Tensions between the NATO allies and frenemies Greece and Turkey over the eastern Mediterranean region have risen to their highest in a decade ever since Greece’s colonial overlord. Turkey sent its survey vessel and warships to prospect for oil and gas reserves in the areas claimed under Greece waters. Ever since the discovery of hydrocarbon deposits beneath the seabed a few years ago, both countries have claimed the right to exploit the naturally occurring resources. But geography is the major factor which has complicated this issue. Turkey has the longest coastline in the Mediterranean region. Istanbul argues that it should enjoy commensurate rights to any oil and gas reserves that are discovered in this region. Greece on the other hand owns a scattering of islands that lie just a few miles off the Turkish coast. Athens claims that its continental shelf extends into Turkey’s coastal waters and has the right to all the resources discovered there.
The turmoil has been further complicated by Turkey’s agreement with Libya which was signed last year to carve out a large part of the eastern Mediterranean as their self-proclaimed area of interest. Reciprocating to this pact, Greece signed a rival accord with Egypt in early August 2020. Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has given out riveted statements regarding Turkey’s claims on the eastern Mediterranean region showing absolute resolve to take on the Mediterranean, the Aegean and the Black Sea region completely. The Turkish president seems inexorable to move to maritime warfare with Greece if Greece does not withdraw from its maritime claims sooner. Turkey under Erdogan is moving towards the era of Turkish nationalism, meddling with areas that previously belonged to the Ottoman Empire including Libya, Syria, Iraq and the Aegean. It looks like the Turkish president is going to leave no stone unturned in pursuing this objective even if it means going to war with its NATO ally.
NATO has announced the rounds of technical talks between Greece and Turkey. The likelihood of maritime warfare is as high as it was before the announcement of mediatory talks because the issue between Greece and Turkey is convoluted by an influx of international involvement. The current situation is very different from the past where merely Greece and Turkey contradicted over their maritime claims and the USA went onto carrying out conciliatory efforts among the two.
Contemporarily France and the United Arab Emirates have sent their aircraft and warships to back up Greece. On the other hand, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt also have their share of stake in prospecting the hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean. Furthermore, the European Union of which Greece is a member has also been actively involved in the crisis making several efforts to conduct reconciliation between Greece and Turkey. But these efforts have proved to be ineffectual because of Turkey’s relationship with the West which is almost at a breaking point.
There is a complete breakdown of trust between Turkey and the European capitals. Ergo; it is harder for the Western organization to engage Turkey into peace talks on the ongoing conflict. The US administration has also been an active participant in the Greco Turkish conflict. US President Donald Trump has called the premiers of both Greece and Turkey twice urging them to commit to dialogue and put an end to this pernicious conflict between the NATO allies.
Despite several endeavors from international platforms, Greece and Turkey stay steadfast on their claims. Greece is in a strong position after announcing the extension of its territorial waters on the West coast from 6-12NM (nautical miles) because it is in right accordance with the maritime law. Turkey on the other hand has the brawny military abet to back up its claims on the eastern Mediterranean region.
With both the countries staying firm on their stance, how probable are the chances of a maritime war? Are we still living in the times of absolute resolves of claims on overlapping areas? Cases like the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Kashmir issue and the China-Taiwan squabble stay unresolved and ever so pernicious for world peace?
The Turkish president has clearly said that it does not want to go to war with Greece in the Mediterranean region and is only interested in attaining the reserves on the seabed. But his statements notifying the use of military resources as a last resort increases the existing threat of war between the two states. The existing onslaughts around the globe over land and maritime claims set off for more and more fatal warfare. Greece and Turkey could be another contributor to the destruction of world peace. It is rightly said that a thing begun is half done. So, if any one of these states shows a little flexibility on its claims of the eastern Mediterranean region then it could be a righteous example for all other contentious states to resolve their issues.
Ali Asad has completed his masters in Political Studies from the University of the Punjab. His main area of interest is in capacity building, governance, education, human development, socio-political and socio-economic state of affairs in South East Asian region; focusing Pakistan. He is pursuing M Phil in Public Policy.