Europe’s Southern and Eastern neighborhoods have changed considerably during the past few years and the key words describing the regional security environment are fluidity, instability and unpredictability.
In the Mediterranean and the Middle East, the impact of the Arab revolts is being added to other global and regional trends and drivers such as the emergence of non-Western powers and the shifting global balance of power, demographic changes, technological developments, globalization and climate change. In Europe’s East, rather surprisingly, we find ourselves closer to a 20th century-style Cold War between the West and Russia than to a strategic relation- ship better suited in addressing the challenges of the 21st century, as the unfolding crisis in Ukraine is indeed Europe’s most serious post-Cold War security challenge since the Yugoslav civil war.
Security concerns include civil conflicts, a number of arab states (many of them created by the Sykes-Pikot agreement of 1916, such as Syria, Iraq and Lebanon) crumbling under strain, the possibility of border change (in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and perhaps elsewhere), the role of political Islam, sectarian tensions, Jihadist terrorism, population flows, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, as well as small arms and light weapons, poverty and lack of democracy, existing regional conflicts, the ambitious agendas of regional powers, com- petition for energy resources and energy security concerns for Europe, and a deep, structural European crisis also affecting the EU’s global and regional influence and policies.
Greek foreign policy makers will function for the foreseeable future under the Damocles sword of the country’s economic crisis, which is imposing a number of constraints and limitations. As key organizations such as the EU and NATO are changing in an effort to adapt to new global and regional trends, Greece needs to find its own niche in the distribution of regional roles and influence and convince its partners and allies of its own added value in managing common security challenges. A difficult task, indeed, for a country with limited resources but the alternative is strategic irrelevance and inability to protect its vital national interests.
Even before the current crisis, Greece has consistently been punching below its weight on most foreign and security policy issues, allowing itself to lose some of its regional role in South-eastern Europe and letting its active role inside the European Union atrophy. An inward-looking and passive foreign policy mentality led to very few foreign policy initiatives, no exploitation of opportunities for multilateral initiatives or the establishment of tactical and strategic alliances. Concerns about economic survival overshadowed the importance of foreign policy issues during the past five years. Now Greek foreign policy needs to re-adjust to a changing regional as well as global security and economic environment and make a contribution to the national effort to re-build the economy, and it has to achieve that goal with limited resources and under time pressure.
A preliminary assessment of the impact of the crisis on Greek foreign policy would conclude that the country’s image, prestige and credibility have been dealt a serious blow and its influence both inside the EU as well as in its neighborhood has been negatively affected. The economic means available for conducting foreign policy have been substantially curtailed. The decision has been taken to significantly reduce defence expenditures and, in this context, Greece’s participation in international peacekeeping and other operations (ISAF/Afghanistan, KFOR/Kosovo, Active Endeavour and Operation Ocean Shield [the naval operation to combat piracy in the Red Sea]) have already been trimmed down. However, Greek facilities are still being offered for use in NATO (and U.S.) operations in the Eastern Mediterranean. Perhaps the only positive foreign policy development in the last few years has been the cultivation of strategic ties with Israel and the realistic prospects for a more visible footprint for Greece in the regional energy map.
A. Greece’s geostrategic value
Greece’s – temporarily – limited foreign policy capabilities and regional role should not be confused with the country’s geostrategic value. On the contrary, it can be argued that Greece remains important for the West’s geo- political interests for five reasons:
I. Stability in the Western Balkans
Either as a party to a dispute, or as balancing actor between Albanian and Slavic populations in the Western Balkans, Greece can still play an important stabilizing role in the region. Key issues include Greece’s dispute with FYROM about the name issue, the recognition of Kosovo and the future role of the so-called “Albanian factor” (i.e. the existence of large ethnic Albanian communities in Kosovo and FYROM, and of smaller communities in Serbia and Montenegro) in South-eastern Europe.
II. Migration and refugee flows
The management of migration and refugee flows from the Middle East, Asia and Africa remains an issue with important external and internal dimensions for several EU countries. However much one tries to de-securitize the migration question, relations between Europe and the Middle East or the West and Islam will also affect domestic stability in European countries with a substantial Muslim community. Greece is located at the EU’s most sensitive external border (in fact, playing the role of a “buffer country” or “first line of defence” for Europe) in the context of immigration. A substantial percentage of irregular migrants entering the EU area each year do so through Greece and are forced to remain there according to the provisions of the Dublin II Agreement (a trend that has been continuing for several years bringing the total number of illegal immigrants in Greece to unbearably high levels). Greece is trying to deal with the problem with a package of measures including a more efficient asylum mechanism, more reception and detention facilities, employment of FRONTEX assets in the Aegean and its land border with Turkey, as well as the construction of a security fence in a 12.5 km-long section of that border. EU support for securing the cooperation of Turkey as well as countries of origin and therefore increasing the numbers of repatriated migrants would be instrumental. Although there is no proof yet of any links between irregular migration and Islamic terrorism, the radicalization of societies in the Muslim world may constitute reasons for future concern.
III. European energy security
The question of European energy security has brought attention to the strategic significance of South-eastern Europe as a transport hub of natural gas and a key region for European energy security. To meet increasing natural gas demand and reduce high levels of energy dependency on Russia, European authorities need to promote the realization of projects contributing to the diversification of natural gas supply. In this context, the Southern Gas Corridor can play an important role. As the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) – that will be crossing Greece and Albania on its way to Italy – was selected for the transportation of natural gas from Azerbaijan, it will provide a boost for Greece’s economy and regional role, as well as for regional cooperation in the Balkans (through vertical interconnectors) and European energy security. In addition, Greece should be expected to try to enlarge its footprint in the energy map through the exploitation of potential hydrocarbons deposits in various parts of the country, notably in Western Greece and the maritime areas south of Crete. The East Med Gas Corridor, involving Greece, Cyprus, Israel and, perhaps, Lebanon is another interesting idea if additional deposits are being discovered. Even Turkey could be included in the future were it to adopt a more constructive approach on the Cyprus problem.
IV. Relations with non-western powers Following the example of its European partners, Greece is exploring available opportunities for improving economic and political relations with current and emerging (non- western) powers, the so-called BRICS. Especially Russia and China are demonstrating a strong interest in Greece’s energy and trans- port infrastructure sectors. In the latter case, Greece could become an economic gateway for China in South-eastern and Central Europe. It is hoped that Greek-Chinese political relations will continue to develop in a balanced way, without substantial divergence from European policies towards the emerging superpower.
Despite an obvious degree of hyperbole regarding Greece’s relationship with Russia, it would be difficult for any Greek government to ignore the historical ties, but most importantly, the contemporary links between the two countries. Russia supplies 57 percent of Greece’s natural gas, is an important trade partner and potential investor, and provides political support to Cyprus (in the context of the UN Security Council’s involvement in the negotiations for a solution to the Cyprus problem). Ukraine is also a significant partner for Greece and a diplomatic solution to the crisis is a priority for the Greek government. Greece believes that Russia may be a difficult neighbour for Europe, but it is an essential– even indispensable – element of the European security architecture. Athens perceives sanctions as having a high cost for several European countries, Greece included, and as being ineffective in bringing about a change in Russian policies. A combined policy of deterrence and engagement, with an emphasis on the latter, should be the central element of Europe’s policy vis-à-vis Moscow.
The Greek government appears intent on trying to improve bilateral relations with Russia, honoring of course its other commitments. Speculation that Russia might be an alternative source of funding appears groundless as Russia would be both unwilling and incapable of providing financial assistance at the necessary scale. Furthermore, the likelihood of Greece falling into Russia’s orbit or any other fundamental shift in strategic orientation is virtually nil as long as Greece remains a full member of European and transatlantic institutions. However, a balanced evolution of Greek-Russian relations might allow Greece to become a complementary “bridge” between the West and Russia, contributing quietly to the normalization of relations and the development of a functional strategic partnership between Europe and Russia.
V. The Eastern Mediterranean conundrum The Eastern Mediterranean and its adjoining regions remain an extremely turbulent and unstable neighborhood. In addition to the brutal civil war in Syria, with potentially destructive consequences for the whole region, there is considerable uncertainty about future developments regarding, among other, the emergence of the Islamic State, the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, the political situation in Egypt, the Palestinian problem, the regional implications of a change in the relationship between Iran and the West, the Cyprus problem, Turkey’s often unpredictable foreign policy and the discovery of potentially substantial hydrocarbon deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The understandable reluctance of the U.S. and EU to participate in a military intervention in Syria and the more general trend for an increased U.S. presence (‘pivot’) in the Asia-Pacific region make the need of active regional partners and allies in the Eastern Mediterranean even more crucial. In view of the inherent limitations in the Turkish-Israeli rapprochement, also as a result of Turkish own regional ambitions, the U.S. needs additional partners that would also be accept- able interlocutors to the parties involved in various regional conflicts. In addition to its geostrategic location and the offered facilities (especially Souda Bay, arguably the most important – and dependable – Allied military facility in the Eastern Mediterranean), Greece, a traditional U.S. ally, has what could be de- scribed as a privileged relationship – of various degrees – with Israel, the Arab world, Iran and, as already mentioned, Russia and China, and could play, under specific circumstances, the role of a complementary bridge, in addition to being a reliable regional partner for the West. But, of course, this presupposes that Greece would be willing and able to successfully implement a more active and effective foreign policy.
B. The challenges and the possible “tools” for Greek foreign policy
By necessity, the key concept for Greek foreign and security policy in the next few years will be the smart use of its resources with a focus on becoming more active inside the EU (and NATO), enlarging its footprint in the energy map, strengthening relations with emerging powers, enhancing regional partnerships, and regaining its role and influence in South-eastern Europe.
The best option – as it could have a multiplier effect – would be Greece’s active participation to the shaping of the new EU and transatlantic regional policies, without, however, ignoring the need for national initiatives and the further multilateralization of Greece’s foreign policy. Furthermore, to facilitate the achievement of those priority tasks, a number of structural reforms of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the wider foreign policy mechanism will be necessary (with a greater emphasis on economic diplomacy); in addition, a number of important changes in the sphere of national security policy (security sector reform and ”smart defence” to maintain its deterrent capability at lower levels of defence expenditures) will be required.
Energy-related projects can be instrumental in Greece’s effort to repair its image, re-ac- quire a leading regional role, increase its influence, accumulate ‘diplomatic capital’ and in the medium- to long-term ‘fuel’ its economy. In this context, the Southern Gas Corridor can play an important role. To facilitate the exploitation of potential hydrocarbons deposits in Western Greece and southeast of Crete, Greece should intensify diplomatic efforts for the delimitation of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and other maritime zones with neighboring countries, according to the provisions of UNCLOS, and, at the same time, proceed at full speed for exploration and exploitation in non-disputed areas.
In the context of the evolving strategic rapprochement between Greece, Cyprus and Israel (but also Egypt), the common link is concern about regional stability. The relation- ship should be nurtured by all sides involved, who should try to build upon common interests, not perceived common adversaries, as the latter would be a rather shaky ground for a strategic relationship. Those four countries are faced with a complex security equation, with a number of known variables but also multiple unknown ones. The regional security matrix involves a number of influential region- al and extra-regional actors, with bilateral and multilateral relationships changing, shifting and evolving on an almost continuous basis, hence the need for sound planning, readiness, flexibility, caution and pragmatism.
Regarding regional initiatives, Greece has maintained good relations with the Palestinians and could offer its services in the context of future Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations. Perhaps a contact group consisting of France, Egypt and Greece could work together with the US and the EU to revive the talks. If successful, at the next stage, Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia should be included in the process. Greece is also trying to raise awareness and interest in the protection of Christian communities in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East in general and will try to mobilize the EU to that effect.
Following the example of Nordic or Baltic co- operation inside the EU, Greece should lead an effort for enhanced Balkan cooperation and the creation of a Balkan sub-group with EU and NATO fellow members Bulgaria and Romania, Serbia – an important regional player and traditional ally –,with Albania and FYROM to be added to the group at a later stage. Greece will also need to complete the adaptation process that has begun some time ago on the issue of Kosovo, taking, of course, into account the sensitivities of Serbia, and energetically contributing to their efforts for EU membership at the earliest possible time. On two other issues of high priority for Greek foreign policy:
I. Greek-Turkish relations remain, of course, at the top of the Greek foreign policy agenda. Overall, the two countries are better off today in terms of bilateral relations (including trade and people-to-people contacts) than they were a few years ago [before 1999 to be more precise]. Having said that, neither country has moved from their firm positions regarding ‘high politics’ issues and Greece and Turkey continue to perceive each other through a Hobbesian prism. Al- though the majority of Greek policy-makers have been moving away from “zero-sum game” perceptions regarding Greek-Turkish relations, skepticism and distrust continue to linger. For different reasons neither side appears prepared to make any meaningful concessions in order to resolve their differences, and that will remain the case for the immediate future. Both sides should focus on improving economic relations and avoiding conflict on energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean through respect for the relevant provisions of international law. They could also explore ideas for confidence-building measures regarding overflights, violations and dogfights in the Aegean. Such agreements would greatly help in keeping tensions low, thus preparing the ground for an eventual full normalization of bilateral relations between Greece and Turkey;
II. FYROM and Albania are part of Greece’s immediate economic and political zones of interest, and their political stability and economic development, as well as their eventual membership in the EU, are issues of high importance for Athens. Greece may have failed to effectively communicate its position on the name issue with FYROM and has certainly missed its share of opportunities in the past, but its negotiating position since 2007, on a name that would combine the term Macedonia with a geographic connotation, would prevent all three sides involved (Greece, FYROM and Bulgaria) from monopolizing the Macedonian identity, while at the same time satisfying Skopje’s core objective and allowing them to normalize relations with their two neighbors. Despite domestic constraints, Greece is probably ready to take the last step towards full normalization, but, as always, it ‘takes two to tango’.
C. Greece and the EU
Although Greece bears substantial (albeit not exclusive) responsibility for the shape of its economy, completely ignoring the geopolitical consequences of the Greek crisis has been yet another symptom of the European foreign policy malaise. As many analysts rightly argue, Europe is sliding into strategic insignificance, losing its global role and influence as it is becoming more and more introvert as a result of its own economic and political crisis.
Although a “Grexit”or “Graccident” remains the least likely scenario, Greece retains some of the characteristics of a fragile country and the risk of a social explosion (or some kind of sub-conscious social paralysis that would prevent the timely implementation of the necessary reforms) cannot be completely discounted. Given the extremely unstable and fluid situation in Europe’s periphery, one would be justified to ask whether Europe and the U.S. could afford the creation of a security vacuum and a “black hole” in this critical region by allowing Greece to become another unstable factor and a consumer rather than a producer of security. Even if the EU could live with Greece’s economic collapse (a hypothesis challenged by many experts, due to the highly symbolic, but also quite tangible damage to the Eurozone and the EU’s credibility), one should ask whether the ‘loss’ of Greece would constitute an acceptable outcome for an EU with any ambitions to play a meaningful global and regional role?
Therefore, the Union should be looking for a highly pragmatic policy which would be reasonably effective in achieving Europe’s geopolitical and geo-economic objectives and promoting its interests. What is needed is a policy that goes beyond ‘bean-counting” and tackles the Greek problem in the context of the EU’s regional and global role, not merely its economic policies (however important these may be). In this context, a “new Greece” could certainly be a useful partner for the EU, but also for the US and NATO, in regions of critical importance for European and transatlantic security and interests. Of course, Greece’s political leadership should step up to the challenge and take advantage of opportunities through a foreign policy whose key features will be credibility and reliability at the strategic level and flexibility at the tactical level.
Who are the ‘Willing’ in Central Europe – Axis of the 1930s coming back ?
The idea of an “axis of the willing against illegal migration” between Italy, Germany and Austria has been proposed by Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s right populist leader. He spoke about it with German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, a Bavarian conservative who shares the Austrian chancellor’s views on tighter border control. Kurz said fighting illegal immigration will be a top priority for Vienna’s EU presidency from July 2018. Kurz and Seehofer met on the same day as Merkel’s “integration summit,” leading to media reports about serious political clashes between Germany’s coalition parties.
“We shouldn’t wait until we have a catastrophe, like in 2015,” Kurz said, referring to the refugee crisis when German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened her country’s borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants. “Instead it is important to act on time.”
Kurz’s meeting with Seehofer means the German minister was unable to attend Merkel’s “integration summit” happening the same day in Berlin. Referring to media reports that this was meant as a snub to the German leader, Seehofer said his reason for not attending was the presence of a journalist, Ferda Ataman, who opposed German deep state and has compared his policies on migration to the Nazis.
“I cannot be part of an integration summit where there is one participant who in an article compared my strategy on homeland to the homeland understanding of the Nazis,” Seehofer told reporters.
Seehofer takes a much harder line than Merkel on immigration and was expected to present a “migration master plan” this week. That has been postponed, but Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and Seehofer’s Christian Social Union (CSU) hope to find a compromise on the plan this week, Seehofer said.
“From my point of view, it would be ideal to secure the external borders of the European Union,” Seehofer said after the meeting with Kurz. Dismissing voices about the brewing putch within the German ruling coalition, he continued: “I promised Chancellor Kurz that on the question of strengthening the external borders he has my full support as interior minister.”
Seehofer, after talks with yet another government that of Italy, notably with a populist Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, said the new government in Rome is also keen to build a partnership with Vienna and Berlin on security, counterterrorism and migration. Seehofer and Salvini are in ‘full agreement’ on how to secure the EU’s external borders, the German minister said.
Concluding, youngish and hawkish chancellor Kurz said: “In our opinion we need an axis of the willing in the fight against illegal migration.”
This choice of words raised a few eyebrows, as a previous “Axis” between those three countries carries much darker historical undertones, as does former US President George W. Bush’s “coalition of the willing” in Iraq. But the Austrian chancellor didn’t seem to care.
An “axis of the willing” would inevitably be seen as an anti-Merkel alliance. Even further, “perhaps the end of the grand rapprochement between the Atlantic and Central Europe” – says prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic whose long standing claim is that one EU turns into five Europes in times of crisis and externally induced stress.
Mr. Salvini, who heads the far-right League, attacked Ms. Merkel during Italy’s recent election campaign and demonstrated his harsh stance on immigration by refusing to let a rescue boat with more than 600 migrants dock in the country. He stands for pretty much everything Ms. Merkel opposes: unilateral national action and a merciless approach to asylum-seekers. “The good life is over for the illegals, they’re going to have to pack their bags,” he said recently.
And on top of a new cross-border alliance against her, Ms. Merkel is facing enough domestic troubles as defiant conservatives are pressuring her into toughening her immigration policy by means fair and foul.
Mr. Seehofer, whose right-wing Christian Social Union is trying to woo sympathizers of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) ahead of a regional election in the CSU’s home state of Bavaria in October, has drafted a package of measures to curb the number of asylum-seekers coming to Germany.
They include turning away refugees at the border if they have already registered in another EU country — a step that Ms. Merkel rejected on Monday because it would amount to a reversal of her open-border policy and undermine her efforts to find a pan-European agreement on how to deal with refugees. The chancellor’s veto was the spark that reignited the simmering asylum dispute with her Bavarian ally.
The two held late-night crisis talks on Wednesday with Markus Söder, Mr. Seehofer’s successor as Bavarian premier, and with Hesse state premier Volker Bouffier, a senior figure of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union who is running for re-election in the fall.
However, the two-and-a-half-hour talks failed to deliver a breakthrough. Ms. Merkel did compromise with the CSU’s plan to turn away asylum seekers at the border, but she also proposed this to be first agreed bilaterally with other European countries during the upcoming EU summit later this month, in order to avoid unilateral decisions from Berlin that could further jeopardize the EU’s shaken unity. “It makes sense to wait two more weeks until the summit to find solutions jointly with partner countries,” she said.
For the Bavarians, however, that offer wasn’t enough. Mr. Söder said on Thursday that hoping to reach bilateral deals so soon was unrealistic. “We don’t believe that in two weeks it will be possible to achieve something that has been impossible for three years,” he said. The hawkish Bavarian leader added that instead, creating a fait accompli as soon as possible might force the rest of the EU to adopt a common solution at last.
An unbending CSU is instead looking into ways to strong-arm Ms. Merkel’s CDU into adopting its proposed immigration plan in the days ahead. The Bavarians are mulling submitting it to a vote within the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag on Friday, as they believe a majority of Ms. Merkel’s CDU lawmakers would side with them. They were probably looking at a survey tabloid Bild published on Thursday. The country’s most-read daily asked all 246 conservative lawmakers in the Bundestag whether they sided with Ms. Merkel or with the Bavarians. Of the 70 who answered, just three backed the chancellor. But that was before she made her compromise on Wednesday night.
On Thursday, CDU lawmakers abruptly interrupted a parliamentary session to hold a group meeting on Ms. Merkel’s latest offer. It turns out that, after Bundestag President Schäuble, who long served as Ms. Merkel’s finance minister, gave a “moving” speech on the future of Europe, the Christian Democrats overwhelmingly endorsed their leader’s proposal after all.
The Bavarians are still digging in their heels, though. The CSU announced that it will make its next move known after an internal summit scheduled for Monday. Some are saying that Mr. Seehofer could disobey the chancellor, his boss, and enforce his plan. The Bavarian party could also break with its sister party, the CDU, as a last resort — but this highly unusual move in Germany’s post-war history could topple the chancellor and plunge the country into a political crisis.
Or Mr. Seehofer still has his axis with Mr. Kurz and Mr. Salvini to fall back on. In the long run, the trio may indeed find a way to defeat a weakened Ms. Merkel and march the EU into unknown.
The Aegean Dilemma: Turkish-Greek Complexity Challenging European Solidarity
On the 12th of February2018, a Turkish coast guard patrol rammed into a Greek patrol boat near the Imia islands (Kardak in Turkish). The pair of uninhabited islands has been a source of dispute between Greece and Turkey since a military crisis in 1996, which almost resulted in war. The collision has been the climax of a number of Turkish violations on Greek territorial waters and airspace, which have damaged Greek-Turkish relations and escalated the tensions between the two countries. In this article I argue that Turkey’s geopolitical advantages over the US and the EU embolden it to pursue an ambitious foreign policy in the Aegean Sea, while its toxic domestic politics necessitates that it must do so. This combination creates a ticking time bomb for crisis in the Aegean Sea.It is time for the EU to act.
Turkey’s control of refugee flows has EU hands tied
The Syrian crisis has increased Turkish power over European nations that receive the greatest part of refugee flows. Currently, over 2.5 million Syrian refugees reside in Turkey. Turkish officials have threatened to force an influx of Syrian refugees into Europe, a situation that would destabilize already complex tensions within European states and further the far-right political crisis of Europe. The potentiality of this development provides Turkey with a favorable bargaining position over many Western European governments, which are interested in actively averting extremist actions against immigrant populations in order to prevent sectarian divide.
In addition, the waning desire of the Turkish administration to join the EU has removed any leverage the EU had over Turkey. In the past, Turkey has been willing to engage in bilateral talks with Greece over territorial disputes, mainly in an effort to withdraw Greece’s veto over its potential membership in the EU. However, Brexit and the emergence of anti-European movements in founding members like France and Italy, has caused Turkish officials to have second thoughts about the prospect of joining a union on the verge of collapse, according to reports. This development has reduced the bargaining advantage Greece previously enjoyed.
The US is unlikely to react in the event of a crisis
Since the time of the Cold War, American policymakers have viewed Turkey as a key ally against the Soviet Union and now Russia. The proximity of Turkey to Southern Russian cities favors the deployment of strategic nuclear weapons, while, most significantly, the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits create a double chokepoint that checks Russian maritime activity from the warm ports of the Black Sea. This means that in the case of conflict, if Turkey cooperates, Russia’s supply lines from the south could be shut down.
The location of Turkey, north of the Levant, gives Turkish leaders influence in Middle East matters as well and the ability to affect the political situation in both Syria and Iraq. The proximity of Turkey to the Syrian conflict allows it to intervene militarily as it did through Operation Olive Branch in Afrin in January. Turkey also holds a large portion of the Tigris and Euphrates river basins, which hydrate the majority of agricultural land in Syria and Iraq. In the past, Turkey has used its control over these river flows as a bargaining tool to curb Kurdish militant activity along its borders with the two countries.These geopolitical facts give Turkey a unique advantage in influencing politics in the Middle East, both directly through military operations and indirectly through river flows.
Turkey’s capacity to contain the Russian navy in a time of a crisis, its ability to directly get involved in the Syrian war, and its influence on the prosperity of Iraq, gives influence over key American strategic objectives: namely, keeping Russia under control, maintaining peace in the Middle East, and ensuring the stability of oil outflows. Despite the status of both Greece and Turkey as members of NATO, the US is unlikely to risk bringing Turkey and Russia closer diplomatically and tempting Turkey to intervene more often in the Middle East.
How are Turkish domestic politics exacerbating the conflict?
Turkey’s militarism is informed by the institutional friction between Turkish politicians and the Turkish army. Since the death of Ataturk, the Turkish army has assigned itself the role of the protector of Ataturk’s ideals. Frequent army intervention in Turkish politics through coups has made politicians apprehensive of the army and ready to externalize the army’s domestic pressure into international operations. After the coup attempt of 2016, President Erdogan has become increasingly determined to preoccupy the army with military operations and maintain stability domestically, as he concentrates power through institutional change and purges political and intellectual dissidents. Turkey’s leaders have also been empowered by public support. The Turkish public has a deep historical understanding of the Turkish identity, the memory of the Greek invasion of 1919, and the unfairness of the Treaty of Lausanne. President Erdogan’s popularity after the failed coup attempt of 2016 has enabled him to empower these conservative opinions and silence opposing Euro-friendly voices in Turkey.
Greek leadership has also done its part to worsen the tensions. The Greek Minister of Defense, Panos Kammenos, leader of the nationalist minority party in Greece’s coalition government, has been vocal on Greece’s expansion of territorial waters, mainly as a feat to maintain his party’s share of the vote. Historical tensions between the two countries, as well as President Erdogan’s public and institutional empowerment and Greece’s current diplomatically inept administration have fueled Turkish nationalist sentiment against Greece, counterbalancing against public support for European integration, and emboldening Turkey’s aggressions in the Aegean.
What are the objectives of Turkey?
Turkish perceptions and expectations of European and American passivity embolden Turkey to act in calculated aggression according to its favorable estimation of the balance of power. Turkey’s primary goals are to increase its claim on maritime territory that may contain potential oil reserves in the Aegean Sea and to hinder Greek efforts to expand territorial waters according to proposed international law . These objectives constitute a reversal of the Treaty of Lausanne, which gave Greece control of the entire Aegean archipelago, and essentially landlocked the Turkish western coast. In a highly complex domestic climate, if Turkish policymakers judge that tensions have risen enough to even minimally justify translation of rhetoric into action, then Turkey is likely to annex the Imia-Kardak islands in a symbolic statement of intent, or even to potentially claim control over Kastelorizo, which would extend Turkey’s continental shelf into the southeast Mediterranean Sea.
Why should the EU care? What can be done?
In an environment of European reluctance and American rejection of involvement, the clock is ticking before the Turkish administration could make bolder moves. The crucial coming election could be the catalyst in materializing Turkish threats over the annexation of disputed territory. In the ever-increasing tense domestic politics of Turkey, political rivals try to outdo each other on anti-Greek rhetoric, resulting in heightened public expectations of conflict. Under the current circumstances, if Turkey escalates the conflict, then the EU stands to lose in all possible scenarios. If the EU intervenes, then Turkey may retaliate with the release of Syrian refugees into the continent, which will increase the influence of the far-right and break the EU from within. If the EU fails to act, then trust in its institutional power will wane, discouraging potential members from joining and increasing the separatist sentiments inside member countries.
The Aegean Dispute sheds light into the most important institutional anomaly of the EU: the absence of political unification to support economic integration.The European experiment has been successful in integrating economic activity within the continent. However, it now teeters with an unstable equilibrium, between further integration and outright demise. The Aegean dispute offers both a challenge and an opportunity for Europe: EU policymakers must look into ways of integrating security strategy, through cooperation agreements, security guarantees and investment into border control, while also moving towards an integrated and centrally-organized immigration plan for Europe. Tighter border security in the Balkan Peninsula will stop Turkey’s use of refugee flows as a bargaining chip and also appease nationalist sentiment in European countries, while security agreements will halt Turkish aspirations in the Aegean Sea and improve public trust in the EU’s institutional power. If the EU wants to remain relevant far into the future across the greater European continent, then it must start behaving as boldly and strategically as Turkey has over the past several years. If it doesn’t it will simply be outmaneuvered and, potentially, replaced as a major political voice in the global community.
 Wolff Heintschel von Heinegg Der Ägäis-Konflikt: Die Abgrenzung des Festlandsockels zwischen Griechenland und der Türkei und das Problem der Inseln im Seevölkerrecht. (Berlin: Duncker und Humblot, 1989)
Catalonia would have been facing severe problems had it broke away from Spain
Catalan independence referendum, held in late-2017, had thrown Spain and Catalonia into severe political crisis and has created uncertainly for the foreign investors inside Catalonia.
What fate would the Catalans have embraced had Catalonia broke away from Spain after referendum?
Catalans from all walks of life would have suffered severe problems had the pro-independence camp got what they wished for in the referendum.
Here’s some food for thought for the Catalans who voted in the referendum and who didn’t, and for the ones who had been a keen spectator from Europe and elsewhere.
Inception of an independent state requires the setting up of the essential state structures, including central bank, tax authority, judicial system, social security, a diplomatic service, a central bank and even an army.
Though most of these state structures/elements are available to Catalonia as an Spanish state/province, there are obvious concerns whether these elements are self-sufficient and mature enough to take the responsibilities of a newly born state.
Had Catalonia become a sovereign state, a greater political uncertainty would have arose. There would be political chaos between the ones who opted for independence and the ones who didn’t.
The ones who sought to remain with Spain, or atleast didn’t actively support pro-independence campaigns, could have ended up facing rage and infuriated gestures from the opposite camp immediately after independence (had it been achieved).
Debt, currency, exodus of businesses
Moreover, Catalans would then have to assume a significant part of Spain’s debt. They would have to find a currency other than the Euro, as Spain would veto Catalan membership in the Euro Zone.
Without a confirmed currency in the market and with political uncertainty, there would have been a likely evacuation of multinational and Spanish companies from Catalonia to other parts in Spain. Already some multinational and Spanish companies either left or declared to leave Catalonia immediately after last independence referendum.
Access to EU market
If the membership to the European Union (EU) was delayed after Catalonia’s independence, Catalan products would have lost the privilege of unrestricted access to the EU market.
This newly independent state would have lost the leverages of entering into the EU member states’ markets as a free trade zone – a leverage its commercial products enjoy now as Spanish products.
Duties on Catalan goods and services would have been imposed not only by Spain, but also by other EU member states. Moreover, in times of economic disasters, Catalonia could not have called upon the help of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the European Central Bank (ECB).
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