Sanction Turkey

Redeploying an energy survey vessel into Greece’s exclusive economic zone, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has proved that he requires sanctioning.

It is obvious that Erdogan is challenging the European Union to live up to its sanction threats. Following the Oruc Reis’ previous survey in August, the Turkish leader agreed to keep the vessel in port so as to facilitate dialogue with the EU and Greece. But his motives weren’t altruistic. Recognizing that Turkey’s actions are incompatible with Greece’s sovereign rights, the EU had threatened sanctions if Erdogan’s surveys continued. Erdogan, for a time, seemed to be inclined toward compromise. But this new survey proves that Erdogan has chosen to double down on escalation.

The central concern here is Erdogan’s belief that he can shred European security with impunity. As with his policy toward the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, Erdogan sees a conflict with Greece or the threat thereof as a means to advance his interests. His rationale is ultimately imperial in nature. Determined to build a neo-Ottoman empire centered in Sunni Islamic populism, Erdogan sees the public subjugation of his competitors as fuel to his legacy agenda. Hated by Turkish nationalists, Greece presents unique appeal in this regard. Erdogan appears to have used the pretense of a diplomatic resolution to this crisis in order only to make Greece and the EU appear desperate for compromise and reciprocally weak.

Erdogan must not be allowed to succeed in this gambit.

Moving to shred the territorial rights and energy reserves of another European nation and fellow NATO ally, Erdogan is degrading a central tenet of the post-Second World War international order. To allow his imperial gambit to succeed would be to accept that European territorial inviolability no longer matters. It took two terrible wars and a Cold War standoff to preserve that sacred principle. And the principle must be upheld. After all, there’s more at stake here than Erdogan’s destabilizing activity. Were he allowed to proceed unchecked, the West would invite new aggression not just by Erdogan but by other actors, including Vladimir Putin. We should note here that Putin sees his compression of the Mediterranean Sea from Libya and Syria as a way to undermine NATO’s southern flank.

In turn, the EU must now move expediently to impose sanctions on Erdogan. The EU should find overt American support. While the United States has a key strategic interest in maintaining its alliance with Turkey, that cannot come at the expense of European security. Nor can it come at the cost of sacrificing another American ally, Greece. To be sure, the U.S. and EU have issues of significant disagreement. But as with China and the South China Sea, the maritime stability of the Mediterranean Sea must be upheld.

Erdogan must be sanctioned. If he escalates this situation further, the U.S. and EU should escalate right along with him.

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