East Med escalation is looming
Today Ankara is hosting the 63rd round of the Turkish-Greek consultative talks with not much hope of a breakthrough.
As can be recalled, the bilateral mechanism could be launched in January 2021 after a major crisis between the two neighboring countries over the overlapping continental shelf claims in the eastern Mediterranean.
The resumption of the Turkish-Greek talks and de-escalation in the Mediterranean also led to the normalization of ties between Turkey and the European Union. That resulted in a calm summer in the region.
However, things in the field are signaling a fresh escalation. As a matter of fact, Greece and Greek Cyprus were in provocative moves in the past weeks by announcing controversial NAVTEXs, notification to sailors, in the eastern Mediterranean. The latest was initiated by Greek Cyprus which deployed a civilian research ship, Nautical Geo, to the east Mediterranean after declaring a NAVTEX on Sept. 29. Turkey challenged the NAVTEX, stressing that the designated area was part of the Turkish continental shelf according to a notification made to the U.N. last year.
The Nautical Geo, which is tasked to map a sea route of a pipeline from the island to Greece, attempted to enter the Turkish continental shelf on early Oct. 3 and was pushed back immediately by the Turkish navy.
Article 79 of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea authorizes all states to lay submarine cables and pipelines on the continental shelf, but underlines, “The delineation of the course for the laying of such pipelines on the continental shelf is subject to the consent of the coastal state.” (Turkey is not a party to the convention.)
The bigger problem is the fact that both Turkey and Greece have their navies in the region and countries like France can easily deploy some of their warships to the east Mediterranean in support of Greece as it did last year. Also, an idea for a regional conference with the participation of all the coastal states and Western powers on the Eastern Mediterranean could never be materialized due to Greek Cyprus’ rejection of the presence of Turkish Cypriots.
In addition to the ongoing problem, Greek Cyprus’ planned resumption of its drilling activities in the Mediterranean can further deteriorate the situation. Turkey and Turkish Cyprus have already announced that they will retaliate against any such action by Greek Cyprus that does not respect the rights of the Turkish Cypriots.
The United States and the European Union are closely following the developments in the region and expressing their concerns over a fresh tension in the region. But, clearly, they must do more than express their worries.
It’s obvious that Greece and Greek Cyprus want to take advantage of the political vacuum in the EU by the departure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel from the European political stage. Plus, the unconditional political support they receive from French President Emmanuel Macron, who will try to use Turkey in his election campaign, encourages Greece and Greek Cyprus.
The Europeans and Americans should be wary that an escalation between Turkey and the Greece-Greek Cyprus duo will only weaken the EU and NATO.