Increased dialogue and cooperation with Turkey would better serve neighbourly relations and regional stability

Increased dialogue and cooperation with Turkey would better serve neighbourly relations and regional stability.

Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias’ recent visit to Washington, which concluded with the renewal of the US-Greek mutual defence cooperation agreement, is important for Turkey. Previously renewed for one year, the new agreement will remain in force “indefinitely” unless one of the parties withdraws.

Greece will become one of the US military logistics centres in the region, especially with the increase of US military presence in the Alexandroupolis, Crete, Litochoro and Larissa regions. The renewed agreement gives the US the right to access any Greek military bases and expands the areas for the US forces to conduct military drills. The US Navy will also be able to go to Bulgaria and Romania without using Turkey’s straits; in other words, the US is giving an “I do not need you” message to Ankara regarding Black Sea access.

It is one of many steps that Athens has been taking to position itself strategically in the region. In recent months, the US has sent heavy military equipment to the Balkans and European countries through the port of Alexandroupolis, with plans for further military shipments in November. The Greek foreign minister recently underlined the importance of US military presence on various occasions, including an interview last week in which he discussed Turkey as a country that might seek to become a “local superpower” if not for the presence of the United States in the region.

In a two-page letter to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken openly supported Greece and underlined the commitment of the two countries to help each other in case of an attack — indirectly referencing Turkey.

On November 6, 2020, Greece submitted a request to the US Department of Defense to purchase F-35 fighter jets, which was welcomed by the US a month later. In other words, it would not be surprising if the F-35s, which were not given to Turkey, were given to the neighbouring country soon.

It is also worth mentioning and remembering that the US military investment in Greece has continued for several years across administrations. Former Secretary of State Michael Pompeo frequently visited Greece and Southern Cyprus, and the Trump administration had even reacted sternly to Turkey’s Eastern Mediterranean natural gas research vessels.

The path to regional peace

Putting aside the US’ rapprochement with Greece, it would be ridiculous to compare the Turkish army — which is the second-largest army in NATO — with the Greek army, as well as the defence expenditure of both countries. It is also important to note that Turkey’s defence industry has been growing tremendously globally, with fellow NATO ally Poland among its recent buyers.

It will benefit the peace in the region for Turkey and Greece to work together as familiar allies, not enemies. Establishing a Strategic Dialogue Group between Turkey and Greece that arranges meetings between Turkish and Greek leaders at least twice a year would help in this regard.

If Turkey’s President Erdogan and Greece’s Prime Minister Mitsotakis met regularly, it would be an excellent start toward peace and stability in the region. Additionally, if Turkey’s Eastern Mediterranean Forum is supported and welcomed by Greece, and this initiative will encourage a broader dialogue with critical players in the NATO Alliance and neighbours on the Mediterranean Sea.

Frankly, it would be best for the US to sign policies that will bring Turkey and Greece much closer and oversee a policy maintaining the equilibrium between the two countries, including defence and trade.

Otherwise, the unresolved refugee issues, harsh statements from the Greek leadership, partisan and non-objective decisions by the EU, and higher tension in the Turkey-US defence relationship will become more problematic, not just for neighbours but overall peace in the region.

Foreign Policy Expert on U.S.-Turkey Relations, ME, Security, NATO, Transatlantic / Journalist / 2019 Ellis Island Medal of Honor Recipient www.alicinar.com