‘To avoid war, the West should make Erdogan an offer’ - columnist

The West should make a deal with Turkey in the ongoing standoff over access to maritime resources in the eastern Mediterranean, Bloomberg columnist Andreas Kluth said on Saturday.

Kluth said that Turkey’s failure to sign the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) makes it hard for any international legal body to arbitrate disputes between Turkey and its neighbours over disputed maritime waters.

Europe should avoid the temptation “to simply line up behind Greece”, Kluth suggested, because “unreasonable and aggressive as Erdogan is... the West should admit that Turkey has half a point when it complains that the Greek position on Kastellorizo is “maximalist.””

Under UNCLOS, Greece’s island of Kastellorizo theoretically generates an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) stretching 200 km to the south, which cuts in half the EEZ which Turkey claims. Kastellorizo is home to just a few hundred people and some way to the east of larger Greek islands like Rhodes.

The competing claims of Turkey (red) and Greece/Cyprus (blue) to EEZs in the Mediterranean (Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)
The competing claims of Turkey (red) and Greece/Cyprus (blue) to EEZs in the Mediterranean (Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)


According to Robin Churchill, an expert at the University of Dundee, the cutting up of Turkey’s exclusive economic zone to such an extent seems unfair, says Kluth. 

Kluth says that it is unfortunate that Turkey, like the United States, never signed UNCLOS, because the treaty is “actually quite flexible in such circumstances”. Kluth referred to a similar dispute between Nicaragua and Colombia, which was resolved in an ‘equitable’ way in 2012 when Colombia accepted that their islands granted only a 12-nautical-mile territorial zone, rather than a 200 km EEZ.

However, in the absence of Turkey participating in UNCLOS, which would give a legal route to resolving the dispute, the danger is that eventually the conflicting parties will resolve to brute force to resolve their standoff.

It is up to the West, says Kluth, to develop a plan that avoids the potential for conflict. He suggests that Europe could take inspiration from the sharing of coal and steel resources between France and Germany after World War II, and develop a joint authority to guarantee shared access and benefits to the Mediterranean’s resources.

Whether Greece and Turkey can rise above their enmity to find ways to work together is hard to predict, but the consequences of not doing so could be serious.