Turkey is already a quasi-regional power, despite it great economic problems. It aims to become something more – perhaps a hegemonic power in the regional system and beyond, and naturally it provokes Greece’s righteous indignation.

By Panagiotis Ioakeimides*

According to the Nordic Monitor (30/12/2021), Turkey is promoting a programme for the production of advanced weapons systems, weapons of mass destruction (WMD), long-range missiles, and possibly nuclear weapons, in violation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

It should be made clear that Athens’ policy as regards blocking Turkey from becoming a regional power is a dead end, ineffective, and unfeasible.

It will not produce results. We are simply wasting resources, and the sooner we realise that the better.

We are not referring to the institutionally declared policy based on international law for the peaceful resolution of problems (which remain inert).

Turkey is already a quasi-regional power, despite it great economic problems. It aims to become something more – perhaps a hegemonic power in the regional system and beyond, and naturally it provokes Greece’s righteous indignation.
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There is nothing peculiar about this.

John Mearsheimer – the most prominent international relations scholar of the realist school of thought, recently wrote that countries that are concerned about their survival believe that the best reaction is to acquire power, which means to become hegemonic powers and exclude other countries from predominating. He said that all great countries, whether democracies or not, can see no other choice but to accrue power.

Turkey sees itself as a major power.

There is another way for a country – especially a middle-sized one – to become powerful. It can become incorporated into a broader, strong, supra-national whole, as Greece did in acceding to the EU.

That choice was removed/rejected by Turkey in 2007 (then French president Nicolas Sarkozy and German chancellor Angela Merkel were responsible), and since then Turkish President Rexep Tayyip Erdogan chose the role of regional power.

Does it meet the preconditions for such a role? It meets some important criteria, but not all.

Turkey is the most populous country in the region, and of its bordering countries only Iran has such a large population.

It has the biggest economy (nearly four times greater than Greece’s), and aims to become the 10th largest economy in the world. Because of the size of its economy, Turkey is a member of the G-20 group of the most advanced economies.

It has strong armed forces (although somewhat weakened by a recent purge), and a notable weapons industry (e.g. production of drones), and it may be developing secret weapons programmes, including (as mentioned) long-range missiles and nuclear weapons.

Ankara has also acted with soft power, exporting Turkish television series, for example, all over the world.

Turkey has an authoritarian regime imbued with the ideology of nationalism, neo-Ottomanism, and Islamist rhetoric.

The basic element that Turkey lacks is the legitimisation to play the role it seeks, and it faces a series of domestic problems.

How do you react to such provocations from a neighbour?

There are two basic strategies – containment and engagement.

The strategy of containment can be implemented by a clearly stronger country that is prepared to shoulder a high cost (the US versus the Soviet Union, China).
Greece is more or less trying to implement a similar strategy with Turkey. It is creating alliances with unlikely countries to contain Turkey, expanding the American presence in the country, arming itself, and pursuing sanctions against Turkey in general.

Greece is running behind Turkey to impede it from becoming a regional power

It will not stop Turkey, whether or not Erdogan leaves office, as all political forces in Turkey view Greece’s containment strategy as one of external encirclement and dissolution – the Treaty of Sevres syndrome.

A strategy that could produce mutually beneficial results is that of engagement, adjusted to the European environment and regional conditions.

The elements of such an engagement strategy include:

1. Rekindling the objective of a deeper EU relationship with Turkey through an historic special relationship for now (and full EU accession in the distant future if terms are met). There should be a new type of Helsinki (where Greece in 1999 approved Ankara’s EU candidate status with specific conditions). We must not overlook the fact that Turkey is considered a (peculiar) part of the European security system. It is not outside of that, as Athens would have it.

2. Turkey’s incorporation in regional structures in a regional framework such as the Eastern Mediterranean, and not excluding Turkey.

3. Helping Ankara return to a democratic order, while bolstering civil society and the rule of law in Turkey.

4. Above all, a serious, targeted procedure for resolving bilateral differences without legalistic approaches.

This is the only policy that can succeed, that protects Greece, and allows Athens to creatively invest in its main comparative advantage – its membership in the EU.

Let us not forget that a containment policy makes the other side more hostile and intransigent, regardless of its cost, which for a democratic regime is tolerable.

Even worse, Ankara is proceeding with massive arms procurement to increase its power. Of course, there is the example of the Soviet Union, which in order to confront the containment policy of the US entered a frenzied arms race that ultimately led to its collapse.

However, Greece is not the US, and Turkey is not the Soviet Union.

We need a paradigm shift now.

*Professor Panagiotis Ioakeimidis is a former ambassador-counsellor of the Greek Foreign Ministry and an advisor of FEPS and ELIAMEP. His latest book, entitled Achievements and Strategic Mistakes in Foreign Policy After the Regime Change, has been published by Themelio Editions.

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