Turkish aggression affects a large number of nations. One-third of Cyprus is occupied by Turkey. It has attacked Armenians with F-16s and Special Forces. According to Iraqi officials, Turkey has already built 68 outposts on its soil, ranging in size from modest platoon-level outposts to substantial bases. Every night, the Turkish Air Force bombs Iraq. Entire Syrian northern areas have undergone ethnic cleansing by Turkey. Its marine land grabbing would make China’s Nine-Dash Line’s designers uncomfortable.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s escalating threats against Greece should worry everyone in light of this. In fact, the conflict between the two NATO allies is nothing new and extends back decades before Turkey’s erratic president. The current crisis, however, is distinct due to four elements.
Erdogan is openly revanchist, to start. He wants to change the century-old Lausanne Treaty, which defined Turkey’s boundaries with Greece and Bulgaria, always in Turkey’s favour. He asserts falsely that Greece contravenes demilitarisation agreements, and Turkish politicians, including Erdogan coalition partner and leader of the nationalist party Devlet Bahceli and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, also contend that they ought to control all islands in the Aegean Sea that are east of a median line. Such provocations are not limited to maps in Turkey. Greek islands like Kastellorizo often have their airspace violated by Turkish aircraft. Making matters worse are remarks made by the State Department that exhibit bothsiderism.
Simply said, Turkey is occupying Cypriot land and invading Greek airspace, not the other way around. Anthony Blinken, Secretary of State, should make this plain. Lies and moral parity are not the foundation for peace and justice.
The Turkish economy is also in rapid decline. Erdogan came to office twenty years ago in a climate of popular discontent with inflation, the depreciating Turkish lira, and the corruption of the governing class. The Turkish currency has lost more than 80% of its value over the past five years, inflation has surpassed 80%, and Erdogan and his family have amassed billion-dollar fortunes for no apparent reason. Erdogan cannot escape blame for Turkey’s grave circumstances because he has exercised authoritarian control over the country and has expelled, imprisoned, or marginalised any meaningful opposition. He looks for a catastrophe to divert instead. The ideal distraction would be to seize Greek islands and challenge Athens to take action.
As Turkey prepares for elections, the same dynamic is at work. Many supporters of the U.S.-Turkey relationship in the State Department have a propensity toward wishful thinking; they understand how difficult Erdogan can be but believe that voters fed up with his excesses would simply remove him from office in the upcoming elections. Such optimism is used by them to thwart efforts to hold Turkey responsible within the framework of American policy. The issue with this, though, is that it makes the assumption that Erdogan, who has referred to himself as the servant of sharia and the Imam of Istanbul, would ever submit to public opinion. The truth is that Erdogan would incite violence if he perceives that he will lose the election by a margin that will be impossible to win back by fraud.
The truth is that Erdogan will start a crisis and declare a national emergency to use as a pretext to cancel elections entirely if he feels he will lose the election by a margin too great for fraud to overcome. Erdogan believes that a fight with Greece would be the best solution.
Finally, the Biden administration erred in judgement. While Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump were less susceptible to Erdogan’s whispering charms when Joe Biden took office, his team has made substantial progress in recent months, particularly with its support for an F-16 sale to Turkey. It’s possible that Biden and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan thought doing this would comfort Erdogan after Turkey lost its F-35s and inspire him to support Ukraine. The reverse, however, has happened: Erdogan took Biden’s action as permission to step up assaults on his neighbours and as a hint that Turkey might freely buy more S-400 missiles from Russia.
As China, Iran, or North Korea assist Russia avoid the diplomatic and economic repercussions of its actions, Turkey engages in a parallel game with Ukraine.
A confrontation with Greece is most certainly on the horizon not because of anything Athens has done, but more because Erdogan is anxious to divert attention from his own failure and bankruptcy. The Biden administration will probably need to provide answers to three questions within a year: what can be done to stop Turkey’s aggression; what can be done to help Greece better fend off Turkish drones, aircraft, and missiles; and whether the United States can really remain neutral if one NATO member attacks a devoted NATO ally.