International Policy
[The HR-Net Forum]

    HR-Net Home
    Latest News
    News Archive
    Interesting Nodes
    Web Pages
    Mirrored Sites

    News Searches
    What's New
    Using Greek
    Usage Statistics

Interests, Opportunities, and Prospects:
Security Imperatives in the Eastern Mediterranean

By John Sitilides <>,
Executive Director, The Western Policy Center1

Istanbul, Turkey
Thursday, June 10, 1999

Thank you. It is a pleasure to be in Turkey once again, this being my second visit in the past twelve months. I hope to visit again and often, and one of these visits, I look forward to traveling to the cities from which my family is descended, Samsun and Bursa, before the exchange of populations sent my grandparents to Greece in the 1920's.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank the Ari Movement, and in particular Chairman Kemal Koprulu and Ali Gunertem, my Washington colleague, for their kind invitation to address this distinguished audience on critical issues looming in one of the most important regions in the world.

I have been asked to discuss the subject of security imperatives in the eastern Mediterranean, from the perspective of the Western Policy Center in Washington, D.C. For those not familiar with our policy organization, the Western Policy Center promotes U.S. geostrategic interests and Western institutions in southeastern Europe by elevating and expanding the debate on American foreign policy towards NATO allies Greece and Turkey. We happen to share Washington's position that - along with strengthening the U.S.-Russia partnership and stabilizing the Balkans - solving Greek-Turkish problems is one of the three fundamental pillars of European security.

Security imperatives in the eastern Mediterranean, from a transatlantic perspective, are in turn shaped by three major considerations: Greek-Turkish mutual interests, opportunities to advance those interests, and the prospects for working together to achieve these objectives.

Recognition of Greek-Turkish mutual interests dates back to the period following the Treaty of Lausanne and the establishment of legal parameters for territorial sovereignty and the protection of minority rights in Greece and Turkey. Ataturk and Venizelos struck an agreement which opened the door for Greek-Turkish friendship for nearly three decades. It is a remarkable story achieved in the aftermath of a brutal war between Greece and Turkey that caused tremendous suffering for millions of people.

That lengthy period of friendship can serve as an important model for the years ahead. Clearly, there are historical, religious, political and economic differences between Greece and Turkey that - in a more perfect world - would drive the respective leaderships to choose other neighbors. Nonetheless, geography makes them neighbors, and their vital interests make them allies.


Greek-Turkish mutual interests include, but are not limited to, the stabilization of the Balkans, preventing the regional proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and eliminating international terrorism. Because continued turmoil in the Balkan corner of NATO's southeastern European flank can spill over into the eastern Mediterranean, Greece and Turkey have a critical interest in helping NATO secure its near-term interests in the wake of military victory in Kosovo. This would be followed by the institutionalization of free-market democratic systems and the encouragement of eventual, though distant, membership in NATO and the European Union for most Balkan countries.

Beyond the Balkans, Turkey exerts considerable resources to help contain the aggressive designs of unstable, anti-Western countries - such as Iran, Iraq, and Syria - acquiring chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Greece is geographically well suited to contend with another rogue regime, that of Libya's Muammar Qaddhafi, now seeking to acquire the North Korean Nodong missile, capable of striking targets up to 1000 kilometers away throughout Greece, southern Italy, and southwestern Turkey. Support from both Athens and Ankara for a credible NATO nuclear deterrence and the development of a regional missile defense system is essential.

Greece and Turkey's geostrategic location also places them on the frontlines of the West's battle against international terrorism. Five of the seven nations categorized by the U.S. State Department as sponsors of international terrorism lie near the eastern Mediterranean. Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Syria continue to plan and conduct terror attacks, support terrorist groups, or provide varying degrees of money, training, safe haven, and weaponry.

International terrorism also has the potential to transform the domestic terror environment. FBI Director Louis Freeh visited Athens in September 1998 for discussions on improving U.S.-Greek law enforcement cooperation in combating terror groups, especially as Greece prepares to host the Olympic Games, a major target for terrorism no matter the host country, as we learned most recently in Atlanta in 1996.

Turkey achieved a critical success in its battle against terrorism with the arrest of Abdullah Ocalan. However, in a disastrous turn for Greek-Turkish relations, Ocalan transited Greece at least twice with the knowledge and assistance of certain Greek officials. Former Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos was fired, along with top interior ministry and intelligence officials, for providing haven to Ocalan.

Greece's new Foreign Minister George Papandreou stated recently that Greece was unwillingly involved in what happened to Ocalan, and that Kurdish issues are questions for Turkey and have nothing to do with Greece. The willingness of Turkey to accept Greece's heightened statements condemning terrorism, within Athens' self-imposed political parameters, may determine the extent to which opportunities to enhance Greek-Turkish relations can be utilized in the months ahead.


For instance, Greece and Turkey have been successfully cooperating to help NATO prevail against Milosevic. From the onset of the war, Foreign Ministers George Papandreou and Ismail Cem have been in regular and direct communication. Minister Papandreou promoted Ankara's participation in planning the post-war reconstruction of the Balkans, and Minister Cem sought the inclusion of both Greece and Turkey in the Contact Group overseeing the resolution of the Kosovo crisis.

On the military front, Greece's port city of Thessaloniki is the overriding factor in the successful deployment of what will amount to 50,000 peacekeepers in Kosovo, a process which began this morning. The Greek government withstood withering public and media criticism to uphold its alliance commitments and advance a solution to the crisis. Turkey provided F-16's for combat operations and its air bases allow for the timely and essential intensification of the air campaign against Yugoslav targets.

This level of cooperation is also envisioned for the Southeastern Europe Brigade, or SEEBRIG. Consisting of forces from NATO allies Greece, Turkey and Italy, along with non-NATO Balkan countries Albania, Bulgaria, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Romania, SEEBRIG will be deployed in the Balkans or as an expeditionary force near the region, such as the Black Sea area, as situations warrant. SEEBRIG will establish several channels of communication among the member countries, encourage military staffs to train together, and serve as a point of Greek-Turkish cooperation, not confrontation, in the Balkans. .

Since the Kosovo crisis elevated NATO attention in southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean region, the extent to which Greece and Turkey help promote NATO's current dialogue and mutual understanding with non-European Mediterranean countries such as Egypt, Israel, and Jordan will be important. In the future, Athens and Ankara can help Brussels develop a Partnership-for-Peace type system that would emphasize more extensive military-to-military contacts, exchange of high-level visits, and eventually joint military exercises among Israel, Egypt, and Jordan. Hopefully, Greece and Israel will enhance a bilateral relationship that today is largely functional, though it will not approach the intensity of Turkish-Israeli relations.


Enhanced Greek-Turkish cooperation dates back to July 1997 in Madrid, where Athens and Ankara signed a memorandum of understanding laying the principled groundwork for improving relations. They agreed that respect for sovereignty, international law and international agreements must form the bedrock of a substantive Greek-Turkish relationship.

Greece acknowledged Turkish interests in preserving international access through the Aegean Sea, as well as the right of navigational freedom in international airspace, and Turkey acknowledged the inviolability of Greece's borders, and the need to refrain from the threat or use of force. Regrettably, the spirit of Madrid collapsed several months later, when Turkey protested Greek military exercises on Cyprus.

Nonetheless, the fact that Athens and Ankara signed the agreement signals their recognition that tough, pragmatic decisions can advance their mutual interests and enhance stability in the surrounding region. But success will depend upon solving problems that, to date, have held both countries back from achieving their long-term political and security objectives.

The Greek-Turkish relationship, especially as it pertains to the Aegean, is usually defined by enumerating its outward manifestations. These include:

  • the continued inability to delineate the Aegean seabed;
  • the Greek view that Athens has every right to extend its territorial waters past the traditional six miles it now claims in the Aegean;
  • the Turkish "gray areas" policy that every rocky Aegean islet not specifically cited in international treaties is of undetermined sovereignty or neutral territory; and
  • the stationing of amphibious ships, ostensibly used to invade islands and coastal areas, by Turkey along the Aegean coast across from Greek islands.

Yet underlying each of these legal, technical and perceptive problems is something far more profound and cutting - the absence of trust between Greece and Turkey. Trust and cooperation were higher when NATO opened a headquarters staffed largely with Greek and Turkish officers in Izmir in 1952. Look at the insignia of the LANDSOUTHEAST headquarters, as NATO used it until 1974.

It was changed when Greece withdrew from the alliance's integrated military structure after Turkey's military actions in Cyprus. The crest incorporated the national colors and key symbols of the Greek and Turkish flags. The blue and red, the cross and the star and crescent, united together on one shield formed a powerful message of unity, equality, and trust.

I had the opportunity of visiting Izmir a few days ago and met with the current LANDSOUTHEAST Commander, Turkish Army General Edip Baser. General Baser described to me some ongoing NATO command structure changes now underway. This year, LANDSOUTHEAST and the adjacent air headquarters will be replaced with a Joint Sub-Regional Command in Izmir, where the Chief of Staff will be a Greek officer. There will also be a similar NATO command in Larissa, Greece, where the Chief of Staff will be Turkish. Additional Greek and Turkish military officers will be assigned under the NATO umbrella to each other's country, to help streamline the alliance's operational planning and strengthen the security framework in southeastern Europe.

These two NATO commands will provide more opportunities for Greek and Turkish militaries to work together. This is critical because it is people, not impersonal systems or bureaucratic structures, that make change. The more Greek and Turkish politicians, military officers, businessmen, scholars, politicians, and ordinary citizens work together, the more they can build the element of trust between them.

Unfortunately, many here in Turkey, in Greece and in the United States view the relationship between the two NATO Allies as a "zero-sum" game. A negative decision against Turkey is seen as a victory for Greece and vice-versa. If the U.S. Congress withholds approval to transfer surface combatants to the Turkish Navy, some Greeks and Greek-Americans will see this as a positive decision for Greece. Or, if an advanced weapon system such as the F-15 Strike Eagle is not made readily available to the Hellenic Air Force, there are Turks and Turkish-Americans who will see this as a good thing for Turkey.

"Zero-sum" results in clouded vision, lost focus and counter productive action. It is far better to work towards building strong bilateral relations between the United States and Greece and the United States and Turkey and -- most importantly -- between Greece and Turkey.

In a similar vein, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" may be a long practiced tradition in the Near East but it does not advance security in the eastern Mediterranean. Nor should it be used as the sole explanation for complex issues, such as Greek sympathy for the Kurdish minority in Turkey. Both "zero-sum" and "the enemy of my enemy" fuel problems between Greece and Turkey, and should be relegated to the diplomatic trash bin as soon as possible.

The debate about the Aegean arms race is timely and important in Washington. Certain analysts believe that increased Greek and Turkish military capabilities an ultimately lead to conflict. At the very least, needed resources are being diverted from other pressing social problems. But weapons themselves are not necessarily destabilizing. Rather, it is the perception of the intended threat - upon which decisions to acquire weapons are made - that is the central issue.

If Greece or Turkey acquires arms based on the perception of the external threat, the only good way to reduce the number of weapons is to favorably alter this perception. In the Aegean, we know that the forceful claim to another's sovereign territory, or the restriction of freedom of movement by extending territorial waters, would probably lead to conflict. Though neither of these events is likely, the challenge is to get both sides to understand this. And the necessary element - currently missing - to allow this understanding to develop is trust.

I would humbly suggest that Greece and Turkey, under the auspices of NATO, focus on the one confidence building measure upon which all others depend: direct communication. Communication channels at all levels will allow both sides to learn from each other. There is no more important or basic requirement to altering the threat perceptions of Greece and Turkey than having good, frequent, and broad-based communication about each other's interests and aspirations.

Is there hope for improved Greek-Turkish relations? Much is heard about what divides the two countries. The continued division of Cyprus remains a visceral issue for Greece. The circumstances leading up to the capture of Ocalan are on the minds of every Turk. Each element of the Aegean problem I mentioned earlier raises the potential for conflict. Nevertheless, the prospects for enhanced security in the eastern Mediterranean should be positive.


Greece and Turkey agreed to work together in 1997 to help confront the economic, political, and internal security crisis in Albania. They each overcame a series of significant concerns and were able to compromise in order to establish SEEBRIG, with a Turkish military commander and a Greek official in charge of the politico-military policy committee at the initial headquarters in Bulgaria.

Both countries have been cooperating daily on the NATO campaign to secure Kosovo. And in September, there will be activation ceremonies in Izmir and in Larissa for Joint Sub-Regional Commands reporting to the NATO commander at Allied Forces Southern Europe in Naples, Italy. These are not hopes or dreams or flights of fancy - these are facts. And as President Ronald Reagan wisely said, facts are stubborn things.

However, as long as these examples remain limited to the military and national security spheres, they will be insufficient. Other sectors and elements of Greek and Turkish society can take heed from the two militaries and expand communication, which will build trust which, in turn, can help build peace.

Greece will need peace to accede fully into the European Monetary Union and modernize its economy - the overriding foreign and domestic policy goals of the current administration in Athens. Greece may also see that Ankara is the door to a lasting solution to the vexing Cyprus question.

Turkey will need peace to more effectively focus on pressing social and economic problems and other foreign policy priorities, such as advancing the prospects for eventual European Union accession -- which, no matter the day-to-day pronouncements of Turkish political leaders, remains one of Turkey's most pressing long-term foreign policy goals.

In closing, I recall Richard Holbrooke telling a Turkish interviewer of his hopes that Greece and Turkey will someday find their Adenauer and deGaulle, to realize a reconciliation, similar to Germany and France after the Second World War, which will be economically and politically beneficial for both countries. At the Western Policy Center, we agree with Ambassador Holbrooke's ends, but not necessarily the means.

Greece and Turkey do not have the luxury of waiting for powerful and stellar leaders to emerge simultaneously. Greece and Turkey are neighbors across the Aegean Sea, allies within NATO, and partners in the defense of the eastern Mediterranean. These can be the predominant considerations in the relationship that advances congruent interests against common threats -including Balkan instability, WMD proliferation and international terrorism. Without such security, genuine freedom or prosperity will be hard-won for both countries.

I prefer to look ahead when dealing with Greek-Turkish issues and differences. With this former NATO crest in hand, I will make an exception. This visual representation of where the two countries stood, politically and militarily, not too long ago can lay the first brick towards realizing a fuller and more robust security framework in the eastern Mediterranean, greater freedom and stronger prosperity, and strengthened relations with the United States for Greece and Turkey alike in the years to come.

Thank you very much.

1 [The Western Policy Center is a public policy corporation promoting U.S. geostrategic interests and Western institutions in southeastern Europe by strengthening the debate on American foreign policy toward NATO allies Greece and Turkey, and toward Cyprus. Based in California since 1994, the Center opened new offices in Washington, D.C. in February 1998.]

2 The Western Policy Center addressed the prospects for Greek-Turkish cooperation at an international conference in Istanbul on "Security and Cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean". The conference featured Turkish, Israeli, and American officials, as well as analysts and scholars, who reviewed security developments in the Middle East, Central Asia, the Caspian and Caucasus regions, the Balkans, and the Aegean Sea.