Monday, 4 March 2013

Turkey: an unreliable partner and regional bully

There’s an excellent account (in English) of what Turkey’s ‘zero-problems with neighbours’ foreign policy has meant in practice by International Relations professor, Ilias Kouskouvelis, and which I came across here, where the article can be read in full.

In the piece, Professor Kouskouvelis analyses how Turkey’s new foreign policy has played out in its relations with Greece and Cyprus; the former Soviet republics in the Caucasus; Iraq and Syria; Iran; and Israel, and concludes that the ‘zero-problems’ policy was insincere from the start, had nothing to do with the creation of an era of peaceful co-operation and co-existence and was more a thinly-disguised assertion of Turkey’s imperial, neo-Ottoman ambitions. As such, the professor argues, Turkey’s new foreign policy is creating more problems than it is solving and Turkey is coming to be regarded as an ‘unreliable partner by its allies’ and a ‘regional bully by its neighbors’.

Below is the part of the article that deals with Turkey’s relations with Greece and Cyprus.

The Eastern Mediterranean
Achieving a zero problems status with Greece and Cyprus would seem to be the most difficult goal for Ankara to attain, given both countries’ painful history with Turkey.

Even if one could put aside the long and tortuous past – from the Greek war of independence of the 1820s, to the 1923 uprooting of Greeks from Asia Minor, to sporadic crises over Aegean islands (1976, 1987, 1996), to the continuing standoff over air space and territorial waters – the AKP’s rise to power has exacerbated, not allayed, tensions.

Far from following a zero problems policy with Greece, Turkey maintains existing problems and adds new ones: It has made alleged violations of the Muslim minority’s rights in Western Thrace an item on the Islamic Conference’s agenda and has muddied the waters over what constitutes Greece’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) by questioning the role of the Greek island of Kastelorizo (one mile off Turkey's coast) in determining that EEZ. And Davutoğlu’s ambitions did not stop here:

‘The security of the Balkans is increasingly identified with the security considerations of Turkey’s western border. The security zone that has been established in eastern Thrace during the Cold War should be extended to the west with multilateral and bilateral agreements which should be made on a Balkan level.’

These are not mere words. Ankara has recently signed a military cooperation agreement with Albania, allowing docking privileges for Turkish warships at Durës, thereby marking the return of the Turkish navy to the Adriatic Sea after centuries. The press has reported that Turkey is responsible for the cancellation of an agreement between Athens and Tirana over the delimitation of maritime zones, and Turkey has also initiated major programs of military assistance to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, a state with which Greece is in dispute over the use of the name ‘Macedonia’. Finally, Turkey continues to flood Greece and the European Union with tens of thousands of mostly Muslim illegal immigrants.

Meanwhile, the already fraught relations with Cyprus have worsened. Turkey not only works against ending the continued and illegal occupation of the northern half of the island but seems bent on increasing problems. Such behavior is not all that surprising considering Davutoğlu’s belief:

‘It is not possible for a country that neglects Cyprus to have a decisive say in the global and regional politics… Even if there was not one Muslim Turk there, Turkey had to maintain a Cyprus issue. No country can stay indifferent toward such an island, located in the heart of its very own vital space… Turkey needs to see the strategic advantage which it obtained… in the 1970s, not as the component of a Cyprus defense policy, directed toward maintaining the status quo, but as one of the diplomatic main supports of an aggressive maritime strategy.’

Small wonder, therefore, that Ankara reacted to the discovery of new energy resources in the Cypriot EEZ in a heavy-handed manner, stating that it too had rights and interests in the region and warning that support for the Republic of Cyprus on this issue would have consequences in future negotiations with Nicosia. It attempted to stop Cyprus and Noble Energy, which planned to drill for natural gas off [the] southern Cyprus coast, from proceeding, then signed an agreement delimiting the continental shelf between itself and the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ (recognized by no one except Ankara), so as to carry out its own energy exploration in the area. This culminated in Ankara dispatching a research vessel into the Cypriot EEZ to protect its ‘national interests’, simultaneously ignoring US and EU entreaties and alarming Israel.

Notwithstanding claims about zero problems then, Turkish behavior in the eastern Mediterranean remains impenitent, bordering on the aggressive, and seemingly indifferent to the consequences it may have for any possible future with the rest of Europe.

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