Two days ago it was announced that NATO warships would begin patrolling the waters between Greece and Turkey to intercept boats carrying refugees so that their human ‘cargo’ could be returned to Turkey, which the EU now designates as a ‘safe third party’ country (despite the civil war waging there). The warships would be led by Germany with support from other NATO countries. The ‘mission’ is headed by NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove and is fully operational as of February 12th (yesterday). The plan was initiated by Germany and Turkey at the recent meeting between Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkey’s President Erdogan and forms part of the 3 billion euros deal with the Turkish Government. The inclusion of a Turkish warship in the NATO operation could add to, not lessen, territorial disagreements between Turkey and Greece (and see the mid-east conflict widen?).
Britain’s defence minister, Michael Fallon, commented on the mission: “They [the refugees] won’t be taken to Greece and that’s a crucial difference”. (Britain’s HMS Bulwark is also on standby to support the mission.)
The warships, with the agreement of the Turkish Goverment, will also monitor the Turkish coast for people smugglers. NATO will be coordinating its operations with Frontex and the Greek and Turkish coastguard services.
Standing NATO Maritime Group Two has five ships off Cyprus, led by Germany (the ‘Bonn’), with the other vessels from Canada (the Fredericton), Italy, Greece and Turkey (the Barbaros). Given the historical sensitivities between Greece and Turkey over demilitarisation of certain islands and what constitutes territorial waters and airspace (see Note, below) the inclusion of a Turkish warship in the operations is worrisome.
It should be noted that the current policy of ‘equal distances’ (between Turkish and Greece coastlines) favours Turkey, which has a history of challenging Greek sovereignty. In 1974 Turkey commenced overflights and naval trespasses over Greek waters in the Aegean. NATO’s presence in the Aegean could also provide an excuse for Turkey to provoke incidents and ‘neutralisation’ of territory (i.e. further erosion of Greek sovereignty). An example of this was the Imia incident.
Note…”One problem which the Turks appear to be exploiting with overflights is the status of small inhabited islets in the Dodecanese. These islets, including Agathonisi and Farmakonisi, were named neither in the 1914 agreements nor in Lausanne, which turned the Dodecanese over to Italy from the Ottoman Empire, nor in the Treaty of Paris of 1947. Lausanne listed the major Dodecanese islands and then added “the dependent islets.” The Paris Treaty continued things by referring to “adjacent islets.” Given that the islands are inhabited, their status and Greek sovereignty over them seems quite clear, and implicit Turkish raising of their sovereignty a highly questionable response.” (Courtesy of Wikileaks – see header below.)