NATO should act to defuse Turkish-Greek tension

NATO should act to defuse Turkish-Greek tension

Last week was quite telling about how tough the conflict in the eastern Mediterranean is and how difficult to mediate between Turkey and Greece is. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas’ visits to Athens and Ankara have failed to bring about a breakthrough while United States’ President Donald Trump’s phone conversations with the leaders of the two sides had almost no impact on de-escalation.

Yet, an informal meeting by the EU foreign ministers on Thursday and Friday was far from introducing a constructive platform for the resolution of the Turkish-Greek problem as they pledged full support to the Greek position in the name of EU solidarity.

The statements of the EU’s senior representative for foreign and security policies, Josep Borrell, after the meeting was reflecting a major inconsistency concerning the EU’s understanding of mediation or dialogue with Turkey.

Borrell has openly threatened Turkey with new sanctions “in the absence of progress in engaging with Turkey” while announcing an EU council decision to “develop a list of further restrictive measures that could be discussed at the European Council on Sept. 24-25.”

The one-sided approach of the EU which calls for Turkey to refrain from unilateral actions without any reference to Greek unilateral actions or French military buildup in the Mediterranean can hardly be described as a fine line EU walks, as suggested by Borrell.

If Borrell and other senior EU officials still think that Greece is ready for sound and goal-oriented negotiations with Turkey on Mediterranean and Aegean issues after receiving such a rewarding and unconditional support from the EU, they are either unbelievably naïve or running after unrealistic expectations.

If Athens would truly be ready for talks with Turkey, it would not rush to sign a maritime jurisdiction deal with Egypt just a day before Ankara and Athens were supposed to jointly announce the launch of technical negotiations on Aug. 7.

It was Greece’s unilateral move that nixed the plans for engaging dialogue with Turkey and therefore stands as the main reason for the “absence of progress in engaging with Turkey” as Borrell prefers to put it.

In line with long-lasting Greek and Greek Cypriot strategies, the conflict in the eastern Mediterranean has already turned into a Turkey-EU problem and the continued Brussels tactics will not change the situation.

At this point where the EU has failed as an honest broker, it’s time for NATO to show up in a bid to prevent an armed conflict between the allies which could deal with a major blow against the security construct of the alliance.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has preferred to play a rather low-profile role throughout the crisis with not-so-loud messages to both sides that they should opt for dialogue and refrain from further escalating the matter.

No doubt, Athens will not be in favor of a more visible NATO in the course of the conflict as it believes the EU’s support makes its case much stronger as Borrell said: “We must walk a fine line between preserving a true space for dialogue and, at the same time, showing collective strength in the defense of our common interests.”

A question pops up here: How come the EU’s collective strength will defend its common interests without harming the collective security architecture of the NATO, an alliance that provides the security of the continent for the past 70 years?

The crisis in the Mediterranean is a risk to the unity of NATO. It should act in a way to defuse the tension but at the same time urge all the allied countries to refrain from provocations. As the EU vows to show its collecting strength in the defense of its common interests, NATO should also show it is collecting strength in the defense of its common interests.