Erdoğan’s wrong strategy towards Greece

A country’s strength is the sum, not only of its military capabilities, but also of its collaborations and alliances. Greece, whether Turkey likes it or not, is a full member of the European Union and has close ties, also due to the Greek diaspora, with the United States.

As has been pointed out many times, no other country will fight our war. If we ever find ourselves in such a situation it will be our ability to defend ourselves that will count. That said, the close ties – institutional and traditional – with the two largest economic entities on the planet are an important parameter of the equation that no competitor or opponent can ignore.

It is incomprehensible that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seems to be upset about Greece’s defence deals with France and the U.S., the purchase of Rafale jets and the upgrading of the F-16s, the mutual assistance clause included in the Greek-French agreement, the letter by U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken which describes Greece as a pillar of stability in the region and speaks of respect for its sovereignty and territorial integrity. He is annoyed by the American presence in Alexandroupoli and elsewhere in Greece.

The Turkish president would gain, both personally and more importantly for his people, if, instead of threats and irritation, he strived for full normalisation of relations with Greece. The restoration of a calmer climate of cooperation with Greece would remove a thorn in his relationship with the West.

We both have to gain from keeping waters calm in the Aegean. In such an environment, Athens would act as Ankara’s partner and as a useful bridge to the EU.

Erdoğan has so many problems, domestically and abroad. Why is he wasting so much time attacking Greece, a strategy from which he will not reap any benefits?

The constant confrontation with Greece has a cost for Turkey, hence the Turkish president’s annoyance. Obviously, it costs Greece as well – defence procurements take a financial toll.

But his approach is wrong. It may have found an audience with Turkish nationalists, primarily the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader and his ally Devlet Bahçeli’s supporters, but it does not serve the long-term interests of his country, which hopes for a special relationship with the European Union.

If he removes the casus belli against Greece from the table, if he does not threaten Greece in the Aegean, if he does not sign memoranda with Libya that violate the sovereign rights of Greek islands, if he does not violate the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus – also an EU member – then a lot can happen. Because, as a people, Greeks and Turks we really have a lot in common, and as states we can also develop common interests.

What is certain, is that no Greek prime minister, even if he intended to take steps that his predecessors have avoided, will do so under the threat of war. It would be self-destructive.

On the other hand, if Erdoğan changes his tactics, if he stops fuelling tensions, if he approaches Athens as an equal interlocutor, recognising its strength and regional role, then Greece will respond. And that will be to the benefit of both countries.

(A version of this article was originally published by the Kathimerini newspaper and is reproduced by permission.)


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