The Guardian view on Turkish-Greek relations: dangerous waters – The Guardian – Opinion

Some claim it has been centuries since the Mediterranean has been viewed as the cockpit of history. But great powers and coastline states, wishing to capture hydrocarbon riches, are today vying for mastery of the sea – or at least its eastern waves. The trouble surfaced last month when a Turkish frigate escorting an oil-and-gas exploration ship collided with a Greek naval vessel. Since then, tempers have flared, with the unresolved question of Cyprus providing a flashpoint between the two nations. Greek ships were last week joined by France, Italy and the United Arab Emirates in the waters around Cyprus. Turkey announced that Russia will hold naval exercises. Nato is right that the temperature needs lowering and ought to be congratulated for kickstarting talks aimed at de-escalation. Nato members ought to trade words, not blows.

In Turkey there has been a lurch towards authoritarianism under the executive presidency of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, while the country’s military, economic and cultural power has expanded. Not since the Ottoman empire has the Turkish military had such a sprawling global footprint, with troops and drones recently saving a UN-recognised government in Tripoli from defeat. Despite a Covid recession, Turkish companies retain a global edge – taking advantage of cheap labour, made even cheaper by a weak Turkish lira, and access to European markets. Mr Erdoğan has also won favour in the Sunni Arab world by hosting 4 million Syrian refugees.

What irks Mr Erdoğan is that his nation cannot explore, and exploit, the Mediterranean seabed. If Egypt, Israel and Cyprus have been able to strike it rich with gas finds, he thinks, then why not Turkey? Ankara claims that a wall of Greek islands prevents Turkey from exploiting its own continental shelf. The question is to what degree an archipelago off the Turkish coast should be taken into account when determining the boundaries of economic zones. The UN convention on the law of the sea, which Turkey has not signed, supports Greece and the status quo.

Mr Erdoğan casts the international dispute as part of his revisionism. His political tradition sees the founding of modern Turkey not as a triumph, but as a missed opportunity. That is why the territories lost when the 1923 treaty of Lausanne established the borders of modern Turkey – such as the islands in the Aegean Sea – are today at the heart of his foreign policy.

The sparring of old enemies over borders, gasfields and national pride risks regional disorder. The competition over fossil fuels should be about how to stop using them. Arab powers and Israel, worried about Mr Erdoğan’s brand of political Islam, have drawn closer to Greece. He might not even need the Mediterranean’s hydrocarbons. Turkey ended up striking gas last month beneath the Black Sea. Washington, traditionally the guarantor of peace between the Aegean Nato rivals, has been largely silent. The door is open for the EU to act. Germany, which brokered a deal with Mr Erdoğan to stop the flight of Syrian refugees into Europe, has sensibly called for talks. There’s room for give and take. The EU has threatened sanctions on Turkey’s oil and gas sector, which could be broadened if the sabre-rattling continues. If Mr Erdoğan wants to be respected as a responsible partner then he must act like one.

Source: The Guardian view on Turkish-Greek relations: dangerous waters | Editorial | Opinion | The Guardian