The recent discovery of rich hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean sea by both Greece and Turkey has brought two NATO allies on the verge of war. Greece claimed the entire region as its own, while Turkey has made it clear that they won’t it give it up without a fight. Much to Turkey’s chagrin, France and Cyprus have announced that they will put their weight behind Greece in this conflict. If there was any scope of dialing down the rhetoric on both sides, Turkey poured cold water on it by sending a survey vessel escorted by Turkish warships in the disputed waters, which has angered both France and Greece.
France responded by scrambling two Dassult Rafale fighter jets to express its solidarity with Greece. What has complicated the situation is the fact that Greece and Egypt have finalised their maritime boundaries, which extend Greece’s maritime domain by 12 nautical miles.
This skirmish not only risks testing the solidarity of NATO but also threatens deeper and renewed conflict between Turkey and its troubled allies. Turkey has conducted military drills near the disputed sites. Media reports have shown fighter jets making dangerous manoeuvres with missiles being fired to deter the adversary.
Erdogan’s brinkmanship to blame
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has in recent years eroded not only Turkey’s secularist history but has also undermined the sanctity of the country’s modern founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, much to the disappointment of Samuel P Huntington who hailed Turkey as a promising candidate for a ‘core state’ in the Islamic world.
The recent Turkish effort to emerge as the leader of the Islamic world has also divided the jury, with its decision being held as highly hostile and detrimental for the overall unity of Europe. The country is economically sinking, and Erdogan’s approval ratings are dropping.
Another reason for the deepening divide within NATO is Turkey trying to emulate the glories of the erstwhile fourth Caliphate in Islam, the Ottoman Empire, but in the process of doing this Erdogan is not realising that he is alienating Turkey’s allies who are growing wary of the Turkish premier. He is isolating Turkey on at least the European platform.
Francis Fukuyama in his recent book, ‘Identity’, has observed that the people of Turkish origin who are citizens of other European countries are slowly growing apprehensive of the call given by the Turkish president to serve their country of origin. Fukuyama went on to highlight that this has given rise to Islamophobia and xenophobia in different countries.
Arresting the decline
At a time when Europe is coping with the double whammy of a raging pandemic and a massive economic slump, the last thing the Europeans need is a new skirmish with their own allies. It is imperative that both Greece and Turkey calm down fraying nerves. A number of things need to be done by Turkey to ensure that the issue can be resolved amicably without any military muscle flexing.
Firstly, an impartial arbiter must be appointed in the form of a joint European or United Nations experts to survey the area and establish a clear mechanism whereby both Greece and Turkey are able to utilise the non-conventional sources of energy, because these precious resources are no one’s own.
Secondly, it is time that the Turkish president undertakes an urgent course correction by giving up his fundamentalist agenda. He must respect the rule of law, must restore democracy and democratic institutions in his homeland which are in a sorry state, and he must restore the secularist legacy of Turkey by re-announcing that both Hagia Sophia and Chora church as will be reconverted as museums. By doing this he will earn the goodwill and trust of his allies, who are miffed at Turkey’s bellicose behaviour.
Thirdly, Turkey must stop dividing the Islamic world by its abrasive actions. The Islamic world is facing enough problems and any attempt to sow divisions will be detrimental for the wider amicability between Islam and other civilizations. Erdogan must strive for Shia-Sunni unity and must reach out to India, which has been deeply offended by Turkey’s statements on Kashmir.
It is highly important that the Turkish premier undertakes steps which can restore amity and cordiality in ties with its already offended allies. He must strive to uphold the legacy of the country’s founding father and must realise the value of Mahatma Gandhi’s words: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
—The writer is studying Political Science with specialisation in International Relations at Jadavpur University, Kolkata.