Jun 11 2018

Greece and Turkey should scrap hydrocarbon dispute, turn to solar - former U.S. diplomat

Greece and Turkey would be wise to put disputes over Aegean hydrocarbons behind them and look to solar energy for economic growth, former U.S. diplomat Alexander Karagiannis wrote in an article for Greek newspaper Kathimerini.

Tensions have resurfaced this year between Turkey and Greece over who has sovereignty over uninhabited Aegean islets and therefore the right to exploit possible oil and gas resources around them. The two NATO allies almost went to war over a pair of Aegean rocky outcrops in 1996.

Karagiannis said Greece was not the biggest foreign and security policy issue for Turkey, which faces multiple external challenges such as tensions with the United States and the European Union, and involvement in the multi-sided Syrian civil war. But disputes over the Aegean, Karagiannis said, could spiral out of control if the two sides misplayed their hand.

Turkey’s increased rhetoric against its neighbours, in light of its military operations in Syria and Iraq, could be perceived as expansionism, the article said, pointing to what Turkey says is the ambiguity of the status of many islands, islets and rocky outcrops in the Aegean.

“Turkey’s tactics, a maximalist approach that uses pressure rather than incentives, has generated friction, resistance and outright opposition, putting it further from its ostensible goal of greater access to Aegean resources,” Karagiannis said.

Even if a mutually satisfactory line were to be drawn in the Aegean to demarcate the continental shelf, he said, that would not solve all problems. The shelf is a legal and political construct, the resources are tangible assets and possible deposits would not lie neatly along man-made lines.

With Turkey heading to elections on June 24, nationalist and populist politics are at play and prospects are dim for diplomatic space to resolve Aegean issues.

“Misinterpretations, miscalculations, errors, mistakes and technical glitches are common in tense situations. Depending on outsiders to defuse tensions is a hope, not a strategy. Cooling the temperature would be a smart Turkish move to rebuild trust with Greece and other NATO allies,” Karagiannis said.

But as Greece and Turkey continue their dispute over Aegean hydrocarbons, they have forgotten that they both enjoy a natural resource that does not need to be shared – that is to say, solar energy.

“For the Aegean littoral, electric vehicles and solar production make sense, transforming both the energy and political dynamic,” Karagiannis said.