Power and Interdependence: Uncertainties of Greek-Turkish Rapprochement

By Anastasakis, Othon | Harvard International Review, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Power and Interdependence: Uncertainties of Greek-Turkish Rapprochement


Anastasakis, Othon, Harvard International Review


Relations between the Greeks and the Turks often seem to be characterized by antagonism, suspicion, and historical enmity. The two neighboring states have frequently been at odds over the Aegean Sea and Cyprus, and the two peoples share a mutual distrust as a result of a bitter history and competing interests. Yet Greece and Turkey have also experienced periods of interaction and cooperation, which have derived from geographic proximity and a growing sense of interdependence. Following intense post-cold war competition, Greece and Turkey have adopted a policy of rapprochement that began in 1999. They have signed numerous bilateral agreements and are building economic and cultural links. In addition, the prospect of Turkey's accession to the European Union, however distant and uncertain, provides some hope for more cooperation in the future between these two historical enemies.

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Although security concerns are still a source of tension between Greece and Turkey, growing ties between the business, civil society, and cultural sectors of the two countries are beginning to ease competition. At the same time, the impact of the European Union is increasingly felt in the business climate, and the relationship between the two states is becoming ever more entangled with the future of Turkey as a part of Europe. The decision of both countries to Europeanize their bilateral differences could have two conflicting outcomes. On one hand, it might facilitate the process of rapprochement in the spirit of European integration, and on the other, it could complicate and deteriorate the process under the shadow of European introversion and enlargement fatigue. Thus, it is important to analyze the Greek-Turkish relationship in light of the latest bilateral developments and the European Union's engagement with the region.

Emerging Cooperation Amid Unsolved Issues

For most of the 20th century, relations between Greece and Turkey were defined by the politics of hard power, with national security interests dominating the agenda of their respective foreign policies. Since the early 1970s, the most divisive matters concerned the delimitation of continental shelf and territorial waters in the Aegean Sea, the control of airspace, and the militarization of the Greek islands. The episode over the Aegean islets of Imia/Kardak in 1996 brought the two countries to the verge of war. In effect, parts of the Aegean Sea and its airspace have developed into contested borders with no imminent possibility for agreement. Even the means of solving the dispute differ from one country to the other. Greece recognizes only the dispute over the continental shelf and claims that the disagreement should be resolved at the International Court of Justice, in accordance with existing international law. Turkey looks at all bilateral matters as a package and favors bilateral negotiations and bargaining. One major bilateral concern has to do with what Greece assumes to be a violation of its airspace by Turkish air fighters. Turkey rejects the ten-mile airspace claimed by Greece, arguing that Greece is only entitled to a six-mile airspace. Therefore it sends its aircraft as close as six miles from the Greek coast. This practice often results in aircraft incidents between the two states, which have become somewhat of a routine. To keep its military at the state of alertness necessary to catch up with the militarily superior Turkey, Greece spends between 4.5 and 5 percent of its GDP on military expenditures--the highest such percentage in Europe. Bilateral relations become even more complex with the inclusion of the Cyprus dispute, which has been affecting Greek-Turkish relations with unabated intensity since the 1950s. The list of non-settled bilateral issues also includes problems which are remnants of the Ottoman past.

Against the background of unsolved political and historical strife, a positive climate of cooperation in the business, trade, cultural, and civil society sectors has been developing since 1999. …

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