Agenda 2045 | 1 min

Obsession With the Impasse

Only bilateral open-minded dialogue has some chance of providing solutions that will one day free us from the perpetual, meaningless and unbearably costly confrontation in the eastern Mediterranean

This Article is part of the debate on
Agenda 2045 Nationalism Sanctions Turkey

Antonis Antoniadis
A Greek Navy officer with binoculars monitors the movement of French vessels during joint excersises in the Aegean Sea.

Going through the oh-so-common analyses of Turkish aspirations which (incredibly) seem to evidence the innermost workings of Erdoğan’s mind, I would expect to hear at least, albeit in passing, some supporting arguments. I would expect even some hints of self-criticism and self-awareness. These are unknown concepts in Greece, but unfortunately, very fundamental for understanding and solving problems. So, in my effort to make a minimal contribution, I will limit myself to the most obvious weaknesses of our foreign policy.

The most obvious finding is that we traditionally display a civil service mentality in approaching bilateral issues. We have that infamous “civil service confidence”, even in this stagnant climate of tension and rivalry, trembling at the consequences of any changes. By citing various maximalist objections, we avoid dialogue by engaging in “diplomatic marathons” so that others can solve our problems for us. We are entrenched in our capacity as an EU member, and the delusion of security that we believe it provides us with, and the supposed cultural superiority that we think it entails, not showing the slightest willingness for a realistic approach at conciliation.

We always present ourselves as being in the position of the peaceful and law-abiding victim, whom the international community has a duty to protect, against a Turkey that is constantly plotting against our national sovereignty and integrity. But this reality ended 200 years ago (we even celebrate it) [editor’s note: The Greek War of Independence that begun in 1821] and I believe that it is time to overcome these simplistic perceptions so that we are able to move forward.

Imbued, however, even from our school education, with such a mentality, it is inevitable to fear any reconciliation with this country. It is this mentality that makes us frightened to sit at the table of dialogue and negotiate as equals; to negotiate fearlessly on all matters and not only to delineate the continental shelf – because the more we resolve, the better a country we will pass on. To negotiate without fearing that dialogue will lead us to undesirable faits accomplis. An appeal to The Hague may do so, dialogue will not. And finally, to negotiate open-mindedly, without burying our head in the sand like ostriches.

Because we are burying our heads in the sand when we fail to recognise the fact that the Treaty of Lausanne, at the time and under the conditions and expediencies in which it was written, will inevitably contain deliberate ambiguities, for the sake of political balance. As well as provisions that are untimely in today’s reality. Provisions, some of which have been overcome by both time and circumstances (demilitarisation of islands) which, for reasons of national interest, we ignore.

For the same reasons and by citing decrees from 1920, we ignore a provision in the recently ratified “Law of the Sea”, which limits the range of our national airspace to six nautical miles. Likewise, we consider that the Athens FIR, as a whole, is our national airspace, when it is an area of simple air traffic regulation for civil aviation.

We also bury our heads in the sand  over the lack of provisions for the unilateral delineation of EEZs and the underlying continental shelf, and for geographically “cramped” areas, as in our case. The same goes for the boundaries of the continental shelf. Any demarcation requires the mutual approval of the neighbouring states. This, after all, is the sole issue we want on the agenda for discussion with Turkey. Therefore, in maritime areas, where on the one hand we have not established an EEZ and on the other the continental shelf boundary has not been clarified, we are not entitled to any sovereign rights.

This is so that we understand we do not have the right (and that is why we are not trying) to expel the Turkish research vessel from the eastern Mediterranean, as it is moving beyond the six nautical miles from the Greek coasts.

So, despite what we want to believe and claim, Greece also follows this global practice, as does Turkey, ignoring or complying with the provisions of international Treaties and Conventions depending on the national interest.

We must therefore realise, no matter how painful it may seem to us, that only bilateral open-minded dialogue has some potential to provide solutions that will one day rid us of the perpetual, meaningless and unbearably costly confrontation in our region. Despite the faltering economy, we are already preparing for costly armaments.

Let us redefine the “diplomatic marathons”, because aside from being futile, we also appear to be verbose, in the sense that if some rather insignificant sanctions are imposed, they will be dictated by international dissatisfaction with Turkey’s stance on the Caucasus, Syria, Libya or the acquisition of S-400s and not our concerns about the Turkish research vessel cruising in international waters.

Let us open our eyes to a map and let us recognise, realistically, that Turkey is a peninsula country with a coastline of over 900 kilometres in the Mediterranean Basin and it is not unreasonable to desire a relevant EEZ.

Let us also open our ears to the messages of the international community, which, for a long time, and in every way, has clearly been telling us to compromise and figure it out on our own, and not to rely on help from anyone.

And finally, let us open our closed minds, especially when we seek to impose sanctions, in the hope of understanding that a Turkey in a dire economic situation and political isolation will only vent its weakness against one country – and that country is none other than Greece. That possibility is what we should be afraid of and not bilateral dialogue.

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