Relations between Greece and Turkey

Discussion in 'Europe' started by ekrem, Feb 11, 2008.

  1. ekrem

    ekrem VIP Member

    Aug 9, 2005
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    Geopolitical Diary: Turkey and Greece Agree to Disagree

    Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis arrived in Turkey on Wednesday with the formal goal of putting the two countries’ bitter rivalries behind them. It would be more accurate to say instead that they are putting their rivalries to the side.

    Yes, Greco-Turkish relations are among their best in history, but considering the number of conflicts the two have engaged in (on opposite sides), that should not be taken as a particularly strong vote of confidence. Yet prime ministers do not take time off to visit rivals lightly, and it is certainly worth taking a look at the reasons Karamanlis decided to jump the border.

    First from the Greek side. Greece has evolved dramatically since 1989. At the time, it was a dysfunctional economy hard up against socialist Yugoslavia, Soviet-ruled Bulgaria and sharing a very uncomfortable border with arch-foe Turkey. Greece more or less existed as a NATO and EU (then European Economic Community) outpost designed to do little more than hold a strategic anchor in the northeastern Mediterranean. NATO and the EEC really only admitted Greece as a member to check Soviet expansion.

    How times change. While Greece is hardly a power broker within either NATO or the European Union, its economy is stable and growing; it is a eurozone member; and the recent addition of Bulgaria and Romania to NATO (2004) and the European Union (2007) now grants it both a firm land connection to the core of Europe as well as an opportunity to act as a mentor to its poorer Balkan neighbors, a role that will grant many economic and political opportunities. It is not exactly a leadership position, but it is certainly a strategic position far more central and important than anything Athens has known in centuries.

    Now for the Turks. If Greece’s world has changed, Turkey’s has exploded. In the 1980s Turkey suffered from hyperinflation and repeated coups you could practically set your watch by. The Soviet empire dominated the entire northern horizon, while the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran, Hussein’s Iraq and Assad’s Syria filled up the rest. Only that same small border with Greece could be considered friendly, and only because NATO worked assiduously to smother any Greco-Turkish tensions.

    How times change. The Soviet empire and Hussein’s Iraq are shattered, a war scare has since cowed Syria into submission, and Iran has mellowed considerably. Internally the party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Edrogan, the Justice and Development Party, has successfully consolidated control and is systematically building hedges around a once coup-prone military, even as the economy has stabilized and managed growth rates as consistent as they are impressive.

    The one item that has remained constant for the two states is the other. The two have repeatedly danced along the thin line separating a hot peace from a cold war. But the two states have been largely introspective. That is now changing.

    As mentioned above, Greece is enthusiastically embracing the role of regional mentor — although it approaches the Kosovo issue with great trepidation — but such activities are fully under the aegis of the European Union. Greece has neither the resources nor the ambition to explore beyond the narrow confines of the Balkans.

    Not so for Turkey. With a robust economy of a half trillion dollars, a population of 70 million and the second largest military in the NATO alliance, Turkey is re-emerging as a major power in its own right. Ankara is beginning to flex its muscles and feel its strength, and has begun probing the wide array of regions that its geography forces it to deal with.

    Some — such as resource-rich Central Asia — hold opportunities. Others — such as a rising Iran — hold challenges. And others — notably a fractured Iraq — hold plenty of both. Turkey is beginning to examine all of the options before it, and to concentrate its efforts and focus on a specific region in which it feels it can get the most proverbial bang for the buck.

    But part of the process of Turkey preparing to stick its beak over its border involves ensuring that it does not face a major challenge from another front. For most of the past century, Turkey’s biggest challenge has been Greece, which brings us back to Karamanlis’ visit.

    In 1999 Greece and Turkey were the first to offer each other humanitarian assistance in the aftermath of two massive earthquakes. This warming of relations allowed the two to set aside their differences (not to be confused with burying them) and dial their hot peace back to a cold one, setting the stage for Turkey’s path toward EU membership. That path has now disappeared, and Turkey is moving on. Yet Turkey’s first step in preparing to go expeditionary is to ensure that this cold peace remains that way. Ankara has to ensure that its traditional foe does not sabotage its efforts to reforge itself as a regional power. Luckily for the Turks, this is a topic on which the two rivals can largely agree — after all, the last thing Athens wants is Turkey clucking around in the Balkans in a way that interferes with Greek plans.

    Their future — for the next few years anyway — will be to agree to disagree and to stay out of each other’s way. Which is great news for Athens and Ankara, but not so great news for anyone that shares a border with Turkey.

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