It seems that potential EU and NATO member, Turkey is on down-spiralling course, regarding its relationship with its neighbours, the USA and EU.
On February 11th, Cyprus announced that the Turkish military was holding exercises which blocked a ship operated by Italian oil and gas company Eni. Cyprus had hired the company to drill in its waters, which Turkey claims as its own. Then on 12th, a Turkish patrol boat ran into a Greek coast guard ship that was anchored off the islands of Imia/Kardak, claimed by both Greece and Turkey. In response to both events, the European Union issued a statement asking Turkey to “refrain from any actions that might damage good neighbourly” ties.
Two days later, both Greece and Turkey withdrew their ships from the Imia islets region in an effort to ease tensions and to seemingly acknowledge the EU request but the dispute between Cyprus and Turkey over the drilling blocks remains in play.
Same old, same old
Turkey’s volatile relations with Greece and Cyprus is not anything new, but there is an oxymoron in this story. Both Greece and Turkey are technically allies in NATO. If two allied countries are hostile to each other, then what can be said about the legitimacy of this alliance? And while in the past Turkey has only been showing its hostility towards Greece, recently it has grown its confidence so much, that is even challenging the USA itself, as the recent developments in Syria show. Turkey’s current fight, against U.S.-backed Kurdish troops in the northwestern Syria territory of Afrin, is destabilising enough. But the real risk will come if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan follows through on his repeated promises to press further east toward the Kurdish-controlled and U.S.-patrolled city of Manbij.
Mr. Erdogan seems to be turning against anyone he can find, even America itself. Inspired by President Putin, and slight megalomania cause by years of non-reaction to Ankara’s ever braver antagonism, Erdogan is jeopardising Turkey’s relationship with its allies and has already shattered the country’s hopes for EU membership.
Until now, it was Greece and Cyprus that had to bear the cost of Turkey’s erratic behaviour. Greece, in particular, had to spend millions of its budget in defence, to protect itself from Turkey, its ally in NATO! Something that, of course, suited other big players of the alliance, like USA, France and the United Kingdom, all which were selling arms to Greece, enhancing their economies, while the Greek one suffered. The Greek-Turkish hostilities were being continued for decades, in order to perpetuate a situation that served the local elites, as well their international allies. By keeping the two countries in constant fear and competition with each other, international arms industries profited, while the nationalistic elements in both nations were satisfied, diverging the public opinion towards this constant threat, while all along, other issues were being pushed under the carpet.
And so we have reached a stage with both countries are financially, politically and socially unstable, but while Greece is an EU member and gains some security and stability, Turkey, on the other hand, is going rogue at every opportunity.
Turkey in the EU
But therein lies the proof that Turkey’s EU membership would be good, not for any other reason, but to bring the country under the control of Europe. NATO has been proven to be insufficient in keeping Turkey in check, mainly because of America’s foreign policy and interests in the region, which are not always for the benefit of Greece or Europe.
A strong and stable, united Europe with Turkey as a member, would be the only way to safeguard stability in the region and relief Greece and Cyprus from the burden of constant Turkish threats and insults. Yet, as Europe is evolving and hopefully will continue to gravitate towards a more federal formation, the prospect of the Euro Army gives hope to Greece and Cyprus. As both countries have signed the PESCO Defence Cooperation, they have now an enhanced protection against Turkey’s threats.
Ideally, Cyprus would be better off in NATO, if only to gain some protection from Turkey but as this is highly unlikely since Turkey does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus as a state, nor the Cypriot public opinion favours such move, then PESCO gives the small island nation access to European and NATO protection in the future. Since any European Army would be allied to NATO, it is a Cypriot entry into the alliance through the back door. The two allied armies could strengthen both Greece’s and Cyprus’ security and defence, something that would perhaps frustrate Turkey, which is why it could be acting as it is now, in order to make a point and remain relevant. Turkey knows that the political situation has changed on its western front and will continue to do so. Bulgaria has also joined the EU and NATO ranks, while the rest of the Balkans are poised to do so in the next decade.
Internal fights are bad for business
Thus Turkey’s elites are looking elsewhere to throw their weight around and satisfy their internal nationalistic elements. Europe and in fact NATO itself, if it wants to stay relevant in the European continent, must stand by Greece and Cyprus, trying in addition to bring Turkey back in their ranks. It is absurd for two allied nations to have such a bad relationship. It looks bad for NATO and diminishes its role and prestige. But in the end, if NATO fails, Europe can always rely on itself and PESCO, as it should have for years now.
Hopefully, Mr. Erdogan and his administration will realise where their interests are better served and reconcile their differences with their EU and NATO neighbours soon. It is ridiculous to thrive on old hatred, nationalism and expansionist views, that not only are not realistic in today’s interconnected world, but are holding back generations of young Turks due to lack of full access in European institutions and programmes.
It is in Europe’s interests to have a stable and prosperous Turkey, either as a neighbour or a member. Thus it cannot rely solely on America and NATO to achieve this, since America’s interests are not totally synchronised with Europe. Thus our continent must assert itself and form its own policies towards its neighbours and implement them accordingly.
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