The reaction to the Ukrainian crisis has become a test of strength for NATO, writes ‘Die Welt’.
The West calls for unity and a united front against Russia, but contradictions are growing within the alliance.
The war in Ukraine has become for NATO the most severe test of strength in the history of the alliance.
Unity was proclaimed, but now a severe dispute has broken out between Turkey and Greece.
They are threatening each other with naval and air strikes.
On paper, Turkey and Greece are allies.
From the Cyprus conflict in 1975 to disputes over the migrant crisis to Turkey’s decision to convert the Hagia Sophia Museum from a Christian cathedral to a mosque, relations between the two NATO allies have been frosty for some time.
But in the recent past, the two countries have repeatedly stood on the brink of war.
In the 80s, they were looking for oil in the same part of the Aegean Sea.
In the 90s, when they argued about the status of uninhabited islands.
Two years ago, when it came to gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean.
The debate has escalated again when armed conflict occurs in Europe, and NATO cohesion is more important than ever.
Here are the answers to the top questions.
WHAT HAPPENS IN THE AEGEAN SEA?
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently threatened Greece that Turkish soldiers could “come at night.”
His government accused Greek authorities of firing on a Turkish cargo ship last weekend.
In addition, at the end of August, the Greek air defense took Turkish aircraft on the fly, and the Turkish side allegedly managed to fix this.
Athens rejects all accusations and demands that NATO and the EU call Turkey to order.
The Greeks claim that Ankara decided in advance to “justify its future aggression.”
So says one of the reports of the Greek Foreign Ministry.
It also indicates that since the beginning of the year, Turkish warplanes have flown 183 times over Greek territory, a severe violation of Greek sovereignty.
WHAT IS THE POINT OF THE DISPUTE?
It’s about power, money, and history.
Ankara is outraged primarily by the fact that many Greek islands are militarized.
This, according to Turkey, contradicts international treaties.
The Lausanne Treaty laid the foundation for the current borders of both states in 1923 and the Paris Treaty, according to which, in 1947, the Dodecanese Islands were ceded from Italy to Greece.
Turkey argues its position because Athens, having violated these treaties, lost sovereignty over these territories.
In turn, the Greek government insists on its right to self-defense: landing craft off the west coast of Turkey allegedly threatens the islands’ security, so the Greeks protect them.
In addition, both countries claim the right to extract natural gas from fields in the Mediterranean Sea.
According to the “Law of the Sea of the United Nations” (in other words, the UN Law of the Sea), coastal countries can engage in mining on the territory of the sea and the continental shelf up to 200 nautical miles wide from the coast – in the so-called exclusive economic zone.
However, these rights may be restricted.
In this case, the 200-mile zone is reduced, which is why the Greek islands off the Turkish mainland limit Turkey’s freedom of action.
Ankara, in turn, argues that the islands do not have their own exclusive economic zone.
“First of all, it’s about power and the fundamental fact that thanks to the political geography of the Aegean Sea, Greece is in a better position,” says Ryan Gingeras, a professor of naval graduate school and historian of the late Ottoman Empire.
“This is unacceptable for many Turks, including Erdogan.”
Not least of all, the problem is that this hostility has historical roots.
The Greco-Turkish War, which ended 100 years ago, still plays a vital role in the nationalist discourse of both countries.
HOW SERIOUS IS THE SITUATION?
The tensions and impending escalation of the conflict are not new, but the moment at which it escalated is extremely unfortunate.
“NATO has a lot of problems with Ukraine and Russia. And now the alliance has to deal with the south, keeping its two members from attacking each other, “says Jim Townsend, an official at the US Department of Defense.
Neither he nor Gingeras believes that war is about to break out or is imminent. But rising tensions between Turkey and Greece are fraught with risk.
“They perform a kind of dance – they escalate the situation, then de-escalate it.”
“The problem is that if one day one of them makes an awkward mistake and miscalculates by shooting down, for example, a plane with human casualties,” says Townsend, “then the situation will get out of control.”
“This could hurt NATO’s assistance to Ukraine,” Gingeras says.
The biggest nightmare will happen if “in the event of a conflict, a region vital to the provision of the Ukrainian armed forces is destabilized.”
The Greek port city of Alexandroupoli is a nodal point for the supply of NATO weapons to Ukraine.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF THE TWO ALLIES WENT TO WAR WITH EACH OTHER?
There have been no such precedents yet.
Article 5 of the NATO Charter states that an attack on one of the NATO countries is considered an attack on all – that is, all other allies must come to its aid.
However, there is no plan of action for a situation where an armed conflict occurs between two NATO partners.
Such a situation simply did not occur to the founders of NATO before.
It can be assumed that in this case, both Greece and Turkey will try to present the opposite side as an aggressor and call on the allies for help.
If Turkish soldiers “come at night”, as Erdogan threatens, then it is prettyite clear who will be the aggressor in this case.
But if the collision occurs on the high seas, it will be a different situation.
It remains to be hoped that NATO will still be interested in de-escalation and will assume the role of mediator.
The possibility of excluding any country from NATO is also not provided for in the Charter of the Alliance.