals. We should contribute and support our defence industry, to transform expenditures into investments. We have a lot to learn from Israel on this subject.

(This column was originally published by the Kathimerini newspaper and is reproduced by permission.)