Athens has sig­nalled it may ex­pand its mar­itime bound­aries, and Ankara isn’t happy about it.

Grounds for War

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - COMMENT - By Xander Sny­der

When out­go­ing Greek For­eign Min­is­ter Nikos Kotzias an­nounced last month that Greece in­tended to ex­pand its ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters from six nau­ti­cal miles off the coast to 12 nau­ti­cal miles, it reignited a dis­pute that had been sim­mer­ing for decades. It may seem like a mi­nor change at first glance, but Greece has thou­sands of is­lands scat­tered through­out the Aegean and Io­nian seas, so ex­pand­ing its ter­ri­to­rial lim­its will have out­size ef­fects on the re­gion.

Ac­cord­ing to Kotzias, the first planned ex­ten­sion will be to Greek ter­ri­tory in and along the Io­nian Sea – from the is­land of Othonoi to the is­land of An­tikythera. Then, Greece plans to ex­pand the ex­ten­sion to its east coast, from An­tikythera to the Sa­ronic Gulf and then through the Pa­g­a­sitikos Gulf in the Aegean Sea. This is where it has run into op­po­si­tion, namely from Turkey, which has ma­jor ports along the Aegean and de­pends on free Mediter­ranean.

pas­sage through






Turkey has long been at odds with Greece over con­trol of the Aegean, and pre­dictably re­sponded with stern warn­ings. It sum­moned Greece’s am­bas­sador to Ankara and re­leased a state­ment re­mind­ing Athens of a 1995 dec­la­ra­tion by the Turk­ish par­lia­ment that Greek ex­pan­sion of ter­ri­to­rial bound­aries be­yond six nau­ti­cal miles would be con­sid­ered “ca­sus belli,” or grounds for war. In re­sponse, Greece has de­cided to re­fer the mat­ter to par­lia­ment, in­stead of pass­ing the change through pres­i­den­tial de­cree as orig­i­nally in­tended.

Greece has ar­gued that it has a right un­der the United Na­tions Con­ven­tion on the Law of the Sea to ex­tend its mar­itime borders to 12 nau­ti­cal miles, the max­i­mum al­lowed by the treaty. (Turkey is one of few coun­tries, along with the U.S., that hasn’t rat­i­fied UNCLOS, which has more than 160 sig­na­to­ries.)

Since 1936, how­ever, Greece has claimed sovereignty over only six nau­ti­cal miles from its shores. (Prior to this time, it had con­trol over only three nau­ti­cal miles.) Turkey wants to keep it that way, claim­ing that the Aegean is a spe­cial case given the prox­im­ity of Greek is­lands to the Turk­ish coast. Ac­cord­ing to the Turks, UNCLOS shouldn’t ap­ply there and the is­sue must be set­tled through bi­lat­eral talks.

Turkey has ef­fec­tively drawn a red line in the Aegean Sea, and it’s not hard to un­der­stand why. If Greece were to ex­tend its ter­ri­to­rial con­trol to 12 nau­ti­cal miles, it would cre­ate a po­ten­tial choke­point in Turkey’s ac­cess to the Mediter­ranean, forc­ing Turk­ish ves­sels de­part­ing from, say, the Bosporus (ar­guably Turkey’s most valu­able strate­gic as­set) or even Izmir (a ma­jor port on the Aegean) to nav­i­gate through Greek-con­trolled wa­ters. The ex­ten­sion would in­crease Greek ju­ris­dic­tion over the sur­face area of the Aegean from 43% to 71%, and re­duce in­ter­na­tional wa­ters from 49% to 19.7%. It would also in­crease Turk­ish claims over the sea, from 7.5% to 8.8%, but nav­i­ga­tion through these wa­ters could still be ham­pered for the Turks by its his­tor­i­cal ad­ver­sary, an unac­cept­able propo­si­tion for Ankara. While UNCLOS does al­low for “in­no­cent pas­sage” through sovereign ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters, there are re­stric­tions. For ex­am­ple, states are pro­hib­ited from car­ry­ing out mil­i­tary ex­er­cises that in­volve any sort of weapons, and sub­marines that travel through the wa­ters must re­main above the sur­face. There are also re­stric­tions on load­ing or un­load­ing any com­modi­ties in vi­o­la­tion of the laws and reg­u­la­tions of the coastal state and con­duct­ing re­search or sur­vey ac­tiv­i­ties, which Turkey needs to do if it’s to se­cure ac­cess to nat­u­ral gas sup­plies in the Eastern Mediter­ranean.

En­force­ment mea­sures for UNCLOS are no­to­ri­ously weak, but the Euro­pean Union has backed Greece’s right to ex­tend its ter­ri­to­rial con­trol. It’s un­doubt­edly a wor­ry­ing de­vel­op­ment for Turkey, which has in­creas­ingly squared off against Euro­pean coun­tries over drilling rights in the eastern Mediter­ranean. And if Greece does ex­tend its ter­ri­to­rial bound­aries, Turkey may not be able to carry out mil­i­tary ex­er­cises in these wa­ters to in­tim­i­date other coun­tries com­pet­ing for nat­u­ral re­sources there or block Euro­pean ves­sels from ac­cess­ing drilling rigs, at least not with­out vi­o­lat­ing UNCLOS, which could draw an EU re­sponse.

Ex­tend­ing the mar­itime bound­ary by six nau­ti­cal miles won’t re­ally change much in the bal­ance of power be­tween Greece and Turkey. The bal­ance of power be­tween two states is de­fined not by what ei­ther side says it

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