By William Mallinson
The 61st round of exploratory contacts between Greece and Turkey are due to begin on 25 January, following considerable pressure on Turkey by Germany, since the latter is trying to play the rôle of middleman, in the absence of France’s ability to do it, in turn the result of Turkish anger at France’s pro-international law and -Greek stance. Germany will likely be in the background, given its business interests with Turkey, its huge number of Turks and Kurds, and its generally historically atavistic pro-Turkish policies.
Before quoting from British diplomatic documents, we should note that Turkey’s threat to declare war on Greece, should the latter extend its maritime borders to twelve nautical miles, still stands, although Greece is entitled to do so, under the Law of the Sea Convention which, needless to say, Turkey has not signed, even though she imposes a twelve-mile limit in the Black Sea.
Despite irritation with recent Turkish behaviour, the US and Israel are unlikely to be of much help when it comes down to diplomatic detail: in 2003, the US Embassy wrote the following to me: ‘We recognize Greece’s border with Turkey, but not all the territorial waters implications which Greece asserts. We have not taken a position on sovereignty over Imia/Kardak, in part because of the lack of an agreed maritime boundary.’
When I asked about Greece’s twelve mile nautical and ten-mile airspace limits, the reply was: ‘We recognize the six [!]-mile territorial sea claim and a claim to the superjacent air space. We do not recognize Greece’s claim to territorial air space seaward of the outer limit of its territorial sea.’ I doubt that their position has changed. Similarly, the Israel Enbassy refused to answer my question about Greece’s air and sea limits.
And what of Britain, responsible for stirring up Turkish claims to Greek territory during the Cyprus crisis in the Fifties? In public, Britain has not taken a position, but the truth comes out in a Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) document: ‘I was left with the impression that reference to the International Court [of Justice] was still something rather irrelevant and that the Turks hankered firmly, however unrealistically, for a bilateral solution. This is perhaps not surprising as they can presumably not have very much confidence in winning its case at the Court on its merits alone.’
Another FCO document states ‘The British Government’s view of the Continental Shelf issues [was] much closer to the Greek than the Turkish view (in particular Britain supports the entitlement of islands to have a Continental Shelf).’
If the Greek government is in any doubt about Turkey’s position, they need to read this comment by the Head of Chancery at the British Embassy in Ankara in 1975: ‘Another example of perhaps typically Turkish thinking on this occurred when I was discussing this subject with Mr Dag, a First Secretary who works to Mr Süleymez. Dag said that everything depended on bilateral discussions between the two sides and that after such discussions the matter would either be completely solved in itself or there would be an agreed approach to the International Court or there would be no progress at all. I asked Dag for his views on the likelihood of progress in bilateral discussion. He said that all that was needed for progress was that the Greeks should give in! I was left with the impression that reference to the International Court was still seen as something rather irrelevant and that the Turks hankered firmly, however unrealistically, for a bilateral solution. This is perhaps not surprising as they can presumably not have very much confidence in winning their case at the Court on its merits alone. In other words, the agreement on principle earlier this year to refer the matter to the ICJ was probably seen by the Turks as a convenient means of cooling the situation at that time, not as a means of actually finding a solution to the problem.’
Only history exists, with the same things returning with different colours.
Let us hope that Mitsotakis does not give in.
* Professor of Political Ideas and Institutions
Universitá degli Studi Guglielmo Marconi