The summer of 2009 is rapidly turning into yet another extended period of Turkish provocations in the Aegean through demonstrations of military force. In the middle of a supposed, mutually agreed summer moratorium on military training exercises, Turkey dispatches almost daily armed warplanes to make low, very loud passes over small inhabited Greek islands lying near the Asia Minor coast. Turkey has announced oil exploration inside the boundaries of the Greek continental shelf southeast of the Greek island of Kastelorizo. And Turkish coast guard vessels carve "innocent passage" patterns inside Greek territorial waters with complete immunity and, even, make "honest mistakes" that, in one recent case, brought a Turkish patrol boat at the mouth of the harbor of Kalymnos, the famous Dodecanese island home of sponge divers. The Turkish skipper, with incredulous Greek coast guards watching from a distance, disarmingly apologized over the radio for reading his charts wrongly!Against this backdrop, the Greek Government is busy with entreaties to the European Union, NATO, its American allies and anyone else who might be willing and available to receive the demarches protesting such blatant Turkish violations of Greek sovereignty. Last week, Greece formally briefed her European partners on Turkish actions in the Aegean and her foreign minister delivered some sharp remarks following a meeting of the General Affairs Council. The Greek press is yet again replete with agitated news stories calling for a change in approach to Turkey's bid to join the European Union, a bid the present and past Greek governments have supported unconditionally in the futile hope that "European-izing" Turkey will save Greece from perennial trouble, relentless pressure in the Aegean, and the possibility of armed conflict.
It is remarkable, but not unprecedented, that in all this noise, hue, and cry there is not a single serious Greek voice honestly assessing the facts and calling the spade a spade. While our politicians are again tripping over their tongues in breathlessly repeating the fatigued clichés on how Greece remains "armored" behind international law and her "inalienable rights," our "intellectuals," including the community of local International Relations "experts," are deafeningly silent and carefully distant from any mention of unpleasant truths which could upset the nirvana surrounding our "policy makers." In all, Greek reaction to the methodical Turkish aggression in the Aegean remains very much what it has been for decades: a steady, gradual retreat, inch by inch, to a not-so-concealed Turkish strategic plan to redefine the treaty status of the Aegean through, primarily, "fright not fight," and thus create the appropriate conditions for the longer term Finlandization of "strong" Greece.
The late Panayiotis Kondylis, Greece's sole real modern strategist, was the only voice that brutally and publicly demolished accepted Greek illusions about a national security model exclusively depended on the imaginary willingness of others to provide the level of protection Greece is unable to provide for herself. In his Theory of War (1997) Kondylis warned that Greek troubles with Turkey emanated from the fundamental strategic error of Greece convincing herself that Turkey perceives EU membership with the same singular fervor as that permeating Greek political and economic elites -- or, that Greece's European partners are fundamentally committed to solidarity with Greece against Turkish actions come hell or high water.
These and other erroneous premises on the part of a country that fails to stand on her own two feet, and expects other to do what she cannot fulfill in her own defense, Kondylis argued, will mathematically result in the "European-ization" of Turkey working as the ironic lever of turning Greece into a permanent satellite of the Euro-Asian, neo-Ottoman Turkish great power through a protracted process of European-Turkish negotiation in which (a) Turkey makes constant demands for preferential interpretation of accession criteria and (b) the Europeans, in wishing not to slam the door in Turkey's face but, at the same time, unwilling to openly water down EU criteria, choose the convenient outlet of offering "incentives" to Ankara at the expense of a submissive, but wholly "European," Greece.
Kondylis's conception carries a frightening logic that is confirmed in practice with each passing day. During a recent meeting of the Greek Government's committee on defense, for example, committee members, all of them senior cabinet ministers, with the prime minister chairing, failed to approve a proposal to remove the undermanned, underequipped, and mission lacking Port Police from deterrent patrolling around the scores of uninhabited Greek rocky islets and pass the job on to the Hellenic Navy. Aside from fulfilling the classic naval presence mission, aggressive patrolling by warships remains critically important in the fight against the invasion of Asian and African illegal immigrants pushed into the water by Turkey across the narrow seas separating Anatolia from eastern Aegean Greek island territories. This decision, incomprehensible in the eyes of those who have even a rudimentary understanding of operational requirements, especially in view of the illegal immigration threat, was indeed quite "normal" according to the contradictory and passive "rationales" commanding Greece's "peace" posture toward a belligerent adversary like Turkey.
In another example, and only last week, a Turkish pilot flying an F-16, who had just executed yet another mock bomb run over a small Greek island, experienced technical difficulties and radioed an emergency request for returning to base by passing over Ikaria, one of the large Greek eastern Aegean islands. Greek air traffic controllers readily granted the request at the very same time Greek fighter pilots battled in deadly mock dogfights with swarms of Turkish intruders!
This thinly-veiled defeatist Greek attitude toward Turkey's bullying cannot be blunted overnight. Successive generations of government and military officers since 1974, not to mention society at large, have been so imbued with this combination of illusions -- the imaginary absolute protection behind the European "shield" and the option of checking an enemy successfully with demarches -- that it is quite unrealistic to expect anybody to graduate quickly to the fighting trim demanded by the times. Indeed, the notorious bureaucratic lethargy that permeates the Greek government establishment may be indicative of another, far more dangerous trend: historical fatigue of a nation that enormously exerted itself during a brief spurt of action, only to inevitably succumb to physical and mental exhaustion. One quick look at Greek 20th century history may be surprisingly revealing in this respect.
Practitioners of Greek-Turkish "friendship" and opportunist babbling politicians, "opinion makers," and "business leaders" aside, Greece's long term strategic impasse remains glaring and oppressive. Caught in her confused European "partnership" pirouettes, without a sound national estimate of Turkish strategic intentions, with defense capabilities that are deteriorating in proportion to her domestic vagaries and unsound economy and politics, and frozen like a hare in the headlights regarding her "strategic relationship" with the United States, Greece is literally unable to decide on key questions of survival. In light of such realities, satellite politics, masqueraded as "proud and independent foreign policy" vis-à-vis Turkey, become the comfortable subconscious couch for all those who posture and brag but, when it gets to the crunch, display the tenacity of overcooked linguini. Panayotis Kondylis would not have been surprised.